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Bad to the Bone: A Study of Human Depravity - Part 5

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2005-08-14 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Tonight, I want us to briefly consider, in just a few moments, I want us to consider how to deal with our depravity. How exactly do we find a way to deal with it? What are the practical ramifications of our depravity? First of all, let's consider their ramification related to others. If you understand your own depravity, let me back up and just mention to those of you who weren't here.

When we talk about depravity, we're talking about really two things. We're saying you inherited from your parents, by natural generation tracing all the way back to Adam, you inherited what the Bible calls original sin. That's a package, a package deal that you got for free. And that deal includes what the Bible calls as moral pollution and moral inability, that is, you have no capacity to respond to God. What I'm talking about tonight is the practical ramification of your depravity. Sheila was also concerned, by the way, if I was a conductor with this thing on my head, so there may be more power in the message tonight than I ever intended.

By depravity, when we talk about total depravity, all we're saying is that every part of your being and mine, every part of who you are has been affected by sin. There isn't a single part of you that hasn't been affected. What I want us to do tonight is learn how to deal with that.

First of all, our depravity in reference to others - let's talk about believers. How does the knowledge of depravity affect our relationship with other believers? We know we're depraved. We know they're depraved. We know that we have been deeply affected by sin in every part of our being and that even as believers, part of that remains. How should this affect our relationship with believers? Well first of all and this is crucial, we must never become a source of temptation for them. Knowing that they already have a propensity to sin just as we do, we must be extremely careful never to be a source of temptation to them.

Turn to Matthew 18, Matthew 18. This is one of the first passages in the Bible about life in the church. I believe that Jesus here looks ahead, and in His earthly ministry, presents information about how we are to behave within the church. He actually mentions the church in this passage, the assembly, down in the passage on church discipline in verse 15 and following. Of course, the church itself doesn't begin until the day of Pentecost, but here is some preliminary instruction from our Lord about life in the church. Notice in chapter 18 He begins, "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, 'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.'" Now what is, what's the similarity between a true convert and a child? It's that utter dependence. A child cannot be independent in and of himself. To come to Christ, we come in total and complete dependence acknowledging we can do absolutely nothing for ourselves. That's what Christ is saying here. Verse 4: "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." And that humility that is the key to our entering the kingdom continues in the hearts of true believers. That's what Christ is saying.

Then He turns to how we should relate to others.

"Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; whoever causes one of these little ones [now watch this] who believe in me" [we have turned now from simply a little child to a little one who believes in Jesus. So, we're talking about true believers. Now notice what He says:] "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble [that is, to sin], it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Listen, you and I need to take the issue of causing other believers to sin very seriously. There are any number of ways, and you probably can think of several in your mind right now, of ways that you know you can lead someone else down the path of your own sin. Understanding your own depravity and understanding the depravity of other believers - the fact that they still carry some of that depravity with them - should lead you to be extremely careful in not causing them to sin.

It also means, in terms of our life in reference to believers, we must personally confront the sin of others. Here in the same passage, Matthew 18:15:

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private." [Jesus here lays out a pattern for dealing with sin. Depravity is a reality. Sin in the life of a believer is a reality. So how do we deal with it? Now I know, from interacting with some folks in our church, that not everyone understands this process. Perhaps you don't understand what you're to do when someone sins.

Well let's just walk with the Lord here through this passage because this is foundational. Notice the process that Jesus outlines. "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private." You don't go first to your roommate, to your spouse, to a friend. If you know someone has chosen to sin, you go to that person privately. This is the first step you take. This is what you should always do. Now if there's a personal affront, a personal wrong, we'll talk about that in a moment, but we're talking here about a true sin, something that potentially damages the soul of this person, potentially is a trap into which they could fall. You go to that person privately. That's the first step. Jesus says, "If he listens to you, you've won your brother." Very, very specifically, you go to him and you say, you don't come in a spirit of, of pride. Galatians urges us to come in a spirit of humility considering ourselves lest we also be tempted. You go to that person and you say, "Brother, you know, I'm concerned. I saw something that deeply concerned me, and here's what I saw." You give them a chance to explain. Perhaps there's a valid explanation. Perhaps you didn't actually see what you thought you saw, but often times you did.

