Depraved

anthony_hopkins_hannibal_lecterOftentimes I find myself having to explain my understanding of Christianity. This is mainly because my theology doesn’t quite fit most of what I see operating here in Newfoundland. It’s quite common in some parts of the world, just not here.

Last weekend was one such instance. Somebody asked me after Church to explain “calvinism”, which for me means an explanation of the doctrines of grace. When I explain these ideas, some people hear it with joy, others respond as I did when I first heard it (what an evil understanding of salvation).

For the sake of clarity, though, I’m going to go through the five points, why i believe them and what that means practically.

The first point is that I believe people are depraved. I am included in that “people”.

This means that i think people do not in themselves seek to do the right thing, and even when they do the “right thing” as seen by outsiders, it’s for the wrong reasons. This means that while I think people stumble into “good” acts from time to time. people cannot be good in and of themselves. 

Of course, I see that the Bible teaches this. Just 2 examples:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Romans 3:10b-3:13).

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)

More importantly, with very little reflection on my own motivations at any given moment, even as people praise me for doing something good (and even as I do things that are seen as good), I can tell that my heart is not really aiming for the good of others, much less the glory of God. In and of myself I am really not a good person.

So what does this mean?

1) Christians are not in themselves more righteous than unbelievers, or even people who openly embrace their sin. We are in ourselves on an equal footing. This means that when we tell others who do not believe that they are evil and going to hell, we need to be careful that we don’t get (or give) the idea that because we are saved we are any less evil in ourselves. We could not embrace God any more than the unbeliever could, and we were saved by God while we were still enemies of His. 

2) Christians need to pray for unbelievers that we talk to, as much as preach to them. Conversion is an act of God, not of ourselves. This means that the goal in evangelism is to make the Gospel clear, not to make them believe it (we can’t do that). they are depraced and incapable of coming to Christ unless God leads them.

3) Christians need to be thankful to God for our salvation. Not in a lip-service kind of way, but because we actually are completely dependent on God for our salvation, not on our superior intellects, reasoning skills, superior faith ability, or indeed anything else. In ourselves we are depraved. We are saved by Jesus at all levels.

4) Finally, Christians should be freed from the silliness of pretending that we are righteous. We should not embrace sinful behaviour, but since we are depraved, we shouldn’t be surprised when once in a while sin creeps up in ourselves or others, and we shouldn’t be shaming when it does. We simply need to call one another to repentance and act in grace, not because we are better than those we call to repentance, but because we are saved by Christ.

In the end, the realization that we are in ourselves not good, and incapable of coming to God on our own is not simply a downer, but a fact that once remembered avoids the pride that so easily ensnares Christians, and reminds us that in Our faith we do not ask people to look at us for the ultimate value of our faith, but to Jesus Christ.

soli Deo gloria

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

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