The Reality of Depravity

2 Aug

 

                I am a sinner, saved by grace. . .

                . . . that saved a wretch like me. . .

                Dark is the stain that we cannot hide. . .

 

These are just a few phrases from some very popular songs that teach we are all sinners. That’s nothing new, right? I mean after all, the whole point of the gospel is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners like us. When witnessing, the first place we start is by explaining to people that they are sinners by nature and they can’t live righteously, because even the “good” things they do are like filthy rags. But while we might cheerfully sing the above lyrics and thank God once again for our salvation (as we should), are we really ready to face the reality of our own depravity?

The Bible teaches what many theologians call total depravity. It’s the technical way of saying we’re not just bad, we’re bad all the way through. This doesn’t mean we all sin to the fullest extent possible. We all go our own way and we all chase after different lusts, but in the end we all totally rebel against God and try to live lives the way we want to live them. The billionare philanthropist who’s trying to be good enough to get heaven is just as sold to his idols of pride, selfishness, and independence as the addict is to his idols of drugs, booze, and cigarettes. Without the help of God, none of us are able to live a life of selfless love for God and others.

Now, most of the people reading this are probably with me so far. All who have been saved by Christ recognize that they are sinners and they can’t rescue themselves from themselves, they need Christ. They’ve also learned from God’s Word as well was experience that even once saved, the battles with our pull toward sin continue. So why am I asking if we’re ready to face something we already agree with?

The answer is simple. I’ve noticed in others as well as my own life that while we may be quick to admit that we are sinners, we don’t like it when people start pointing out how we are sinners. It’s OK to admit I’m depraved, because everyone is depraved and God saved me. But depravity takes on a whole new level when are start actually seeing its ugly manifestations in my life.

I remember being at CIT (camper in training) at the Wilds Christian camp. The speaker said that he was starting to get frustrated that pride and selfishness had become the new “acceptable” sins. Not that anyone accepted them, but when he asked teens what they struggled with, they always said pride and selfishness. But whenever he would ask them how they were proud or selfish they wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer. So he had us do a project. We had to write out 70 ways we were selfish.

I was surprised at how difficult the activity was. I had a hard time coming up with ways I was selfish. Why was that? Well, my struggle was for one of two reasons. Either I wasn’t really selfish as I thought (and just in case you were wondering, that wasn’t it) or it was because I didn’t like to see my selfishness. As a vague, far out sin that a lot of other people struggled with, selfishness was a problem but not that big a problem. It’s less painful to admit to “selfishness” than to taking the last bit of ice cream without thinking of others or ignoring the unpopular kid because I’m too busy hanging out with my friends.

And don’t we all do that to an extent? We admit we’re proud, then when people correct us we get bent out of shape. We “amen” the preacher when he preaches on idolatry out of I Kings, but we get angry when someone points out that we spend way too much time on our toys. We admit we’re sinners, yet we don’t like to admit we sin.

Total depravity is fine as a vague theological truth that applies to the entire human race, but it’s a totally different story when it’s seen in my every day actions and reactions. So are we ready to allow God to peel back the layers and show us how bad we really are? Are we ready to get specific with Him about our sin and with the help of His Spirit start the long and painful process of spiritual growth? Are we ready to face the harsh reality of our own depravity?

How to Love God

1 Feb

Loving God is hard, really hard. It’s one of those things we all know we ought to do but just can’t seem to do. One of the most commonly recited prayers for the Jews was Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” It was their Shema, and they would recite it every day.

But if we look at Israel’s history we find that while they recognized the importance of loving God, they just couldn’t do it. They failed over and over again. One generation after those who heard Moses speak Deuteronomy 6:4-5 would abandon God and live for idols. This process would continue off and on until a king was instituted. Things stabilized for a short while, but it wasn’t long before Israel was back to trying to live for God and idols too. Finally, God judged Israel and Judah by allowing them to be conquered. Judah came back, cured once and for all of idolatry. But did she love God? Apparently not, because Malachi, the last prophet to prophesy before Christ, sent a message warning people of God’s displeasure of their thoughtless sacrifices and their weariness in worshiping God. Finally, God sent Israel the Messiah they had waited for so long, and they killed Him. Cured of idolatry? Yep. Love God with everything? Not even close.

