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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Scripture tells us the truth about our human nature
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 29

Psalm 8

Hymn 73

Hymn 1

Hymn 9

Scripture readings:  Genesis 1:26-31, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

There is this thing called “spin.”  Spin is when someone portrays something in a particular way so that something which most people would look at negatively comes out looking better.  For example, many politicians hire public relations people to take care of things.  A lot of p.r. involves spin.  Major corporations hire people to manage their image.  Whenever you hear someone talk about “optics,” what they usually mean is spin.  “The optics of this are not good.  We have to improve the optics.”  Decoded that means, “We have to make this look better than it really is.”  Whether you call it optics or spin, it doesn’t really make any difference.  The outcome is the same.  Someone is twisting truths that are inconvenient or uncomfortable.

What could be more inconvenient or uncomfortable than the truth about our human nature?  The world around us is engaged in a constant effort to spin that, to improve the optics.  The world has a vested interest in avoiding the truth about ourselves.  After all, if we can avoid the truth, then we can avoid the true God and what he expects from us, we can avoid thinking about his judgment on us, we can avoid our desperate need for a Saviour.  In worldly thinking, every effort has to be made to avoid speaking the truth about who we really are and what really makes us tick.

In the church, however, we give the straight goods.  We don’t avoid inconvenient or uncomfortable truths.  We don’t spin the truth.  We do this because here we have the Word of God as our foundation.  Not just the parts of Scripture that we like and that make us feel good, but the entire Word of God is our foundation.  We believe everything that it says, because we know that it is from God and therefore it is true.  God does not lie.  In the Bible, he tells us everything we need to know for our salvation, including the things that we might rather not hear about, but that we still need to hear about.  In the Scriptures we have infallible and inerrant truth about everything important, including our human nature.  Lord’s Day 3 of the Catechism summarizes the important biblical teachings on this.  In this sermon, we’ll learn how Scripture tells us the truth about our human nature.  We’ll see that it gives us the truth about:

  1. Who we were
  2. Who we became
  3. How we become something different

When it comes to the origins of human beings, the world around us has its own story to tell.  It’s a story that cannot involve God.  It’s a story that they say must be told by science alone.  According to many around us, humanity and human nature evolved over millions of years.  Over the millennia, single-cell organisms evolved into more complex organisms.  Then, as the story goes, about 200,000 years ago we see the evolutionary development of a species known as homo sapiens.  In this story, all there is is material, stuff.  In this story, human beings are just bags of chemicals that have developed through millions of years.  There is really no good and evil, there are just bags of chemicals doing things to other bags of chemicals and the universe doesn’t care.  And when a bag of chemicals dies, that’s it.  That’s the end of that bag of chemicals.  It ceases to exist.  The end.  There is nothing afterwards.

Of course, the Bible tells us a much different story.  It gives us the true story of human origins.  We read part of it from Genesis 1.  We could also have read from Genesis 2.  There we learn that man was created as a special creation of God.  Rather than evolving over billions of years, the first man was directly created by God from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).  Adam had no human-like parents or grandparents.  He was created by God as a mature adult man.  When Eve was created by God, she was created directly as a mature adult woman.

Moreover, Genesis 1 reminds us that when Adam and Eve were created, they were created good.  In fact, after every day of creation, we read that “God saw that it was good.”  But after the sixth day of creation, after creating man, we read in verse 31, “And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.”  That includes man.  The human race was created very good.  What that means is that our first parents were precisely the way that God wanted them to be.  That reminds us of the truth that there is a God who has a will for his creation.  There is a God who has a plan or design.  He has a plan and he also has a moral will which is connected to that.  Therefore, ethics and morality are not human inventions, things that we dream up for ourselves.  Right and wrong, good and evil, are rooted in God and his character, not in us and what we feel or want.  At the beginning, Adam and Eve were lined up with God’s will.