Now if the person did sin, they respond to your rebuke, then you've won your brother. They repent, you praise the Lord together, you leave it there. You don't tell others about it; you let it die there. But, verse 16, second stage: "If he does not listen to you (take two or more), take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed." These are witnesses to your second confrontation of this individual. You tried to keep it private, but he didn't respond. Now you take two or three back with you. And you go through the same process again. "Brother, here's what, we talked about this before. I'm concerned about you. I'm following the process that our Lord outlined. I urge you to repent, to turn from your sin and repent." Of course, if he repents at that point, it stops with you and those two or three other people.

But, Christ says, the next stage: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church." Let it be publicly known. That process practically goes through the leadership of the church. In our church, if you went through step one and step two and the person didn't respond, you would bring it to the elders. The elders would try to go to that person, take a similar approach, and if they still refuse to repent, then we would tell it to the church. You can read about this by the way in the constitution; it's carefully outlined there, the process that we believe you should biblically take.

When we tell it to the church, the idea is not punitive; it's not to punish the person. It's restorative; you want to restore them to the fellowship. You want them to repent and return and be a part of the Lord's body here, and that's the spirit with which I would tell it to you. If this were to happen, and it will unfortunately in our church at some point, probably as part of our communion service as we're all judging our own hearts and examining our own sin, I would tell you that unfortunately so and so has followed this process. We've gone to them, they've refused to repent, and I would urge all of you who know them to go to that person and urge him or her to repent, to come back to the Lord.

We would give it some more time, and then we go to the final step. "If he refuses (verse 17) to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." In other words, consider him not a part of the church. Consider him not even to be a believer. Now he may be a believer living in unrepentant sin, but if he goes through that whole process, and he still hasn't responded, then it's possible that he's not a believer. So, you treat him as if he's not a believer. So, this is how we're to respond to depravity. Sin is a reality in our lives and the lives of others.When we recognize that sin, to repent of it; if we refuse, then we're to go through this process.

Depravity also means we must quickly forgive personal offenses. I'm not going to take the time to go through verses 21 to 35 because we've done that recently, we looked at another passage, but I encourage you to read it carefully if you weren't here for that because here Jesus deals with Peter's response, "How often then am I to forgive my brother?" If I go to him, he sins against me. I go to him and he repents, how often should I forgive him? And Jesus basically says you need to be very quick to forgive personal offenses (why?) because you constantly need forgiveness. This is a ramification of our depravity. You and I sin. We sin against God constantly, and part of that dictates therefore that we quickly forgive offenses against us.

Now let's talk about unbelievers. When we're talking about others and specifically, how our depravity affects our relationship with unbelievers, this is crucial. And here's where a lot of believers fail to understand what the Scriptures teach. Because of depravity, because the people around us are depraved totally, they're morally polluted, we must always expect unbelievers to sin. At some point, we'll go through Titus 3; in fact, let's just turn there now, I'll read it to you. I'm not going to take much time with it tonight because we don't have it, but this passage is crucial for how to respond to unbelievers. Titus 3:1, Paul says,

Titus, remind your people to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle [now watch this], showing every consideration (not just for believers, but) for all men. [Why? Here's why, verse 3]. Because we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

You know what Paul is saying to Titus? He's saying unbelievers will live like unbelievers. Don't expect anything more out of them. That's how we were before Christ found us. Or as Peter puts it in describing those who made a profession of faith that wasn't genuine, he says once they disappear from that supposed profession, "It happens to them according to the true proverb, 'A dog returns to its own vomit', and, 'A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.'" You can't change the nature of a dog or a sow. You can dress 'em up, you can wash 'em up, but you can't change who they are. The same thing is true for every unbeliever. Don't expect the unbelievers around you to live any differently than Titus 3:3.

