The Christian’s Compass

The First Point of the Doctrines of Grace

Various Bible Verses

          There is no one passage or verse that we are basing today’s sermon upon. Instead, we will be looking at many verses to see what the Bible teaches on a certain subject. We have done this before when we studied themes such as Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Church etc. This is just another method of presenting teachings from the Word of God. So, let me begin by offering up a short prayer:

 

          Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to You. And may Your Words, which have been breathed out by You, not return to You without accomplishing what you sent them out to do. That is teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that Your servants may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In Jesus name, Amen.

 

          Today’s sermon will be the first of a short series of just six sermons, called the Christian’s Compass. First of all, I want to explain why the series has that title.

Let me tell you a personal story. One thing that really bothers Jenny about me is my lack of any sense of direction. Let me play a scene for you that took place multiple times in our married life. We would be driving along to a destination and we would approach an intersection and I would ask Jenny which way, meaning which way should I turn? Usually, we only had two or sometimes three options. Turn left, right, or go straight. Jenny would always say turn North or South or East or West. To which I would respond no I asked which way I should turn.    

          This would usually lead to a heated discussion about the fact that I did not know where I was or where I was going, and that was why we were going to be late. To which I would respond that I just forgot in which direction I had been heading in the first place. I think after a few times, Jenny just knew that this would ‘bug’ me and so she probably did it just for fun. Now of course we have Google Maps, which I believe is God’s gift to directionally challenged husbands.

 

          If you want to go anywhere in this world outside of the places you regularly travel to, then you need to know the four points of the compass or at least travel with someone who does. It is no different when journeying through the Christian life. The Bible is our compass and being knowledgeable about the directions the Bible gives us, can help us travel without getting lost. You can go through the difficult storms of life and arrive safely at your final destination.

 

          Now the word compass in English means more than just a magnetic needle that always points to magnetic north. It also means something which contains the whole teaching of a subject. So, the points of the Christian compass are not only those points which will help you to find your way through the Christian life. But they are also the points that will help you to understand the whole of the Bible. Because these points, these truths, run through the whole 66 books of the Bible.

 

          As you know, all compasses contain 4 main points, North, South, East and West. However, The Christian compass contains five points or five truths. When people think about UCC church they should become aware that UCC is a church which believes in these five points of the Christian compass. Today, I want to begin to teach these five truths to you so that you can start steering your Christian lives by them.

          It is time once again to proclaim very clearly and simply those same truths that have brought millions of people to Christ since the reformation when they were rediscovered and re-applied to the church.

 

          Why do we need to refocus our thoughts on these truths? Because many people have misunderstood these truths, and some have even twisted them to teach something else which they do not. So now I want to have a simple series, that outlines these five points of the Christian compass. Throughout Christian history, whenever God has breathed new life into His church it has been through the proclamation of these five truths.

          As I said these truths have been perverted and twisted. Most notably in Protestantism since the 17th century when a Dutch theologian named Jacobus Arminius died and soon after his followers published his teachings in five main points and wanted the European churches of the day to start following them. 

          Now up until this time, all the great protestant churches throughout Europe believed these great truths that had been rediscovered during the period known as the reformation. But the Arminians, the followers of Arminius, now wanted to change all this.

         

Here are the five points which the followers of Arminius presented:

 

  1. Free will. They agreed that Adam and Eve fell from grace in the garden of Eden. But they added that people are still capable of choosing what is spiritually good for them. So, you can choose of your own free will to receive the gospel. And you can choose of your own free will to be saved.
  2. Conditional Election. God has chosen to save all those who of their own free will choose to be saved. If you respond favourably to the gospel God accepts you. Because according to this teaching, He knew beforehand that you were going to do it.
  3. Universal Redemption. Christ has died for everybody. All you have to do this morning is claim your share in what Christ did for everybody. In fact, those who follow this teaching of Universal Redemption actually teach that Christ didn’t save everyone, He only made it possible to be saved and that is why you still have to choose to take your part.
  4. Resistible Grace: What it means is this, when the Holy Spirit begins to work in a person to bring them to Christ. That person can actually resist the Holy Spirit. The logical conclusion is that the Holy Spirit can’t give you spiritual life unless you let Him.
  5. The Potential to Fall from Grace. At the end of the day, you are saved because you took the first step. Now we come to the natural outworking of this Arminian system of belief. Since you took the first step in being saved then it follows that if you stop taking steps to maintain your position you will be lost. Ultimately it is all up to you.