Not only that, but Genesis 1 tells us that they were created in the image of God.  No other creature had that distinction.  None of the apes were created in the image of God.  None of the monkeys or orangutans.  Only Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.  Genesis 1:27 says it, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” 

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?  Our Catechism answers that by drawing on Ephesians 4:24.  Being created in the image of God means being endowed with true righteousness and holiness.  Adam and Eve were created in a way that reflected God and his righteousness and holiness.  God is righteous – he is right and he does what is right.  Adam and Eve were created with the ability to reflect God by doing what was right.  God is holy – that means that he has nothing to do with sin.  Adam and Eve were created with the ability to reflect God by having nothing to do with sin.

We could fill out what the Catechism says a little bit more about the image of God.  Some theologians have pointed out that the image of God should be thought of in terms of three directions:  upward, horizontally, and downward.  This is helpful.  The image of God includes an upward aspect – that means that Adam and Eve were created for worship.  As the Catechism puts it, they were created to know God, to love him, to live with him, and to praise and glorify him.  The image of God includes a horizontal aspect – that means that Adam and Eve were created for human relationships.  This reflects God’s relating to humanity, but it also reflects the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.  God is a relational being and humans were created for relationships too.  The image of God finally includes a downward aspect.  Adam and Eve were created as stewards of creation.  They were to reflect God’s care for the world he made by managing it responsibly.  So the image of God means worship for God (upward), love for those around us (horizontal), and care for creation (downward). 

This is how we were created.  This is the truth of who we were at the beginning.  Human beings were the crown of God’s creation.  This is why he left the creation of Adam and Eve to the sixth day. God left the best for last.  At the end of Genesis 2, Adam and Eve were on top of it all.

So how did we get to where we are today?  Since God created Adam and Eve good and in his image, we cannot blame him for our sin and misery.  God did not create our first parents in this way.  Instead, he gave them crowns and glory.  He also gave them a will.  It’s important to realize that God did not create Adam and Eve as robots, preprogrammed to follow a set plan.  Our first parents were created with the genuine freedom to choose between good and evil.  They could choose to not sin.  God created them with that capacity.

The misuse of that freedom is what led us to who we became.  Adam and Eve chose to listen to the lies of the serpent, rather than to God.  They could have rejected the lies.  They could have tossed the serpent out of the garden.  Instead, they freely chose to listen to him.  God had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But they freely chose to disobey God.  That’s where our depraved nature comes from.  We are sinners because we have sin running through our race like a genetic disorder.  Since Adam and Eve, it’s passed on to every single one of us.

Since Adam and Eve, we are all conceived and born in sin.  Let’s be clear about what that means.  It does not mean that sex is evil.  The Bible is clear that sex between a man and a woman in marriage is a good and beautiful thing.  This has nothing to do with that.  Rather, what it means is that we all come into existence with a sinful nature.  There really are no innocent babies.  We all come into this world with a nature that is inclined towards hatred of God and our neighbours. 

As a result, we are so corrupt that we are “totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil.”  That is what raw human nature is like.  That is what we commonly call total depravity.  It’s actually better to call it pervasive depravity.  What it means is that sin has pervaded every part of our being and lives.  We were created to bear the image of God, but sin has marred that image in every way.  In the upward aspect, worship has been turned from the Creator to what is created, to creatures.  In the horizontal aspect, sin has marred the image of God so that we put ourselves before others and we cause all kinds of brokenness in our relationships.  In the downward aspect, sin has caused us to exploit and abuse creation rather than take care of it.  This is just scratching the surface.  Truly, after the fall there is nothing in raw human nature that is not touched by sin, stained by sin, vandalized by sin. 

