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The Extent of Our Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 25, 2024 12:01 am

The Extent of Our Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 25, 2024 12:01 am

Do we have free will? How does sin influence our ability to make choices? Today, R.C. Sproul speaks on the extent of sin's impact on us and our desperate need for the Savior who can set us free from guilt.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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God doesn't invite, He commands that people come to Christ. It's the moral obligation for somebody to come to Christ.

Yet, Jesus Himself said, no one can come to Me, remember, unless it is given to Him by the Father. When we study the nature of man and ask the question, who am I?, one question is surely going to arise. Is man free?

Do we have free will? Since we're sinners, as we've seen on prior Saturdays, how has that sinfulness impacted our ability to choose? It's good to have you with us today on Renewing Your Mind, as we conclude this Saturday series on the doctrine of man.

As this is our final episode in the series, it's also your final opportunity to request access to A Shattered Image, its digital study guide, and R.C. Sproul's book, The Hunger for Significance, when you give a gift of any amount at Today's topic, the will of man, is debated, and there have been several views put forth throughout history.

Here's R.C. Sproul to explain these views, the biblical perspective, and the message of the Christian faith that fallen sinners desperately need to hear. Many of us are familiar with the prayers of St. Augustine and the famous prayer that is found in the Confessions in which Augustine said, O Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. That's a very well-known prayer from the pen of Augustine, but there's another prayer that produced and provoked one of the most serious controversies in the history of theology. This was a prayer in which Augustine had made this comment, God, grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire. Now, for a theologian to say, O God, command what you want would certainly not make history, but when Augustine made that statement, he said before, he said, command what you desire. He said, God, grant to us what you command.

Does that strike you as a little bit strange and sound funny to the ear? Why would Augustine ask God to give to us that which God commands from us? You see, what Augustine was wrestling with there was the severity of our fallen condition. On the one hand, God says, be ye perfect.

He commands perfection. And yet here we are, born in a state of corruption by which it is morally impossible for us on our own strength and by our own ability to do what God commands. And so that the only way we can possibly be obedient to the commandments of God is if God helps us in the process by extending His grace to us and enabling us to do what He calls us to do. So that's what Augustine had in mind when he said, O God, grant to us what you command from us. Well, when he made that statement, there was a monk who got a hold of it and became very exercised over it and responded, and this escalated into a major theological controversy. The monk who reacted against the slogan of Augustine's name was Pelagius. Now what I'd like to do is just give you a few points of the teaching of Pelagius.

This may be a little bit tedious for you, but I want you to be able to recognize the essential teachings of Pelagius as he confronted Augustine at this point. He said, first of all, that God never commands the impossible. God never commands the impossible. That is to say if God requires perfection from us, that must mean that we have the ability to perform in a way of perfect righteousness. So that whatever else the fall did to man, it did not take away man's ability to achieve perfection.

If God commands perfection from fallen sinners, then we certainly must have the ability to achieve perfection. God commands belief in Christ. God doesn't invite people to come to Christ.

He commands people. It is the moral duty of a human being to submit to the lordship of Christ and to embrace Christ in faith. You remember in the upper room when Jesus promised the sending of God the Holy Spirit, and He was outlining the activities that the Holy Spirit would perform when He came to this world.

Included in those activities would be that the Spirit would come and convict the world of righteousness and of sin for having believed or not believed in the one that God had sent. And so the New Testament teaches very clearly that failure to believe in Christ is a sin if not the unforgivable sin. It's the supreme insult to the integrity of God to reject His only begotten Son, and God doesn't play around with that particular point. So unlike preachers who try to persuade and win and cajole and invite people to come to Christ, God doesn't invite. He commands that people come to Christ. It's the moral obligation for somebody to come to Christ. Yet Jesus Himself said, and here's a very perplexing statement as recorded in John's gospel, no one can come to Me, remember, unless it is given to him by the Father. But Jesus says, nobody can respond to Me, can come to Me, can embrace Me, can receive Me in faith unless some way, somehow, God intervenes and gives that to the person. This is what the debate is all about.

Pelagius looks at those kinds of passages and says, wait a minute, if God commands people to come to Christ, then manifestly every human being must have the ability in and of himself to come to Jesus to respond to the gospel, or God wouldn't put that obligation in front of us. What it comes down to is the question of how much the fall of man, how much sin has influenced or affected human decisions, human choices. Does man still have free will? Can man still make free choices? That's the question. Tell me this, think in your own mind, now think about all the passages in the New Testament that give definition to the phrase free will.

Try to list them in your mind. Well, we all know that the biblical doctrine of free will, don't we? Who won't find the phrase in the Bible? You don't find it in the New Testament. It's in humanistic literature from beginning to end, and it's been in circulation in Pelagian thinking for centuries and centuries. You don't find that word in the Bible. Well, okay, people say, wait a minute, it may not have a ton of words. We certainly find the concept in the Bible, and I agree with that.

We do. That there is a sense in which the Bible is very much concerned about the responsibility that we have to make choices and to make the correct choices. But the accent in Scripture in light of original sin is on human bondage, that the imagery that the Bible speaks of is not of this person who runs around free and unencumbered to choose whatever he wants without any difficulty, but rather the picture we have is of man who is in serious trouble in bondage to his own wicked desires. I mean, it's not that he's a servant or in bondage to the tyranny of God.

