Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (Sacraments of Initiation 2)

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In this discussion of Roman Catholic doctrine, as taught in the Official Catechism of the Vatican, we have begun understanding the sacraments. This comes in three types of sacraments, sacraments of Initiation, sacraments of Healing, and sacraments of Service. We have begun with two of the three sacraments of Initiation: Baptism and Confirmation. Those two begin the process of justification in the sinner. Baptism washes you of your original sin making you righteous and able to do good deeds. Confirmation is the second stage where you confirm the work being done and are given the Holy Spirit.

(The two sacraments mentioned above are discussed in the previous post)

Now we enter into discussion of the most important sacrament of the Roman church, the Eucharist. This is said to be the “source and summit” of the Church’s activity. Everything revolves around this and so it is important to understand.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist

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The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.

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“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'”

Paragraph 1324 says this:

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.”

This clearly shows it’s importance to the whole of Catholic life. If the liturgy of the church, the sacraments, proclamation of the word, and unity of believers in worship of God are all bound up with the Eucharist, that places it in a central position for the work of the church.

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“The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”

Here the word “efficacious” is given. Here is the Oxford Dictionary definition of this word:  “(of something inanimate or abstract) successful in producing a desired or intended result; effective.” For something to be “efficacious” it must mean that it has the ability (within itself) to produce the desired effect. The desired effect is to sanctify the world in Christ and produce within man the worship required by God. The Eucharist is the culmination of this. Like Protestants, Roman Catholics believe that it is grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:5). However, they believe this saving grace is given to us through the liturgy of the Roman Church beginning in Baptism and confirmation with it’s “culmination” being found in the Eucharist. Paragraph’s 1348-1355 describe the elaborate ceremony necessary for celebrating the Eucharist. This ritual is extremely important and every part must be observed correctly in order for the bread an wine to truly become the body and blood. The close of this ceremony is the institution narrative, the summation of the eucharist ritual.

last half of paragraph 1353

“In the institution narrative, the power of the words (spoken by the priest who is calling Jesus down from heaven) and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.”

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In the anamnesis that follows, the Church calls to mind the passion, resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus; she presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.

In the intercessions, the Church indicates that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, the living and the dead, and in communion with the pastors of the Church, the Pope, the diocesan bishop, his presbyterium and his deacons, and all the bishops of the whole world together with their Churches.

This is a real sacrifice that is being offered to God for thanksgiving and praise. But it is a real sacrifice because it really is the blood of Christ being put on the altar. This makes sense of why they think this sacrament is the culmination of everything that happens in the church. The saving grace necessary for salvation rests within Christ, which we consume because He is really present. Though they believe this is the same sacrifice offered on calvary, they believe it has to be continually re-presented to God physically.

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Because it is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

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The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is memorial and because it applies its fruit: [Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.

The word “salutary” is given to the power of the Eucharist. Oxford dictionary defines salutary: “(especially with reference to something unwelcome or unpleasant) producing good effects; beneficial.” Again, the idea is that the Eucharist is what administers grace to us and has the power of salvation within it because it is the actual sacrifice of Christ.

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The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. “This presence is called ‘real’–by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

The last sentence of 1376 says, “This change (bread and wine into body and blood) the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” This is an important word that is used often for this process. However, a true problem presents itself when you realize that Christ is physically on earth before you. What do you do when the God of the universe appears?

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Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.

Thats right, you must worship the bread and wine. This is only logical because if you really believe it is God before you, what else must you do but bow in adoration? However, since we as protestants do not believe that transubstantiation has happened (even Lutherans don’t believe this) this is nothing more than idolatry which is explicitly prohibited by God. In paragraph 1380 there is a biblical contradiction regarding the reason for this presence.

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It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us “to the end,” even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate his love:

The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.

The problem biblically comes in John 16:4-11:

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Jesus left so that the Holy Spirit could come and dwell within us. Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth because He is seated at the right hand of God interceding for us (Romans 8:34). Hebrews 10:12 says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Jesus is the new high priest (according to Hebrews) and His office is superior to the old high priests. In the Holy of Holies (inner room in the tabernacle and temple) where the priests would offer their sacrifices there was no where to sit down. This was because their work was never finished. However, Christ offered the once for all sacrifice and His work truly was finished. That is why He sits down next to the father, His sacrifice was perfect and His work was done.  However, Roman Catholicism says that Christ’s work must be continually represented and His body truly does come down every time the bread is consecrated. This goes against the testimony of Scripture. Sadly this focus on the sacrament takes the Christian away from the true source and summit of Christian life, the word. Everything they say the Eucharist gives, is actually said in scripture to come from the scripture.