Hearing that, someone might say, “But pastor, I know people who are not Christians who do some good things.  Sometimes some of the unbelievers I know are even more loving and kind than many of the Christians I know.”  There are a couple of things that need to be pointed out.  First, the doctrine of pervasive depravity does not mean that people are as bad as they possibly could be.  Your unbelieving neighbour is probably not at home planning a way to burn your house down while you’re at church.  God restrains much of the evil in this world for the sake of his children.  He doesn’t restrain all of it, but much of it he does.  The world would be unbearably wicked and uninhabitable if he didn’t.  Second, the doctrine of pervasive depravity acknowledges that unbelievers can do what we call civic good.  If you go to a neo-natal ward, most likely most of the nurses and doctors are not going to be Christians.  Yet we would say that they are doing good there for those tiny babies and their parents.  Third, none of that civic good matters anything for their standing before God.  In the end, all of the good done in a neo-natal ward cannot pay for sins and all of it is still stained with sin in some way.  Moreover, who can know what really motivates all of this?  We can’t look into the hearts of people.

The reality is that because we have a depraved nature, if left to ourselves, we are not able not to sin.  Let me say that again.  Left to ourselves, we are not able not to sin.  You could also say that sinning is inevitable for unregenerate human beings.  That’s the Bible’s truth about who we became after the fall of Adam and Eve.

Moreover, we don’t even see sin as a problem.  We have a love affair with sin.  On August 23, 1973 a man walked into a bank in Stockholm, Sweden.  Jan-Erik Olsson was a convicted armed robber and that day he was intent on doing it again.  Things didn’t go the way he planned and he ended up taking four hostages.  A stand-off with police lasted for five days.  It finally ended when police launched a gas attack into the vault where Olsson was holed up with his hostages.  What was remarkable was that afterwards the hostages seemed to sympathize with Olsson.  They were critical of the police and felt bad for the hostage taker.  Psychologists took an interest in this case and it led to observations of similar behaviour in other kidnapping and hostage situations.  People who are kidnapped or held hostage sometimes get emotionally attached to the kidnapper or hostage taker.  This became known as Stockholm Syndrome.  And it’s exactly what sin does to all of us.  It enslaves us, it threatens to kill us, and then we become attached to it.  We may defend it, rationalize it, and even love it.  If we could see things rationally, we would see that what enslaves us will later kill us.  If we could see things the way they really are, we would see that we need deliverance. 

The world tells us lies that help keep us from seeing things the way they really are.  The world tells us that our captor is loving and kind, looking out for our best interests.  The world tells us that our captivity is not a problem, in fact, there is no captivity.  Slavery is freedom.  How can you have a depraved nature when there is no such thing as good and evil?  Or, if someone is inconsistent and does maintain the reality of good and evil, they’ll tell you that we’re all basically good.  We all have good hearts. 

Brothers and sisters, it should be clear that the Bible calls this what it is:  falsehood.  It’s all lies and snake-think.  It’s what the devil wants you to think so that he and his minions can keep you from finding hope and salvation in Jesus Christ.  If you don’t have a sinful nature, if you’re not enslaved by sin, you don’t need deliverance.  If you don’t need deliverance, you don’t need Jesus Christ.  Those are lies.  The truth is we all have a sinful nature, in the raw we are all enslaved by sin, and therefore we all need deliverance.  1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We have sin, we need rescue.  Because we all need rescue, we all need Jesus Christ.  This is the truth that the Bible lays before us this afternoon. 

We also want to consider the truth of how we become something different.  Here again, we’re reminded that there are lies floating around us -- the truth is suppressed and even attacked.  In many cases, the world tells us that there is no need for change.  Look at what we read from 1 Corinthians 6, especially those last verses, verses 9 to 11.  Paul mentions the sexually immoral.  The world says, “No problem.  You can be sexually immoral, that’s your choice, as long as you don’t hurt anybody.”  Paul writes about idolatry.  The world says, “Who you worship is your choice.  You can worship whoever or whatever you want – it doesn’t matter.”  Paul mentions adultery.  The world says, “You can’t expect people to be monogamous.  People are inevitably going to be sexually unfaithful.  It’s not a big deal.  In fact, we’ll make TV shows about it.”    Paul mentions men who practice homosexuality.  You know what the world says about that.  It’s something to be encouraged and celebrated.  He mentions thieves and swindlers and because that has to do with money, I suppose the world might agree that these things really need to be addressed.  But for the rest, there’s no need to change and become something different.  That’s what the world tells us and it’s out and out false.        

