To live fully as God intended, we need a vocabulary of:
- Creation: the original-story
- Depravity: the back-story
- Grace: the salvation-story
- Growth: the present story
- Glory: the end-story
We need to construct life on clear Biblical definitions for all five areas.
Question: What does each one contribute to the way I see myself and the world?
1. Creation: the original-story
Is there a personal Creator? The Biblical account of creation sets the stage for our existence with a Creator/creature order for life. He commands; we obey. He provides our dwelling place. He defines our purpose, meaning and destiny. If we live outside of this order, we harm ourselves and those around us. Creation also speaks to human dignity as beings made in the image and likeness of God. This image is retained after sin entered the world (see: Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).
Reflection on the Creator
“Creation is the stage and first act of the world’s drama. In the second act, sin enters the picture, but only as a spoiler of God’s good creation. Creation is original; sin is only a parasite on it.
In the third act God’s spectacular intervention through Jesus Christ is the story of creation restored, maybe even surpassed by the end of the drama. The world’s big story is not just about sin and grace, but about creation, sin, and grace.
You might say that creation anticipates God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ. Creation was itself a way for God to spend himself. I think we may safely assume that God wasn’t bored. God wasn’t necessarily a venture capitalist, looking for a risky investment such as the human race. We may also assume that God wasn’t lonely. No one said, ‘It’s not good for God to be alone. So let there be galaxies and jackrabbits and widemouth bass.’
It’s true that God cannot be God without relationships, but it doesn’t follow that God needs a world in order to have them. After all, God has the endless dance of life within the holy Trinity, the ceaseless exchange of vitality, the infinite expanse of Spirit upon Spirit in superlative, triplicate consciousness.
To speak plainly, from eternity God has had a communal life and didn’t need to create a world to get one. Nothing internal or external to the Trinity compelled God to create.
But if creation is not necessary for God, neither is it an accident or a whim—as if God were doodling one day with a cosmic magic marker, drawing stick men and stick women to idle away a few thousand years of eternity, then sighed enormously and discovered to his amazement that the figures were starting to swell and stir with the breath of life!
Creation is neither a necessity nor an accident. Instead, given God’s interior life that overflows with regard for others, we might say creation is an act that was fitting for God. It was so much like God to create, to imagine possible worlds and then to form one of them. Creation is an act of imaginative love” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
2. Depravity: the back-story
We are made in the image of God and this explains human dignity. But it is not the whole story. We are beings of depravity because of our rebellion against God.
“….we must enter the complexity of both dignity and depravity. We are made in the image of God–glorious. We have taken on Adam and Eve’s hiding and blaming–ruin. We are glorious ruins, bent glory. And it shows up in every moment of our existence until we one day we see Jesus as he is and become pure as he is pure. To grow character, we must not deny or hide from the reality of our unique dignity. We are made in the image of God, and we are uniquely woven with awesome beauty. We may be remarkably handsome or bright, possess great musical ability or a hysterical sense of humor. We may possess remarkable abilities to encourage others or to read the nuances of relationships. Whatever marks us with glory, we are meant to prize it and use it for the sake of others.
To grow character, however, we must also not deny or hide from the reality of our depravity. Each of us has a unique way of hiding shame and blaming others for our failures. We must admit the truth that we are a mess and that we mar everything we do with some stain of the Fall. We are meant to grieve this and repent. We are both awful and awesome at the same time.” – Dan Allender in Leading With A Limp, pages 164-165.
It starts with creation:
“since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:19-22)
•Many desire a better, more progressive view of humans. But reality continues to frustrate the vision. Just read history or the daily paper. An inaccurate diagnosis leads to inadequate solutions. Politicians offer more money, educations, programs but the flood of evil and crime knows no end. We pursue a cure because of a deep commitment to believing that things should be better. We were made for more than this.
We innately know that, “Human life is not the way it’s supposed to be. And so…the world’s great thinkers often diagnose the human predicament and prescribe various remedies for it. They diagnose oppression and prescribe justice. They diagnose the conformism of bad faith and prescribe the freedom of authentic choice. A few look at the world, fall into a depression, and put their prescription pad away” (Plantinga).
