A second essential of the Christian faith is to accept that we are ultimately sinful and ultimately depraved. By that, ultimately I mean this: we, as humans, are incapable in and of ourselves, to be truly righteous and to affect our own salvation. The Bible affirms this in the following passages:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
(Psalm 51:5 ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
(Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
(Romans 3:9-12 ESV)
But now the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
(Romans 3:22-25 ESV)
So in essence the scripture declares that we have all fallen short of God’s ultimate and perfect holiness in our own lives. While that is not cause for utter self-flagellation and abuse at our wickedness (too many people have a view of the doctrine of the depravity of man as some type of horrid guilt complex. The late Chris Hitchens loosely referred to our depravity before God as being a “Celestial dictatorship.”), it is cause for us to pause and rethink our positions before God. I know of many people (I used to be one) that felt that if my good deeds adequately outweighed my bad deeds, my salvation should be in the bag. After all, I wasn’t as bad as Adolf Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer (who amazingly enough, gave his life to God in prison. A stunning testament to the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit), so I should be okay.
The problem with this theory is that there’s no such thing as good. You see, our first fault in our understanding of salvation, if we continue to hold onto a works-based salvation or a humanistic understanding of the ultimate goodness and morality of man, is that we can never truly BE good. When approached by the rich young man, Jesus replied to his calling of Jesus “Good Teacher” was this:
And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
(Matthew 19:17 ESV)
The importance of Jesus’ words are that He essentially pointed to the truth of the depravity of mankind. So while yes, He was in essence pointing out to the young man that if he is willing to call Jesus good, then it must be attached to an understanding to the nature of Jesus as Creator God, He also is calling us to understand the wide chasm between that which is good (God) and that which is base (us). This can be a difficult thing to understand in the day of the social gospel, where the good deeds of such people as Oprah Winfrey, who often perform great acts of service, are regarded as a statement of that person’s own self-worth. I would direct anyone who believes that they can ultimately stand on their own righteousness two verses. The first one:
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
(Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
While this verse speaks to the Israelites, we have all been unclean, and all are unclean. Paul affirms in the NT that we gentiles are just as guilty as the Israelites. So, as they have been unclean, so are we all. The second verse is this:
Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
(Matthew 22:9-10 ESV)
The king in Jesus’ parable did not tell his servants to go out and find only the best people, whose meritorious behavior earned them a place at the king’s banquet. Instead, they invited everyone they could… both bad and good! The importance of this cannot be overstated: we are sinful, and our being invited to God’s table is not based on our “good” deeds or “good” works, but instead is rooted entirely of our acceptance of the invitation to gather through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Without that, there is no salvation for man.