Scripture tells us the truth.  If you live in those sins, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.  If you embrace those sins and do not repent, do not turn, you will not have eternal life.  There is no other meaning to those words in 1 Corinthians 6.  The words mean exactly what they say.  If you live in your corruption and depravity, there is an eternity of God’s wrath waiting for you after you die.  That is the truth.   

But loved ones, I want you to see that there is a way out.  In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul tells us that the Corinthian believers have been delivered.  Some of them were involved in all those sinful activities I mentioned a moment ago.  Some of the people in the Corinthian church had been adulterers, sexually immoral, drunkards, thieves and so on.  Some of them had been involved in a homosexual lifestyle.  But that is no longer the case.  “And such were some of you.”  They were delivered and redeemed from these things.  They became something different.  How?  Through Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit.  Because Christ died for them and his Spirit came to live in them, these Corinthians became children of God.  Their identity was no longer in their sinful way of life, but in Christ.  They really did change and become something different. 

This is the miracle of regeneration.  If we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, we become something other than corrupt and totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil.  If we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, we are united to Christ and empowered to be able to see sin for what it is, hate it, and fight against it. 

A great change comes into your life when you are regenerated.  Remember: before regeneration, you are not able not to sin.  Before regeneration, sin is inevitable.  You will sin.  Your heart is stone-cold dead.  Your will is enslaved to sin.  But after regeneration, you are able not to sin.  Sin is not always inevitable for a Christian.  Because you have the Holy Spirit, you can begin to say ‘no’ to sin in your life and you will grow in saying ‘no’ to sin.  Why?  Because the Spirit has made your heart flesh, alive to God.  Your will is made alive by the Holy Spirit and you can fight against your sinful desires.  Because you have the Holy Spirit, you must fight against your sinful desires.  Regeneration changes everything. 

It’s important to see that so that we do not become fatalistic in our lives as Christians.  Regeneration creates people who are different.  It did so with the Corinthians and it will with us too.  People who are regenerated still struggle with sin and that’s already something remarkable.  The unregenerate don’t struggle with sin.  They don’t care.  But the regenerate do care and they do fight against sin and they do begin to make progress.  Be encouraged:  through the power of the Spirit who regenerated you, you can and will make progress in your fight against sin, brother, sister. 

Moreover, all this puts us on the path to our glorification.  After we die, or when the Lord returns, we will be transformed into people who are not able to sin, period.  Glorified saints cannot sin at all.  We go from those who are not able not to sin (unregenerated), to those who are able not to sin (regenerated), to those who are not able to sin at all (glorified).  That’s the true story of our spiritual journey.  One day we will be with the Lord and all our struggles with sin will be behind us.  Loved ones, we are promised a sinless glorious future with the Lord and that’s a true promise you can count on.  Believe that promise.  Believe that Jesus delivers you from the slavery of sin and a depraved nature.  Believe that the Holy Spirit regenerates you and gives you a new heart.  Don’t believe the spin of the world around us.  Don’t believe the lies.  Instead, trust the Word of our good and faithful God.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Merciful God,

We confess you to be our good Creator.  At the beginning, you created our first parents Adam and Eve.  You made them good and in your image.  They rebelled against you and our race has been in rebellion ever since.  Many times, we have taken part in that rebellion and for that we need to ask your forgiveness.  For the sake of Christ, please forgive us all our original sin and our actual sins.  We need you to wash us in his blood and cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.  Please also work in us with your Holy Spirit and strengthen our faith.  Please help us see the lies around us and even in us and resist them.  We pray for your help so that we would be guided by the truth of your Word when it comes to our human nature and everything else too. 

Father, some here need your Holy Spirit to yet regenerate them.  Whether with our children or with others among us, we pray that you would sovereignly do that work.  We pray that you would turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, that you would bring the dead to life -- we pray that you will work repentance and faith in Christ for the salvation of sinners and the glory of your Name.                                                                          

        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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