...judgment came upon all men to condemnation...
Adam and Eve’s sins so offended and grieved God that he immediately withdrew from them both. God withdrew from them because they had rebelled against him.
God has “purer eyes than to behold evil”. Therefore, “neither shall evil dwell with [him]” (Hab. 1:13; Psalms 5:4). God will not have fellowship with those who are evil.
If it were not that God spared our first parents in his mercy and grace, they would have “surely died” (Genesis 2: 16,17)—then and there, in full, immediately after they had sinned. But God sustained them in a state of spiritual death1 while temporarily refraining from pouring out all the deserved curse of manifold spiritual, physical and eternal death upon them.
In fact, all mankind in Adam is being temporarily spared from the full outworking of God’s solemn threat of death upon the breaking of the covenant of life—because God has decreed to call a people to himself from among the whole human family and to save them from what they deserve (see Romans 9:22-24; Ephesians 1:3-6).
It is not that God has changed his mind. It is not that God has become unjust. And it is not that God has lost the will or the power to bring this solemnly promised death upon any sinner.
Judgment Has Come upon All Mankind
We must understand and accept this: “Through the offence of one [i.e. of Adam] many be dead…by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation” (Romans 5:15,18).
Note the past tense of those awful statements: the sentence of condemnation (for the broken covenant of life) has already been passed, in full, upon all mankind—even though the eternal punishment is delayed so long as we physically live in this world. This temporary delay is the reason why fallen human beings still exist in that state of spiritual death, waiting for the inevitable condemnation to physical and eternal death—unless they are saved. (Ephesians 2:1,5)
Christians inevitably come to the experiential2 understanding that this spiritual death is the state of fallen human beings—for we know that this too was our own state before we were regenerated: the Bible says of us, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2:4,5).
We are also well aware of the fact that, even while we were being upheld by God in the world in that spiritually dead state, each of us heaped up great mountains of our own sins! Our un-Christian rejection of God was an abuse of all the good things that God gave to us in this earthly life. All we ever did was, as it were, bite the Hand that fed us.
We still sin (1 John 1:8)—we still possess what is sometimes called “the body of this death” or “the flesh” or “the old man” (Romans 7:24,25; Ephesians 4:22) (speaking about our spiritually dead, depraved nature) so long as we live in this world.
But before we turn our attention to that serious matter, here in this chapter I draw your attention to your past life.
Our own sins evidenced our state of enmity3 against God (see Romans 8:7).
Fallen mankind is still at war against God. And that’s how we Christians were, too.
Whatever ‘good’ that God-rejecting people may think that they do, they should not imagine that God is pleased to accept it as good in his eyes. Everything we do is sin, if we want nothing to do with God and if we to not turn to his only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for salvation. Sinners deserve God’s wrath—deserve death in the Bible’s fullest sense of the word. And that condemnation to death has already been passed upon mankind in Adam, for breaking the covenant of life.
God is, at the present time, enduring “with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” sustaining in their spiritually dead state all those whom he will not save. But it remains true that God is “willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known” (Romans 9:22). So, take it as a given, that “It is appointed unto men once to die [the physical heath], but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
God’s reason for enduring reprobate sinners for a little season is this: “that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Romans 9:23).
It is God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow grace (i.e. undeserved favour) and mercy and compassion upon those on whom he wills to bestow it (Exodus 34:6,7; Romans 9:15). As God himself says: “I…will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (Exodus 33:19).
Let us consider our first parents, after having eaten the forbidden fruit, standing before God in the Garden of Eden, before he saved them. Notice how they behaved: they were already spiritually dead!
They never sought God’s forgiveness. They never prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” They had no hunger or thirst for righteousness. They did not seek God—no, but they hid from him among the trees of the Garden. They had no will to do any of these things; therefore they did not do them.
Consider this spiritually dead man and woman appearing before God the Righteous Judge, while still rejecting him, while being worthy of all condemnation. Rather than accepting responsibility for their sins and begging God’s forgiveness, they sought to pass the blame.
And you, reader, must face this fact: this too is your own fallen, sinful, spiritually dead nature! The Bible is a faithful mirror: that is how you too will be on the Day of Judgment if your heart has not been changed—if God brings your physical life to an end while you are still spiritually dead in your sins.
Where people think too highly of themselves and deny this terrible fact, it is because there is no work of God’s saving grace in them and they do not understand their own fallen heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The Spiritually Dead Soul
Please take careful note of how the Bible describes the spiritually dead soul:
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalms 14:1-3).
Although sometimes this Scripture is applied to outright atheists (i.e. deniers of the existence of God and all spiritual things), it really refers to all people who reject the one true God, as revealed in the Bible. They are saying “no” to this God.
