The night started with a few failed attempts at getting the audio and video feeds working simultaneously to show a spot about Grace Life church of the Shoals and their vision for distributing the gospel. It was rather encouraging to see that even churches of this size ans resource still are affected by technical glitches.
While this was being sorted out, pastor Jeff Noblitt came up and introduced the speaker for our first session. Conrad Mbewe, the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia, stepped into the pulpit and began to read from Romans 3:9-18.
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, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
I am thankful for the privilege of taking part in a conference that is committed to reform on the level of the local church. God has been pleased to use this conference in and around the world, and it is a privilege to be hear.
Tonight I want to speak to you about the subject of the radical depravity of humanity in light of the overall theme of repentance, and drawing your attention to this passage I am convinced that as the apostle Paul was opening this subject of justification by faith he needed to bring the readers face to face with the awesome reality of our common depravity, both Jews and Greeks alike.
This message of Paul was going to a people who were opposed to its central message, who were going to fight what this message was all about. So, Paul enters into the good news, but only after he pauses to remind them and collect his thoughts into this conclusion that he offers in Romans 3:9-18.
The subject of repentance cannot be exaggerated. Jesus himself said, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3)”, nothing can be more clear than that. This is non-negotiable.
If you play hide and seek with this you will be doomed for all eternity. This needs to be repeated tonight. If you are here and you have not genuinely turned from sin, you will perish.
And when you see on the other hand that the Bible offers a free and eternal salvation, then why are not the people of the world falling all over themselves to accept this free offering of salvation?
This is the same question that the apostle Paul is asking in his conclusion and the answer is that all men and women are totally depraved.
Verse 9 says, “What shall we conclude then,” what is the summary of the many words I have spoken…the reason why the warning is not being headed, why men and women are not rushing to embrace the cross, is because all human beings are deprived and depraved, Jews and gentiles alike.
When we go into 21st century America with all the progress that has been made, with the number of churches that you see; you may perhaps begin to think that here are a people that will be more willing to gladly embrace the message of the cross. However, if you have attempted to do evangelism you have come home depressed. The message of this text is that there is no difference between those who live today in America and those who lived 3 centuries ago in Africa, we are all in the same boat.
What about those who have been brought up in a Christian home and have been taught the Bible from an early age. You would think they simply need to be elbowed and they will fall over into the kingdom, but many have perished in their sin with this type of background. The charge has been made that all, even Jews brought up with an understanding of the Old Testament, are in radically depraved.
This is necessary for us to understand when it comes to repentance and our work of evangelism. No matter who we are dealing with, we are all in the same boat and are radically depraved.
There isn’t a people group somewhere that’s different, that is looking for the true God of the Bible in order to embrace him. The Bible is telling us that there is no one who has an advantage.
Why is that the case? What does Paul mean by the phrase that “all are under sin?”
What are we up against as we do evangelism, as we knock on doors, as we give out literature? What are we up against?
When Paul speaks about being under sin, he is referring to one of the major pillars of Christian theology; he is taking us back to Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned against the living God. At this point a drastic change took place in their beings, a moral change. Having been alive they became dead, spiritually.
Yes, there was a change that couldn’t be missed; they would now run away from God. Even when we hear that today there are those who are running to God, Adam and Eve ran away. They wanted nothing to do with him, because their hearts had become sinful.
Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here the whole of the human race are being divided into two categories, those who are living according to the Holy Spirit and those who are hostile to God, enemies of God. They may be religious people and church goers, but all you need to do is open the God of the Bible before their eyes and before long they will be hissing at you and will run you out of the church. They are worshipping a God of their own making
They are worshipping a god who doesn’t mind their sin and pleasure seeking. A God who tickles them in the midst of the sinfulness, that god they will worship.
But once you declare a holy and righteous God who is jealous for his own honor and who says you are to live for me and sacrifice to me and I am to be your all in all; that God they do not want.
This is the God that they are hostile toward. They will not submit, they cannot submit, they are totally unable to do so.
And between the mind and the will we find the heart. The heart is desperately wicked and is beyond cure as Jeremiah teaches us. The power of sin is enslavement and therein lies the depravity. We are corrupted by a foul power.
It is not in our power to simply decide to want God. However moral, or religious, or educated; powerless is the state we are all in, without the Grace of God. Unless the power of God visits us we are in this enslavement.
When we are talking about human depravity we are not talking about a mere philosophical topic, we are talking about something that stares you in the face when you decide to listen to the news. When you read the front page you see it. It is in our streets, in our towns, in our homes.
Paul says here to the Jews, if you think it is just the gentiles that have a problem, let me take you to the psalms, the prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah and show you what God has to say about self-righteous Israel.
“There is no one righteous, not even one.”Do you sense the comprehensiveness that God has put in his word, that there isn’t a people somewhere who are thirsting for God, wanting God who simply need the final touch. He is saying that no one does this.
“Their throats are open graves;” they have gobbled up fellow human beings, slaughtered them through gossip and malice, and sometimes even from church pews. This is often true of religious people dressed in their Sunday best on the outside, but God sees mouths, throats and tongues that are poisonous.
“Their feet are swift to shed blood. And there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
What spiritual death has done is to rob us of the sight of the true God. We are like individuals who are blind and in the midst of noonday son are arguing that there is no such thing as the son, yet the very reason why they are sweating as they speak is because of the son’s rays. They can’t see the son and so they argue. This is what depravity has done; it has robbed us of the ability to see the glory of the only true God, and not knowing him, and seeing him we demand our own way.
We want to negotiate with God, offering our own terms for peace. We speak like pharaoh saying, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him.”
Today people put a thin veneer on the surface, but if the heart is not regenerate, they will eventually show their true, ugly colors like we see here in Romans 3:9-18, Eventually we will see that they are truly depraved.
It is to people in this condition that we are called to preach repentance. To say thus saith the Lord, repent or perish, that is what our calling is.
But if this is their condition, how can we go to them and preach this…But for the grace of God.
In the grace of God lies the only hope for the world. He has sent us to dead men, with blind eyes and hearts of sin and he has called us to go to them and preach the gospel and He opens their blind eyes and gives them a new heart and this is the work of Grace. Those who repent do so at the hand of God, for it is impossible otherwise.
God is our hope and confidence. Our hope is in God who in Jesus Christ is a presence in the world by his Spirit reaching out to those whom He intends to save. Therefore we know that the leopard cannot get rid of his spots, but God knows those who are his and through the preaching of the gospel He will bring them to himself.
I hope that you have something of this joy today, because with our own eyes we will see this work of God. We will see idol worshipper’s bow to the God of heaven. This is what God wants us to experience as we go through our evangelistic work.
That God, who changes lives through the gospel, will bring these radically depraved men to repentance and use them for His glory. Let us trust in God as we stand in the valley of dry bones.