By Not Known

Some years ago I worked for a company that sold bulk industrial chemicals. I soon learnt the basic sales strategy of demonstrating a need (or creating one!) and then showing how my firm could meet it better than any competitors.

We need to see our need of Jesus before we believe in him. Many will say ‘I’m not that bad, I can manage my own relationship with God’. These words betray a fatal self-deception and pride. They are fatal because they keep us from believing in the one person whose help we really need – Jesus. All this is Paul’s theme in Romans 1:18 – 3:20. He previously spoke of how Jesus was the universal saviour for all and any who believed (Rom 1:16-17). He then demonstrates the universal human need of Jesus.

It’s easy to show how outwardly bad people need Jesus and Paul does that very quickly (1:18-32). But what about those who are religious but lost, or who are what Tim Keller calls the ‘elder-brother lost’ (see his book The Prodigal Son). These are people who are inside places of worship but who are lost from God. Their outward goodness and religion stops them from seeing their need of Jesus. In Paul’s day, these were his fellow Jews, and he gives many words to showing how they fall short of God (Rom 2:1 – 3:20). Who are their modern equivalents?

This is all part of the argument for what is sometimes called ‘Total Depravity’. (Google ‘Total Depravity’ or ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ for the background). This teaching is easily misunderstood, but its dismissal is dangerous. ‘Total depravity’ is not a teaching that all people are as bad as they can be. Few people are so bad that there is no spark of goodness within them. There is more goodness in the world of general humanity than we sometimes admit. However, sin is like a malignant cancer cell – it only takes one cell to be fatal. Thus total depravity is a teaching that, left to ourselves, we will all follow the habit of denying and defying God. Further, any falling short in thought, word or deed is fatal, for unholy people cannot dwell with an utterly good God (Ps 15).

Let’s get personal. Who among us can say that every thought, word and deed is what it should be and that there is no good thought, word and deed that we have omitted? I certainly can’t say this. Can you? The gospel of Jesus is total delight for those who see their need. May God give us the ‘sight’ to see our need for Jesus and to act on it by putting our faith in him.

David Burke