Two Pictures of Depravity, One Trophy of Grace

The goodness of the human heart is a doctrine that is accepted without controversy in our day. The problem with mankind is “out there,” be it poverty, lack of education, peer pressure, etc. (What makes negative peers out of good-hearted humans is a conundrum for the “mankind-is-good” crowd, I suppose, but I digress.) Of course, Scripture repeatedly and clearly teaches that mankind is totally depraved—sinful by nature, inclination, and choice, and unwilling and unable to seek or please God. Though Scripture teaches this depravity from cover to cover, there are two episodes in human history that display man’s depravity more clearly than any other. Both relate to humanity’s treatment of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 27 records the trial and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It is a stunning picture of human depravity. The unbridled hatred of the Jews for Christ—a hatred that would lie to attain His death, that would mock Him and spit upon His face, that would pummel, scourge and crucify Him, that would prefer a notorious criminal like Barabbas to Him, that would even embrace the reign of Caesar to His!—is shocking. J.C. Ryle reflects on this in his helpful commentary on Matthew:

“There are few things so little believed and realized as the corruption of human nature. Men imagine that if they saw a perfect person, they would love and admire him. They flatter themselves that it is the inconsistency of professing Christians which they dislike, and not their religion. They forget that when a really perfect man was on earth, in the person of the Son of God, He was hated and put to death. That single fact goes far to prove the truth of Edwards’ remark—‘unconverted men would kill God, if they could get at Him.'”

Perhaps the one other event that so magnifies the condition of the human heart is the rebellion that will follow the Millennium. Though humans face three enemies (world, flesh and Devil), two of the three will be out of commission during the Millennium—only man’s flesh is in play at that time, and even it will be forced to submit to Christ’s external rule. Yet, when Satan is released for a short time, he still will find willing rebels among the sea of humanity (Revelation 20:6-9). How hard are we?!

Those who rejected Christ at His first coming were eyewitnesses of His power and grace. He taught them, healed them, fed them, and went about doing good to them, yet they crucified Him. Those who will reject Christ at His second coming are even more culpable, if possible. They will experience the power and glory of His 1000-year reign; they will enjoy the perfect environment of a Satan-less, disease-less, death-less world. Yet, they will rebel against Christ at their first opportunity. What a sobering picture of the depravity of humanity, including me! The hardness of the human heart is truly amazing.

But more amazing yet is this: God has taken me, a sinner as depraved as any sinner in Matthew 27 or Revelation 20, and has forgiven and changed me. A rebel has become a worshiper. A dead man has been made alive. One who hated the light because my deeds were evil has been brought from darkness into light. One who loathed Christ has come to love Him. A trophy of man’s depravity has become a trophy of God’s grace.

An appreciation of man’s wickedness leads to a greater appreciation of the power and love it takes to save him. The depravity of the human heart is great. The power of God’s grace is greater still.

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10 Responses

  1. Amen Chris. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. A blessed post. Blessings to you on this Memorial Day.

  2. Hi, Mike.

    Regarding my statement that I am “a sinner as depraved as any sinner in Matthew 27 or Revelation 20”:

    Of course, we know that to be true from a theological angle—we’re all depraved. Practically, however, it has been very profitable during my preaching from Matthew 26-27 to note that the men we’re studying were not “diabolical villains” as much as representatives of unregenerate men in general. We’re prone to study Judas, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod and the Jewish crowds with a sort of “disconnect”—imagining that they are the worst of humanity, as though they must have had tails and horns. We study them as caricatures. That’s unfortunate. If we are honest, both with a biblical anthropology and with our own experience, we would see that there is plenty of Judas, Pilate and Herod in all of us. That’s flesh. That’s us, apart from the life-giving and life-changing grace of God.

    We should study all Scripture with this realization. (That was for free.)

  3. Well… the Herods were pretty bad dudes. Old ‘almost persuaded’ Herod Agrippa II lived with his consort, Bernice, his full sister. It was as scandalous in that day as in this. And this was the ‘good’ Herod.

    Pilate was pretty corrupt too, as were the Sadducees on the Sanhedrin, especially those who were chief priests. As representatives of unregenerate men, they were the epitome of the flesh run wild.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Chris,
    Those truths have been brought out to me over and over here in Mexico. People are just as unregenerate here as in the USA, but with much less of the common grace here that seems to have impeded the free flow of evil in the USA, (which by the way is increasing,) we see people who are “the epitome of the flesh run wild” all the time. However, dealing with folks like these makes me see how much pride, self-promotion and other sins are in my own heart. I can see shades of myself and my flesh and desires in many that we minister to and it makes me only praise the Lord many times for His grace to me. I wasn’t looking for Him. I love Him because He first loved me.
    When I am tempted to think that I am better than someone here who may be a lot farther down the road (exteriorly speaking), and when I may start having a problem trying to love that person, I only need to remember my sinfulness and remember that when Christ died for me, I was not a good person, but a sinner, an enemy of God with a clenched fist in His face. And He still saved me. Only the the true God of the Bible would ever do such a thing. To the praise of the glory of His grace.

