Thursday, January 30, 2014

I Am Truly A Wretch

This morning, I sat down to continue on in the book of Romans.  I have been reading small portions each day from my MacArthur ESV Study Bible, including John's commentary, which greatly enhances the study.  My late Pastor Paul, who worked under MacArthur, once told me that John MacArthur preached on the book of Romans for 10 years.  Paul, himself, preached (if I'm remembering right) about 3 or 4 years, plowing through the rich mine of wealth that's to be found there and faithfully passing it on to the congregation.  If you have been blessed to have a pastor like Paul or John, who will devote himself with such tremendous passion to the Word, you have been blessed, indeed!

Today's verses gave me a serious pause, but only after seeing myself through the eyes of God.  As I read chapter 3, verses 9 through 18, the words resonated in my mind and penetrated my heart.  I found myself reading the verses out loud, then re-reading them a couple more times out loud.  It became obvious that the point was being driven home: I am a wretched sinner, and I needed to be reminded just how wretched I truly am.

Because of our profession of Jesus Christ, we often forget that the sinful baggage we carried in the past still has the propensity to rear its ugly head, now and then.  Forgiven, we are, and nothing, nor anyone, can or will separate His children from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39).  But because we are still in our flesh, we continue to sin.  Most professing Christians don't want to be told that.  They would prefer to ride in on the laurels of their new-found state, declaring, "I'm definitely not as bad as THAT guy!"  The difference between a true believer and a pretender is that when the true believer sins, conviction is immediate and repentance comes quickly.  He understands that he is just as much a wretch as the next guy, regardless of the degree or severity of the sin.  The pretender uses his self-perceived position of salvation to justify his behavior or sin.  He flippantly brushes it away, using the false and damning excuse that he's only human.  "After all, Jesus died for every offense I will commit, right?  So, no sweat!  I've got this!"

But the Word of God tells a very different story.  And although the Bible is full of evidence, from beginning to end, of the total depravity of mankind and what man is capable of, Romans 3:9-18 is perhaps the most compounded, undeniably clear, broadly construed assertion that we aren't what we pridefully confess ourselves to be.

We are wretched.

Let's take it verse by verse, with convincing snippets of Pastor MacArthur's commentary following each verse in italics. I would encourage you to read the following verses out loud.  They do carry an impact.

Concerning verses 9 through 18, MacArthur states, "Paul strings together a series of OT quotations that indict the character (vv 10-12), conversation (vv 13-14), and conduct (vv15-17) of all men.  Nine times he uses the words such as 'none' and 'all' to show the universality of human sin and rebellion" (emph. mine)

"What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin ("completely enslaved and dominated by sin"), as it is written:

  • "None is righteous, no, not one;" (Ps 14:1-3 and 53:1-3) - "Man is universally evil" (cf. Ps. 14:1)

  • "no one understands;" - "Man is unable to comprehend the truth of God or grasp His standard of righteousness (see Ps. 14:2; 53:3; ;cf. 1 Cor 2:14)  Sadly, his spiritual ignorance does not result from a lack of opportunity (Rom. 1:19, 2:15), but is an expression of his depravity and rebellion (Eph. 4:18).

  • "no one seeks after God." - "See Ps. 14:3.  This verse clearly implies that the world's false religions are fallen man's attempts to escape the true God - not to seek Him.  Man's natural tendency is to seek his own interests (cf. Phil 2:21), but his only hope is for God to seek him (John 6:37, 44).  It is only as a result of God's work in the heart that any seeks Him (Ps. 16:8, Matt. 6:33).

  • "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;"  - "See Ps. 14:3.  This word basically means 'to lean in the wrong direction.'  It was used to describe a soldier's turning the wrong way, or deserting.  All men are inclined to leave God's way and pursue their own (cf. Isa 53:6).

  • "no one does good, not even one." - See note on verse 10.

How are you doing?  Still need more convincing proof?  God gets a bit more forceful describing our nature in the following verses.  Let's continue...

  • "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongue to deceive." - "See Ps. 5:9.  Graves were sealed not only to show respect for the deceased, but to hide the sight and stench of the body's decay.  As an unsealed grave allows those who pass to see and smell what is inside, the unregenerate person's open throat - that is, the foul words that come from it - reveal the decay of his heart (cf. Prov 10:31-32; 15:2, 28; Jer. 17:9; Matt 12:34-35; 15:18; James 3:1-12).