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What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh “given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,” preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum.

After being challenged by the devil during His temptation, Jesus says this, “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Matthew 4:4) It is not the Eucharist that is to be the spiritual food we live on, but the word. Also, this is what the disciples say to Jesus when asked if they too will desert Him, ” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

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Holy communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins: For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord’s death, we proclaim the forgive-ness of sins. If, as often as his blood is poured out, it is poured for the forgiveness of sins, I should always receive it, so that it may always forgive my sins. Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy.

However, Jesus says what sanctifies us is the word: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Again, the power of spiritual life comes from the word. The greatest contradiction comes now.

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By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin. The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins–that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church.

According to Rome, this once and for all sacrifice cannot take away mortal sin. Mortal sin is defined in 1855 as, “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. In 1861 it says, “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.” This means that it is possible for someone to lose their salvation. Furthermore, it means that the Eucharist is not able to save someone from this “mortal sin” and keep them from losing their salvation. This is contradicts the clear teaching of Hebrews 9 which says:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)

and also:

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

The true sacrifice of Jesus is able to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” Yet, in Roman Catholicism the one true sacrifice does not have this power. Day after day, month after month, year after year you can receive the Eucharist and it is still possible to fall away due to mortal sin. This is not the sacrifice spoken of in scripture, it is a terrible twisting of the truth. The true sacrifice is able to perfect and save those who receive it, and it is not through consuming bread and wine, but through true regeneration and placing your faith in the true sacrifice of Christ.

Catechism of the Roman Catholic church (Sacraments of initiation 1)

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Today is the first post of a series explaining the Roman Catholic church. We will begin with the sacraments to see the process of salvation. The sacraments make up the greater part of worship in Roman Catholicism so understanding these is key to understanding Rome. How many are there and what are they?

(All quoted material has numbers before it. The numbers direct you to the exact place in the catechism. )

The Seven Sacraments of the Church

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Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christians life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

There are three types of sacraments: Sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing, and sacraments of service. We will walk through these individually starting with…

The Sacraments of Christian Initiation

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The sacraments of Christian initiation–Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist–lay the foundations of every Christian life. “The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.”

Already we can see a theme that characterizes Roman theology. The visible reality is directly tied to the spiritual reality and you cannot separate the two. This is one of the greatest differences between Rome and Protestants to note because it is often a cause of confusion. For example, when talking about the “body of Christ” a protestant will think about the invisible universal collection of believers that make up the church. However, to a Roman Catholic the invisible church is also the visible church, they are directly connected. (That explanation found in the teaching of Catholic Apologist Dr. Lawrence Feingold). Keep that in mind when going through this first sacrament of Baptism.

The Sacrament of Baptism

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Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”

This is a doctrine known as baptismal regeneration. Regeneration is the word commonly used for the “born again” experience that Christ speaks of in John 3. It is the conversion of the believer where they are given a new heart and become an entirely new creation in Christ. Generally protestants believe that regeneration happens during conversion of the heart with faith. However, to the Roman Catholic, regeneration is directly tied to physical water baptism. (To note, Lutherans also hold to baptismal regeneration although not to the extent that Roman Catholics take it to)

This section on baptism shows the works oriented nature of Rome’s gospel. It is fundamentally bound with the material and thus good works become the basis of our salvation.

The Necessity of Baptism

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The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

Here, speaking of water baptism, Rome says it is “necessary for salvation.” If that wasn’t clear enough we often see the true nature when answering what may be loopholes in the system. What do you do if someone dies before receiving water baptism?

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For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

It is amazing that Faith is not even mentioned in the requirements for assurance of salvation, though repentance is thrown in there. The notable sentence is, “salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.” That is an important line. If you can’t receive it physically, then your fervent desire to have it is what gives you the same salvation. Here they are urging people to have faith, however it is not faith in Christ’s ability to save, but faith in the power of baptism to save. If that wasn’t clear enough here is the summary at the end of the chapter.

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Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.

Again, keeping in mind that the physical is tied to the spiritual that is a chilling statement. While baptism is necessary for salvation, in Roman theology, it is not the end. In fact, you have not received the Holy Spirit yet. Baptism only begins the process of salvation which will continue through the rest of your life (and does not end until all temporary punishment has been payed off in purgatory). While baptism “is surely valid and efficacious” confirmation is required because, “Christian initiation remains incomplete” (paragraph 1306). The second step is confirmation where you receive the Holy Spirit by your confirming the act of baptism with the “Church.”

