(This is the second article in a series about being gospel-minded. If you missed the first article, you can read it here.)
In our study of Philippians, I have characterized a main theme of the letter as a call to be gospel-minded. This series of articles is intended to explain what that means and how we can do it. As a reminder, being gospel-minded means looking at the various areas of our lives or the various circumstances of our lives in light of the truths of the gospel. So we are taking one component of the gospel per article to look at how that particular truth can be used to shape our thinking on a daily basis.
Last time we considered the starting point of the gospel, that is, that God is holy. Now we come to the second truth: man is sinful. This means more than that man is morally challenged or that he makes bad decisions sometimes. Rather, that man is sinful means that Adam’s sin affected man in every aspect of his being so that we can say that man is depraved. Man’s is fallen in his physical body, his mind, his will, his emotions – everything.
His fallenness is so profound that Paul characterizes sinful man as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). Man is born spiritually dead, which means that he is unwilling and unable to submit to the law of God (Rom 8:7). He cannot will himself to take a single step toward God.
There is a popular illustration used by some to convey the gospel call to sinners. Lost humanity is like a sea of drowning people. To each of these people, God throws a life preserver, the gospel invitation. Everyone who reaches out and takes the life preserver is saved.
But many have noted a biblical problem with this analogy. It does not go far enough in depicting man’s spiritual incapacity. A more apt illustration would be lost sinners lying dead on the sea floor. The dead sinner can no more reach for a life preserver than he can will himself back to life. The Savior must dive to the bottom of the sea, take the sinner to the surface, and breathe life into his dead body.
The sinner is helpless in himself. He is enslaved to sin. But we should not take this to mean that the sinner sins against his own will. Rather, we should conceive of his depravity as a delightful slavery. He is not only unable to submit to God, but he is wholly unwilling to submit to God. Had he the ability to turn to God, he would never want to. Such is the depth of his depravity.
So how might this component of the gospel be used to shape our thinking? Let’s consider a few examples.
A woman has a loved one who is lost. Although this loved one has heard the gospel, he has absolutely no interest in God or the things of God. Understandably, the woman grieves for her friend and wants to do everything possible to ensure that he repents and believes. She is driven to make him believe. The truth of man’s depravity could shape her thinking about her friend in this way: “My friend is as incapable of changing his own heart as he is of changing the direction of the wind. God alone can bring him to spiritual life. My responsibility is two-fold: to continue sharing the gospel with him and to continue praying that God would do what only God can do.”
A man is watching the unfolding of the current election cycle and teeters on the edge of despair regarding the future of the country he loves. He fears that if society does not return to “the old days,” the future will be bleak indeed. The doctrine of depravity can help him to keep a biblical, eternal perspective on these things: “The real problem with this country and with the world at large is the problem of man’s sinfulness. As long as man is depraved, I should not expect politicians to deliver heaven on earth. The decline of the country is evidence of a spiritual problem that can only be addressed by the saving grace of God. The answer is not to get the ‘right’ dead sinners in office, but to pray for revival so that many, many sinners will be regenerated for God’s glory.”
A teen is dealing with a serious illness that limits her ability to live a normal teen life. She fights against depression and finds that most of the time it is a losing battle. She tries to “look on the bright side,” but there doesn’t seem to be one. The truth of the depravity of man can help her direct her thoughts to the Lord: “My illness and every illness on earth is ultimately a result of the entrance of sin into the world. All things decay because of sin. To long for the kind of healing that this life affords is to long for a decaying kind of healing. I should long for the healing that will only take place with the coming of Christ, the day of redemption when I will put on the imperishable body purchased for me by His blood.”
Again, your challenge is to take stock of the circumstances facing you and to try to look at them from the perspective of gospel truth. Thus far, we have two truths in our bag – God is holy and man is sinful. Looking at our lives in light of these will help us to orient our thinking toward God and help us to walk in faithfulness. Next time we’ll consider a third – God is wrathful.