  • "The venom of asps is under their lips." - "See Ps. 140:3 ["They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's, and under their lips is the venom of asps."]; cf Matt 3:7; 12:34 [Jesus calls the Pharisees a "brood of vipers"]" 
  • "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." - "This is quoted from Ps. 10:7.  It refers to wanting the worst for someone and publicly expressing that desire in caustic, derisive language.  'bitterness.'  The open, public expression of emotional hostility against one's enemy (cf. Ps. 64:3-4).
  • "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known." - "3:15-17 - This is quoted from Isa. 59:7-8.   'ruin and misery'.  Man damages and destroys everything he touches, leaving a trail of pain and suffering in his wake.  'way of peace'.  Not the lack of an inner sense of peace, but man's tendency toward strife and conflict, whether between individuals or nations (cf. Jer. 6:14)

And now the piece de resistance, the profound summation of all the above accusations:

  • "There is no fear of God before their eyes." - "See Ps. 36:1.  Man's true spiritual condition is nowhere more clearly seen than in the absence of a proper submission to and reverence for God.  Biblical fear for God consists of 1) awe of His great glory, and 2) dread of the results of violating that holy nature (cf. Prov. 9:10; 16:6; Acts 5:1-11, 1 Cor. 11:30).
In verse 19, Paul writes, "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law [Jews, through the written law of Moses, and Gentiles, who have the works of the law written on their hearts], so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God."

The Law was written in order that man would see his utter inability to keep any jot or tittle of it and point him to Jesus Christ, and because man is unable to keep it, he is cursed by that inability.  In simpler words, his mouth is zipped shut and he's without any excuse.  We know that the law makes sin known, but we also know it can't save us.  Instead the Law condemns us.  As Scripture tells us, if we have broken one commandment, we have broken them all (James 2:10).  If you believe you aren't guilty, I challenge you to take this short quiz.

So, what do we do?  How do we solve this sin problem?  The answer is that we can't do anything to make ourselves less of a wretch and clean ourselves up by attempting to adhere to and keep the Law.  Our works, our deeds, our good intentions are worthless and ineffective when it comes to pleasing God.  The prophet Isaiah summed it up in this verse:  "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." (Isaiah 64:6)    When one understands the meaning behind "polluted garment," or as the NIV translates it, "filthy rag," the meaning of "unclean" becomes quite clear.

Look out on today's world and the condition it's in.   The world is a HUGE a mess of decay, debauchery, unrighteousness, and outright wickedness.  Evil abounds in every corner.  Abortion is universally encouraged and accepted under the guise of "personal choice," even within the church which largely avoids speaking out against this child sacrifice to Molech.  Homosexuality and every form of sexual deviancy fills every nook and cranny of a society that demands Christians be tolerant.  Porn, not only rampant outside the church, but within it.  Lying and not being called on it.  Adultery.  Covetousness.  Disrespect of parents, elders, and society at large.   Blasphemy.   Wolves standing behind the pulpit preaching falsehoods and filling the minds of their hearers with heresy and gleefully emptying their congregant's pockets.  Unbelief and outright enmity and antagonism for God and His Word.   Violence on every street of every nation.  Hatred of all that is moral and virtuous.  Ethnic wars being waged and hostility poured out upon our brothers and sisters who are persecuted in over 60 nations.  Governments corrupted with the pride, arrogance, and greed of their leaders...

...the list is endless and only limited to man's vile and malevolent imagination - and it's getting worse each day.

It kind of makes your head want to explode, doesn't it?

"There is no fear of God before their eyes"

That's us, folks.  Mankind in all our flawed "glory" (and I use that term very loosely).   Having been made in the image of God by His own hands, but doing everything we can to malign and denigrate that image and to thwart and negate His very Word.

If you could look at yourself through God's eyes, what would you see?  Would you see a son or daughter clothed in the blood of Jesus' righteousness, striving to keep firmly entrenched in the Word of God, standing on His  foundation, and continuously repenting of your ever sinful thoughts and actions and striving to finish the race well? (2Tim 4:7-8)  Would you see the wretch you truly are when you consider God's great power and glory?

Or does that image of you reflect a pseudo you; one who wears the badge of Christianity, yet secretly, or even openly, revels in godlessness and arrogantly thinks God doesn't notice or shrugs His shoulders because it's just a little straying off the pathway, a short jog in the road, and, after all, you are all you were meant to be?  No one is perfect, right?

Let me answer that:  there was only One who was perfect, but we are supposed to strive for His perfection, putting off the "old man" and putting on the new (Eph. 4:17-24).  In other words, we need to get out of the gutter.

Do you see yourself as you should?  Like I see myself?  A man or woman much worse than the next; a wretched sinner, chief among them all, grieving the Holy Spirit daily, and unworthy of the deep, abounding and abiding love and providence God continues to pour out on us?