The Sacrament of Confirmation

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Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

A key phrase in the above statement is in saying that confirmation is “necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.” While you were regenerated in baptism, God’s grace for salvation and true regeneration is not completed until you confirm it through the church with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil (paragraphs 1293-1296).

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Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds. (also found in paragraphs 1294- 1296)

Here the saving grace of God is continually placed onto that which is physical in nature, turning the free gift into a work done. In the next post we will follow with the conclusion of initiation, the Eucharist. This is the “source and summit” of the Church’s activity. Everything revolves around this and so it is important to understand.

Conclusion

There are two things that should be clear to any Protestant. One, this process being defined looks nothing like what we find in the bible. While baptismal regeneration may have a better biblical case (though I still think it is wrong), the idea of confirmation is nowhere taught in the didactic portions of scripture (the epistles). This shows something that will be covered in future posts, the nature of authority in the Catholic church is very different than in Protestantism. We hold to Sola Scriptura, which means “Scripture alone” is the sole authority. In Roman Catholicism both scripture, and church tradition are authoritative, with the latter being more primary because it is the church that interprets scripture.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

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For the past couple years I have been studying Roman Catholicism and slowly working my way through the Catechism. My studies have lead me to some conclusions about the nature of Roman Catholicism in relation to my Protestant beliefs. I wondered “are the two just different sects of the same religion, or are they different religions?” Since this blog is about putting for material for edification, I decided it would be good to give a resource for those wanting to learn more about what Roman Catholicism is all about. I will basically let the Catechism speak for itself, with some commentary leading you through some foundational beliefs for their church and why it is very different (in fact fundamentally different) than protestantism. I will publish a series of blog posts in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned if you are interested.

Reformed Anthropology

Right now I am reading through the book The Potters Freedom by James White. This book is a response to another book by theologian Norman Geisler called Chosen but Free, where he takes Reformed theology to task. One section hit me as an excellent presentation of a doctrine commonly misunderstood by many, including Norman Geisler. I must admit that when I became a Christian and started studying Calvinism I followed people that perpetuated this misunderstanding. Whether or not you agree with total depravity, it is helpful to know the true nature of that which you oppose. Here is a coherent representation, and not a straw-man, of this doctrine.  I must warn you to strap yourself in for the ride because Dr. White (as well as the bible) is not what one would call, “subtle.”

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“A Definition

What do reformed Christians believe concerning the will of man? The reader of CBF would have to conclude that true Calvinists believe man’s will is “destroyed” and done away with, resulting in nothing more than an automaton, a robot. But this is not the case at all. Chapter 9 of the London Baptist Confession (1689) is succinct and clear:

1) In the natural order God has endued man’s will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil.

2) In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness.

3) As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation. As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to that which is good. Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God.

4) When God converts a sinner, and brings him out of sin into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage to sin and, by His grace alone, He enables Him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good. Nevertheless certain corruptions remain in the sinner, so that his will is never completely and perfectly held in captivity to that which is good, but also entertains evil.

5) It is not until man enters the state of glory that he is made perfectly and immutably free to will that which is good, and that alone.

The final section especially should be noted: when in heaven the ultimate “freedom” will not be “freedom to choose evil or good as we may desire” but “freedom from the presence of, and inclination toward, evil.” Any person who believes that the redeemed in heaven will be forever perfected must likewise believe that they will no longer commit sin. Does this mean that they will somehow be less than human? Or is freedom to perfectly will good a greater freedom than the ability to choose between good and evil?

The Scriptural Witness

The biblical doctrine of total depravity combines the truth of man’s createdness (the pot that is formed by the Potter) with the truth of man as sinner. The result is a view of man that is pre-eminently biblical and perfectly in line with what we see in mankind all around us.

To say something is a biblical doctrine requires that we demonstrate this from the text. Briefly, here are a few of the more important passages teaching the Reformed doctrine of the total depravity of man and the bondage of man in sin.

From the earliest records of the bible, we see that man’s corruption extends to his very heart:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

This corruption is internal and complete: every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually. This is radical corruption, not mere “sickness.” Such a person is not “spiritually challenged” but is in firm and resolute rebellion against God. The flood took these people away, yet, even after the flood, God says:

The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21)

Man’s radical corruption has not changed: from his youth man’s heart is evil, not just once in a while, but continually. Can good come forth from an evil heart? Men like to think so. Yet, the Bible says otherwise:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin

Or the Leopard his spots?

Then you also can do good

Who are accustomed to doing evil.