  5. Amen, Mike!

    (BTW, “exteriorly” got a smile. It’s a real word, but it sounds funny.) :)

  6. There is no credit to man for receiving Christ, but I do think it is unwise to ignore the character of the Herods, Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and the other assorted characters of the Roman Empire. Romans teaches us that there is such a thing as a judicial “giving over” to a reprobate mind. That does seem to be something beyond the norm of the average sinner.

    Of course, the moral man has nothing to boast of, who does the same things (although perhaps in a more ‘acceptable’ way – acceptable from a PR human standpoint, I mean).

    Doesn’t the approach of magnifying how wretched I am sound just a bit like the Keswick “breast-beating I am a wretch” approach? Is that the direction the Bible leads us regarding our human nature?

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Hey Don,
    I don’t think that we are magnifying or that we should magnify “how wretched I am,” but when I look at myself in Scripture, God’s Word shows me how wretched I am.

    “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a WRETCH like me.” I could be wrong, but I doubt that John Newton was of the Keswick persuasion. When he was close to dying he stated, “I am an old man and know simply two things: That I am a great sinner and I have a great Saviour.” The “poor in spirit,” those who are bankrupted spiritually (spiritual wretches) and come to recognize that are those whose the kingdom of heaven is.

    If we examine well the list of things that happens when we find someone who has been given up to a reprobate mind in Romans 1, I find things in that list that I did (and still struggle with myself.) If God didn’t give me up to a reprobate mind, like He did with the Herods, Annas, et. al, why not? Because He saw that I was better than they were? I was not as reprobate as they were? I was not quite as bad as they were? God saw something better in me? I think not. It is only by His grace and mercy and sovereign love placed on me and not on them that has implanted the divine life within me.

    Paul said (keswickianly), “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” I personally wonder how any one can truly be a Christian if they don’t have that same attitude. If they don’t have that attitude, then why do they need to be saved?

  8. I’ll leave it alone after this, I think… but is Paul making much of his wretchedness in 1 Ti 1.15? Or is he making much of Christ?

    It is popular today to talk in hyphens (man-centered, God-centered, etc). In some expressions of the depravity of man, for some reason there is a zeal to come up with the greatest expressions of self-abnegation. When that is the case, where is the center? Is our delight in the Christ who saved us or in our estimation of how bad we were?

    And to get back to the point I was arguing, the Herods were really bad dudes. Most of the Roman aristocracy were thoroughly morally corrupt, but the Herods were in some ways worse than most (perhaps not worse than Nero…) The interesting thing to me about them is that even to someone like Agrippa, Paul offers grace in his preaching.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Don, I think making much of sin, if done in a manner consistent with Scripture, makes much of Christ. To make little of sin makes little of Christ.

    Regarding the idea that Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod aren’t extreme villains…

    My point is not to defend them, obviously, but to make note that they are representative of sinful humanity. Though they may have been worse than some, they have the same flesh all of us do.

    The message I’m preaching tomorrow demonstrates that all the more. Think about it: Christ was spit upon and reviled by the Jewish leaders. He was mocked not only by Herod, but also by his guards. He was mocked mercilessly by Pilate’s soldiers. His crucifixion was called for by the Jewish multitude. He was scorned by passers-by, even as he hung on the cross. He was mocked by the two thieves.

    This was the work of broad humanity, not a few Hitler-like villains. This is mankind, period, not the worst of mankind. Sure, we see leaders, both spiritual and political, but we also see pious Jews, hardened soldiers, condemned criminals. Race made no difference. Reputation made no difference. “White” or “blue” collars made no difference. Christ was despised and rejected of all sorts of men—and almost all men. That’s the depravity of every human heart, apart from God’s intervening grace.

  10. Thinking this over, I think I was perhaps too zealous in my remarks. I was reacting to the point about the Herods, etc. They were certainly in a class of their own, even by Imperial standards, I think.

    I agree that every man was involved in the rejection of Christ. It is no wonder that the disciples were hiding in the upper room – making themselves invisible afterwards. The whole city must have seemed out for blood and they could easily have been next.

    The difference for the disciples was grace through faith, though…

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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