This is how we all are, unless we have been converted: “Among whom also we [Christians] all had our conversation4 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 [i.e. deserving of God’s wrath], even as others” (Ephesians 2:3).
If “there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” among fallen sinners of mankind, then nothing that they do is good in God’s sight. If nothing that they do is good, then all that they do is not good; in other words, all that fallen sinners do is sin.
But this is impossible for human pride to accept.
Many Bible-rejecting systems resent the force of the “total depravity” verses in the Bible.5 “No,” some say, “human beings are basically good at heart.” Others say, “There is a spark of goodness (even a spark of divinity) in the hearts of each of us.” They all say, “I refuse to accept that I am so bad! I have not committed murder. I am certainly not as bad as [insert the name of anyone that has done a great evil].”
But the Bible says: Yes, you are.
Unconverted human beings resent and protest at the Bible’s teaching that there is no man, woman or child that does anything good. “But—some people are altruistic. Some of us courageously give up our lives to rescue, help, care for or protect others. I can be good, sometimes!”
The Bible says: No, you can’t.
The Bible says that God did indeed create man good in the beginning, but now “there is none that doeth good, no not one”.6
So, the truth is: There is not one fallen human being that does good.
The Lord Jesus Christ reasoned against the wrong-thinking of somebody who came to him: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17).7 So, fallen human beings are not good and they do no good, in God’s estimation.
Fallen man’s heart is as Jesus described it:
“That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Yes, we do restrain ourselves, sometimes. We may think the evil but not do the evil, or not speak the evil. We don’t always let out all that is in our hearts.
But when unregenerate people restrain themselves, they never do so out of obedience to God, whom they reject.
That purpose to obey God is not in our nature until, or unless, we are born again.
Fallen man’s motives for self-restraint are all self-centred, and these motives are nothing like repentance. We reason to ourselves, “What will my parents think of me?”—“What if I get caught?”—“What if the guilt of this sin or that sin affects my mind, my sleep, my health, my old age?”—“What will this do to my family, my career, my pension?” And so on.
If we rise in our thoughts to God at all, we may be sometimes worried enough to ask ourselves, “What will happen to me on Judgement Day?”
This is all self-centred. And this is not repentance: for we have not turned from our sins against God with grief and hatred. We have not turned to God for forgiveness by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Yes, there is an ostensible8 goodness in mankind. An appearance of good, or a measure of goodness compared against the evil that has been restrained. But it is a goodness that is not as deep as the heart of the person who restrained himself or herself from doing the evil, or that is keeping up appearances.
Mankind judges what is good and what is evil ultimately on the basis of conscience.
Our consciences are partly informed and influenced by nurture—by our upbringing, education, and the culture of the community and communications media that surrounds us daily—but it comes from something deeper than all of that: our nature.
Ultimately, our sense of right and wrong comes from God’s moral law, which was implanted in the souls of each of us.
As the apostle Paul explained was true even of those of old times who had not been raised in the Jewish religion:
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law [revealed to the Israelites through Moses], do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14,15).
This God-implanted “work of the law” in our conscience, that enables us to discern right from wrong (good from evil), is certainly more than the imaginary “moral compass” that some people talk about today.
When Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment, he summarised moral law by declaring the two greatest commandments. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
That is how we really ought to live.
We must strive to obey God in this way—to properly love him and love our neighbours (other human beings, near and far).
And it is from this loving concern for non-Christians that Christians must expose and explain the bad news of man’s total depravity. For this is the context into which the Gospel,9 the Good News of salvation for all who turn to Christ, has come.
There is only this Good News: If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall be saved (Acts 16:31).
To be continued.
- In the state of spiritual death, human beings are cut off from communion with God and from every spiritual blessing which he bestows through that communion. See Chapter 1 at the section, God is the Sustainer of Physical and Spiritual life.↩
- Older Reformed preachers and writers used the word experimental, but that word may confuse modern readers not familiar with Reformed tradition.↩
- The word enmity means the state of being hostile against another person—and having a deliberate attitude of hatred and committing active hostility against that other person. (The word is also used of nations at war).↩
- The word conversation is here being used in the sense of manner of life or behaviour.↩
- Total Depravity is the name given to the first of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism:
1. Total Depravity
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement
4. Irresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints↩
- This statement is repeated, word for word, for emphasis in Psalms 14:1,3.↩
- From this argument we should understand that Christ is himself God incarnate.↩
- The word ostensible means something that appears to be true but is not necessarily so. Man’s claimed goodness is not good in God’s eyes (see 1 Sam. 16:7; Proverbs 16:2; Jeremiah 7:10).↩
- The word “gospel” is old English and it simply means “good news”.↩