(Jeremiah 13:23)

Just as a person cannot change the color of their skin, or the leopard its spots, so the one who practices evil cannot break the bondage of sin and start doing good. The corruption is indelible and can only be removed by a radical change of the heart. Surely this is not the belief of most of mankind: films, books, and the mass media is constantly telling us that there is a “spark of good” in the heart of man that is just begging to be fanned into a flame. So pervasive is this belief that many in the Christian faith have drunk deeply at this well of humanism and have allowed society, rather than Scripture, to determine their view of man. But the consistent testimony of the Word is beyond question:

The heart is more deceitful than all else

And is desperately sick;

Who can understand it?

(Jeremiah 17:9)

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

And in sin my mother conceived me.

(Psalm 51:5)

The wicked are estranged from the womb;

These who speak lies go astray from birth.

(Psalm 58:3)

It is incredible to find Christians saying, “Well, that refers to only some people. See, it says ‘these who speak lies go astray from birth.’” Is there any person who truly knows their own heart who does not confess that they lie regularly, if not in word, then in their heart, even to God? Who does not lie? Someone might say, “But it says ‘the wicked are estranged from the womb,’ not everyone.” But does not every Christian confess that we were once “children of wrath” even as the rest (Ephesians 2:3)? The true believer knows well the corruption from which Christ has rescued us.

The New Testament continues the testimony to the radical depravity of man. In fact, when Paul seeks to present a systematic argument for the gospel to the Romans, he does not begin with “Jesus loves you” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Showing that he would fail almost every evangelism class currently offered in seminaries in our land, Paul begins with a dreadfully long discussion of the universal sinfulness of man. Without a single poem, no funny illustrations or multimedia aids, the inspired Apostle drags on about the sinfulness of men, Jew and Gentile alike. It is no wonder this section is so little preached in our day. But might it just be that the good news cannot be properly understood unless the bad news is fully realized? Such would seem to be the case.

A biblical view of man must find a large portion of its substance in the words of Paul in Romans 1 and 3. Hear again these words penned by the Spirit of God:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)

Man, the image-bearer of God, knows God exists. There is no honest atheist. Man suppresses that knowledge (Romans 1:18) and twists his irrepressible religiosity into the horror that is idolatry. We can find men bowing down and worshiping every single element of the created world, from the most obvious forms of idolatry such as the worship of animals, the sun, moon, and stars, to the more subtle but no less horrific forms where men worship pleasures, possessions, and most often, themselves (humanism). It is the very essence of sin to twist the proper relationship of God as Creator and man as creation. When man usurps any of the authority of God he is, in so doing, giving loud testimony to the radical depravity that grips every fallen child of Adam. But Paul goes on to compile a list of testimonies from the ancient Scriptures to seal his case:

As it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;

There is none who understands,

There is none who seeks for god;

All have turned aside,

Together they have become useless;

There is none who does good,

There is not even one.

Their throat is an open grave,

With their tongues they keep deceiving,

The poison of asps is under their lips;

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;

Their feet are swift to shed blood,

Destruction and misery are in their paths,

And the path of peace they have not known.

There is no fear of god before their eyes.”

(Romans 3:10-18)

This litany of quotations is specifically designed to have one effect: to shatter, destroy, and obliterate any last shred of self-righteousness that might remain after the preceding arguments have been understood. These testimonies are fatal to any kind of “optimistic humanism.” Outside of God’s grace, man is a corrupted creation, violent, hateful, without understanding, without fear of God. Rather than finding in man “seekers” who simply need a “nudge” in the right direction, Scripture tells man that man does not understand and does not seek after God. Man is deceitful, even with himself, and is quick to curse God. Total depravity painted in the most vivid colors.”  (Pages 77-83)

White, James. The Potters Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal to Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free. Calvary Press. 2009. Print

It must be further recognized, lest we fall into despair, that there is a solution to this problem seen in man. When we look at the pain and suffering in the world around us it is easy to become disappointed and hopeless. When undergoing depression, as I myself have experienced extensively, this hopelessness manifests in absolute apathy to all things. Yet, what a glorious report to hear that all the evil that has ever existed has been truly defeated. That there has been a man to walk this earth who did do what was pleasing to God. A man who lived the perfect life that we could not, and died a death that we deserve. This man was Christ, who was God come in the flesh to save us from our sin. All of God’s wrath for sin was placed upon Him, and He said truly, “it is finished.” Do you see your own depravity? Do you realize the depth of your own lostness? Then cast your cares upon Him who bore it all on Calvary. Through His blood are we healed and may boldly walk into the very presence of God. Place your faith in His perfect salvation, and God will declare you righteous in His eyes.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:1-11)