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Basic Bible Doctrines
Chapter 4, Depravity
If there is any subject that can cause the gospel of grace to shine forth in all its glory, it is this one! Indeed, without an understanding and acceptance of this truth the human heart is unable to appreciate the gospel at all.
For this reason it is imperative that we fully understand God’s Word concerning man’s condition, that we might with boldness and clarity present men with the truth of their great need and then God’s marvelous provision.
Depravity is a word not found in the Bible, though the truth of it is found throughout its pages. We can safely say that depravity is a transdispensational issue; that is, men of all ages share in this condition.
A dictionary definition of depravity would be: the condition of being morally bad, corrupt, and perverted. The Scriptures confirm this definition while adding considerably more depth.
In Ephesians we have a clear presentation of what depravity is:
And you hath He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins; In which in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; Among whom also we all had our manner of life in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Ephesians 2:1–3).
These verses tell us several things. Before salvation we were dead in trespasses and sins. In that condition we were called the children (in the Greek, sons = personifications) of disobedience, and we were by nature children of wrath. Thus, man’s depravity has to do with his sin nature, that is, his condition of being dead in sin. Man is unable in and of himself to do any works pleasing to God. We need to note what verse 1 means by dead in trespasses and sins. The word dead in Scripture does not mean cease to exist or annihilated, but rather it has the idea of separation. Colossians offers a perfect commentary on this word dead:
And you, that were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled (Colossians 1:21).
Here, the word alienated has the same meaning as dead. We were spiritually separated or alienated from God’s life and blessing because of our wicked works or our sin nature. This is the state of every unsaved man—spiritually dead or separated from a holy God. Ephesians 2:2 tells us that in this condition we were the children or sons of disobedience. We have already discussed this word sons and how often it means the personification of. Here it tells us that our very nature was personified or characterized by disobedience to God. Verse 3 says that we were by nature children of wrath. This was our human nature—a sin nature—which resulted in our being deserving of and headed toward the wrath of God.
Even a small baby manifests a sin nature. We all know that you do not have to teach a child to lie or to disobey. It is part of their depraved nature to do these things naturally. The fact is that we must teach them to do what is right. Right things require training and discipline, not wrong things. We do what is wrong instinctively because of our sin nature.
God’s only requirement is that we admit we are sinful and, therefore, totally condemned. We should trust Christ as our Savior and Lord, believing that He died for our sins, was buried, and arose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
By completely trusting Him for salvation, we pass from death to life. One might ask if a depraved man is able to believe the gospel in light of such verses as:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The answer is that the natural man does not receive revelation from God—that is the context of this verse. Imagine a natural man without the instrumentality of the Spirit of God receiving and explaining the mystery! But can the natural man be confronted with the gospel and understand his lost condition and his need of Christ? We will let the Scripture speak in answer:
…The word is near thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:8–11).
These verses say nothing about man being unable to understand. What they do say is that with the heart man (and that is the natural man) believes unto righteousness. They further say nothing about not being able to believe. Rather, verse 17 says simply that “faith cometh by hearing [or as in the Greek, faith is by hearing, which literally means faith can be expressed upon hearing] and hearing by the Word of God.”
But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above); Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is near thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach (Romans 10:6–8).
If we follow Paul’s reasoning in verses 6–8, the salvation of God and its offer should not be turned into an issue of our ability to respond but to the response itself. Paul shows that the issue is not one of hypothetical or stubborn questions but of believing what God says. It is unwise in light of this and other Scriptures to question man’s ability to respond.
Man’s depravity totally eliminates any thought that there is a spark of good in man. Human philosophy reasons that a little of God resides in every man—that little spark of good which only has to be fanned into a blazing fire of love! But the Scriptures answer these human reasonings in Proverbs:
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12).
Paul said in Romans:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing… (Romans 7:18).
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)?
Romans goes on to say:
…There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10).
By depravity we do not mean to imply that every man is a slave to every known despicable sin or that man is incapable of certain acts of human goodness. We know that man in his religious zeal can refrain from many outward appearances of sin and be very philanthropic.
