Monday, August 18, 2014

A Theological Journey Pt. 3: Depraved

In my last post, I painted what I understand to be the biblical picture of God's rulership over all of his creation. There is no event that can fall outside of his sovereign plan. All events in time must eventually serve to glorify him. It is difficult to escape this picture, and I suggest you review that last post before moving on to this one.

In spite of what scripture says about God's absolute sovereignty, we cannot avoid the innumerable scriptures that speak of God's absolute displeasure with evil—evil that exists in a world in which God called all things into existence. In the last post we talked about God's absolute goodness and sovereignty. In this post we tackle humanity's absolute fallenness.

While we cannot deny what so many scriptures clearly show—that God decrees all that will take place, we can also be sure that the evil that exists in this universe did not flow from God's nature. There are things that God ordained that he himself would do, but there are also things that God decreed he would permit.

The scriptures are clear about what God thinks of sin. From the very start, God said that it would bring death. Yet this did not stop our father Adam from giving in and taking the forbidden fruit. How on earth could a human heart, one that had no sin nature, produce a desire that would bring it to sin?

Some say free will is the ultimate explanation. Yes, Adam and Eve were certainly free to follow their desires. Yet this does not answer the unanswerable question of where these sinful desires flowed from. Simplistically asserting that a sinless heart could, by nature, produce sin, would rob Christians who still struggle with sin of their future hope. If God must leave his creatures to their hearts' every whim in order to call them free, then he cannot promise his children a future hope of sinlessness.

While Adam and Eve were responsible for their sin, saying so does not give us insight into just how a heart exchanges its goodness for the lie of idolatry. The exchange was real. God did not cause it. Yet he could have prevented it if he chose to do so. He has promised to do so when we are ultimately purified in eternity. None of our desires will be evil when we live in his presence. Yet, this absolute slavery to righteousness will not make our relationship to God false. It will be the most freeing slavery of all.

I do not raise this question in order to answer it, but I do so in order to allow the fall to remain as profoundly mysterious as it is tragic. However it happened, Adam and Eve rebelled against God. They were not victims. They were perpetrators of the worst kind. So great was their sin, that all of humanity from that point forward has been engulfed in the guilt of our first parents. In the words of Paul,

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The sin that Adam brought into the world is now the reality each of us live in every day. While Adam somehow produced an evil desire from the heart that God declared good (Genesis 1:31), scripture does not describe the sinful nature that resulted from the fall as having that same capability. Sin cannot produce righteousness.

On the contrary, Christ looked at the hearts of men and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).

Paul was no different in his teaching when he wrote about those who did not know Christ in contrast to those who do, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

Rather than simply saying that the sinful human being does not obey God, Paul says he or she cannot.

Someone may object and say, “how can God hold us accountable for disobeying if we cannot obey? Yet Paul is not speaking of a mere “physical” inability. This is the distinction that Jonathan Edwards called “natural inability” vs. “moral inability.”

If, for example, a man was required to lift a mountain over his head with a single finger and was then condemned if he could not, it would be an injustice. The man is naturally unable.

However, if you were asked to kill one of your closest loved ones and refused because you could not find it within yourself, it would not be an inability of the same sort. It would be what has been called a “moral inability.” This is the inability that keeps a sinner from bowing their knee to God. The heart enslaved to sin has no inclination to love the things of God. Where there is no inclination, there is no ability. It is a true inability, yet it is an inability that does not remove responsibility.
Some of us may object by saying that any inability removes responsibility. However, if we are to embrace scripture as that which is God-breathed, we must embrace the fact that Paul was speaking the truth when he used the word “cannot.” Jesus was speaking the truth when he called us “slaves.”

Paul certainly did not avoid coupling this inability with our responsibility when he painted our sin in the darkest colors by quoting the Old Testament at length saying,

“'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.' 'Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.'
'The venom of asps is under their lips.' 'Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.' 'Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes'” (Romans 3:10-18).

It is against this hopelessly dark backdrop of human evil that the writers of scripture allowed the light of the gospel to shine. No amount of human depravity could stop the eternal plan of God. God, from eternity past, has desired to display every aspect of his nature. It is through the darkness that he will show the light of his glory. It is this darkness that will make room for God's just wrath. This will make known the riches of his grace to those who are in Christ.

At no point could any event cause God, the source of time and space itself, to take in knowledge of what he must do next. No human choice could ever cause him to be a “reactor.” God is the writer of the story we call history.

God is not subject to the ink in his pen... no matter how black it may be. The blackness under God's feet is dependent on him for its very existence. It would cease to be if he did not still have a good purpose for it.

God is the only hope for slaves of sin. We cannot free ourselves, and we are responsible for our inability. A stony heart cannot change itself because it must desire to do so. Since it is the organ that produces all evil desires, it will forever desire its own hardness. It must be transplanted by the great physician.

We will examine the means of this sovereign salvation in the following posts.

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