The depravity of man is not a subject that is often widely embraced or enjoyed. “Thanks, Pastor, for telling me what a terrible sinner and how awful my condition is,” is not a typical response to the topic of sin and depravity. Yet two truths must be acknowledged —
- Scripture is unrelenting in its affirmation of the depravity of our nature and the sinfulness of the sin in us (e.g., Gen. 3:17ff; Ps. 51:35; Is. 6:5; Mt. 5:3-5, 48; Rom. 1:28ff; 3:9-18; 5:12ff). [Aside: depravity does not mean that every man is as sinful as he could be, but that every aspect of his life is tainted and influenced by sin. He can do nothing good to please God.]
- The ability to understand and appreciate the grace of God is directly proportional to our affirmation of our sinfulness and unworthiness of standing in the presence of God.
In a recent sermon that touched on this subject, John Piper noted,
…don’t short-circuit the wonderful work of Jesus for you and in you by failing to see clearly how woeful your condition is without him. The reason the Bible tells us woeful news about ourselves is to make the greatness of grace and the greatness of salvation feel as wonderful as it really is.
Only when we understand the magnitude of our sin, will we appreciate God’s grace. The more readily we affirm our spiritual emptiness, the more grateful we will be for God’s grace of forgiveness.
But as long as we continue to assert our worthiness and argue against our depravity, we will not acknowledge our need for God’s grace. God will be “supplemental help” to us rather than the One who resurrects us from the dead. Instead of affirming dependence on Him, we will attempt to justify ourselves. We will be defensive and argumentative when criticisms come, because those criticisms invalidate our attempts at self-justification. When we really grasp our depravity, no criticism can offend us, because no criticism can fully reveal the sinfulness of our minds and hearts.
So again, the reason we speak about depravity is not for the end of “beating people down,” but for the purpose of giving us eyes to see the condition of our hearts as God sees them, so we can also see with clarity the magnificence of His saving grace. Or, said another way, Ephesians 2:4-10 will be the greatest joy to our hearts only when we fully embrace the truthfulness of Ephesians 2:1-3.