FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 21, number 38, September 22, 2022
“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.” -Jeremiah 6:13,14
I recently read the transcript of a sermon preached by a prominent pastor at an inner faith memorial service for those who died on the 9/11 attack. In quoting Daniel 12:2,3 the pastor left out a very important phrase in the passage. The verses read, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” He failed to mention, “. . . these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
While living in Atlanta in the early 1990’s I began hearing reports that Jane Fonda, who then was married to Ted Turner (earlier she was married to French film director Roger Vadim and political activist Tom Hayden) had professed faith in Jesus Christ. I remember lots of people being so encouraged to hear of Jane Fonda’s profession of faith. I also remember her saying that she had consulted a prominent politician and pastor who told her that this “born again” stuff was really not necessary. As late as 2005 Jane spoke of her Christian faith in her biography Jane Fonda: My Life So Far. In speaking on <johncodyonline.com> when asked about “her decision to accept Christ,” she said, “It was very heavy, and—you know, it’s hard to get the words out these days because it’s so loaded politically, and it scares me to say it—but I am saved. . . Christianity is my spiritual home. This is where I am meant to be.”
I am not Jane Fonda’s judge and we can never make pronouncements on the certainty of anyone’s eternal destiny, but I will ask about her and so many others I have known personally who have “accepted Christ,” where is the fruit in keeping with repentance? I fear that millions of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics are now in hell. No doubt all these religious people made some kind of profession of faith. They joined churches, gave their money and time to them, and surely had moments of being deeply moved by music in worship or an inspirational story told by their pastor. They could speak of the time they felt they needed to walk forward at the end of a church service, or resolved to follow Jesus after their confirmation class when they were twelve years old. Jesus repeatedly warns us of false professors. He said, for example, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness,’” (Mt.7:22,23).
The prophet Jeremiah warned about false prophets who plied their trade in greed, avarice, and falsehood. They failed to give the people what they really needed. They sought to heal the brokenness of people superficially. How so? They pronounced words of peace, that all was well with their souls, that they need not worry about hell, that God loved them and all was okay. Jesus told us there would be many spurious conversions (the parable of the four soils is a good illustration, Mark 4:1-20) but our job, nonetheless is to do all we can to preach the full gospel. No one should be deceived by a truncated message of salvation.
So, what is the gospel message which we must preach? Generally speaking, it is two-fold. It must proclaim a full orbed doctrine of sin and it must also proclaim a full orbed doctrine of salvation. I take up the doctrine of sin today.
I wrote last week of the hopelessness of the people on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia. One person told me the Philly police call it “Zombie Avenue.” Only the true gospel of grace can transform and save such people. And only this gospel can save the people in your own wealthy neighborhoods where you live.
So, it is not good enough merely to say to people, “You are not a good person. You have sinned against God. You are on the road to hell.” Somehow we must dig much deeper, seeking to reach people’s hearts. They must see, feel, experience the sinfulness of their own sin. We must preach a full doctrine of sin, especially in religious communities where so many people grew up going to Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. So many preachers have given people a false sense of peace. They cry out to their people, “Peace, peace,” but God says, “There is no peace.”
This doctrine of sin must include the following: a clear exposition of original sin, actual sin (both the sins of omission and the sins of commission), indwelling sin, sins of self-righteousness, and the sin of unbelief. I realize this is not easy to do when preaching on the street when people are walking by on their way to a ball game. And it is not easy to do when doing one on one evangelism in a coffee shop where time is limited. Try, however, to paint word pictures using vivid imagery to drive home the point to their hearts. Or in followup meetings try to go more deeply into the matter of sin. As many have said over the years, “We need to get people lost before they can be saved.”
Let’s look for a moment at the doctrine of original sin. We know Adam’s sin in the garden brought sin into the world and put all of us under the sentence of sin and death. We call this the imputation of Adam’s sin. Paul the apostle says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12). Paul means that every one of us, born into this world, sinned in Adam. His sin was imputed, put into our account, so to speak. He was our federal head, our representative. It goes like this. Your senator and congressman may vote on a particular bill that you oppose but if the bill passes, you are under obligation to obey the law. The actions of those who represent us affect every last citizen of that country. That’s simply the way it is, the way God created the world. We should never underestimate the pervasive nature of original sin. It controls everything about unregenerate man. The Westminster Shorter Catechism succinctly lays out the effects of original sin.
Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.
Plainly stated, our sin in Adam means that we stand guilty before God. Even if it were possible for us not to sin in this life, we would still be guilty and deserving of hellfire. It means, contrary to what so many tell us today, that we are born totally corrupted by sin. We are not born pure. We are not a tabula rasa, a blank slate, that is neutral. We are wicked and estranged from God the moment we enter the world. We went astray at birth. Furthermore our entire nature—body, soul, mind, heart, and will are thoroughly corrupt. There is absolutely nothing good in any of us. We cannot seek for God. We hate God from the moment we are born (Rom.8:6-8). In other words, until the sovereign work of God’s grace reaches us, we all are hopeless and helpless. We are like the people of Kensington Avenue.
Try this for a vivid image of original sin. We come into this world like a baby whose mother was on crack cocaine her entire pregnancy. If the baby survives the pregnancy then he will usually be far under weight. His brain may be adversely affected which results in erratic behavior, and problems with concentration and cognitive abilities including poor memory recall, limited language skills, and severe mood swings. The child did not ask for this, nor did he bring it on himself. His mother passed it down to him.
The hideous, pervasive nature of original sin must be strongly and vividly proclaimed to lost sinners. When is the last time you heard the doctrine of original sin proclaimed in this manner? ______________________
1. Jane Fonda, Tony Hendra, and Anne Lamott: Believers—Warts and All <johncodyonline.com>