I have been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans recently, and realised again that the structure of that book provides a clear Biblical outline for the way in which the gospel ought to be presented and taught.
No, it doesn’t fit in with many of our prejudices or political correctness about being ‘seeker sensitive’. Paul’s simplified outline is;
1. The bad news about mankind.
2. The good news about what God in Christ has done for us.
3. How we then should be behaving in response.
So many modern preachers think they can scramble the order of this teaching and hope in vain to make repentant and Biblically-based disciples.
Fortunately my own Church is now not in the above category, but I do know of Baptist Churches [and many others] which will do a 2-1-3, or even a 3-2-1 sequence just so the listeners won’t be put off by the ‘negativity’. In the worst cases there may only be a 3-2, with the bad news given a wide berth.
In this issue I would like to focus on Romans 3, and specially verses 10-18. This is a very damning picture of natural mankind, and provides the only truly logical basis for all the good news that follows.
Sin is Ungodliness
Right near the start of our passage is Paul’s statement that ‘there is…no-one who seeks God’ (v.11), and at the end ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’ (v.18).
This is not so much an assertion that when people renounce God they tend to jump completely and without regard for the consequences into evil, and when they fear God they shun evil (eg. Job 28:28).
It is more a teaching that Scripture identifies the essence of sin as ungodliness (cf. 1:18).
God’s argument with us is that we do not really ‘seek’ him at all, making his glory our major concern, as in Psalm 14:2, also that we have not set Him before us as in Psalm 54:3.
God also says that there is no room for Him in our thoughts (Ps. 10:4), and that we do not love Him with all our heart, mind and strength.
Sin therefore is the revolt of the self against God. It is actually the dethronement of God with the intention of the enthronement of oneself.
Ultimately, sin is self-deification, and is what John Stott called the ‘reckless determination to occupy the throne which belongs to God alone.’
It is completely reckless because it has no thought for our relationship with the Creator, and no concern for our eternal destiny.
In short, it is madness, and it is pervasive through our culture.
Sin is Pervasive
Sin affects every faculty and function that humans possess: our minds, emotions, sexuality, our consciences and our will.
In Rom. 3:13-17 there is a listing of the different parts of the body. Thus, ‘their throats are open graves’, full of corruption and infection; ‘their tongues practise deceit’, instead of being dedicated to the truth; ‘their lips spread poison’ like snakes; ‘their mouths’ are filled with bitter curses; ‘their feet are swift’ in the pursuit of violence, and scatter ruin and misery in their path, instead of walking in ‘the way of peace’; and ‘their eyes are’ looking in the wrong direction; they do not reverence God at all.
I guess this is what the Calvinists really mean by ‘total depravity’ – the completeness of our corruption which refers to its extent as it twists and taints every part of our bodies, not to its degree such as depraving every part of us absolutely.
As Dr. J.I. Packer has put it, on the one hand ‘no one is as bad as he or she might be’, while on the other ‘no action of ours is as good as it should be’.
We can’t get away from Paul’s description: sin is pervasive, in each and every person on earth.
Sin is Universal
Right through the Bible God teaches the universality of sin, both in a negative and a positive way. Paul quotes the Old Testament (mainly the Psalms) in the next few verses.
On the negative side, ‘there is no-one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10); ‘there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God’ (v.11); there is no-one who does good, not even one (v.12).
Positively, ‘all have turned away, they have together become worthless’ (v.12).
The repetition hammers home the point. Twice we are told that ‘all’ have gone their own way, four times that ‘no-one’ is righteous, and twice that ‘not even one’ is an exception.
In order to be ‘righteous’ we must live in conformity with God’s law, and ‘the best man, the noblest, the most learned, the most philanthropic; the greatest idealist, the greatest thinker, say what you like – there has never been a man who can stand up to the test of the law.
Drop your plumb-line, and he is not true to it’. (see 1 Kings. 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20).
If Paul were to stop here we would be stuck in sin and there would be no salvation to follow.
The Right Order
This is Paul’s order of presentation of the Gospel. We must understand the nature of man’s rebellion and our predicament first, before we are given the good news of the gospel, because the gospel is both bad news then good.
This makes the Book of Romans such an important guide for today’s preachers and youth leaders.
Why should anyone feel the need to be saved if they don’t understand why God has condemned them in the first place?
Unfortunately as I read the websites of many modern Churches I don’t find that emphasis on very many.
They are often talking about celebration instead of consecration, heaven but not the fear of hell, eternal life but no mention of the possibility of everlasting punishment.