Saturday, August 6, 2005

Monergism I: The human condition

Okay, as promised, here's my first installment into the biblical truth known as monergism, that is, the fact that salvation is 100% God's decision and work, and we have no part of it. I will not argue that the word "grace" means that we are blessed apart from meeting some set of conditions. Indeed, Scripture says there is a condition that must be met for salvation: belief in the gospel. But just because there are terms involved does not mean that the recipient deserves the blessing he is receiving. With that said, hear me out…

Watch any of today's popular movies, and what's a main theme? Isn't it that, in the end, despite some evil character's ploys and schemes, the inherent good of man triumphs and wins the day. Pick a movie--Armageddon, Braveheart, Happy Gilmore--somehow a person is able to dig within himself and pull out a measure of altruism or self-sacrifice or golf skill and save the world. We want earnestly to believe in, though often hidden, the goodness of mankind. Call me a pessimist, a skeptic, or what you will, but I don't buy it one bit.

What we really need are more books that expose true human nature, such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This novel exposes what happens when people are left to themselves rather than being subject to social law's restraints: young boys riot, insult each other, and finally slaughter their friends.

Enter many of today's megachurches and sit through a sermon or praise songs, and some things might strike you as they did me: the sermons are mostly based on self-help or self-betterment or how to live more holy. Not only is this a bastardization of the gospel of grace, but there's often an underlying current of how we're really able to make these things happen. We want earnestly to buy that we aren't so bad, so we fill bestseller lists with fecal pop psychology that says "You can do it!" Jesus becomes only a teacher on how to live well rather than also a prophet of divine fury (Luke 19.41-44) and the One who makes the dead come to life.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sins is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8.34-36). The first thing we simply must know in order to get the gospel right--and all of life and eternity beyond--is that we are by nature slaves to sin, period. Part of the Fall of man was that all humans have inherited a corrupt nature (Rom 5.18), Mother Theresa and Mohandes Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., included.

This therefore renders us not only evil in heart—just look at Gen 6.5—but also unable to desire and choose God. The whole question over whether or not we can choose God by free will is moot; how can one's will be "free" while a "slave" to sin and corruption? Let me briefly cover a few texts that back this up more fully:

Romans 8.7-8: "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Here Paul is speaking of flesh (sarx; NIV "sinful nature") as our existence and way of living apart from the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit of God, we are hostile and unsubmissive to God. Man in this state is not just rebellious; he wants mutiny! He is hostile to God (see also Rom 1.30; Col 1.21).

Moreover, he cannot possibly have saving faith in this state. Why, do you ask? I've got two reasons. (1) Fulfilling God's true law has always required faith and a God-honoring spirit (Rom 3.27; 4.1-12). How can someone do this when he is hostile and unsubmissive to God? No, he cannot, for "the mind that is set on the flesh…does not submit to God's law." In other words, it cannot have faith. (2) The writer of the letter to the Hebrews (Apollos?) instructs us that without faith it is impossible to please God (11.6). In other words, the only way to please God is through faith. Pleasing God once again presupposes faith, yet those in the flesh not only do not, but cannot please God. If you have faith, maybe you don't always please God, but you are able. But "those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

Ephesians 2.1-3: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Here is the complete fallenness of all of mankind, every man, woman, and child. All of mankind, by nature (apart from the Holy Spirit), walks in transgression (not merely unknowing error, but deliberate crossing of God's boundaries). To emphasize the universality of this, note that Paul says that Satan (the "prince") is of the air: he is everywhere. "We all once lived in the passions of our flesh"—no one is exempt.

In the middle ages many philosopher used to have humans divided into two separate faculties, the body and the mind. "We may succumb to bodily appetites such as disordered sexual lusts, laziness, overeating, covetousness, greed, and so forth," they would say, but they believed their reasoning and ability to grasp true goodness with their minds lay intact. However, note that both the desires of the body and mind are associated with evil and are separate from God's Spirit. Even the reasoning and ability to appropriate and embrace truth is corrupt in natural man (see Eph 4.17-24!). Clearly the mind of natural man is unable to understand the proper weight and gravity of our sinfulness and the weight and gravity of the person of Jesus Christ. Our mental abilities ("the mind set on the flesh"; Rom 8.7) are even so enslaved to the lies of Satan that we have all failed to perceive God's communication to us through his created works (Rom 1.19-20). Does this leave us an excuse? No! It only furthers condemns us for our blindness.

Perhaps the most obvious thing pertaining to our utter inability to know God and believe in him is that Paul twice (2.1,5) says that we are dead in our sins. Not wheezing or weak, not feeble and maimed, but stone-cold dead. Our bodies have grown cold, our skin is ashen and waxy, and our joints have gone stiff. Some like to soften this teaching by saying that we are like drowning people to whom God throws a life preserver, but we need to take hold of it. Au contrere, mon frere. Corpses floating in the ocean cannot grab life presevers!

What are we to do? "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved" (Eph 2.4-5; cf Col 2.13). It is God who makes us alive, entirely by his own decision and calling, for dead men cannot resuscitate themselves. Praise the Son, because he is the only one who can set us free from sin and death (John 8.36; Rom 7.24 - 8:4)!

[Dig deeper: Ezekiel 37.1-14; The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther; The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, John Calvin; The Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards; The Canons of Dordt]


Ryan P.T. said...

Preach it!

Well, you know I agree with you, so I'll refrain from having us pat each other on the back. This is well written and cogently argued. Ultimately, it's just a matter of pointing to Scripture.

dan said...

Hi, found your blog through comments on friends of friends of friends blogs and found my way to this posting. I wanted to point out a couple scriptures that I think are worth taking a look at, but want to first preface this by saying that my comments are not meant to be rude but are because of the love of Christ.

The first is regarding the comments about being 'dead in sin'. I think this scripture clarifies what it means to be dead in sin:

What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:21-23

Being dead in sin here is directly contrasted with eternal life, not so much being physically dead as: Not wheezing or weak, not feeble and maimed, but stone-cold dead. Our bodies have grown cold, our skin is ashen and waxy, and our joints have gone stiff

I also think you may contradict yourself in the following:
Indeed, Scripture says there is a condition that must be met for salvation: belief in the gospel.

Perhaps the most obvious thing pertaining to our utter inability to know God and believe in him is that Paul twice (2.1,5) says that we are dead in our sins.

Hebrews 4:2-3 says it better than I could:
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

and also Romans 3:23-26
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Christ justifies the believer, if we were unable to believe than salvation would be a free gift that we are not able to accept. Christ is the only one that can set us free, and it's not by the law of works but by the law of faith.