Unity In Times of DisagreementLast week we took a look at an aspect of God’s wrath that most of us were totally unfamiliar with. As I mentioned last week, when we hear about God’s wrath we automatically think about images of an apocalyptic nature–hailstones as large as trucks falling from the heavens, scorpions as big as horses, and the like. Those maybe scenes that cause us to think about the book of Revelation, but there is another aspect of God’s wrath that is revealed in the book of Romans that, to me, is even more unnerving than the scenes from Revelation.

In our study of Romans last week we learned that God’s wrath also includes giving us what we desire more than anything else in life–anything other than an intimate relationship with the One who has made us. In our study from last time we examined the downward spiral that takes place when we declare our independence from God. The first step downward that we studied in Romans 1:24-28 was our being handed over to sexual immorality, namely fornication and adultery. The second step downward was exchanging our “natural” sexual desires for the opposite sex for “unnatural” desires for same sex relationships.

Today, I want us to focus on the last rung of the ladder of immorality and independence, being handed over to a depraved mind. We briefly touched on this last week, but I want to explore it in more depth this morning. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and then we will begin.

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32 NIV)

There was, in days gone by, a teaching that was popular among the Reformers called “total depravity.” The teaching was rooted in Augustine’s doctrine of “original sin,” but John Calvin is most closely identified with the teaching of “total depravity.” Calvin taught that, as a consequence of the Fall, the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, every person born into the world is morally corrupt and void of the power necessary to choose to follow God or live a righteous life. John Calvin wrote, “Man is so totally overwhelmed as with a deluge, that no part is free from sin.” (Quoted in Dictionary of Theological Terms, Dr Alan Cairns, Page 256.)

In December of 1525, the Father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, wrote a book called, “The Bondage of the Will,” which is a classic in helping us understand that apart from the grace of God we are totally incapable of saving ourselves or living a righteous life. Arthur Pink was born in Nottingham, England in 1886, but came to America to study God’s Word at The Moody Bible Institute. Pink wrote a powerful book called, “The Sovereignty of God,” in which he writes, “Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore he will never choose or prefer that which is divine or spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he must be born again.” (Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Banner of Truth Trust, 1961. pg. 93.) The lessons that we can learn from these old Bible teachers is much needed in our day. The lessons that we have been taught, both from society and coming from many pulpits, is far different than the message of original sin and total depravity.

How have we strayed so far from the teachings of God’s Word and the great Bible teachers of ages past? Well, I’m sure there are many, many reasons why we have strayed, but one of the reasons is that we have allowed others to shape our thinking more than we’ve allowed God’s Word to shape us. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about. B.F. Skinner was a professor of psychology at Harvard University from 1958-1974. B.F. Skinner developed the line of thinking known as “radical behavorism.” He believed that positive reinforcement could change our behavior. Next to Freud, B.F. Skinner is one of the most influential people in all of psychology. Skinner also developed what is called, “operant conditioning,” the idea that behavior is determined by its consequences, whether they be positive reinforcements or punishments. He believed that we can condition people to make right choices. One of Skinner’s partners, J.B. Watson, in 1920 published one of the most famous research studies of the past century, “The Little Albert Study.” In the study, Watson and his partner, Rosalie Rayner, sought to condition a nine month old child. In his study Watson wrote,

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any kind of specialist I might select-doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. (pg. 104)

We can take any child, put them in the right conditions, mold them with the best education, and that child will become whatever we want him or her to become. Really? Another important shaper of American thought was Abraham Maslow. There is not one of us here this morning who did not learn “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” while we were in school. It was Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May who developed what we know as Humanistic Psychology. These men set out to teach us that humanity is good by nature and capable of evolving to the degree that we will usher in a new utopia on planet earth. At the peak of Maslow’s pyramid is “self-actualization,” the state where we reach our fullest potential, a self-actualized state of being. Maslow and the other humanistic psychologists feel that we are free to become whatever we choose if we will only get in touch with our inner-self. Some of you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with our study of Romans?” I’m so glad you asked. It has everything to do with how we have become so far removed from what God’s Word teaches.

