Thursday, July 26, 2012

Basically Good (or, My Inner Calvin is Showing)

“I think most people want to do good.”  “I don’t think people choose to sin.”  We were having a discussion during lunch yesterday.  A lot of times I listen to the students’ conversation without really commenting.  It’s their time to relax and it’s good for me to hear how they think without weighing in. 

But, I had to say something yesterday.  Maybe it’s just my reformed background – after all, the first tenet of John Calvin’s TULIP is Total Depravity – but their comments alarmed me.

Perhaps their comments seem pretty tame.  Why would I be ‘alarmed’?  I mean, we were all sitting there, trying our best to serve Jesus in El Callejon.  Doesn’t that prove that people want to do good, that they don’t want to sin?
It alarms me that so many believers have this notion that we’re basically good people.  Over and over again in the Bible we are told the exact opposite.  From birth we are sinful, depraved, unable to do a single good thing on our own. 

We are dead in our sin.  Not stumbling along, not rising up to conquer it, not doing the best we can… We are dead.  Have you ever been walking and come upon a dead squirrel or mouse on the side of the road?  A tiny whiff of the decay clenches your stomach, forcing you to swallow several times. 
That is our condition.  Sure, we perfume it up, but in the end, that only makes the smell more revolting.
Why does this all matter?  I think it is dangerous to have a worldview which assumes that deep down people are Okay.  If that is true, why would a loving God send His only Son to die?  If we’re basically good, surely there was a less drastic way to nudge us along to self-actualization! 
The shock of events like the shooting in a Colorado movie theatre, the torture taking place right now where there is no one to record it on an Iphone, the daily hurts and pain we inflict on each other and ourselves, all of this points to the truth we are loathe to admit: we are not okay. 
Each one of us carries the mark of the fall of man.  Each one of us has the potential to become a monster, acting out our depravity. 
All of that sounds super grim and negative, I know.  It’s harsh, and I think we’ve got to be prayerful, thoughtful, about how we present this truth to unbelievers.  But, for those of us whom claim Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, well, we’ve got to understand who we are apart from Him. 

In Christ, in Christ alone, we become new creations.  This is the hope, the urgency of the Great Commission.  Jesus isn’t a nice addition to lives that are basically okay.  Again, if people are able to make good choices without His redemption, what was the point of the cross?  The blackness of our hearts, the stench of our lives, this is our reality apart from Jesus. 
The Good News, the Very Good News, is that in Him and through Him, we are able to do good things because He transforms us.  In Him and through Him we have the strength to choose not to sin.  Not because our flesh doesn’t crave it, but because He is at work in us. 

Only when we understand the depths of our brokenness, our sinfulness, our helplessness, can we begin to grasp how deep and wide and long and high is the love of God in Christ Jesus.  When we realize what we’ve been saved from – ourselves in our stinking death – we will be compelled to respond by going out and serving in His name. 
The grim truth is people aren’t basically good, but, oh friends, our God is.  He is all-powerful, all-loving, all-good.  What a hope, what an assurance!    

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