You cannot legislate righteousness. You cannot change the nature of a person by external rules or by raising your expectations. By the way parents, this has a major ramification for our raising of children. Until they come to a genuine faith in Christ, this describes them. That doesn't mean you don't expect obedience, but it means you can't change their heart.

Another ramification regarding unbelievers is we must not therefore isolate ourselves from unbelievers simply because they sin. Yes, they're depraved. Yes, they do things that are in keeping with that depravity. Yes, they do things that now to us in Christ are disgusting, but that doesn't mean we isolate ourselves from them. It's very easy, once you become a Christian, to sort of only hang with believers. Turn to 1 Corinthians 5. First Corinthians 5:9. Paul says, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people." Now they had misunderstood. When he said that, they assumed he meant all immoral people and especially unbelievers. But he says no, no, you misunderstood.

Verse 10, "I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world." He says listen, this is how unbelievers live. So, I didn't mean don't associate with people who commit these sins if they're unbelievers because unbelievers will commit these sins. This is who they are. This is what they do. If you acted like that, you'd have to go out of the world. "But actually (verse 11), I wrote to you to not to associate with any so-called brother if (he's living in a pattern of unrepentant sin)."

Let me encourage you to reach out to your neighbors, to reach out to unsaved family, to reach out to coworkers. Don't be put off by the fact that they do things that are not in keeping with your profession of faith in Christ. That's what they do. That's because that's who they are, but we need to reach out to them, not become like them, but reach out to them, befriend them, care about them, share the gospel with them.

Now, let's look at the ramifications of depravity concerning ourselves. What should the reality that our own hearts still have taint, or tainted by our depravity, what ramification should this have for us in ourselves? First of all, we cannot accurately assess our own motives. Because you and I still have a part of us that is unredeemed, we cannot assess our own motives. Turn to 1 Corinthians 4, just back a page from where we were. Paul begins in verse 1,

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [He says I have a stewardship, and] it's required of stewards that … [we be] trustworthy. [And that prompts him to talk about so who's going to evaluate our trustworthiness, who's going to evaluate our service?] Verse 3, "But to me it's a very small thing [in other words, it doesn't really matter to me that you examine me,] or any human court [examine me]; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted.

You know what Paul is saying? You can't know your own heart. You can't know your motives. Paul says as far as I'm concerned, everything's fine, but that doesn't mean it's fine with the Lord because I cannot accurately assess the motives of my heart. "the one who examines me is the LORD (verse 5). Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait till the Lord comes who will both bring to light [the hidden things] the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God." God's the only One that can sort out our terribly mixed motives, and let me just say that our motives are always mixed. Don't think that you know what makes you tick because you have depravity still with you.

Secondly, we cannot completely discover our own sin. Only the Lord can do that. Couple of passages, Psalm 26:2, "Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and … heart." But my favorite is in Psalm 139. You remember he begins Psalm 139 with the, detailing the omniscience of God, that God knows everything about him. He knows his thoughts even before he has his thoughts. And so therefore, he says to God at the end of Psalm 139,

Search me, O God, and know my heart [ransack my heart]; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me [that is, not hurtful to me, hurtful to you, if there's any way in me that causes You pain], And lead me in the everlasting way.

You find yourself praying that prayer? If you don't, you should because you can't know nor can I all of the ways we offend our holy God. Only God can reveal that through, to us through His Word. Understand you can't fully discover your own sin. You have to cry out to God even as the psalmist.

That leads to another expression of depravity or ramification of depravity. We must not implicitly trust our own hearts. I can't tell you how many Christians I meet with who think they know themselves. Listen to the Scripture. Proverbs 28:26: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered." Or listen to Jeremiah 17:

"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick [it's terminally ill]; who can understand it? [That's why eventually, God is going to have to recreate, just as He's already given us a new heart, He's going to have to recreate that part of us that remains unredeemed]. I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds."