Today, the majority of people in our society would agree with the ideas of B.F. Skinner and Abraham Maslow. The majority believe that we are basically good people. They believe that through effort we can achieve anything. They believe that the societal problems that we are experiencing are the fault of an unhealthy environment. We can reach our full potential and experience happiness and fulfillment in this life if we choose to pursue it. The Bible teaches us that we do not have the ability to reach our potential, the potential that God desires for us. The Greek word for “sin” means “to miss the mark.” Paul wrote, 23 “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23 NIV) We, all of us, have missed the mark; we have missed the target of righteousness and holiness that God has set before us. We may move the bull’s eye on the target to suit our own preferences, but you and I have missed the mark on God’s target. We are marred, deeply scarred, by sin. We may “do” good now and then, but we have no capacity to “be” good. Let’s take a look at verses 28-29.

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips… (Romans 1:28-29 NIV)

We’ve seen so far in our study of Romans that God has revealed Himself to us. We can know His power and divine nature through what God has made. The knowledge that we can gain about God through what He has made is limited, but it is enough to make us want to know more. If we do not think it is worth our time to take in this knowledge of God and allow it to lead us and guide us in life then God will give us what we want–life without God. Instead of having a mind that is constantly being renewed by God, shaped by God’s Word, and transformed by God’s Spirit–we will have a depraved mind.

Last week we took a look at the Greek word for “depraved.” If you will remember, the word was used to describe the testing of metals and coins in the ancient world. If the quality of the metal or workmanship was inadequate then it was thrown into the bin labeled, “worthless.” This is the idea behind God giving us over to a depraved mind. If we don’t want God to fill our minds, then God will give us over to a mind filled with other things, worthless things. What flows from this type of mind? Well, Paul says that it leads to doing things that “ought not to be done.”

In the very next verse Paul begins listing what ought not to be done. The very first word that he uses is a general term, but it speaks volumes to us if we will pay attention. The Greek word for “wickedness,” or “unrighteousness,” as the King James and New American Standard versions translate the word literally means the opposite of right relationships. The Greek word is, “??????” (adikia) and it means, “injustice, unrighteousness of heart and life, or an act of unrighteousness.” If you will remember our study from a few weeks ago we learned about the “alpha privative” in the Greek language. If you take a word and put an “a” in front of it then it gives it the opposite meaning. This is what Paul has done here in verse 29. Instead of having our minds filled with righteousness, or the things that lead to right relationships, those who reject God have their minds filled with unrighteousness.

Next, Paul lays out the specifics of how wickedness is worked into our minds and worked out through the living of life. Paul lists 21 different manifestations of a depraved mind in verses 29-31. This is not an exhaustive list. There are three other places in the New Testament where Paul gives lists of characteristics of a depraved mind. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Read along with me.

9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)

Next, let’s take a look at another list that Paul gave to the folks in Galatia. Turn with me to Galatians 5:19-24. As we read this list I want you to also notice that Paul lays out what we know as the “fruit of the Spirit” which is to characterize the minds and lives of those who choose to retain the knowledge of God and seek to live their lives for His glory.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24 NIV)

The last list that we find in the New Testament is found in Colossians 3:5-10. Turn there with me and let’s read together.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:5-10 NIV)

If we were to take the time to study each of these lists we would see that they are not exactly the same. There are some items listed on each of the three lists and there are some things that are unique to one particular list. Sexual sins and selfish ambition or greed are found in each of the lists. Witchcraft is only found in the list found in Galatians.

All of the defining qualities of a depraved mind are a violation of the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments we have sins which are against God and sins which are against our fellow human beings. Each of the sins listed are sins against one or the other.