But depravity means that all men, regardless of how outwardly good, are separated from God and enemies in their minds by wicked works (because of the sin nature) and are unable to save themselves from this sinful condition.
This condition (dead in sins) does not mean that men are too dead to respond in faith to God’s Word. While Romans 3:11 says there is none that seeks after God, this does not mean that man is incapable of the response of faith when God reaches out to him with the gospel. Romans 10:6–13 has given us proof of this.
Faith is not a mysterious thing, and it is not an entity. It is not a thing at all; it is a response! It is not even a good work; it is a response to either truth or error.
Therefore, the expression of faith does not conflict with God’s Word, which says:
…there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Romans 3:12).
As depravity is absolute, so the means of salvation from sin is absolute! It comes solely by the grace of God through faith apart from works! How glorious to read in Ephesians 2 that whereas we were the children of wrath:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive together with Christ (by grace are ye saved) (Ephesians 2:4,5).
Verses 8 and 9 continue:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves [that salvation is not of yourselves], it [salvation] is the gift of God—[salvation is] Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Verse 10 then offers us the glorious summation:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
And so by faith, which is man’s response to the Word of God, man is reconciled to God by His grace on the basis of the finished work of Christ on Calvary.
This is why we say again that before man can appreciate the gospel of grace, he must understand the blackness of his sin in which he is helplessly dead or totally alienated from a holy and righteous God. Man must also understand the consequences of that condition.
The four categories we will address in the remaining portion of our study on depravity are:
• Its scope
• Its character
• Its consequences
• Its remedy
THE SCOPE OF DEPRAVITY
Concerning the scope of depravity we will go to Romans 5, where it says:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned (Romans 5:12).
Here we learn that the scope of depravity is universal. Every man born of Adam has a sin nature. The verse just quoted bears this out. When Adam sinned, he plummeted the whole human race into sin because his whole nature was changed as a result of the Fall.
Genesis records the account of the Fall, that resulted in our first parents being cursed by God and bound by a nature of sin. It was after this that they came together and began to bear children. Thus, by one man sin entered into the world, and this word sin means sin that resulted in a sin nature. Verse 12 tells us that death (the curse and consequence of sin) came by sin, and so death passed upon all men for all have sinned or manifested a sin nature.
We should note here that men do not become sinners by sinning, but they sin because they have a sin nature. The proof of this is that from the beginning—from Adam on—men have died. This is why Paul said:
For until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law (Romans 5:13).
Sin was present in all men before the law. Verse 14 says:
…Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses… (Romans 5:14).
Thus all men from Adam to Moses had a sin nature and died because of it. Death reigned:
…even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression… (Romans 5:14).
Even those who did not copy Adam’s sin by disobeying a direct command manifested that they had a sin nature and, therefore, they died.
It is interesting to note as we go on in this context that the universal scope of sin is contrasted with the universal offer of the provision of grace. We will return here later when we deal with our final point, the remedy for depravity.
Before we go on, notice that the law is brought up twice in this context. Is Paul saying that the law was added that a man might have a way out, a way to please God? No, indeed, for Scripture goes on to say:
Moreover, the law entered, that the offense might abound… (Romans 5:20).
The law was given to manifest the awfulness of sin, to make crystal clear to man his sinful condition. Galatians 3:24 says the law was a schoolmaster or a tutor—until Christ!
Never has there been a way outside of the grace of God for man to overcome his sinful nature. In himself man is utterly helpless, and this is precisely what the law was given to show.
There are many other verses that verify the universal scope of the sin nature. Romans 3:9–20 offers a complete listing of the character of the sin nature common to all men:
…for we have before proved both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin (Romans 3:9).
Romans 3 goes on to say:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Thus, sin is completely universal. This condition would answer to the human nature received from Adam. In Romans 7:14 Paul also called it the carnal or fleshy nature and told that this nature was “sold under sin.” Paul even referred to this as a law in Romans 7, where he said:
I find then a law [or a fixed principle], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me (Romans 7:21).