- When we think about total or pervasive depravity, remember that it does not mean that we are always acting as badly as we can be but that we are always as bad off as we can be outside of God’s grace in Christ.
- We find in each person a mix of good and bad but there is some bad in every part. “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21; cf. Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23)
We don’t need God’s help.
We need God’s intervention and rescue. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
- The reach of depravity extends to every person and every part of every person. It’s without borders among us and in us.
“… we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).
Romans 3:19-20; 22-24
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
- Romans 5:6-10- We are powerless, ungodly, sinners who are enemies of God.
- Romans 5:12- “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”
- Romans 11:32- “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
Biblical descriptions of pervasive depravity: •Genesis 3:17-19; 6:5; 8:21 •Psalm 51:5 •Jeremiah 17:9 •Mark 7:21-23 •Romans 3:9-21 •Romans 5:12 •Ephesians 2:1-3; 4:17-19
Total or pervasive depravity= total inability
- John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”
- John 6:65 “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Without this backdrop, we will wrongly define the terms of Romans 8:29-30 (see below) and miss the great point of Romans 8:35-39.
Vocabulary of grace (or salvation) (Romans 8:29-30)
Five actions of God toward me
- Foreknew (Προεγνω)
- Predestined (Προωρισεν)
- Called (Εκαλεσεν)
- Justified (Εδικαιωσεν)
- Glorified (εδοξασεν)
- Without the back-story of paradise lost and human depravity, these words will be poorly defined and lose their meaning. We will believe that we are either doing fine or that we just need some help from God. Or we might even believe that we are the ones who must make ourselves acceptable to God.
Reflection on total depravity: (from: Loraine Boettner)
“This doctrine of Total Inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that any one is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body Is dead. What it does mean is that since the fail man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation. His corruption is extensive but not necessarily intensive. It is in this sense that man since the fall ‘is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.’ He possesses a fixed bias of the will against God, and instinctively and willingly turns to evil. He is an alien by birth, and a sinner by choice. The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.”
Q. How does the description “vandalism of shalom” explain our depravity?
Living against ourselves: (from Cornelius Plantinga Jr.)
“The real human predicament, as Scripture reveals, is that inexplicably, irrationally, we all keep living our lives against what’s good for us. In what can only be called the mystery of iniquity, human beings from the time of Adam and Eve (and, before them, a certain number of angelic beings) have so often chosen to live against God, against each other, and against God’s world.”
“We live even against ourselves. According to Genesis 3 and Romans 5, our whole races ‘has a habit’ where sin is concerned. Near the beginning of our history, we human beings broke the harmony of paradise and began to live against our ultimate good… As Genesis 3 and Genesis 4 reveal, we rebelled against God and then we fled from God. We once had a choice. We now have a near-compulsion—at least, that’s what we have without the grace of God to set us free. Over the centuries we humans have ironed in this near-compulsion, with the result that each new generation enters a world that has long ago lost its Eden, a world that is now half-ruined by the billions of bad choices and millions of old habits congealed into thousands of cultures across all the ages.”
“In this world, even saints discover, in exasperation, that whenever they want to do right ‘evil lies close at hand’ (Romans 7:21). We are ‘conceived and born in sin.’ This is a way of stating the doctrine of original sin, that is, that the corruption and guilt of our first parents have run right down the generations, tainting us all.”
“The Bible’s account of the human predicament is that from the start we’ve been choosing wrong. We’ve kept on perverting and polluting God’s gifts. It’s not just that each of us commits individual sins—telling lies, for example, or wasting time. The situation is much more serious than this. By sinning we not only grieve God and our neighbor; we also wreck our own integrity. We are like people whose abuse of alcohol ruins not only their liver but also their judgment and will, the things that might have kept them from further abuse of alcohol. The same pattern holds for everybody. We now sin because we are sinners, because we have a habit, and because the habit has damaged our judgment and will” (above quotes from Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be).