by Dr. Steven C. Riser
Introduction: What do you think is the biggest heresy in America?
First, let’s begin by defining a few simple but important terms: What is truth? Truth isn’t determined by opinion polls, pluralities or even majorities. Truth isn’t determined by how we may happen to think or feel. Truth is: that which corresponds to reality. God is the supreme realist and we are realistic only in so far as we see things from His point of view. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus: What is truth? In Jn.14:6 Jesus said, “I am the truth…” and in Jn. 17:17 He said, “Thy (God’s) Word is truth.” The Psalmist said, “The sum of Thy Word is truth” – that is God’s Word taken as a whole.
What is a heresy? It is “a belief or an opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.” What is orthodox religious doctrine? It’s God’s Word properly interpreted in its grammatical, historical, cultural context. It’s possible for one to hold a heretical view and not even realize it.
Since our decision is only as good as our best option. What are our options? There are 3 basic options regarding man’s nature: 1.Good 2.Neutral 3. Bad. What are we typically taught in our secular universities? We are taught that man is basically good or at least neutral. We are not taught that that man has a sinful nature. If man is not sinful then there is no need for a savior.
What do the polls show? While we don’t use polls to determine Truth, they can give us a general idea about what the American public is thinking at any given point in time. In a recent survey by Ligonier Ministries & Lifeway Research, we now know the biggest heresy in America. Pushing errors regarding the trinity & the church into 2nd and 3rd place is the denial of the Bible’s teaching about the doctrine of sin, especially in the related areas of human depravity & human inability. I say related because what we believe about human depravity impacts what we believe about human ability; or to put it another way: who we are determines what we can or cannot do.
Regarding human depravity, (who we are) the research showed:
- 67% say everyone sins at least a little but most people are by nature good
- 40 % agree “God loves me because of the good I do or have done.”
Regarding human inability, (what we do) the statistics were: only
- 16% believe we don’t have the ability to turn to God on our own initiative.
- 71% believe “we must contribute to our own effort for personal salvation.”
- 64% agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with His grace.”
In summary, the vast majority (falsely) believe that:
- Though we sin a little, by nature we are good.
- We can do well and God rewards our good deeds by loving us.
- We have the ability to turn to God on our own initiative.
- Salvation involves us taking the initiative and God then responds to us.
I. Now Lets Turn From the Opinion Polls to the inspired Word of God
Let’s turn from our culture and from the polls to the Word of God, to hear what God says about human depravity and human inability. Since our actions flow from our nature, who we are affects what we can or can’t do. What is the greatest American heresy? It is the denial of human depravity.
What is human depravity? “It’s the innate corruption of human nature due to original sin.” It has been said that if you don’t believe in original sin before you have children, you do after you have them. As we will see, the Bible teaches that because of human depravity we have human inability. Here’s what the Bible teaches about our natural (unregenerate) spiritual condition and our natural human (in)abilities. Notice the repeated emphasis on what we can’t do.
- You can’t think a good thought or desire a good desire: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) The heart is deceitful & desperately corrupt, who can understand it. Jr.17:9
- You can’t bring anything clean out of your own heart or life: “Who can bring purity out of an impure person? No one!” (Job 14:4).
- You can’t see, understand or enter the Kingdom of God: “Unless one is born again, he can’t see (illumination) the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he can’t enter (repentance & faith) the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). According to Jesus: regeneration precedes illumination, repentance & faith.
- You can’t come to Jesus in your own strength: Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Jn.6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father enables them.” Jn.6:65
- You can’t produce any good spiritual fruit on your own: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
- You can’t obey God: “7 … the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws and it never will.” (Rom.8:7)
- You can’t please God: “…those who are still under the control of their sinful nature (unregenerate) can never please God. Heb.11:6; Eph.2:8-9 (But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”) (Rom.8:8-9).
- You can’t know/understand spiritual things: “12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.13 When we tell you these things, we don’t use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.” (1 Cor. 2:12-14).
- You can’t understand, do good or seek God on your own. “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom.3:10b-12) Jesus said: “Only God is good.”
- You can’t savingly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3; Matt. 16:17).
II.Why is it so important to believe the Bible’s teaching in this area?
- Unless we know how serious our sickness is, we won’t see our urgent need of the Good Doctor, the Great Physician: Jesus Christ and we will be slow, or refuse, to call upon Him for His mercy and saving grace.
- This doctrine is good news because we can tell people to stop trying to do what they can’t do & start trusting in Christ alone for salvation. What a huge relief when we finally grasp: “I can’t, but Christ can…and did.” “If anyone is in Christ (regenerate) he is a new creation, the old has passed away and all things have become new.” (2 Cor.5:17) “…Thanks be to God for His unspeakable or inexpressible gift. (2 Cor.13:5)
- We’ll grow in gratitude in response to experiencing God’s saving grace.
- We’ll give God all the glory when we’re saved by Him. We will realize that salvation truly is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9; Jn 1:12-13; Rom. 9:16). And if salvation is totally, completely and entirely of the Lord, then we will take no credit to ourselves but give God all the glory both now and forever (1 Cor. 1:31; Rev. 1:5-6) and best of all:
- God’s amazing grace will become even more amazing! Amen!