Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Seems to be the Problem?

In case you haven't noticed, I've been working backwards for the last few days. On Sunday I started with the "Mystical Union", the mystery of Scripture that is the Gospel. A key component of the Gospel is that God intends to be one with His children, a thought beyond my comprehension, but immensely wonderful. On Monday I asked how we get to be one of His children and the first answer was "repent". On Tuesday I pointed out that included in that first answer, "repent", was the second component, "believe". So over the last few days I've explained what the good news is -- a glorious union with God -- and how it is obtained -- repent and believe -- and just what those things are. Of course, working backwards like this, it seems to beg the question. "Repent from what? Saved from what? Why doesn't God just carry out this grand plan of union without all this 'repent and believe' stuff?" In short, "What seems to be the problem?"

To answer that question, we need to take some time to examine what God's Word says about humans. All humans. Even you and me. What is the biblical perspective on the nature and condition of Man?

We know that in the beginning God created Man in His image (Gen 1:27) "and it was very good." (Gen 1:31) Then it went downhill rapidly. Man chose to sin in the only known way (Gen 3:1-6) and, as Paul puts it, "just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." (Rom 5:12) So, since that time, how does God in His Word describe Man?

Most of us are clear on the basics. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) I don't even think unbelievers would completely disagree. After all, don't we have an axiom, "To err is human"? So Christians know that all humans are sinners and most people aren't too disturbed by the claim. Unfortunately, when we examine what the Bible actually says about humans, it gets much, much worse.

The problem was visible early on. At the beginning of the story of Noah we read, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) What follows is a flood that kills all but 8 humans, but it clearly did not eliminate the problem because at the end of that story we read God's evaluation.
"I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done." (Gen 8:21)
Biblically, it starts early in life. Here it is "from his youth" which simply refers to childhood. Elsewhere we read, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth." (Psa 58:3) The concept of the "innocent child" is quite a human concept, but not a biblical one (Psa 51:5). Childhood innocence is only relative to adulthood decadence.

Since it starts "from the womb", it would only be reasonable to agree with the rest of the claims of Scripture. The psalmist wrote and Paul repeated,
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." (Rom 3:10-12)
And it's not just an unwillingness; it's a condition. It goes as far as an inability.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:5-8)
Jesus said it a couple of times.
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:44)

"No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65)
Natural Man is spiritually disabled. He is "dead in sin and trespasses ... by nature" a child of wrath (Eph 2:1-3). He is the possessor of a deceitful and desperately sick heart (Jer 17:9), not accepting the things of the Spirit of God "for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) He is blinded by the god of this world so that he cannot "see the light of the gospel". (2 Cor 4:4)

Of the church at Laodicea Christ says,
"Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Rev 3:17-18)
Wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; that's His description. And "you do not know" it. Our best acts are described as "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). It is in our nature.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jer 13:23)
Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Matt 15:19) Paul wrote,
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
Scripture speaks of humans as "darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Eph 4:18-19) It speaks of "the futility of their minds." (Eph 4:17)

"Now, look," some might protest, "we're not all that bad, right?" We like to think of "big sins" and "little sins", but James says, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10) All sin has the same outcome -- "For the wages of sin is death ..." (Rom 6:23).

When you boil it all down, it does not look good for humans ... at all. We are violators of the glory of God, sinners from birth. We lack the ability to obey, to please God, to even understand. We suffer from a sick heart and a futile mind. We are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked ... and we don't even know it. Instead of seeking help from the One possible source of help, we are hostile to God, incapable of turning, and unwilling to change. As such, we stand rightly condemned and without hope. So when the good news of the Gospel comes along that the Godhood intends to be one with His people as He is one with Himself, it is astoundingly good news. Clearly, under these conditions, repentance is an absolute necessity and faith is our only means of appropriating that salvation because there is absolutely nothing in ourselves that would bring about that union other than His grace and mercy.

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