Again Paul said:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:23).
This law is that the flesh is sold under or completely controlled by the nature of sin. No wonder Paul cried out in verses 24 and 25:
Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind [or the new nature] I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh [that is the fleshy or carnal nature], the law of sin (Romans 7:24,25).
Only the believer is free to choose not to sin, though we still do possess the sin nature. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit and a new nature that can live a consistent life honoring the Lord. Sin’s power has been broken, and we no longer have to sin. This we must accept and appropriate by faith. Indeed, on the basis of this we are exhorted by the Spirit’s power to reckon the flesh dead to sin and to live as instruments of righteousness.
THE CHARACTER OF DEPRAVITY
Next we will look at the character of sin. For a definition of sin we read:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
One of the most common Greek words in the New Testament that is translated sin is hamartia (which means to miss the mark). This verse is saying all have missed the mark of the holiness and perfection of God. Ecclesiastes says:
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
No man has the ability to please God or attain to His perfect righteous standard. Do not forget—nothing less will do; only perfect righteousness can meet God’s standard. This is why Romans 3:23 says that we have come short of the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiance of His absolute perfection in all of His attributes. The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the glory of God in His earthly life, and no man is able to compare his righteousness to the righteousness of Christ! No wonder God says we have missed the mark and come short!
Another verse that defines sin is 1 John 5:17, where it says:
All unrighteousness is sin….
The righteousness of God (the rightness of God) is the standard. This rightness of God is made known in all His right actions and judgments that are a result of His perfection and holiness. Our actions and thoughts are not right because of our sin nature, and therefore, we sin or miss the mark. In verse 18 John said something that has caused difficulty for many:
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not… (1 John 5:18).
When interpreting this verse, it is imperative that we keep in mind both the dispensational and the immediate context. The last part of verse 16 says that there is a sin unto death. This sin concerns the future time of the tribulation age and cannot be committed today in the dispensation of grace. It seems likely that this sin is receiving the mark of the beast. In that age, if a man sees a brother—a fellow Jew—commit such a sin, he was not to pray for him. But John said of the believer in that day:
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not [and that would be sinneth not unto death], but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one touches him not (1 John 5:18).
But considering again the unrighteousness of man, God has given man a comparative standard with which to judge himself; it is the law of Moses centered in the Ten Commandments. Concerning this aspect of sin, 1 John says:
Whosoever commiteth sin [or really practices sin] transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
The Greek says that sin is lawlessness. The sin nature is rebellious to God and His Word. Thus it follows that man is disobedient to the law of God. Man is incapable of obeying and is openly rebellious to God’s law. The issue here is not whether a man can occasionally keep some of the commandments. Because the nature of man is lawless and sinful, he is not even qualified to approach the law. That is why in the Old Testament the law was kept in an ark (the word really means a box or coffin) that was covered by a mercy seat sprinkled with blood.
Therefore, the Apostle Paul said in Romans:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be (Romans 8:7).
Men who think they are keeping the law are really at best only outwardly keeping certain commands, and even those are self-righteous and sinful efforts to rebel against God. John again appeared to speak of sinlessness when he mentioned in 1 John that:
Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not… He that commiteth sin is of the devil… Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin… (1 John 3:6–9).
Keep in mind that the context of these verses is in the area of lawlessness. Verse 4 says that whosoever commits or practices sin practices lawlessness. This has to do with the habitual control of the sin nature. Therefore, John was saying that whoever abided in Christ sinned not or was not controlled by the lawless sin nature. Verse 9, therefore, is also saying that whoever is born of God does not commit sin or habitually practice lawlessness under the control of the old nature.
