Throughout this series we have defined grace as God’s commitment to the sinner without reference to reciprocity. We have seen the relationship of grace to election, faith and love. In this issue let’s explore the relationship between grace and man’s depravity.
Without the depravity of man, grace would be unnecessary. Grace is God’s commitment to the sinner. Jesus said in Luke 5:3 1, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” If a person is not spiritually sick he has no need of the Great Physician.
HOSEA AND GOMER
Probably no narrative in Scripture depicts the contrast between the grace of God and the depravity of man quite as graphically as that of Hosea and Gomer. In Hosea 1:2 the prophet is commanded by God to enter into a marriage which is nonsensical in the eyes of man:
The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea, “LORD.” Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of wboredoms: for the land bath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord.”
We see that this marriage to Gomer is not only dishonoring to the husband but is against custom, legal sense and reason. He woos to himself a worthless woman and yokes himself to her in marriage.
The purpose of the marriage is to depict to the nation of Israel how God views His relationship with her. Israel is a whore who lusts after other gods and sells herself to a never-ending string of lovers. Still, God selects Israel to be His bride.
No reason for such love can be given other than to say that it serves His purpose; it is according to His own good pleasure. As John says in Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Again, the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:5, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will.”
There is nothing in the object of God’s grace that prompts His love. Love among people is awakened by something in the beloved that is attractive. A helpless cooing child evokes the desire to reach out and take the little one in their arms.
Nothing in man evokes such a response from God. There is nothing sweet or attractive in man that causes God to reach out and accept him. Objectively he merits only condemnation and banishment from His presence.
Note God’s commitment to His faithless wife, Israel, in Hosea 2:19-20:
And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.
The One who stands over the whole miserable situation knows her wretched plight better than she herself. Still He takes her under His legal protection forever. Only then does she know Him in the full sense. This is the Divine initiative called grace.
By making Israel the object of His grace, God voluntarily bound up His own final happiness with her. As we see in Hosea 11:8-9, Divine love is unaffected by the emotions and doubts which threaten it:
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned with me; my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.
No matter how exasperated God becomes with His people, He will never abandon them: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4).
This is the grace of God in action!
GRACE AND DEPRAVITY
Someone once said, “Good people don’t go to heaven.” This is true in the sense that it is when I understand my sin and unworthiness that I call on the Lord’s saving mercy and plead His grace. To the degree that I am good, I have no need of grace.
One of the things for which I have prayed fervently through the years is that my children will understand their intrinsic and utter depravity. Leette and I have worked hard at protecting them from the negative influences of the world. They attended church and Christian schools and lived in a home with a reasonably strong environment of commitment to the Lord.
It is easy in such an environment to be faced with an inadequate awareness of sinfulness. They were not saved out of a life of debauchery and profligacy. This is why most enthusiastic, vibrant Christians come from non-Christian homes. Those who have been raised in a protected environment have not been faced with the depth of their evil; they are tempted with a lack of appreciation for what God has done for them in His grace.
Thank God, it is possible for them to grasp their capacity for depravity without personally experiencing decadence. All they need is to be a student of history and their own motives, sensing their constant drift toward selfishness and self-justification.
Without a full and proper understanding of my depravity I will denigrate the grace of God. Only when I understand that I am Gomer the whore who lusts after sin, will I begin to comprehend the grace of God in the Cross of Christ. Truly, the magnificent diamond called grace can only be properly seen against the backdrop of my blackness and sin.
I believe that it was Goethe who said, “With the slightest change in my character, there is not a crime I am incapable of committing.” I do not know if Goethe was a believer, but he certainly understood the depravity of man, or at least the depravity of his own heart.
THE MEANING OF DEPRAVITY
By “depravity” I do not mean that people are as evil as they can be. Few stoop to the absolute capacity of sin. Total depravity, in theological parlance, means that manes mind and character have been so influenced by sin as to render him unable to reason his way to the place where he understands his lostness and alienation from God. God must initiate the relationship.
A wealth of Scripture substantiates this. For example, Paul says in I Corinthians 2:14, “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.”
This is what ties election to grace. It takes a supernatural work of God to bring the sinner to the place where he even begins to understand his need for the grace of God in Christ. The hymn writer expresses it well:
And grace my fear relieved.”
Much of evangelical Christianity is characterized by a depreciation of sin. To talk of man’s depravity is to be negative. The church must be upbeat and relevant to its generation. Positive thinking, human potential, self-realization and actualization – these are what stir the souls of men.
Such a generation, however, ends up deficient in its understanding of God’s grace. To be constantly reminded of my sin and depravity is not an unhealthy exercise, unless it is divorced from the grace of God. Rather, it is essential that I remain constantly aware of my sinfulness.
People who feel that they are good are more prone to break the commandments of God than those who have a Biblical understanding of how much like Gomer they are. The more I am aware of my utter depravity, the closer I cling to God and His grace. There are at least two reasons for this:
1) If I believe I am good, I will conclude that my deeds are good. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” I have an almost unlimited ability to justify my behavior, making wrong appear right in my own eyes. Thus, when I sin against another, I focus on his weakness and the degree, be it ever so slight, that he is responsible. In self-justification I conclude that the fault is his, not mine.
2) I stand a better chance of living a life of holiness if I believe, like Goethe, that “there is not a sin I am incapable of committing.” For it is from such a posture that I feel the most dependent upon God and His grace!