For the month of May we’re taking a break from our Collision series through 1 Samuel, to finish what we began back in January. Recall, this past January we looked into the four marks of the Historical Church, and in the same manner, for the next 5 weeks we’ll look into the five central doctrines of the Church’s Historical Faith. As we begin looking into our historical faith, we’ll turn the clocks back and see just how relevant historic truth is for us today. We begin with the doctrine of Radical Corruption.
Picture before you a lion in a cage. And before this lion you see a bowl of meat and a bowl of wheat. Tell me, which one do you think the lion will choose to eat? Right, the lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, they’re meat eaters. Consider a deeper question now: what would have to happen to the lion for him to desire the wheat? Or to ask it in another way, what would have to happen to the lion so that he desired something He has no natural taste for? His nature would have to change, and that is something he cannot do himself.
My aim today is to persuade you that the salvation described in the Bible is just like this. You see, our radical corruption, our sinful nature will only choose what it desires, and a sinful nature only desires sin, so just as the lion only eats meat, sinners when put to a choice between Jesus Christ and sin, will choose sin every time. So, naturally a question than comes: what would have to happen to us so that we desire Jesus Christ, whose character and commands we have no natural taste for? Answer: because we’re unable to change our own nature, God would have to change our nature. Because of this, our only hope is the sovereign grace of God who can and does change the sinners heart. You see, the Bible does not present a will in man that is neutral being able to choose one way or another way, but rather a will is presented that’s dead in sin or in bondage to sin until God makes it new. Before we get into these things let me just say: I know some of you may find it depressing to hear an entire sermon on our sinful nature, but let me challenge you…rejecting the corruption of our sinful state is nothing more than an arrogant assault on the sovereign grace of God. Let me also encourage you…embracing the corruption of our sinful state paves the way to the best news in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we turn to the Bible we find it speaking of our radical corruption in 5 ways:
When our first parents were deceived in Genesis 3 and took a bite from the forbidden fruit, they plunged the entire human race into guilt and condemnation. Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 where he says, ‘…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned…’ As goes the head so goes the body. The relationship between Adam and us is so close that God includes that phrase at the end of 5:12 ‘…death spread to all men (not because Adam sinned, but) because all sinned…’ From his disobedience to God’s first command, Adam brought sin, and therefore guilt, and therefore death to all men because Adam, in Eden, was the representative head of all mankind. Because of this at the moment of our birth, we are born, not as innocent people who choose right or wrong, no, we are born guilty before God before we commit any sin. This is why God says earlier in Romans 3:23, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’ because though we were made in God’s image we have chosen to exchange the glory of God for our own glory, distorting God’s image in us. We had life, and life to the full, walking with God in the cool of the day, all was as it should be, but we rebelled. And our act of rebelling against the King of Kings, the Just Judge of all the universe, is nothing short of cosmic treason, thus all mankind is born under the death sentence, all mankind is born guilty.
To convince us of this guilt God did us a great service and gave us His Law, the Ten Commandments. Romans 3:19, the Law was given ‘so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable (or guilty) before God.’ Do you think you’re innocent? Look into the perfect standard, the Law of God and ask yourself ‘Has God always been first in my life?’ ‘Have I ever sought after other things before Him?’ ‘Have I ever used His name in vain?’ ‘Have I always obeyed my parents?’ ‘Have I ever stolen?’ ‘Have I ever committed adultery, or in Jesus’s own words, have I ever looked with lust?’ ‘Have I ever lied?’ That’s not even all of the Ten Commandments and if you’re honest with yourself, there hasn’t been a day in your life when you’ve kept these. What’s the result of our disobedience? Real, quantifiable, measurable, guilt. We broke God’s Law, and as the Just Judge He is, punishment must come.
The Bible goes further and speaks of our darkness. John 3:19-20, ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ This sad reality John expresses is clear is it not? John 8:12 says Jesus is the Light of the world, and when He came John says light entered our dark world, and not surprisingly, we didn’t just prefer the darkness over the light, John says we ‘loved the darkness’ over the light. This is not a lifeless choice like we would make between sitting here or sitting there at a ballgame…this is a heart level emotionally-loaded assessment. Our natural state when we’re born into this world is that we ‘love’ darkness and hate the light; we love sin, we hate Jesus. Why? Because our deeds are evil, and because we don’t want our wickedness to be broadcast to the world by coming to the light, thus we remain in the darkness we so love.
The Bible speaks even more pointedly when it comes to our relationship to the darkness…it identifies us with it. I wonder if you’ve ever noticed Paul’s choice of words in Ephesians 5:8? I’ll begin in 5:7, ‘Do not become partakers with sons of disobedience (who were described in 5:4-6); for at one time you were darkness…’ Did you notice? Paul did not say ‘at one time you were in the dark but now you are in the light’ he said ‘for at one time you were darkness…’ If you read John 3:19-20 alongside Ephesians 5:8 you get this, ‘Darkness is not just something we’re in, and not even something we just love, no, darkness describes who we are as sinners. We are by nature, darkness.
