Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #3

John MacArthur

The Sinner Neither Able nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability

John 5:39 40 - Even those who know the Scriptures are unwilling to come to Jesus for eternal life.

John 6:44 - No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father. We are all unable.

The doctrine of total depravity is the most hated doctrine of Christianity. Every other religion except for Christianity is a works-based system that says that man has enough goodness in him to contribute to his salvation. This doctrine is most minimized when it should be most maximized, especially in the Church.

This is the most God-honoring doctrine, honoring God completely and leaving no honor for man because it makes salvation entirely a divine work.

This is the most historical doctrine despite free-willers who seem to think otherwise, dating back to the early battles between Augustine and Pelagius. Total depravity is the foundation of all anthropology and all soteriology.

How does the Bible speak of this doctrine of total depravity?

It typically speaks of this condition as being in a state of death.

  • Ephesians 2
    • v.2: We are dead in trespasses and sins.
    • v.3: The phrase “by nature” means “by birth.” This is how we are born because of the sin of Adam.
    • v.4: If anything is to change this, it is the grace of God and that’s why Paul makes the transition in here to highlighting the mercy and grace of God.
  • Ephesians 4:18 - We are darkened in our understanding, excluded from the life of God.
  • Colossians 2:13 - God makes us alive by commanding us to live just like Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead (John 11).
  • John 1:12 - We must be born of the will of God, not man.
  • John 3:6-8 - Being born again is a divine work because flesh can only produce flesh. And the Holy Spirit who alone gives life is sovereign in determining whom He will give life to.
  • John 5:21 - The Son gives life to whom He wills.
  • John 6:44 - The Father is the only One who can draw.
  • John 8:36 - The Son shall make free.

This is the sovereign work of the triune God.

  • Romans 8:7, 8 - The sinner is not only unwilling to acknowledge the triune God, he is unable to acknowledge the power of the gospel.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 - The natural man is unable to understand the things of God
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4 - There is a compounded blindness, blindness in original sin and blindness by Satan, the god of this world.
  • Mark 7:20-22 - What does man produce? Evil only.
  • Romans 3:9-18 - There is none righteous. No ability, no hope on our own.

To say one is totally depraved means that he can only sin and can do nothing to please God. It affects him totally: mind, thoughts, will, desires, affections.

The contemporary idea is that there is a residual good left in the sinner. There is something in the sinner that can respond. And the sinner must make the first move.

But the Bible teaches that he has no capacity and no interest to make the first move. To tell a sinner that God will give him his desires if he comes to Him is destructive because it feeds his inclination to evil.

To lead people to rely on their own goodness is deception of the worst kind and to lead them to rely on religion is blasphemy of the worst kind.

  • 2 Timothy 2:25 - God must grant repentance.
  • Titus 3:3, 4 - When found in our wickedness, God saves us according to His kindness.

What are the implications of embracing this doctrine?

1) We will know that Jesus means for us to more than just care for the poor and needy. A hungry and homeless person's greatest need isn't to have a roof over his head and food in his stomach, as important as these things are. His greatest need is to be raised from the dead if he hasn't been.

2) We will know that our methods don’t need to change to accommodate the sinner.

Soft preaching makes hard people. To preach soft truth hardens hearts. To preach hard truths breaks hard hearts.

3) We will know that our message is not to change.

The reality is not on the outside but rather on the inside. All hearts are the same. All need the same message, the same gospel. So our context doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are. MacArthur noted how in his extensive ministry traveling all around the world, through translators and all, there has been the same response to the gospel. Some repent and some are hardened.

Be meek and humble. No one should be so meek and humble as those who preach the gospel. We are the only profession in the world where we can take absolutely no credit for what we do. We can only take credit for our failures, never our successes. We are just clay pots.

One might ask: Aren’t we supposed to adjust like Paul (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)? Paul didn’t say "I change my message, my method, my clothes, or my vocabulary." He said that he himself changed, making sacrifices to reach as many as possible.

It’s not about how cool or relevant we are. It’s about how clear we are.

Download the audio here.

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