If you think you know your heart, if you think you know what makes you tick, then you are seriously deceived because you don't understand the true nature of the depravity that still clings to you as a believer. Don't implicitly trust your heart.

By the way, I often remind myself and my children that we can lie to ourselves. Did you know that? You can lie to yourself. You can talk to yourself and convince yourself that you are thoroughly innocent because the heart's deceitful.

Our depravity also means that we must not continually cater to our bodily appetites. That doesn't mean you don't eat; it doesn't mean that you don't enjoy the good things of life. It means that you constantly keep your bodily appetites reined in. We're not talking about asceticism here. We're talking about a proper amount of self-control. Turn to 1 Corinthians 9. Listen to how Paul puts it. Verse 24, he says,

Don't you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games [watch this] exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we [exercise self-control in all things to receive] an imperishable [wreath]. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air [I don't shadow box, I don't run without a goal, verse 27]; I discipline my body [I bruise my body, I give my body the knockout blow is what Paul says] and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

Some people think that their bodily appetites should just direct their every decision. If you do that, you are giving in potentially to your depravity. You must, like Paul, exercise self-control. We must never run our Christian liberty out to the edge. This is really, that passage I just read for you is in a section about Paul's use of his Christian liberty. And when you turn to chapter 10 of First Corinthians and verse 1, he goes through Israel in the wilderness as an example. And I'm not going to walk you through that whole passage, but let me just say that the point he's making in the context of 1 Corinthians is that it is dangerous as a believer to run your Christian liberty out to the edge. I know so many Christians who do this. They, in the name of Christian liberty, they watch things they should never watch, they indulge in entertainment they should never indulge in; they have forgotten that yes, they have a new heart, but they also still have their depravity that clings to them and they can be sucked into any sin. It's foolhardy; it's foolish not to guard your heart. Read through 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.

And finally in reference to ourselves, we must radically, because of our depravity, we must radically deal with our own sin. Knowing that we still have that part of us that is unredeemed, that is morally polluted, that is corrupt in every part, we must absolutely get radical with our sin. Turn back to Matthew 18. Jesus couldn't put it any more clearly. Matthew 18: 8:

"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble [that is, causes you to sin], cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into eternal fire. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you. It's better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell."

Now what is Christ saying here? Is he saying actually we're to practice an extreme form of asceticism where we cut off limbs and pluck out physical eyes? No, what He's saying is, reduced to its simplest form is, be radical with your sin. Some people have misunderstood this, and because of sexual temptation for example have plucked out their eyes only to discover that sexual temptation can live in a heart that has no eyes because it's out of the heart that sin arise, arises. That isn't what Jesus is saying here. He's saying be radical in dealing with your sin.

You know, I talk to some people who are struggling for example, some men who are struggling with internet pornography, and I talk to them about this verse. How do you get radical? And they don't want to unplug their computer; they don't want to get off the internet.

I say listen, Jesus says cut off your hand! Pluck out your eye! Don't you think that turning off your internet falls within the parameters of this? Do whatever you have to do. If it means driving an extra forty miles to go to work so that you don't have to pass by that place that sucks you into sin, do that. Get radical with your sin. If you understand your depravity, if you understand you still live, live with a portion of your depravity, then you will want to be radical with sin because you realize if you give it an inch, it'll take a mile. It'll absolutely eat you up. Get radical.

Now let's talk briefly, and we're almost done, about how our depravity affects our relationship to God. Just a couple of thoughts: first of all, because even though we have a new heart we still have depravity clinging to us. We have to constantly be on the lookout to avoid mere externalism in the worship of God - in other words, form of worship without truly worshipping God with all our hearts.