Next see our hatred. Romans 8:5-8 shows this. Describing the difference between living with a mind set on the flesh with and a mind set on the things of the Holy Spirit Paul says, ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 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.’ What is the sinner’s natural posture toward God? Is it one of peace, or maybe indifference or neutrality? No, far from it. v7, ‘For the mind set on the flesh on hostile to God.’ That word ‘hostile’ literally means ‘hates’ or ‘is at enmity with.’ Natural man, or to put it another way, all those who have not been raised to life by the power of the Spirit hate God, are alienated from God, and are at odds with God. Paul even says in v8 that natural man is unable to submit to God. Not that natural man won’t submit to God as if they chose not to, v8 says they are not able to submit to God because of their sin.
We all know the difference between asking ‘can I’ and ‘may I.’ We all once asked a teacher ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’ to which the teacher responded by saying, ‘I don’t know, can you?’ teaching us the lesson that ‘may’ is a term of permission, while ‘can’ is a term of ability. The point of v8 is that natural man, apart from the Spirit of God, is not able to submit to or please God. This is why Romans 3 says what it says in 3:10-12, ‘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.’
Ephesians 2:1-3, ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Many people speak of our sinful nature as if we were drowning in an ocean reaching up as hard as we can to grasp, maybe even with just one finger, a life preserver that’s been tossed to us by Jesus. Others speak of it as if we were on a hospital bed, on the brink of death, when Jesus walks in with the cure to save. These are pleasant images for sure, if we ignore what the Bible has to say. Because when we come to the Bible we don’t find that we’re drowning we find that we lying cold and lifeless on the sea floor with our lungs filled with water. When we come to the Bible we don’t find that we’re on the brink of death in a hospital bed, we find that we’re six feet under, dead. ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…’ This is not an individual assessment either, it’s universal. We are by nature ‘…children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Yet ironically it says that we, though dead in sin, ‘walk according to the course of the world’ and that we ‘follow Satan, the prince of the power of the air.’ By birth we really are the walking dead.
Lastly see our blindness. 2 Cor. 4:4, ‘…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Here we see Satan’s work, blinding all those who don’t believe, keeping them from seeing not just ‘the light’ and not just ‘the light of the gospel’ he blinds unbelievers from seeing ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ There is glory to be seen in the gospel, the glory of Christ, and if we see it, it will stun our souls and fill our bones with pleasure and exuberance beyond measure. Yet, see here that by birth we’re blind to this, and are unable to see this beauty.
Our radical corruption described in five ways: guilt, darkness, hatred, death, and blindness. Perhaps some of you are thinking, ‘Ok, but what about free will?’ I understand why some of you would say that, but see two quick things: first, do you see that free will isn’t something that works in your favor? Our will is the problem (remember the lion in the cage?) it will only choose sin unless God awakens us through what John 3:3 calls the ‘new birth’ and gives us a taste for something alien to our nature. Second, you call it a ‘free will’ but do you see that it isn’t really free at all? It’s in bondage to sin until God does to it what He did to Lazarus. We come into this world as sinners, justly deserving God’s displeasure, and without hope save in the sovereign mercy of God. Perhaps now you ask what the disciples asked in Matthew 19:25, ‘Who then can be saved?’ ‘With man’ Jesus said, ‘this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
Remember my encouragement at the start: if you embrace the reality of our natural corruption it paves the way to the best news in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me show you how this is true. When God does save, when He regenerates our hearts, and gives us the gift of the ‘new birth’ He does the impossible and changes our nature through His sovereign grace.
This act of sovereign grace reverses each of the 5 things we’ve just gone over:
1) When God saves, we no longer carry the burden of guilt, but have been pardoned by the blood of Christ, who stood in our place as our substitute on the cross. Romans 3:23-25, ‘or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…’
2) When God saves, we no longer are darkness, but light in the Lord. John 1:4-5, ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Ephesians 5:7-8, ‘Do not become partakers with sons of disobedience for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light.’
3) When God saves, we longer hate God, we love Him. 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because He first loved us.’
4) When God saves, we no longer are dead, but alive. Ephesians 2:3-5, ‘…we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’
5) When God saves, we are no longer blind, we can see. 2 Cor. 4:6, ‘For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’
So we who were by nature born: guilty, loving darkness and living as darkness, hating God, dead in sin, and blind to the beauty of the glory of God in the gospel – if you at this moment love God, if you see His beauty, if you savor His glory, to quote John Piper, ‘You are a walking miracle.’
To end, I want to give you Martin Luther. ‘Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! Let man be man! Let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! Let them realize that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ, and cry for mercy.’
Church, we are not a people who have an alien problem that needs an inner solution; we are a people who have an inner problem that needs an alien solution.