Last Sunday, 7/28, I preached a sermon detailing the Biblical narrative of inherent wickedness and God’s divine intervention with sovereign grace. You can listen to that sermon at the following link, http://www.buzzsprout.com/11630/1468030-7-28-bpbc-worship-service
I also participated in a public discussion/ debate with C. Kyle Elliot at the Spirit & Life Lectureship this past Friday, 8/2, at the Ludington Church of Christ in regards to the nature of man and regeneration. My affirmative in that debate was as follows, “According to the Scriptures, all men are wickedly inclined and are in need of divine intervention for salvation”. You can watch the video of this debate at the following link (starts at 15:19 and ends at 2:00:00), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqvZVRhOFBk&t=2832s
For the remainder of this blog, I’d like to share the written outline for the sermon above and the 5 questions answered during the debate.
My goal will be to first and foremost offer up an intellectually honest explanation of the view I hold. However, also, as I endeavor to do through most of my teaching here, I will be highlighting the importance of following the Biblical narrative to develop our theological views. As popular narrative-theology teacher, Andrew Perriman, has written, “The narrative-historical approach to the interpretation of Scripture provides us with much more rigorous and credible connection with Scripture than the selective, reductive, and distorting approach of much modern evangelical theology”.
So this morning, I’d like to deviate from our normal agenda of thinking through the Scriptures where we find ourselves in the book of Numbers, and bring us into thinking through details of the Gospel. This is fitting also since many of us will be going out to saturate the community with Gospel resources following today’s worship service.
1.) The Fall of “Man” & the Biblical Narrative
The Blue Point Bible Church Constitution states;
“We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that happy and holy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of what holiness required the law of God, positively inclined toward evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse”. – BPBC Constitution
Let’s think this through.
Adam was created in holiness, law and voluntary transgression, happy and holy state = covenant
subjected to – Galatians 3:21-24 (law – schoolmaster); Romans 8:19-23 (futility awaiting redeptiom)
voluntary – limited will (choose to obey or disobey). Many, if not all of you, know full well that I often make the case that the story of Adam is a type of Israel’s story. It is not the story of all mankind, but rather a historical background and picture of Israel’s identity.
In theological circles, talking about the sin of Adam and it’s effects often brings up the doctrine of “Original Sin” – all in Adam, die.
I want to take us through a narrative detailing of the innate, idolatrous, and continued wickedness that was demonstrated, dare I say magnified through Israel, however first I want us to look at Romans 3:9-20.
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, (citation from Psalm 53)“There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
The story of Adam found in the Law is and was Israel’s story. Covenant death is Israel’s identity. However, the nations (Gentiles) were in idolatrous ignorance, therefore dead to God as well. To put it another way, in the Old Testament, God subjects His people,, Israel, to futility (increase of transgression). The futility of the nations is because of non-election and stubborn idolatry.
The narrative of Scripture is primarily focused in on God’s relationship with Israel. He chose them, unconditionally, to be His servant nation, the priesthood of God to reflect Him to the world. However, the covenant God made with them was based upon their flesh and blood descendants being obedient to the Law, which flesh and blood cannot do because it is wicked (which I believe I will demonstrate clearly in a moment), and the whole point of that covenant relationship with Israel, what we call the Old Covenant, was to prove that. However, the implication of Israel’s mission – to bring salvation to the nations – is that the nations, the Gentiles, were in need of it, because they were wickedly inclined as well. What is magnified through Israel, sin, was also inherent in the Gentiles as well.
As I mentioned, I’d like to provide a narrative detailing of the wickedness that was made known through the Biblical story.
Genesis 6:5 – “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.”
Job 14:1 – ““Man, who is born of woman, Is short-lived and full of turmoil.”
Psalm 14:1-3 – “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.”
Psalm 53 – similar as Psalm 14
Psalm 58:3 – “The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth”
Prov. 3:5-7 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”
Ecc. 7:29 – “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”
Jeremiah 17:9 – “ “The heart is more deceitful than all else. And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
Nehemiah 9:30 – ““However, You bore with them for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”
Acts 7:51 – “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
Romans 3:9-20 – (I read earlier in the message; above)
Ephesians 4:17-19 – “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
In my book Wicked I charge that, “…not only did Israel subvert the truth of God, but also each of us are predisposed to subvert the truth and lean upon our own misunderstandings as well. Furthermore, (as we continue to learn about the history of God’s people), we will see evidence that even with complete victory given to the Church, subversion and confusion creep in.” I go on to offer somewhat of a beginning solution in saying, “By recognizing this ‘imposter quality’ inherent within us, we can see the subtle attempts at revisionism in making the story fit our design and desires…”
Joel Beeke, a Reformed writer stated it like this, “Total depravity does not mean that the unbeliever is wholly evil in everything he does, but rather that nothing he does is ever wholly good…The very heart of man is unbelieving, selfish, covetous, sensuous, and always desiring to replace God”…He goes on to say, “…when God scrutinizes the human heart, affections, conscience, will, or any part of it, He finds every part damaged and polluted by sin…alienated from God and actively pursuing sin”.
