Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Need for Atonement

"As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

We need atonement because we are sinners, but just how grave is our sin? The traditional Reformed doctrine of sin uses the phrase total depravity. People have a tendency to wince at this term because there is confusion between the concepts of total depravity and utter depravity. Utter depravity means that man is as corrupt as he could possibly be, but this is not the case. The grace of God restrains the sinful tendency of the human heart and prevents men from becoming as wicked as they can be.

Sinfulness is something that matures over time, and the full maturation of human depravity has not yet taken place. As many sins as we commit, it is possible to contemplate worse ones. Instead of murdering only one person, we might murder ten; and instead of ten, twenty; and so forth. Thus, man is not utterly corrupt.

What the Reformation tradition means by total depravity is that sin’s power and influence affects the whole man. Paul expresses this in Romans 3:12 when he writes, “There is no one who does good, not even one.” What Paul says here seems to fly in the face of our experience, because we see acts of self-sacrificial heroism and kindness on the part of people who are not Christians.

The reason we have this problem is that when the Bible describes goodness and evil, it does so from two perspectives. First of all, we have the Law, which measures the external performance of human beings. In terms of this measure, many people do good things. But secondly, there is the measurement of the heart: the internal motivation of our behavior. From a biblical perspective, for a deed to be good in the fullest sense of the word, it must not only conform to the Law, but it must also proceed from a heart that loves God totally. Has anyone ever loved God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength, even for five minutes? Except for Jesus, the answer is no. Thus, in terms of this second measurement, no one does good.

There is a difference between growth in sin and growth in awareness of sin. It was the latter that provoked Paul to say he was the “chief of sinners.” Consider what this distinction means for your habits, personal traits, and desires.