THE GRAVITY OF DEPRAVITY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 26, 2020
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
— John 2:23-25, ESV
In a pivotal scene in Alexandre Dumaś’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the protagonist and prisoner Edmond Dantes receives spiritual advice from his cellmate, Abbe Faria. “Here is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, vengeance is mine.” Dantes replied, “I don’t believe in God.” Then, with his last breath, Faria said, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
In the decades after Dumaś, the famous author’s prose became a proverb picked up by many people, especially on the religious left. “You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.” This has been quoted with Bible-like authority by people like the late Robert Schuller, the present Pope Francis, spokespersons for radical wing of the United Methodist Church, and the writers of the television show God Friended Me. The saying is sweet, sentimental, and sensationally wrong.
Not only is God not required to believe in those who do not believe in Him, but God does not even believe in some people who do believe in Him! If you think this sounds harsh or erroneous, take a second look at this segue in the Gospel of John. The original Greek word translated “believed” (vs. 23) and the one for “entrusted” (vs. 24) is the same exact word. The festival-attending, miracle-watching congregation claimed to believe in Jesus. But, Jesus did not believe in them.
There is a true proverb given by God that says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (ref. 1 Samuel 16:7). A profession of faith is an outward show of support for God that all too often wears off in time, and in modern times it wears off most of the time. A possession of faith is a powerful, permanent change wrought by the grace of God that perseveres in faithfulness until the end. Jesus knows the difference.
The Lord looked deep into the hearts of those who made professions of faith on this particular day. He did not need anyone to tell him that the hearts of men are fickle, that hypocrisy follows most professions of faith, and that the people who claimed to honor and love Him one day would be crucifying Him the next. “He Himself knew what was in man” (vs. 25). And, it was not true faith. Rather, the Lord saw the root, tree, and branches of unbelief. What is it? It is the dreaded disease known as depravity, and the gravity of depravity is that it has fallen upon the entire human race.
The Definition of Depravity
Our English dictionaries define depravity as “moral corruption” or “wickedness.” We generally do not apply the term to anyone except the most degenerate members of society, the criminals who commit heinous crimes like murder, torture, sexual assault, or swindling old ladies out of their life savings. The rest of us, which is most of us, are by proxy not depraved, at least by looking from the outside.
But God looks inside. He x-rays the heart. The Scriptures reveal what He sees. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (ref. Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)” The New Testament Apostle Paul, also speaking of the human heart, wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” These guys were not talking about the relatively small number of killers and rapists in the world. They were talking about you, about me, and about every member of the human race.
Depravity in the Greek language of the New Testament literally means “not saved.” Depravity is unbelief. Depravity is false, nominal, hypocritical, superficial belief. Depravity is the lack of desire to truly know, love, and worship God. Depravity is the sinful self-centeredness that renders belief in God and service to God unnecessary and impossible.
Depravity can dress up as a killer, or a pervert, to be sure. But depravity is also the suit of a hard working dad who never takes his children to church, the dress of a mother who loves her kids but not enough to urge them to repent and believe in Christ, the clothes of a child who grows up to be a law abiding citizen who never calls upon the name of the Lord. Depravity comes clothed in every color, creed, and nationality in the world.
Most depraved people don’t murder and don’t steal. But they do not repent, either, for they feel no need. Neither do they sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, although many have joined churches during a vacation Bible School, a summer youth camp, a frivolous revival service, or after an emotional reaction to some act of God, like these pilgrims at Passover.
Jesus peeked into their hearts and saw no genuine faith, only depravity. They did not believe. They could not believe. Depravity is the inability to believe. So how did humans get so marred in the first place?
The Origin of Depravity
To understand what Jesus saw on this day in the hearts of men, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of man. The book of Genesis reveals that God made mankind, male and female, in His image. We were made to live forever, like God. We were made in tri-unity, body and soul and spirit, in the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were made with a moral compass like God’s, and the free will to choose between right and wrong. The Spirit connected us with God and enables us to know, worship, and serve Him. The Garden of Eden is a picture of this perfect time on earth, before depravity set in.
The perfect period lasted only as long, however, as the time it takes for man to sin. Remember it was a Heaven on earth if you will, in which God could not tolerate the presence of even a scintilla of disobedience or rebellion against Him. God warned that the wages of such sin would be the death penalty. Man sinned, so man had to die.
Only he did not die physically, like a condemned prisoner in a gas chamber. Man did not die emotionally, for their emotions ran the gamut of surprise, embarrassment, fear, and panic. But on that day, man and subsequent mankind died spiritually. Without the Spirit there can be no faith, without faith it is impossible to please the Lord, and the thing that replaced the Spirit in the heart of man is this thing we now call depravity.
Depravity is the inability to know, worship, and serve God. It is written on the hearts of all men who remain unsaved, unredeemed, unchanged by God’s grace. It is the principle spirit of the age, dominating the world outside the church and all too often creeping inside the church. These Passover pilgrims in Jesus’ day believe in Him, superficially. But Jesus could see inside of them, spiritually, and all He saw was depravity.
The Gravity of Depravity
Jesus preached a sermon on sin in which He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). The fact is all lost people are walking toward the sea with this great millstone hanging around their necks. It is depravity. It is sin. It is selfishness. It is the inability to believe.
Depravity weighs heavily upon the human heart. It is the reason so many people make superficial professions of faith but do not follow through with obedience and perseverance. It is the reason most people make no profession of faith in the first place. It is the reason people break the Ten Commandments and the other laws of God. It is the reason people break commitments and hurt one another. It is the reason the vast majority of people on this planet are living like the walking dead. They live without God in the center of their lives and will not care until the day they meet God face to face, when it will be far too late to believe.
The really bad news is that there is nothing a person can do about their own depravity. You cannot wash it off or wish it away. Unbelievers simply cannot believe. People with no Spirit of God cannot understand spiritual truth, especially the gospel of the atoning death and saving life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Depravity already owns them and eternal death awaits for them, unless they are saved. And there is one remedy for depravity, except for one.
The Remedy for Depravity
The only remedy for depravity is found in the next chapter on the new birth. One must be born again, or literally born from above. The gift of faith does not come from within, it comes from above. God the Father must give the gift of faith in God the Son, delivered by God the Spirit to the human heart.
It is the new birth that defeats depravity and raises the dead. It grants spiritual life and gives spiritual understanding. It is the greatest miracle God ever ordained, and by the grace of God it happens every day.
John 3:16 is the most familiar verse in the Bible, some say the most important. If this is so, the context of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus becomes the most important conversation recorded in the Bible. If this is so, this transitional text that builds a bridge for the Lamb of God to crossover to the hearts of men must be understood as foundational.
Human beings are depraved, sinful, and spiritually dead. Our only hope is a resurrection from above called the new birth. Such new, real, spiritual, and eternal life is a gift of God’s grace, given through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, via the agency of the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Have you been born again? Would you like to understand fully what it means to be born again? Then cross this bridge, step into the next chapter, and meet a man named Nicodemus.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org