I hope you noticed something that stood out to me this past week as I studied these lists. Go back to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and take a look with me. After Paul lists the folks who will not inherit the Kingdom of God he writes, 11 “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV) This is what we “were,” but we were washed, we were sanctified, and we were justified. How? Self-actualization? Being basically good in our character? Not on your life. Paul says these things have taken place in us “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Now, let’s go on. In Paul’s letter to the folks in Galatia he lists the “acts of the sinful nature.” Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to list the “fruit of the Spirit,” the “alpha privative” if you will of all of the acts of the sinful nature. At the end of Paul’s discussion he says,24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24 NIV)

In Colossians, Paul lists the behaviors that belong to the “earthly nature.” Remember, Paul is writing to those who have trusted in Jesus when he tells them that they must “rid themselves” of things like these. Paul goes on to say,9 “you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10 NIV) Have you recognized what jumped out at me this week as I was studying these passages? There is hope for us isn’t there? Our hope is not in a strong will, it’s not in our inherent goodness, if you want to believe such a thing, but our hope is in Christ. He has come to free us from our bondage to sin and fill our hearts and minds with godliness rather than ungodliness.

Those who would choose to bristle at the Bible and view it as an antiquated book for times past would argue against total depravity because, as they would say, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I’m not all that bad either.” What they are saying is that they aren’t as bad as the next guy. R.C. Sproul addresses this issue powerfully in his book, “Essential Truths Of The Christian Faith.”

After being rescued from captivity in Iraq and experiencing firsthand the corrupt methods of Saddam Hussein, one American hostage remarked, “Despite all that I endured I never lost my confidence in the basic goodness of people.” Perhaps this view rests in part on a sliding scale of the relative goodness or wickedness of people. Obviously some people are far more wicked than others. Next to Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler the ordinary run-of-the-mill sinner looks like a saint. But if we lift our gaze to the ultimate standard of goodness – the holy character of God – we realize that what appears to be a basic goodness on an earthly level is corrupt to the core. The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and “utter” depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. For total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin. (Sproul, R.C. Essential Truths Of The Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992. pg. 147)

We aren’t that bad are we? Sure things could be worse. They would be a whole lot worse in our world today if it were not for God’s grace. We can be comfortable with our “goodness” as long as we keep our eyes fixed on those around us that we choose to compare ourselves to in life. We always compare ourselves to those that make us look better, those that make us feel better about ourselves, but we are looking in the wrong places for comparisons my friends. God says, “Be holy,” not because your neighbor is holy, but “because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 NIV)

There is one final rung in the downward spiral of depravity and Paul speaks of these folks in Romans 1:32 where he writes,

32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 NIV)

When I was a kid I was prone to get in trouble. It wasn’t that I was a “bad” kid, it was just my sinful nature, I was a victim of total depravity. I wish I would have known about this doctrine when I was young because I would have tried to educate my parents about it. I have a feeling my dad wouldn’t have bought it. When I would get in trouble my dad would say, “You know better than that!” You know what? He was right. I did know better, but I went and did it anyway. There is only one thing worse than doing wrong when we know that we are doing wrong and that is encouraging others to do the very things that will bring about their demise and destruction.

Paul says that we know what we are doing is deserving of punishment, but we keep doing them even though we know better than that. God desires that we be a blessing to those around us, not lead them towards the things that will destroy them. My experience is that misery loves company. We know that what we are doing is killing us, killing our relationships with God and others, and yet we keep doing these very things and egg others on to participate with us. The lesson we have been studying this morning is not a popular lesson in the modern-day Church because folks feel like it a “downer.” We want “warm fuzzies” that make us feel good about ourselves. I don’t think this lesson is a downer at all. Before you can ever be healed you must first know your ailment. We are sinners and it is terminal. There is no hope within ourselves to turn our situation around. Yet, there is great hope for us this morning and it is found in Jesus. I pray that you will recognize your need for God’s Son this very morning and invite Him in.

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91stOKC, OK. 73114
May 14, 2013

You Know Better Than That
Romans 1:28-32