God-provided Solution (Gospel)
Due to Israel’s sin and death, dare I call it “total depravity”, as revealed through the Biblical narrative, and the idolatrous wickedness of the Gentiles, divine intervention was and is necessary. As the saying goes, “a dead man cannot raise himself”, neither can Israel in sin and death and the gentiles dead outside of covenant bring themselves to life. Thank God for His sovereign grace, amen?
I love the way former Evangelist, Rolfe Barnard had detailed sovereign grace – ““What do the terms grace and sovereign mean? One of the attributes of God is goodness. The goodness of God is the divine essence seen as energized benevolently and kindly towards the creature; “I will be gracious – I will be merciful”, Saith the Lord. “The Lord is plenteous in mercy.” “The Lord delights to show mercy.” Mercy and grace are varieties of God’s goodness. Grace has reference to sinful man as guilty, while mercy has respect to sinful man as miserable.
This attribute (goodness) expressed in grace and mercy is free and sovereign in its exercise. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Exodus 33:19. The goodness of God is infinite and circumscribed by no limits; but the exercise of His goodness may be limited by Himself. God is necessarily good in His nature, but free in His communication of it. If the Bible is plain about anything it is plain about the fact that God must be just to all men; He may be merciful to some. God owes all men justice; He owes no man mercy or grace! A sovereign God exercises mercy and grace as it seems good to Him. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Matthew 11:25-26.”
Let’s consider the work of Jesus as described in Hebrews 9:11-15, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
The New Covenant was given because fault was found with the Old, not surprisingly, because God in His sovereignty intended it to be so. The Old Covenant was a shadow, not the reality, of God’s true sovereign grace, and it could not bring one into true and spirit worship. Christ, by providing everything pertaining to life and Godliness, enables us to love from a pure heart, have a good conscience, and a sincere faith. As the text said, namely pertaining to Israelites under the Old Covenant, He has “cleansed their conscience from “dead works to serve the living God”. Our immersion, or baptism, in Christ, which I have taught before, and believe to be, an ongoing reality as we grow in Christ and His fulfilled work (dare I refer to it as continually drinking of the “water of life”) not a physical demonstration of being “fully immersed” in water, is that which gives us a good conscience (cf. 1 Peter 3:21).
Without God intervening, giving His people a Spirit to discern Him, birthing them from above – man is lost – Romans 8:8; John 3:1-8; 1 Corinthians 2
John Owen, famed Reformed writer highlighted this point in saying, “Spiritual darkness is in all men and lies on all men, until God, by an Almighty work of the Spirit, shines into men’s hearts and creates light in them”.
Those who come to God must be called – Psalm 65:4; John 6:44; 1 Cor. 1:24-25, 29-31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:28-29; Titus 3:3-7;James 1:18
I appreciate what A.W. Pink has stated in regard to the notion that man participates with God in his regeneration, “To argue that natural man is capable of co-operating with the Spirit is to deny that man is dead in trespasses and sin, for a dead man is incapable of doing anything”.
God provides “eyes to see and ears to hear” – Duet. 29:29; Luke 24:45; Acts 10:4;Romans 11:33
A change of mind and heart will occur and should continually be renewed thus making the “new creation” spiritually discerned – Matthew 15:17-20; Romans 12:2; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All of that make known, clarified, and thought- through has brought me to the point of believing our growth in Christ is spiritually discerned, should be fostered by efforts of growth, and might not fit into any particular theological box all that neatly. Instead of trying to fit my “soteriological”/salvation views into any doctrinal category, I endeavor to live and preach what I refer to as the “Fully Effective Christian Life”.
Hear the Gospel/ divine intervention – which comes by way of a preacher being sent. You must hear it to absorb it. (The natural man can hear and know the Gospel in many senses, maybe even try to follow it, however without the Spirit of God, these truths cannot and will not have their full effect on that natural man’s life).
Repent/die – recognize your thinking is flawed, trust in Him and His ways rather than your own.
Confess/resurrect – acknowledge the Lord in word and deed
Study & Grow – possess and increase (be baptized or immersed in Christ)
Biblical narrative – Israel’s total depravity, and by implication the “innate wickedness” found within all men. God’s sovereign grace is seen through His divine intervention, His unconditional election by which he compels us with irresistible grace, and those whom he calls he justifies and glorifies with perseverance.
So, as a thinking church, a small Bible church on the corner of Maple St. and Blue Point Ave. what do we do with this spiritual wisdom? As you would imagine this is a question I consider daily. Of course, I believe we are already doing it and will continue to do so. I conclude by summing up what I believe we are doing and should be doing – 3 particular things.