Another way sin is labeled in the Bible is selfishness. In 2 Timothy 3 one of the things that characterizes the sins listed is selfishness. There we read in verse 2 that men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud. It is this selfishness that resulted in the pride which caused Satan to fall. Our original parents sinned by disobeying God and selfishness and pride became part of their fallen nature as a result. Thus, it is one of the distinguishing features of the sin nature. It is significant to note that in 2 Corinthians this characteristic of sin has been gloriously overcome in Christ:
And that He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Before salvation man’s entire existence is a selfish desire to please the flesh. Everything man does comes from a heart that seeks self-pleasure, self-honor, self-gratification, self-glory. But now we are no longer bound to the selfish sin nature. We can live unto Him, our glorious Lord, and by the power of the Spirit walk in His glorious divine will instead of our human selfish will.
To review then, sin has been defined as missing the mark (and that would be the mark of God’s holiness and righteousness), then unrighteousness, next lawlessness, and finally selfishness.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DEPRAVITY
The consequence of sin (depravity) is death. We have already seen a number of verses that have mentioned this principle, but in the Book of Genesis God said to Adam:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16,17).
In the Hebrew the last part of verse 17 reads, “Dying thou shalt die.” How long it was before this command was broken, we do not actually know; but it certainly was not long. At the close of chapter 1 we read that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, which completed God’s work in the Creation. It is very possible that immediately after the creation week Satan entered the garden and beguiled Eve. Nevertheless, chapter 3 records Satan’s lie and the fall of man into sin:
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).
And verse 6 continues:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat (Genesis 3:6).
The next thing we read is of God’s confrontation with the three involved and the subsequent curses upon each. Verses 17 through 19 record the awesome words of God upon man and all creation:
And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast harkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Genesis 3:17–19).
And so, after this curse the entire universe was changed. A process known as entropy or the decay and decline of all systems began. Paul referred to this very thing in Romans 8, where he said:
For the creation was made subject to vanity [or emptiness], not willingly but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8:20–22).
God did not willingly (that is, wantingly) subject the creation to the curse of death; but because of sin He cursed the creation and then subjected the same in hope—that is, the redemptive purpose He had centered in Christ. So man has been taught from the beginning that he is a dying, cursed creature and that he must look outside of the creation for God’s help. Yet man in his sin and rebellion has turned to himself and the objects of creation for refuge.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin… (Romans 5:12).
Sin and death, in this sense, are referred to as a law in Romans 8:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).
That sin always works death is a law or a fixed principle, and yet as this verse says the opposing law or principle of the Spirit is that of life in Christ Jesus. Just as confidently as we know that sin and death are in control of the natural man, so we know that for those who trust Christ as Saviour sin’s power has been broken and they possess eternal life through the regeneration of the Spirit. There are many verses that reestablish this truth of sin and its consequence of death:
…the soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).
…the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23).
…and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:15).
We have already briefly discussed that death in Scripture is not cessation or extinguishment but separation. There are three different kinds of death presented in Scripture. All three are the direct result of sin.
First, is physical death. This is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. The soul and spirit of man never cease to exist but can be separated from the body. Thus when God told Adam that he would return to dust, He meant his body would return to the ground. This state of the body is many times referred to in Scripture as sleep. However, at this separation the spirit returns to God for His disposition, as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:7.
Resurrection, then, is the reuniting of the soul and spirit with the changed body; and whether saved or lost, all men will have a resurrection.
The next kind of death that Scripture presents is spiritual death. In keeping with our definition of separation, this death is the separation of the spirit from the life, blessing, and fellowship of God. When Adam sinned, he immediately suffered both of these deaths. Dying spiritually, he began to die physically. This spiritual separation does not mean that the spirit is not active or irresponsive, but rather that it is alienated from and at enmity with God. In this condition the spirit is totally unable to produce anything pleasing to God but brings forth only the fruit of sin.
Mark 7:21 says that out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, and murders. Because of man’s sinful, separated spiritual condition, he is only able to produce sinful fruit. This condition has the potential of being an eternal one if a man dies physically in his sins while spiritually separated from God.
This brings us to the last kind of death mentioned in Scripture, which is the second death:
And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (Revelation 20:14).
