Humanity’s radical corruption

My current goodnight book is What is Reformed Theology? by RC Sproul. Its very enjoyable and constantly challenges my dodginess. RC has shown me how RT puts God at the centre, is based on God’s Word alone, is committed to faith alone, devoted to Jesus Christ and structured by three covenants. I am currently reading RC’s first point regarding the tulip and I am yet again blown away. Here is a taste of how I am being refined in theological position:

Romans 3:9-18 “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin …There is none righteous, no, not one. …There is none who does good, no not one.”

…To be under sin is to be controlled by our sin nature. Sin is a weight or burden that presses downward on the soul. In bringing the whole human race before the tribunal of God, Scripture indicts us all without exception, save for Jesus.

…How are we to understand this? Is it not our daily experience that many good deeds are performed by pagan people? The reformers wrestled with this problem and acknowledged that sinners in their fallen condition are still capable of performing what the Reformers called works of “civil virtue.” Civil virtue refers to deeds that conform outwardly to the law of God. Fallen sinners can refrain from stealing and perform acts of charity, but these deeds are not deemed good in an ultimate sense. When God evaluates the actions of people, he considers not only the outward deeds in and of themselves, but also the motives behind these acts. The supreme motive required of everything we do is the love of God. A deed that outwardly conforms to God’s law but proceeds from a heart alienated from God is not deemed by God a good deed. The whole action, including the inclinations of the doer’s heart, is brought under the scrutiny of God and found wanting.

(p. 119, 120)


7 Responses to Humanity’s radical corruption

  1. I heard it said be Gene Cook in regards to Pagans doing “good” that even though, say, a Muslim may not commit adultery in his lifetime, he is breaking the first commandment as he keeps the seventh, for he is not refraining from adultery in order to serve the one true living God as revealed in Scripture but for other ‘idolatrous’ reasons.

  2. PB and J says:

    it is interesting, because Christ seems to say differently. he seems to applaud good works, just not for mere show.

    he says that we are to let our good works speak for us so that God may be glorified. that sounds like good works can be good. i know i question Reformed attitudes, but maybe the Reformers didnt read enough Jesus and misread Paul. what do you think?


  3. PB -What do you think of the terms reader response and authorial intent?


  4. Peter – right.. which verse was that about Christ applauding good works?

    I assume you are referring to Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matt 5,6,7). Lets have a look:

    Read the whole message in context. Jesus was showing his hearers the impossibility of pleasing God through good works.

    Mat 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Jesus reached a point in his message where he told us:

    Mat 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    There is a lot in this message. When we read it we are overwhelmed by our inability to achieve this standard of righteousness. Are you being perfect?

  5. PB and J says:


    (i was referring to that passage) fair enough, i think there is a lot of hyperbole used by Jesus here and other places. but there is no question that it has a literal quality to it as well. for instance, if one goes further, Jesus says “by their fruit you will know them”….he explains that fruit (good works) must coincide. lest we miss this point, he says that all trees that dont bear fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.

    there is much to discuss on this particular passage, but i would encourage you to reread it with a completely open mind and fresh perspective. place Jesus in context of his day, what did “good works” mean? what did Jesus mean by “righteousness”? and more.

    in closing, i would say that you are right about the call to “perfection”. God does require perfection. unfortunately, as the Reformers pointed out, we are unable of attaining perfection. “if a man stumbles in one point of the Torah, he is guilty of breaking it all.” so what hope do we have? that Christ atoned for our sins.

    but that doesnt mean we are okay to just remain the same and not emphasize obedience (because that is all “good works” are, obeying God’s commandments). as bonhoeffer said grace and obedience are flip sides of a coin. you cannot have grace without obedience or obedience without grace or else we have a cheap grace or a legalism. now i really will finish with this (sorry to have gone on for so long) the word “perfect” in greek doesnt mean the same as the english word “perfect”. check out the root word, it changed my perspective a lot about this passage.

    good talking with ya,

  6. Thanks Pete.

    Yes there is a mystery in how God works in us through the Holy Spirit and our obedience. What is clear is that God is the author and perfecter of our faith. (Philippians1v6). Here is a quote from John Owen which I just read on the net.

    God Works in Us What He has Promised to Do

    Before the work of grace the heart is ‘stony’. It can do no more than a stone to please God. A stony heart is obstinate and stubborn. But God says that he will take away this stony heart (Ezek 11:19). He does not say he will try and take it away, or give us some power so that we can take it away ourselves, but that he will take it away. When God says he will take it away, he means that he will infallibly take it away and that noting can stop him taking it away. He promises to give us a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26).

    There is an ‘eye’ in the understanding of man. This eye is the ability to see spiritual things. It is sometimes said to be blind, darkness, shut. By these descriptions we are taught that the natural mind cannot know God personally for salvation, and nor can it see, that is, discern spiritual things. It is the work of the Spirit of grace to open this eye (luke 4:18, Acts 26:18). He does this, firstly, by giving us the spirit of wisdom and revelation. Secondly, he gives us a heart to know him (Jer 24:7).

    We are enabled to obey God firstly by an inward, spiritual, ruling principle of grace … by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ according to the terms of the new covenant… by which God writes his laws in our hearts and enables us to obey them by the Holy Spirit.

    Excerpt from The Holy Spirit by John Owen, Banner of Truth Trust

  7. hilln says:

    Perhaps another way of considering the good works thing is that they are what we do now that we are saved by grace. Paul says in Ephesians God has prepared good works in advance for us to do. He talks elsewhere about the obedience of faith (Romans) and agrees with James that true faith, while alone in regard to trusting in Christ’s propitiatory death, is never alone in observable reality.

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