It's not like God is Pharaoh here. But man is in bondage to himself into his own sinful predispositions. So when the Christian theologians like Augustine are talking about man's free will, they have to deal with man's free will and his choosing and his decision-making in light of the fallen condition. Augustine would say, yes, you have a free will, but that will that you have that makes choices, the choices that you make, are deeply influenced by who you are and what you are. And who you are and what you are is a creature who is profoundly fallen and whom the Bible describes as being in bondage to your own sinful inclinations. It's not that you're, again, a servant to somebody else.

You're a slave to yourself, to your own desires. Now, Augustine made a distinction in this controversy where he said that man has free will, laborium, can't do it without the Latin, arbitrium. What he does not have since he has fallen is libertas, liberty, moral freedom, the freedom from addiction to sin. But he said basically those who are fallen into the human condition are addicted to sin. Now, the Bible speaks of it in a different way.

The Bible says that the desires of man's heart are wicked continuously. And the biblical concept that Augustine was expounding was this, is that freedom equals the ability to choose what you want. To have free will is to have the power of making choices according to what you want rather than according to what's being imposed upon you by someone or something else, right? Now, how many of you have ever heard of the word determinism or fatalism? Determinism says that all of my choices are predetermined by something outside of myself so that I'm a robot or a puppet.

I don't have any real choice in the matter. We understand that concept, don't we? Well, over against determinism is a concept that's very important here, and that is the concept of what we call self-determination. You know, when nations are seeking freedom, independence, like we went through in the United States, the phrase is often indicated this way, that the nation wants the right of self-determination.

That is, they don't want their laws and their customs imposed upon them coercively by some outside force. They want to be free to shape their own policies, to create their own destiny. That's what self-determination means. Now, to be free means that we determine our own choices.

Somebody doesn't do it for us. Is that clear? But, ladies and gentlemen, self-determination still means that my choices are determined by something. Freedom does not mean acting without a reason or having an effect without a cause. Every time I choose something, there's a reason for that choice. It may not be a deliberately, carefully thought out choice, but there's a reason why you're sitting where you're sitting in this room. Maybe that you are hard of hearing or difficult to see, so you like to sit up front, so you're here.

Maybe you got here late and nobody wanted to sit up front, and the only options that you had left were you stood or you sat in the front row and you preferred to sit rather than stand. But there are reasons why you're sitting wherever you're sitting. Again, not necessarily that you deliberated over them, but you had reasons. No choice is undetermined. A choice that is non-determined would be a choice that would be an effect without a cause, which is manifestly impossible. So what I'm saying simply is to be free means to have the ability to choose what you want. Now here's the kicker, and think carefully about this.

I go into this in greater detail in other lectures. But not only may a free person choose according to his desires, but to be free means you must choose according to the deepest desire you have at the moment. Let me say it again. You always choose according to the strongest inclination or the greatest desire that you have at the moment. You must do that.

You cannot do otherwise. You cannot choose against your strongest desire. And you say, wait a minute, R.C., I can remember going through all kinds of moral anguish where I had this terrible temptation to do something I desperately wanted to do. But boy, at the last minute I had the moral courage to say no and step away, and I said that's because at that moment your desire to obey God was greater than the enormity of the temptation. The moment your desire to disobey God becomes stronger than your desire to obey God is the moment you sin.

You do it. Because we always act according to the strongest inclination, the strongest desire that we have at a given moment. That's the essence of making choices. Now you say, well then we're not free.

I'm saying no, you are free. That's what freedom is, the ability to choose according to your desires, according to what you want. That's the essence of freedom. Now this is why Augustine could say man has a free will, but he doesn't have liberty.

Now think about that. How can he have free will and not have liberty? Augustine said, I still in my fallenness have the ability to choose what I want, but in my heart there's no desire for God. I have lost any desire for the things of God.

If I'm left to myself, the desires of my heart are only wicked continuously. My heart, my soul are dead to the things of God. I can listen to preaching. I can hear hymns. I can see all those things and see other people weeping and in ecstasy and all moved by all kinds of religious overtones and incineration that leaves me cold. My heart has calluses on it. It's recalcitrant.

My neck is stiff. I'm not moved by anything that has anything to do with God. That's our natural state. The Bible says that we are dead to the things of God in our fallen condition. Original sin deadens the soul to the things of God.

So I still have freedom to choose what I desire, but if I don't have any desire for Christ, will I ever choose Him? You know, the passage that I hear all the time from semi-Pelagians, which we'll look at in a second, is, you know, they say the perfect proof of this against Augustine is John 3.16. God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth should not perish but have everlasting life. And I have people quote that to me to say man is not fallen to such a degree that he's lost his power to choose Christ. Because that verse says that whosoever believeth will not perish but have everlasting life. Now what does that verse teach us about the extent of the fall of man?

Absolutely nothing. It doesn't say who will believe in Christ. All it says is if you do A, if you believe, you will not perish and you will have everlasting, you will live forever.

