We are all sinful wretches in need of salvation:
There are countless reasons why so many folks refuse to come to Christ as their Lord and Saviour. One major reason is the fact that they refuse to admit that they are in need of a Saviour. They really believe they have nothing they need to be saved from. They think they are actually pretty good people.
Human pride is one of the biggest sins, and it is sending countless unrepentant sinners into a lost eternity. They simply think they are really OK. They think they have no need of changing anything, and that God is obviously quite mistaken to call them lost sinners. ‘Sure, maybe Hitler was a sinner needing a Saviour, but not me!’
Or they may think that they can somehow earn God’s favour by being “good” or by doing good works. All non-Christian religions operate this way. So if they avoid certain things (‘I have not murdered anyone’) and if they do certain things (give alms, help an old lady across the street, donate to charity, etc) they think that God now fully approves of them.
Never mind that Jesus said if you hate someone it is the same as committing murder! But the unconverted sinner takes great offence at the thought that he cannot save himself. He abhors such a demanding God who says he is lost and that apart from the grace of God he never will be reconciled to God. That is why the Apostle Paul speaks about the “offence of the gospel” (eg., 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Galatians 5:7-11). It IS offensive to the sinner – and it always will be.
We fully expect pagans to think this way. But sadly there are plenty of “Christians” who basically think much the same. Some of these folks are Protestants of various stripes, and some are non-Protestants. But they really refuse to think of themselves as thorough-going sinners who in the eyes of a perfect, holy and righteous God are in a very bad place indeed.
They want nothing to do with a passage like Isaiah 64:6 which speaks of our own righteousness as being like “filthy rags” (or as the Hebrew would have it, ‘menstruous cloth’). Now that is some VERY strong language God used to highlight our condition apart from God’s saving grace. Paul said much the same about his very religious life before he was saved by Christ, calling it “dung” (Philippians 3:8).
So the biblical picture of man’s condition apart from God is not flattering at all. It is downright damnable – literally. But too many folks hate the very thought of this. Let me give you one quite sad example of this that happened to me recently on the social media.
Some non-Protestant got all upset with me when I merely posted a quote from a book by a respected Princeton scholar on Luther. It was about Luther’s love of music. I thought it was an interesting quote – nothing more. I certainly had NO intention of starting some sectarian war (that is something I have long said can be done elsewhere, and not on my pages).
But this guy came along and started blasting the great hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton! My post had nothing to do with this, but he launched into an unedifying and rather bizarre diatribe against “its disturbingly Calvanist lyrics.”! (Um, it would help if he at least knew how to spell correctly!) Good grief!
I said there was nothing disturbing about the lyrics and that they happened to be 100 per cent biblical. That got him into even more of a tizz, and after a few more comments displaying his sad sectarian bigotry and animosity, I had to finally let him go as he clearly was no friend of mine.
This sort of thing really does my head in when it happens – especially when folks like this have asked to be my friend, and then I never hear from them, and when I do, they go into full-blown attack mode! And it is usually off-topic and foolishly tangential anyway.
But his emotive and angry rant based on how offended he was about one of the world’s most beloved Christian hymns fits in perfectly with what I have been saying here. The natural man hates the gospel message and finds it offensive. And sadly plenty of folks who call themselves Christians are in the same camp.
So how might we reply to folks like this? Firstly, they really need to know a bit about what it is they are attacking. When it comes to Newton, this critic is obviously clueless. Anyone who knows his story knows how incredible it was. A profane, immoral sailor involved in the slave trade had a miraculous conversion to Christ, which really did involve amazing grace.
He said this about himself after his conversion: “I sinned with a high hand and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” And this: “How industrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinner to what I was.” Thus he was quite right to describe himself as a wretch. He was far more honest about himself than most pagans and religious folks are.
Secondly, if you have folks get mad at you for speaking biblical truth about our condition as sinners alienated from God, they are obviously biblically clueless as well. The Bible is perfectly clear on this matter. While we are all made in God’s image and likeness and are therefore of real value, worth and dignity, because of the Fall we are also all sinners headed to hell unless saved via the grace of God in Christ. (And yes, the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment is also hated by pagans and mere religious folks.)
Our sad state as unconverted sinners is at the heart of the Christian gospel. There can be no good news unless we first accept the bad news. And the biblical truth about this is stated everywhere. Consider these New Testament passages for starters as to what we are as sinners until we get right with God in Christ:
-spiritually sick (Luke 5:31-32)
-rebellious children (Luke 15:11-32)
-lost (Luke 19:10)
-in darkness (Acts 26:18)
-under the power of Satan (Acts 26:18)
-God’s enemies (Romans 5:10)
-slaves to sin (Romans 6:22)
-influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Corinthians 12:2)
-spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
-God’s enemies (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
-slaves to those who by nature are not gods (Galatians 4:8)
-dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)
-objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
-dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:5)
-darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:18)
-separated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18)
-darkness (Ephesians 5:8)
-in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
-alienated from God (Colossians 1:21)
-his enemies (Colossians 1:21)
-idol worshippers (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
-held in slavery (Hebrews 2:15)
-not a people; who had not received mercy (1 Peter 2:10)
-sheep going astray (1 Peter 2:25)
And there would be more such texts that we could offer here. So those who reject this basic biblical truth are not calling out Calvin or Newton or me or you but God himself. And when you effectively tell God that he is wrong or that he does not know what he is talking about, that is a very precarious place to be in. Indeed, I describe that as being in a very wretched state.
So we must insist on what Scripture teaches, not on what mere mortals FEEL about such issues. We are all in an utterly hopeless place as sinners apart from Christ. All we can do is come to him in faith and repentance, and thank him for taking the initiative in seeking our rescue.
Because of his substitutionary death for us on the cross, taking the punishment upon himself that we deserve, we can find pardon and reconciliation with God and new life in Christ. But that MUST be on his terms, not ours. We will never be able to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
We will never be good enough. We will never be righteous enough by our own efforts. We all like sheep who have gone astray (see Isaiah 53:6 and 1 Peter 2:25). Or as Paul put it in Romans 3:10-12 (quoting from Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3):
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Our only hope is to cast ourselves on the mercy and grace of Christ. While this particular critic and others like him may hate the great hymn that Newton penned some 200 years ago, it remains one of the finest and most biblical accounts of the need for God’s amazing grace that we have. So I present it for you here in full:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.