Monday, January 14, 2008

I'm Fallen, and I Can't Get Up!

by Phil Johnson @

t seems the doctrines that pertain to human sin are generally some of the hardest doctrines for people to understand and embrace—particularly the doctrines of original sin and universal depravity. Of all the doctrines taught in Scripture about the nature of humanity, the one doctrine that comes under attack more than any other is the Bible's teaching that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that we inherited a sinful nature from Adam, and that it means we are completely helpless to redeem ourselves from the condemnation of God.

To paraphrase Mrs. Fletcher, we're fallen, and we can't get up.

Those ideas run counter to every other religion man has ever devised. People want to believe they are basically good, that they can be good enough to please God, and that if they just set their hearts and minds to do good, they can redeem themselves from their own sin.

People don't want to believe that Adam's sin put the whole human race in a spiritually hopeless state. They don't want to admit that they are sinful to the very core of their beings. They don't want to admit that their most basic desires, and even the private imaginations of their hearts are utterly and hopelessly sinful, and they are powerless to change themselves. By any standard, these are hard truths.

And yet every bit of evidence we examine confirms all these things. Scripture clearly teaches that there is none that doeth good. There is none that seeketh after God. No, not one. Human experience confirms this. G. K. Chesterton once wrote that the doctrine of original sin is the easiest of all the doctrines of Scripture to prove. Evidence of human depravity is all around us. No one in all our acquaintance is sin-free. Proof that the whole human race is fallen is everywhere, in the daily newspapers, on the evening news, and clearly evident in every life we encounter.

Most of all, if we're honest with ourselves, the most persuasive proof that the human race is hopelessly depraved is inside our own hearts.

And Chesterton said if we don't believe this doctrine, which we have abundant empirical evidence to support, how can we possibly believe the truths of the Bible we're required to accept by faith?

The Bible's teaching on original sin and human depravity is vital to orthodox Christianity. Every movement in Christianity that has rejected these truths has gone badly astray. The fundamental error of the Pelagians lay in Pelagius's rejection of the doctrine of original sin. The liberalism of the Socinians basically hinged the same error. This is a vital doctrine, and those who reject it place themselves in eternal peril and make shipwreck of the faith.

One significant fact that strikes me in Scripture is that the most godly men on the pages of Scripture all had a deep sense of their own sinfulness. David was a man after God's own heart, yet in Psalm 52:5 he confessed that he was sinful from the moment of his conception. Isaiah was perhaps the greatest prophet in all the Old Testament, and yet in Isaiah 6:5, he wrote, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." The apostle Paul, the figure who towers over the early church, representing perhaps the ultimate example of godly scholarship, wrote in Romans 7:18: "In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." In verse 24 he wrote, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Again and again in Scripture, we see that the people who are the prime examples of godliness had the keenest perception of their own sinfulness.

The same principle holds true throughout Church history, too. Augustine spent years in frustration, coming to grips with the reality of his own sin. Martin Luther was so obsessed with his own sin that before his conversion he used to spend hours in the confessional booth, confessing long laundry lists of things that made him feel guilty. Charles Spurgeon spent several years of his childhood secretly wrestling with the terrifying realization that sin had so infected his heart that he was worthy of nothing but divine wrath.

Again and again we see that those who have embraced these truths of original sin and human depravity have been used by God in tremendous ways, while those who have resisted or rejected these truths have made shipwreck of the faith.

So this is a very crucial issue. And since I know that so many struggle with it, we'll examine it biblically in a series of posts yet to come. Fasten your seat belts.

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