This death is the final separation of the lost (body, soul, and spirit) from God in the lake of fire. This death is irreversible, eternal, and will be upon all those who through rejection of God’s grace die in their sins. The Lord Jesus told the Jews:
…if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins (John 8:24).
All the people who appear at the great white throne of Revelation 20 will be those who have not received the forgiveness of sins. They will have died physically while still sinful and separated from God, and they are therefore doomed to be eternally separated in judgment from a holy and a loving God.
Some will ask, "How could a God of love do this to His creatures?" The answer is that God in love spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all (Romans 8:32). In love He offers salvation to anyone who will simply trust Christ as Savior and Lord. With provision so full and free, any who choose to remain in their sins and shun the grace of God will have to suffer the righteous judgment of God. He cannot overlook sin and cannot allow anything sinful to inherit heaven’s glory but will ultimately separate eternally in judgment all sin from Himself and His entire domain.
We want to make it clear that this law of sin and death is functioning in all men. Salvation occurs the moment we trust Christ. At that point Christ’s death becomes our death, and we are raised and seated with Him in the heavenlies. In the Person of Christ the believer has died to sin, borne the judgment of God, and is spiritually alive. Someone once said, “If you are only born once, you will die twice; but if you are born twice, you’ll only die once.” To the latter we would add, “…if the Lord tarries, otherwise you will not die at all!”
The principle of sin and death still works in the believer’s life, both in the sense that we are still dying physically and in the sense that we still have the old fleshy nature with us. Though we now have a new spiritual nature within, we can still choose to sin. It is this fact that causes the Lord to repeatedly warn us to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin but alive unto God and to mortify or put to death our members upon the earth.
Though, as in Romans 8:2, we are free from that law of sin and death (both as concerns the condition of our souls and sin’s dominion over the flesh), yet we must remember that the carnal mind is at enmity with God; that is true even in the believer’s life. They that are in the flesh cannot please God, as it says in Romans 8:7,8.
So then, these verses (in one aspect) have to do with the saved and their need to choose not to sin because of sin’s deadly results. Romans goes on to say in this regard:
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Romans 8:13).
This does not mean that a believer who sins will lose his salvation; that is impossible. But this has to do with reaping the results of sin in the flesh—that law of sin and death—in both physical consequences and the displeasure of our Heavenly Father (which results in Him not being able to use us to the extent that He would desire).
We might well classify the condition of a believer living in sin as yet a fourth kind of death, for in that state he is dead as to serving God with His blessing. Much in this same regard, Paul addresses the believing widow who lives in pleasure as being “dead while she liveth” (1 Timothy 5:6).
We who have been saved from the second death and who have been saved from the power of sin should, indeed, walk in that newness of life that we have in Christ! Concerning the unsaved, how very important it is for us who know the truth about sin and death to consider their plight and peril.
Let us review the three kinds of death. First, there is physical death:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
This is an appointment that no unsaved man is going to miss:
And as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Second, the unsaved are spiritually dead:
And you hath He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).
Third, the unsaved face the second death:
And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (Revelation 20:14).
May this knowledge of man’s depravity and its consequences touch our hearts and move us to proclaim the remedy while there is yet time.
THE REMEDY FOR DEPRAVITY
This brings us to the last point of our study—the remedy for depravity.
We have already touched on several aspects of the remedy and looked at the scope, nature, and consequence of sin. We would also like to consider the scope, nature, and consequence of grace. Turning back to Romans 5, we read in verses 12–14 of how through one man sin and death entered the world and passed unto all men. But verse 15 goes on to say, really by asking a question (as in the sense of the Greek), “But shall not as the offense, so also be the gift?” The answer comes by way of one of Paul’s famous “much mores.” Paul said:
…For if through the offense of one many are dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many (Romans 5:15).
Death has come unto many; much more, God’s grace has abounded to many! How wonderful to consider that though the sin of Adam has had such far-reaching and devastating effects, God in His grace has far and above provided the remedy for every single man affected by the Fall.