We must EMBODY Gospel proclamation – our proclamation goes beyond words.
Saturate (Gospel resources);
possess and increase
Here are the 5 questions that were asked of me and my written responses in the debate:
1. What is sin (a nature/rebellion/other)?
I want to emphasize the importance of understanding the unified Biblical narrative. I believe we arrive at good doctrine by taking in the whole story with the various details mentioned, not “proof texting”, especially pertaining to sin and the need for salvation. Most of us are probably familiar with the texts of 1 John 3:4 – “sin is a breaking of the law” or 1 Corinthians 15:56 – “the sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law”. These are the sins that are manifest through the lineage of Adam from the beginning chapters of Genesis all the way through to the New Testament. The Law was given to magnify sin (cf. Galatians 3:19), so that grace would abound.
However, we read in Romans 5:14 that “sin reigned even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam”. Adam violated a law – sin – which lead to covenant death in regards to his relationship with God. Those who do not sin in the likeness of Adam are those who do not have a law, but as James 1:14—15 declares – “ But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death”. This is manifest all throughout the Scriptures regarding the Gentiles, who through God’s divine plan, but manifest through their selfish desires and leaning on their own understanding lived in obstinate idolatry against God.
2. From where does the wicked inclination in all men come?
Genesis 6:5; Ecclesiastes 7:29 – Israel’s story – heart manifested evil and idolatry; sought out inventions
James 1:14-15; Proverbs 3:5-6 – lust conceived gives birth to sin; man leaning on his own understanding
Matthew 15:18-20 – from the heart
3. What is the eternal fate of a wickedly inclined miscarriage/stillborn/infant/child/teen/adult/ elder who has not been predestined to be part of the Elect of God?
I will readily admit, I’m not all that comfortable calling a miscarried, stillborn, infant or even child “wickedly inclined”. In that regard, the honest and humble answer I can offer up is – only God knows. I’m sure most if not all of us are familiar with texts such as Deuteronomy 29:29 – “the secret things belong to the Lord” or Romans 11:33 – “How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out”. Understanding and trusting in the sovereign plan of God should lead all of us to be content with His ways are above our ways. I do lean toward God providing a special grace for children, beyond the doctrine of election (which of course is beyond our understanding anyway). The Scriptures seem to posit a kindness toward the children of Believers, or even children in general. We read of John the Baptist “leaping in the womb” at the sound of good news in Luke 1:44 which has also intrigued me.
As for those teens, adults, and elders who have lived long enough to have selfish desires, thereby being “wickedly inclined” and not predestined to salvation – they perish (John 3:16); suffer eternal condemnation; and along with their longings, hopes, expectations and strength – they will come to nothing (cf. Job 8:13; Psalm 112:10; Proverbs 10:28; Proverbs 11:7).
4. Does God, according to Sovereignty, always get what He wants?
In talking about God, the Righteous Judge, Job asserts
Psalm 115:3 – But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
Psalm 135:6 – Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.
Proverbs 19:21 – There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.
Isaiah 46:10 – My counsel will stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
Isaiah 55:11 – His Word goes forth and does not return void, it shall accomplish that which I please
I imagine this question was asked because in 2 Peter 3:9 we read the often cited “proof text” that God “is not willing that any should perish”, yet clearly in our observable world – many perish. We must ask, what does God want. The key to understanding this perceived dilemma regarding His sovereignty is solved by realizing who the “us” are in the text. Some correlating texts would be:
John 10:15-17 – Jesus lays down His life for the sheep that they should not perish
John 17:9-12 – of those whom God gave Jesus during His earthly, none are lost; and effectually the same for those who trust in Him through their word (cf. verse 20-21). See also, John 18:9
Romans 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
If it was God’s will that absolutely no one at all should perish, then none would perish.
Also, in our interpretation of Scripture we must be careful with sweeping generalizations of the terms “all” and “none”.
5. Is the regeneration of an Elect man performed without his consent?
First, a word about “regeneration” – Regeneration is expressly denied to be of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man (John 1:13), and is ascribed to God himself. Not all men have faith in Christ; and those who do have it, have it not of themselves; it is the gift of God…
“’it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”- Rom 9:16
“And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” – Ezekiel 37:14
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive [quickened us] with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5
“It is the Spirit who gives life [quickens]; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”…And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:63, 65
You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… – 1 Peter 1:23-25
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. – 1 John 5:1
The Biblical narrative of God declaring His covenant never seems to be a choice – did Adam choose and ask God to place him in the Garden of Eden? Did Israel choose and ask God to be in covenant with Him? No. However, when they were brought in covenant, they seem to be willing to be in covenant, though not willing to follow the dictates of the covenant.
No. The Lord makes the man willing. Consider Psalm 51:12; 65:4; 110:3.