But the question still is left, why does one person believe and another person not believe? Pelagius would answer this way. Pelagius would say, oh, I see options to embrace Christ or not to embrace Christ, to obey God or not to disobey God. It is within my power as a human being to obey God at every turn without any assistance from God's grace. Augustine said now, you're dead in your sins and trespasses. You don't have any desire for Christ. And the only way you will ever choose Christ is if God melts your heart, if God softens that stone cold recalcitrant heart, if God the Holy Spirit rapes your soul and puts in you a desire for Christ. That's what has to happen according to Augustine. And this was what the debate is all about. So Pelagius goes on to say that Adam's sin injured only Adam. There was nothing transferred to his posterity. Augustine, on the other hand, would say that Adam's sin not only affected Adam, but it affected the whole human race.

So there we see that dispute. Further, Pelagius says that some are saved by the law apart from the gospel. That is, they live lives that are good enough and conformity enough to the law of God to go to heaven. Augustine says, no, by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified and that no one can possibly be saved through human merit or works. Pelagius went on to say that not only can man resist sin, he can resist it easily. And though he recognized that the grace of God facilitates goodness, makes it easier to achieve goodness, it's not necessary to achieve goodness. And he understood grace primarily in terms of instruction, that all you have to do to get people to be righteous is to teach them the difference between right and wrong.

Pelagius obviously didn't raise any children because I think every parent understands that it's simply not enough to teach children the difference between right and wrong because once they know that, we still have to deal with this commitment in the heart and in the soul that still desires to do what is evil. So God creates a being, breathes into it the breath of His own life, stamps His own image and likeness on that being, gives that person dominion over all of the earth. And then that person day after day after day after day lives a life of estrangement and alienation and disobedience to God.

Now, that's who I am in my natural state, and that's who you are in your natural state. Does that concern you? The whole reason for Christianity is to deal with this problem, to deal with the gap between the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of His image bearers. God commands you to be perfect, and you are not perfect. What do you do about it? What do you do about it?

Here are some of the options. You can deny that you're imperfect and congratulate yourself that you are perfect. Then you don't have to worry about it. Ways of denial are to rationalize your own sin or to minimize your own sin. The next thing you can do is to assume that God is not perfect because if He's not perfect, then He's not going to be bothered by a few imperfections in you. But one thing you won't have is a view of a perfect God because you understand intuitively, if you're not skilled in theology, you still understand intuitively that if God is perfect, there is no way He can ever negotiate sin.

There's no way in the world without compromising His own integrity that He can overlook your imperfection. And so you're going to have to create a new kind of God, a God who sits loose with your disobedience and who's not going to be concerned about it, where you may deny the existence of God altogether. For all practical purposes, ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't really matter whether you deny God altogether or if you simply strip Him of His troublesome attributes, the chief of which is His holiness. You can still have God say, I believe in God. As long as He's not a holy God, you don't have anything to fear.

But also, as long as He's not a holy God, the God you're talking about is not God. But we will do anything in our power to escape that obvious impasse between a righteous Creator and an unrighteous creature. What have you done about it?

How have you handled that problem? The whole message of the Christian faith is that mankind, in the fullness of our humanness, needs redemption. We need a Savior. We need someone. We need God Himself to enter into the human condition. We need more than what Mohammed can offer with his sword or what some guru in India can offer with his instructional insight. We need somebody who can deal with the very core of our humanity.

We need someone who can enter into the human condition and who can acquire what we desperately need for ourselves, which is righteousness. That's why Jesus' perfect humanity is absolutely essential for us. I had somebody talk to me the other day, said to me, R.C., you're not going to try and tell me that Christianity is the only way.

What about all these other world religions? I said, wait a minute, I'm not going to get into a great discussion with you now about the uniqueness of Christianity, and I understand, you know, that God's going to judge people according to the light that they have, et cetera. I said, but the thing I want you to see, that there's one thing that Christianity has that these other religions don't have, and that's an atonement. The basic issue that Christianity addresses is not morality or liturgy.

These are the extras. What Christianity addresses is the problem of guilt. It takes it seriously, because it takes man seriously, and it provides a Savior, a Savior who gives us a new humanity, and it begins to clear away the fog that's on the image that you bear, begins to clean it up, to straighten out the Mars, to reshape it, to bring you into conformity to Christ so that it, looking in you, people can begin to see an image, a likeness to the character of God.

That was R.C. Sproul, the founder of Ligonier Ministries, concluding his series, A Shattered Image. Thanks for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and I do trust that this study on what it means to be human has helped you and will help you as you seek to be a faithful witness in a world with an identity crisis, a world without hope. Today is the final day to gain lifetime digital access to this series and study guide, as well as receive a copy of R.C. Sproul's book, The Hunger for Significance, Seeing the Image of God in Man, when you make a donation in support of Renewing Your Mind and the global outreach of Ligonier Ministries at Questions about identity are being asked, in particular by this up-and-coming generation. Is there a younger believer that you could give The Hunger for Significance to? Request all these resources for the final time at Join us next Saturday as we start a new series here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-25 02:54:38 / 2024-05-25 03:03:31 / 9

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