But are we much different? We know we ought to love God. We know it is the most important command. Yet do we spend more time with Him or in front of a TV screen? More time reading our Bibles or “fellowshipping” with other Christians. How much time do you spend in prayer? reading the Word? How excited to you become when Saturday evening rolls around because you get to worship God in the morning? Knowing we should love God and loving God are two different things. And it seems that while we all know we ought to love God, we have a real hard time with that. Perhaps the hymn writer said it best: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

So how do we come to the place where we really do love God with all our hearts, no other contenders for first place?

I think the apostle John gives us that answer: “We love Him, because He first loved us.” The illustration that immediately comes to my mind is that of a young man who is interested in a young lady. A young lady who is, well, not as interested as he might be. His first attempts to woo her are pretty much a failure. But it’s going to take a lot more than a “no” to stop him.

Imagine the determination of a lovesick youth planning and plotting, giving every ounce of effort to pursuing the girl of his dreams. Think of the hours he spends deciding on the best course of action, the money spent buying gifts, and the sacrifices made to accommodate her. She becomes his singular focus, and he will do anything to win her. Finally, his persistence is rewarded, and little by little he wins his way into her heart until she recognizes his great love for her and begins to respond in kind.

Think now, of the God of the universe, the Creator of all that we see. He is on the pursuit as well. Someone has captured His attention; someone He wants desperately. He focuses His energy and His attention and gives everything, even His own life, to pursue His bride. But the odd thing here is that He is pursuing us. We who have rejected Him. We who are despicable and unworthy creatures. We who love our own way and rebel against His rightful rule. Yet He pursues us.

Where do we come up with the love for God that we don’t have? It is certainly not by willpower. It’s not by digging deep into ourselves (trust me nothing down there is going to help you). We come to love God by recognizing His love for us and feeling the warmth of His acceptance. While our love for God is a duty, we should not simply love God out of duty. Much like the young lady whose heart has been captured by someone because of their strong love for her, our love for God should be a response to the love He has for us. We love God out of gratitude for His love for us, not out of compulsion. “We love Him, because He first loved us.”

Ordo Repentus (The Order of Repentance)

25 Jan

I recently heard an evangelist give a powerful message on revival. It was based on 2 Chronicles 7:14 “ If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

The message was nothing earth-shatteringly profound. He didn’t point out anything in that was missing or hidden in the text. The original Hebrew never came up. He just gave us the main points of the verse (after the standard disclaimer that while the church and Israel are not the same, there are many parallels).

First, humble yourself. See yourself as God sees you. Measure yourself by His standard and admit how terribly sinful you are. We readily admit that we are sinners, but we don’t like to admit we sin. Our belief in total depravity often stops where our personal lives begin. The path to revival starts with a call to humble admission of our guilt.

Second, seek God’s face. Once you realize how wicked and totally undeserving of grace you are, then go to God and ask for that which you know don’t deserve. “But I feel like God wouldn’t want me!” Exactly, He shouldn’t, but He does. He has no reason to forgive anyone, other than His character. “I just feel like I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.” Reality check: you never have, yet He has always forgiven you, and He always will. And when you realize this, you start to have a desire to know this incredible God who would love you anyway. And the more you seek Him, the more you realize that He is the solution to your problem. Not another plan, not a system, but God Himself filling you with Himself. And you begin to go after Him with everything you have.

Finally, turn from you wicked ways. Stop it. Stop living for sin and start living for God. After getting honest with God and seeking His face with all your heart, you will walk away from the presence of God with the grace He offers to fight sin. And that is what hit me most about the sermon – I tend to want to do the opposite.

I want to change my ways, then go to God for forgiveness, then I’ll be willing to look honestly at what I terrible person I was (thinking somehow that I will be a different person than I was back then). Then I can comfortably look at my old self and say that by the grace of God (or if I was being entirely honest, by the work of my will power) I had changed. For some reason I don’t want to go to God and just admit that I was wrong. I want to prove myself first. I want to earn His forgiveness.

But when I do this, I deny the very heart of the gospel. While I wouldn’t like to admit it, I am trying to live by works. Will power doesn’t work, I can attest to that. Only through the power of God via His Word and His Spirit can I have victory. So the idea that I will live obediently before coming for forgiveness is more than ridiculous, it’s impossible.

In soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) theologians make a big deal about the order of salvation. They call the order of when God does what and when man does what ordo salutis (Latin for the order of salvation). What happens when is a big deal, and I think the same thing is true of repentance. Humility before God. Followed by a pursuit of God. Followed by righteous living. Not the other way around it. The order really does matter here.