by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
WHO NEEDS TO BE SAVED? PART 1
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all.
For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable;
there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:9–12, NKJV)
We must begin with our condition as fallen creatures, what the Scottish pastor and theologian Thomas Boston called “the state of nature.”i This is a vital first step because if we make a false diagnosis of our condition then we will seek out flawed remedies and accept false answers. To do so in this instance would be fatal.
In order to make a proper assessment of this matter, we shall trace out two strands of evidence. The primary and fundamental strand is the testimony of God’s Word. The secondary and supplementary strand, covered in the subsequent post in this series, is the evidence of the world around us. Having surveyed the evidence we shall, two posts from now, draw out some particular inferences and conclusions.
Evidence: The Testimony of Scripture
The testimony of Scripture must be, for Christians, the defining truth. This is where we begin seeking a final answer to every question addressed therein. What does the Word of God say about the human heart? What does the Bible reveal about our natural state or fallen condition? It describes it in various terms.
1: Deadness. Scripture describes our natural condition as one of deadness. Paul concludes part of his reasoning with the Roman Christians by telling them that, “therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, NKJV). Paul traces our condition to its fountain in the sin of Adam. All mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. All our sinning is traced back to the sinful nature we inherited from our first father. Ours is an hereditary condition, and a dreadful one. Everyone, Christian or otherwise, is by nature “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, NKJV). Death—spiritual death—is revealed by our pattern of existence marked by trespasses and sins. It is a state of spiritual inertness, or utter spiritual lifelessness.
2: Rebellion. The Bible also describes our condition as one of rebellion. Again, writing to the Romans, Paul says that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7, NKJV). We exist, by nature, in a state of hostility toward God, neither willing nor able to live in accordance with his holy law. In ourselves, it must be said of us just as it was of many Jews in Christ’s day, “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44, NKJV). It is the devil’s falsehoods we believe and his will we embrace, while rejecting God’s truth and God’s will (Ephesians 2:2, NKJV).
3: Enslavement. Again, the Scriptures describe us as in a state of enslavement. The Lord Jesus makes it an axiomatic principle that “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34, NKJV). In other words, a life marked by persistent, thoroughgoing, unrepentant sin is the life of man enslaved to sin. Paul similarly personifies lusts when writing to Titus. He looks back with sorrow, describing how “we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3, NKJV). The apostle also describes those who do not yet know the truth as trapped in “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26, NKJV). The behavior of the unconverted man or woman reveals that our fallen desires are our cruel masters. We are as much bound to commit sin as water is to flow downhill.
4: Blindness and deafness. Further, we are described in terms of spiritual blindness and deafness. We see but do not perceive; we hear but do not understand (Mark 4:12, NKJV). Our best and most brilliant thinkers, even those who consider themselves theologians, if left to their own wisdom, are blind leaders of the blind, so that both fall into the ditch (Luke 6:39, NKJV). We have no spiritual sense and awareness by nature.
5: Inability. Again, there is a horrible inability in us: “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 Corinthians 2:14, NKJV). The truth of God is “foolishness” to the natural man. Despite some sense of eternity, he lacks the spiritual discernment to grasp truly spiritual—we might properly say, Spiritual—things. He lacks the capacity to know better and acts accordingly:
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Ephesians 4:17–19, NKJV)
Indeed, even if he could see the way, he does not have the ability to do what is acceptable to God: “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). Jeremiah asks the question that traps every sinner. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jereremiah 13:23, NKJV). Christ himself makes clear the inability of the unresponsive heart of the sinner to move toward God: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44, NKJV).
6: Sinfulness. This whole description is rooted in the reality of sinfulness. Here is the root of the matter. We are sinners by nature, “brought forth in iniquity” and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5, NKJV). The entire human race stands under the divine indictment that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, NKJV). Our transgression is thoroughly instinctive, for “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3, NKJV). Those words describe both the root and the fruit of our condition. Lawlessness is woven into our hearts (1 John 3:4, NKJV) and lawless deeds result. Christ shows the horror of such hearts, even while the outward man might be carrying out deeds of extravagant religiosity:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)
Such is the consistent, almost relentless, testimony of Scripture. We are by nature dead, rebellious, enslaved, senseless, incapable sinners. It is an awful but an honest portrait of the unconverted heart.
In the next post, we will see how the testimony of daily life affirms the testimony of Scripture with respect to our desperate spiritual condition.
i Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964, repr. 1997), 57 ff.
Part 2 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.