I Am Totally Helpless
What the Bible Says
1. When Adam fell, he died (Gen 2:17).
This meant not only that his body began to die, but also that he died:
- spiritually ... he now knows he is guilty before God (Gen 3:7)
- emotionally ... fear has replaced intimacy (Gen 3:10)
- intellectually ... he thought he could hide from God (Gen 3:10)
- relationally ... Eve becomes his enemy (Gen 3:12)
- towards his world ... (Gen 3:15-17)
2. When Adam sinned, that same kind of death came to all men (Romans 5:12)
What Adam got for himself, he got for all those he represented, as head of the human race. This means that every one of us is by nature:
- spiritually dead ... we are guilty before God (“by nature children of wrath” Eph 2:3)
- emotionally dead ... where we should be rejoicing, we are fearful (eg Mk 4:40,41)
- intellectually dead ... our minds are blind (2 Cor 4:4) so we cannot see the truth (Jn 3:3,5)
- relationally dead ... we are enslaved to Satan, to do his will (John 8:34)
- dead towards our world ... it opposes us and threatens our best efforts (Rom 8:20,21)
God therefore describes us as those who:
- are dead, and in need of a resurrection (Eph 2:1), needing more than help or improvement
- need a new mind (1 Cor 2:14), not simply new information
- need a new will (John 6:44) so we can do what is contrary to our nature
- must experience a new birth, if we are ever to see and believe (John 3:3,5) [Note: Jesus’ words ‘you must be born again’ are not an instruction for us to obey, but a condition which is necessary.]
- cannot produce any hope by any of our efforts (Eph 2:12)
- must be set free by God from our slavery, if we are ever to know the truth (John 8:34)
See Romans 3:10-18. Sin has left us with a LEGAL problem (we are guilty before God) and a PERSONAL problem (we are not able to think, desire, understand, act, relate rightly ... we “cannot” see our legal or personal dilemma, or the truth of the gospel, because we are “under [the power of] sin” (3:9).
If God acts only to solve our legal problem, by sending Jesus to deal with the condemning power of sin ... but does not act to deal with our personal problem, by giving us eyes to see, and will to believe ... then no one shall be saved.
GRACE says that because God has done the first, he will do the second. He not only sovereignly wins salvation, but also sovereignly applies it. We praise him for getting us out of hell ... and also for bringing us to Jesus, in faith, that we might come into a knowledge and enjoyment of that salvation. He does not share the credit with us.
THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY that we are bad as we can possibly be, when it describes our TOTAL DEPRAVITY ... even unbelievers have generous thoughts and do kind deeds; they may run fast, govern well and care lovingly for children. So we are not as DEEPLY depraved as we might be, but ...
Our depravity is TOTAL, or right across every part of our lives; every faculty we have (choosing, understanding, desiring, doing) is affected by sin.
Two Questions to Answer
#1. But don’t we all have a “free-will”?
- Some people say we DO have the ability to believe, repent, choose because we have a free will to do that. But the Bible never speaks about our having a ‘free will’ which allows us to turn to Jesus when and where we choose.
- While it is true that we have a REAL WILL (we make thousands of decisions every day - what to eat, where to walk, what to say etc), we do not have a FREE WILL. We are free to act only within the limits of our nature.
- Adam was born with a will that was 100% free ... he was 100% free to eat of the tree, or not eat of it. Jesus is the only other man since, whose will is perfectly free. The rest of mankind are born with a will that is subject to the dominion of Satan (Jn 8:44-47, Eph 2:1,2, 2 Tim 2:26). So when people make a real choice not to follow Jesus, they are acting according to their sinful nature and reasoning, and the dictates of their master, Satan.
- It IS true that “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (Jn 6:37) … but it is ALSO true that no-one WANTS to come. It is only when God works on a fallen, depraved will, creating a new desire, will anyone come to him (Jn 6:44). Apart from sovereign grace, no sinner could ever believe.
#2. Isn’t this teaching too negative, when the gospel is so positive?
- “If I cannot see the truth, and by nature will always refuse to come to Jesus, then there is no hope for me.” This is NOT what this doctrine teaches. It does not say “there is no hope for you”, but “there is no hope in you”. You are not just sick, but dead (Eph 2:1). But God is a life-giving, dead-raising God, who makes blind eyes see, dead wills live and lame people come.
- The result of seeing the truth of this doctrine, is that God and his grace grow larger to you ... when you know how far down the pit you have fallen, you know how long the ladder needs to be to rescue you. God does more than patch up sick bodies ... he gives a new nature. A low view of sin inevitably leads to a low view of God and of his grace.
- If God helps those only who first help themselves, then our work of evangelism would be a despairing work – there would never be any converts! But because God’s solution is matched to man’s condition, we are confident. And if we preached this truth, then we might find that sinners were calling out to the Lord for help (Mk 9:24), rather than thinking they were doing God a favour by believing.
Changing Our Practice
⇒ Our evangelistic message
We do not preach men ‘up’ (with great ability, freewill, masters of their own destiny), but ‘down’. We want people to know that they need grace not only to be made righteous before God, but also to come into that righteousness by faith. We want people to know that they are debtors to grace and can claim no merit at any point. (Beware of being like Roman Catholics with their doctrine of ‘co-operating grace’, which is no grace at all.)
⇒ Our attitude to others
If we are made alive to God by grace alone, then there is no place at all for any pride, superiority over those who do not see, or self-confidence. All boasting is totally excluded (Eph 2:4-9).
⇒ Our prayerful confidence
What hope is there that dead people anywhere shall believe? It is in the power of God ... the same power that raised Jesus from the dead makes helpless sinners live (Eph 1:19). So we preach with confidence to dead bones (Ezek ch 37). We do not ask sinners to do what they cannot do (make themselves live, be born again etc), but we pray to God who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
Voices from the Past
There are very few errors and false doctrines of which the beginning may not be traced up to unsound views about the corruption of human nature. Wrong views of a disease will always bring with them wrong views of remedy. Wrong views of the corruption of human nature will always carry with them wrong views of the grand antidote and cure of that corruption. (J.C.Ryle)
This doctrine is “the essential issue ... the hinge upon which everything else turns.” (Martin Luther)