I wish I had time to turn to both of these passages. Let's turn to Micah, the prophet Micah indicting the people of God for their form of worship without the heart. Micah 6:1:

"Hear now what the LORD is saying, arise, plead your case before the mountains, let the hills hear your voice. (Verse 2). Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of the LORD, God has a case against His people; even with Israel He will dispute [God says I have a court case against my people. I'm bringing 'em to court]. My people (verse 3), what have I done to you, and now have I wearied you? Answer Me. Indeed, I brought you from the land of Egypt, ransomed you from the house of slavery, sent before you Moses and Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember now [and He lists again His righteous acts.] (Verse 6). With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? [Is that what makes God happy?] Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you (verse 8), O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love ['hesed', to love loving kindness, to love loving loyalty], and to walk humbly with your God?" [Now watch the indictment.]

The voice of the LORD will call to the city - And it will sound wisdom to fear Your name: "Hear, O tribe. Who has appointed its time? Is there yet a man in the wicked house, Along with the treasures of wickedness And a short measure that is cursed? Can I justify wicked scales And a bag of deceptive weights? [They were practicing deceptive and illegal commerce for their own profit.] For the rich men of the city are full of violence, Her residents speak lies, … their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.'" [What's going on here? These people were ungodly, but they still had a form of worship. And God says I don't want your worship.]

You turn to Isaiah 1, and He says listen, I'm sick of your offerings. Don't bring me any more offerings. God of course had required offerings, so what's He saying? He's saying I don't want externalism, but as fallen human beings, we often tend to go there. We show up on Sunday, we sit there and we don't really worship God from our hearts. Or we get alone with the Lord for our time of Bible reading, and it's simply another box to check off our to-do list. Our heart isn't in it. There's no true praise of God, there's no adoration of our Creator. Just understand that your depravity can lead you down that road to mere external worship.

Secondly, we must constantly guard against doctrinal error. There's so many passages about this. Paul reminds people, Christian people, over and over and over again, "Be careful, be careful, be careful' because there's going to be error that is going to, you're going to be tempted to follow because of your fallenness. I'm going to talk more about this danger next week. I plan as I said next Sunday night to examine the five most dangerous trends in the church today, and I'll talk about the danger of doctrinal error then.

Finally, we must cultivate true spiritual humility: understanding who we are before God, understanding our depravity that clings to us. It means that we should be humble people. In fact, if you look at Psalm 51, of course the great psalm of David when he pours out his heart after he's confronted by Nathan the prophet, found guilty of adultery, guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, he cries out to God in that context. Having come to understand his depravity – remember one of the greatest verses on depravity is in that Psalm – "in sin I was conceived." He says this at the end of that chapter: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."

The realization of your own sinful heart, the realization of my own sinful heart, should drive us to a true spiritual humility before God, acknowledging that we deserve nothing from God except justice, except wrath and eternal punishment. And whatever we get other than that, every blessing in this life and any hope of eternal life, is extended to us solely by grace.

Let's pray together.

Father, we confess to You that we are nothing without Your grace. We can do nothing to please You. We can't function as Christians without Your grace. Father, I pray You'd help us to learn these lessons, lessons from our depravity. Help us to be diligent, Father, in our worship of You. Help us to be humble before You, bowing our hearts in Your presence, acknowledging Your perfect purity and holiness and our own sinfulness. Lord, don't let us ever get over that reality of Your amazing grace.

And Father, I pray that You would help usto respond in our own hearts. Help us to realize that we can never know our motives. We can never know our own sin apart from the intervention of Your Spirit and Your Word teaching us and molding us, apart from others coming to confront us when we sin. Help us to be open to all of that input, Father.

And Father, I pray that you would help us as we respond to others. To believers, help us to encourage them to do nothing that would cause them to sin, that would play to their depravity.

And Lord, for unbelievers, help us to see them as we once were. Help us to love them, to reach out to them, to see them enslaved and long to give them the message of freedom in Christ.

Lord, we can't end our study without praising You and adoring You for Your great grace that is greater than all our sin.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Systematic Theology