We have failed to give God, our Maker, the glory he deserves.
We owe him our life – our very existence and every breath we take - and
therefore we ought to obey him gladly and give him thanks for his goodness. His
commandments inform us what is good and evil; conscience also bears witness to
God’s moral standards. Our basic duty is to love God with all our heart, and to
love our neighbour as ourselves. But ever since the beginning, humanity has
rebelled against the Creator and Lord.
In the beginning, when the Lord created our first parents,
Adam and Eve, God placed them in the Garden of Eden and blessed them. Their
happiness depended on their continuance in obedience. ‘And the LORD God
commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day
that you eat of it you shall surely die’’ (Gen 2:16, 17). Perfect obedience
would lead to life and communion with God; disobedience would bring separation
Adam chose to be disobedient and ate the forbidden fruit. He
broke God’s command and became guilty. He had been created righteous; now he
became a sinner. The consequences of Adam’s sin are far-reaching. Adam’s sin
brought a curse upon creation over which he was appointed ruler.
Moreover Adam’s sin is accounted as the sin of the human race
of which he was the head and representative, as the Scripture teaches:
‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through
sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.’ The reality of death
in the entire world is the proof that all sinned in Adam. Whether young or old,
we are all subject to death, proving that sin has infected the whole human race.
‘By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners’ (Rom 5:12, 18, 19).
Even before we are old enough to choose sin, we were already
sinners by nature. We do not become sinners when we commit our first sin. We are
sinners from the very moment of conception because we inherit Adam’s fallen
sinful nature. ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother
conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). It is only a matter of time before an infant grows
up to express his sinful disposition (in disobedience to parents, selfishness,
lying, etc). The tree is known by its fruit; our sinful choices show that we are
sinners by nature.
There is enough beauty and joy in the world attesting to
God’s original perfect creation, and to his continual providential care, but
there is also enough misery to remind us that all is not as it should be. The
gravity of sin is painfully evident as we observe and experience the
consequences of the fall: disorder, decay, discord, war, disease, misery, tears,
suffering and death (Gen 3:16-19). By Adam’s fall, humanity lost communion with
God. Conscious of their sin and shame, Adam and Eve hid from the presence of the
Lord because they were afraid (Gen 3:8-10, 24). To this day, we, their children,
still run away from God, and unless the grace of God draws us back to him, we
will all perish.
Depravity and Inability
The popular idea that we are all basically good is completely
false. With the single exception of our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 4:15), all the
people of the world are naturally sinners. Whether Jews or Gentiles, ‘they are
all under sin’ (Rom 3:9; cf. 1 Kings 8:46; Ps 143:2; Rom 3:9-12; 1 John 1:8).
From Eden, sin has spread to the whole human race.
We are all sinners by nature, but we ask further, to what
extent are we sinful? We cannot trust ourselves to come up with an honest and
accurate diagnosis of our spiritual condition. The Bible says that left to
ourselves our heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer
17:9). Pride will never admit how terribly sinful we really are. We would rather
deceive ourselves and call ‘good’ what God declares to be wicked.
We tend to downplay our sins as mere ‘mistakes’ and
‘weaknesses’, while pointing to our good deeds as evidence of our goodness.
However, the Lord knows us through and through and he is not impressed even by
our so-called ‘good’ deeds. Once Jesus said, ‘You being evil, know how to give
good gifts to your children’ (Matt 7:11). We are perfectly capable of performing
things that are good in themselves, but we do so for our convenience and selfish
motives, rather than the love of God. Such works do not clear us from Jesus’
verdict; he still declares that we are evil.
Every aspect of our being is poisoned by sin. God’s charge
against us is threefold (Rom 3:10, 11):
- There is none righteous, no, not one.
- There is none who understands.
- There is none who seeks after God.
First, there is none righteous. We do not obey his law as we
should. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law
of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please
God’ (Rom 8:7, 8). As sinners, our minds are set against God. We do not gladly
submit to his authority, and indeed, we cannot. It is impossible to obey God in
our own strength. We do not have the natural ability to please God.
But, it may be argued, since God gave us his law, isn’t that
evidence enough that we can obey? No, definitely not! The commandment shows our
duty and what is right in God’s eyes. God’s law does not imply man’s ability to
obey. The natural man is unable to do what he is duty-bound to do -- not because
God created man evil but because man sinned and deprived himself of his original
ability. God cannot lower his standards simply because we cannot reach up to the
perfections of his Law. God’s Law reflects his purity and holiness, not our
Secondly, there is none who understands. That does not mean
that we are totally devoid of all knowledge. We can be very intelligent and
bright in many ways, but we are ignorant where it really matters. ‘The natural
man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness
to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor
2:14). The gospel makes no sense to the unbeliever. He dismisses the glorious
message of salvation as ‘foolishness’. ‘The message of the cross is foolishness
to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18).
Finally, the Bible says that there is none who seeks after
God – that is, after the true and living God. We are religious by nature, and
everyone seeks to worship something or someone. However, because of the
pollution of sin, we are repelled by the majesty and glory of God. ‘For everyone
practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds
should be exposed’ (John 3:20). There are no natural ‘God-seekers’. Unless God
takes the initiative, seeks the lost and draws them to his Son, no one will ever
find him. Jesus said it plainly: ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who
sent Me draws him’ (John 6:44). The problem is universal for ‘no one’ can come;
we are all paralysed by sin. We do not have the ability in us to repent and
believe in Christ.
All that can be summed up by two words, depravity and
inability. We are depraved – morally corrupt and evil -- and therefore we lack
the natural ability or power to convert ourselves or please God.
The biblical analysis of our spiritual condition is deeply
humiliating; it deflates our inflated ego, and exposes our utter helplessness.
We are left to the mercy of God. We cannot help ourselves. God alone can give us
a new heart so that we can understand the gospel, willingly come to Christ for
salvation and live in obedience to him.