Thanks to a recent survey by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research we now know the biggest heresy in America. Pushing errors regarding the trinity and the church into second and third place is the denial of the Bible’s teaching about the doctrine of sin, especially in the related areas of human depravity and human inability. I say “related” because what we believe about human depravity impacts what we believe about human ability; what we are determines what we can or cannot do.
Regarding human depravity, the research showed:
- 67% agree “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, the statistics were:
- Only 16% agree with the doctrine that says “people do not have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.”
- 71% of Americans agree that “an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation.”
- 64% of Americans agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”
In summary, the vast majority believe that:
- Though we sin a little, by nature we are good.
- We can do good 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 that God then responds to.
From Polls to the Bible
But now, 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. 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 spiritual condition and abilities. Notice the repeated emphasis on what we cannot do.
1. You cannot think a good thought or desire a good desire: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
2. You cannot bring anything clean out of your own heart or life: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4).
3. You cannot see, understand, or enter the Kingdom of God: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
4. You cannot come to Jesus in your own strength: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).
5. You cannot produce any good spiritual fruit: “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)
6. You cannot obey God: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
7. You cannot please God: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)
8. You cannot know spiritual things: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14)
9. You cannot 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).
Why So Important?
Why is it so important to believe the Bible’s teaching in this area?
First, because unless we know how serious our sickness is, we won’t see our urgent need of the Good Doctor, Jesus Christ and will be slow, or refuse, to call upon Him for mercy and grace.
Second, this is good news because we can tell people to stop trying to do what they cannot do and start trusting in Christ alone for salvation. What a huge relief when we finally grasp: “I cannot, but Christ can…and did.”
Third, because we will give God all the glory when we are saved by Him. We will realize that salvation truly is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9; John 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).