Each one of us should tremble at the thought that the day is coming when we will stand before Almighty God in all His glory and holiness - an image we can't even begin to comprehend! - and the unrepentant life we led, thoughts we had, and things we did or did not do will be splayed before us.  Even more dire is that they may condemn us: 

"On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness...’" (Matt 7:22-24).

"There is no fear of God before their eyes"

For those who are true professors of Jesus Christ, they understand that Scripture isn't talking about the kind of fear that causes dread and anxiety.  They know it to mean reverential awe, admiration, and submissiveness to Almighty God and a "good understanding" of His righteous standards of holiness and justice.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding." (Ps. 111:10)

However, within the body of Christ, there is a growing number of professing Christians who are not being told that the "wisdom and instruction" contained within the Word of God is there to benefit them in their spiritual growth.  A whole new breed of "fools" are being reared in the church through apostate and heretical teaching, ungodly entertainment, idolatry, complacency and apathy, and a watered-down, seeker-sensitive Gospel that is void of its very essence - the actual Gospel!

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:7)

They "despise" the truth of God when it's presented to them; after all, that's not what their pastor told them!  "He told me he didn't believe in total depravity and that there was good in all of us!"  (I actually witnessed a pastor utter those words in his sermon - and it was the last one I suffered through).  They are quickly becoming deficient in making good judgment, and unwisely following after the world and its cunning wiles because they are witnessing it from their pew within the very church they attend and, as described above, straight from the mouths of those who are supposed to be leading them towards Christ's righteousness.  And as they blithely trip along throughout their lives, once in a while dipping their toes into the polluted waters of sin and foolishly thinking there is nothing wrong with an occasional  hiatus away from holiness, they are proving God's admonition and point:  

Man is wretched to the very core of his soul.

There is a solution to all this.  Although the apostle Paul begins the above verses with a precise demonstration of mankind's current state of wretchedness, God's righteousness, the Law and faith and their purpose and effect, and very clearly details God's holy judgment and wrath that will be poured out upon the unrighteous, unrepentant sinner, he brings us full circle to the cure:

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins [delaying judgment to a future time] It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Yep, I am truly a wretch.  I have fallen short of God's glory and righteousness - far, far short.  I acknowledge my depravity and sinfulness that is before God's sight each and every moment and that rises as a stench to His nostrils.  But because Jesus Christ took upon Himself my wretchedness - crediting every sin I had and will commit to His own account, shed His precious, sinless blood, and on my behalf, bore the punishment I deserved - through Him I have found favor with God.  In a way, I guess you could say that when God now looks at me, He has narrowed His lens:

  • God has shown me through His Word that I am incapable of doing anything to earn His favor.
  • Through Christ's righteousness being imputed to me (justified through faith in Christ and His atoning work on the cross) and clothing me with His righteousness, the Father sees me also as righteous.
  • God sees that I am seeking after Him and desiring His wisdom and a "good understanding" of Him and His Word.
  • Instead of viewing me as a miserable, sinning wretch He probably wishes He had never created and destined for eternal condemnation, He sees His Son's worth in me, giving me great value, and has given me His Holy Spirit to gently keep me pointed in the right direction.
  • Because the Holy Spirit is continuing His work of sanctifying me, the wretch I was before He came to dwell within me is slowly and surely being transformed into the perfect image of Jesus Christ.   I still battle the world and sin, and will continue to do so until this body of flesh is replaced with perfection, but the world's appeal is viewed with great disgust and fading fast into obscurity.

I am truly a wretch but, through the work of the Holy Spirit, I'm becoming less of one every day. 

My one true desire is to finally be rid of this body of flesh and the sinfulness it brings.  I long for the day when Jesus returns to establish His glorious kingdom upon this earth and restore justice.  But while He tarries, a spiritual battle is constantly being waged in my flesh.  Further on in the book of Romans, Paul laments over the war that's continually waged in his flesh and his mind (Rom. 7:15-25), and I can definitely relate.

But it's a battle that will, with absolute certainty, end in victory, for I know the One who victoriously waged the battle for my soul.  He suffered unimaginably for His wretched children, saving them from an eternity of death, gathering them unto Himself, sanctifying them to His perfection, and He deserves all the praise for His work. 

When that day finally comes - and when I consider all that is happening in the world, it can't come soon enough - I will rejoice in eternal praise and worship and fall on my face in humble adoration before the God who saved such a wretch as me.

"How deep the Father's love for us,
how vast beyond all measure;
that He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure."

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