It is much more in every way. Adam’s sin brought sorrow and pain to all, but God’s remedy brings forgiveness and joy to all who come under its provision. In verse 15 Paul gave the scope of grace; in verse 16 he gave the consequence or effect. Paul continued:
And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift; for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification (Romans 5:16).
By one sin many were condemned, so by the gift of grace those many offenses are turned to justification. Condemnation is turned to justification—indeed, this is much more than man could have asked for or deserved.
Next, we consider the nature of grace.
For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one, much more they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).
What is the nature of grace? Five times in Romans 5:15–17 Paul uses the term gift or free gift to define what God in grace has offered to those who simply receive it.
Sin and death passed upon all and reigned by one—one man and one sin. But they who receive the grace of God by believing His message of grace and trusting Christ shall reign in life by one—Christ! Could God have made salvation any more accessible? How can man shun God’s gracious offer? He does not ask for a single work; indeed, man is not allowed to work because that would imply that man has some amount of moral righteousness, which he does not. God has made the gift of salvation accessible only by grace through faith—which the Scripture says is the opposite of works.
Just as all men are born dead in sins, all men have the opportunity and ability to receive what grace affords. They have the opportunity because God provided it by His grace through the finished work of Christ. They have the ability because God has eliminated works and made the provision completely based upon man’s faith (his response or his receiving of the offer).
Therefore, as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (Romans 5:18).
Paul draws all these thoughts to a conclusion. He says that the offense of one was upon all to condemnation; even so the righteousness of one is upon all to justification of life. Again, all that is necessary is that men receive this abundant offer.
For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Christ] shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:19).
Again, it is the many who partake of the gift of grace. Verses 20 and 21 describe what we might call the super-abounding victory of grace. Paul adds the thought that the law entered that the offense might abound, that is, so the depravity of man would appear in all its awfulness. However, here we learn something a bit dispensational about depravity.
Paul says that where sin abounded grace did much more abound (Greek = superabound)! God progressively concluded man in unbelief—first without the law, where the Gentiles were proven in sin and disobedience. Then the chosen nation (Israel) under the law was brought under the condemnation of sin and disobedience, so that God could justly say that sin had now abounded.
But when did sin abound; that is, at what point historically and dispensationally did sin abound under the law? The answer can be none other than when Stephen, in a Spirit-filled rebuke of the favored nation, said:
Who have received the law by the disposition [or the dispensation] of angels, and have not kept it (Acts 7:53).
In the succeeding verses we learn of the third and final rejection of the nation Israel (God’s covenant people) as they stoned to death God’s spokesman. Here, indeed, is where, under the law, sin abounded. What will God do now? The depravity of man is fully manifested; Gentiles and Jews are all under sin. This was what Paul referred to when he said:
Moreover, the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20).
It is precisely here that the grace of God superabounded, beginning a secret, unforetold dispensation of grace. It was the salvation of Paul himself that marked the revelation of God’s superabounding grace over man’s depravity or abounding sin. The revelation of God’s eternal purpose in Christ displayed the riches of His grace.
It is His present purpose to save by grace through faith plus nothing any man who will trust Christ as his Savior and Lord.
Sin abounded dispensationally in Acts 7 when Israel was concluded in unbelief, and grace superabounded with the salvation of Paul—thus beginning the dispensation of grace. So as the full depravity of man was manifested or made known, so was the full revelation of the remedy, the riches of God’s grace, now revealed through Paul.
Returning to Romans, Paul said:
That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord (Romans 5:21).
Once, it was sin that reigned. Verse 17 said that sin reigned unto death. Sin and death certainly had the throne; they literally ruled over men. But now God’s righteousness received by grace through faith is fully manifested. Grace has taken the throne; now grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life.
What a message we have to take to the lost! What truth we, the saved, have to rejoice in and live by! There are, of course, many other verses we could examine concerning God’s gracious remedy, but we will save these for our next chapter on salvation.
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