         

          So, these five points of Arminius were presented to the Dutch parliament by his followers. This was the process in those days. Then in 1618 a great conference, called a Synod, was held in the Dutch town of Dort to look at these five points. All the preachers, theologians, and theological students in most of the European countries came together.

          They studied the Arminian teaching for seven months but were unable to reconcile it with the Word of God. The Synod then reaffirmed the teachings of the reformers and presented them, also in five points, which they called the five points of Dort.

          Do you know the little words or phrases which help us to remember things? We call them Mnemonics. They were my best friends in secondary school. And thankfully there is one in English to help us remember these five points from the Synod of Dort. That word is TULIP. Let me explain what each letter stands for and briefly what their teaching is.

 

  1. T- Total Depravity: Men and women can’t save themselves because the fall that took place in the Garden of Eden was a total fall.
  2. U- Unconditional Election: If men and women are going to be saved then God must save them. Therefore, since God is the one who is going to save then He must be free to save whoever he wills.
  3. L- Limited Atonement: Since God has chosen to save certain people, then those are the people for whom Christ died on the cross.
  4. I – Irresistible Calling: Since God chose certain people and Christ died for certain people then the Holy Spirit will call those same people into the experience and enjoyment that Christ purchased for them by His blood.
  5. P – Perseverance of the Saints: Because our salvation has its beginning in God, then He will be the one to see that it all comes to its proper conclusion. What this means is that everyone who He has chosen, and bought with Christ’s blood, and called by the Holy Spirit, will enter into the eternal enjoyment of heaven.

         

          Those are the five points of the Christian’s compass. And I am going to present them to you, one by one, every Sunday in six sermons. Of course, all of you have just thought that my math doesn’t add up. Five points and six sermons. Well, that is because I will cover the last point over two sermons.

          After these six sermons, you will see, without a doubt, that God’s Word clearly teaches each point. My hope is that we will see that we are not dealing with just a denominational teaching but the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. And we will see that this is not some new teaching that has never been taught before but is the revealed truth of God as found in the Bible. I want us to see them as five lights by which we see clearly the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, this Sunday we will start with T, Total Depravity.

 

          This first point is important because the main theme of the series is about salvation. Therefore, to understand salvation we must first understand what the problem is. We need to understand what it is we need saving from. What condition do men and women find themselves in? We need to clearly understand our condition because, if you have unclear and vague ideas about sin and its effects, then you will have unclear and vague ideas about salvation.

                    Let’s say that you go to the doctor because you are not feeling well. The doctor just looks at you and says, “here take this and you will feel better.”  I don’t think you would feel too confident. Because you know that first, he has to diagnose the problem before he can give the cure. Or let’s think about a car mechanic, he cannot fix your car until he first finds out what the issue is. No use changing the brakes on a cart with a dead battery! In the same way, you cannot understand salvation until you know exactly what the condition of people is. That thing from which they need to be saved.

          So why is this point so important you may ask? We know what salvation is each of us have developed our own thinking on this over time.  Well, if you believe that humanity only fell partially from grace in the garden of Eden, then you will likely be satisfied with the thinking that your salvation is partly God’s work and partly yours. You can mistakenly think that you also deserve some of the credit for your own salvation.

 

          We find when we go to the Bible that it reveals that everyone regardless of age, social standing, education, race are in a state. What state you ask, a state of total depravity. What does that mean? It means that they are totally unable to do anything about their lost condition.

          When I use the term ‘total depravity’ I don’t mean that every one of you is as bad as you can possibly be. I also don’t mean that you will live and die without knowing what God wants of you. I certainly don’t mean that it is impossible for you to be kind to other people. I don’t even mean that you are unable to be outwardly religious. Yes, you can come to church, you can listen to the sermon, and sing the worship songs, you can even recite the apostle’s creed.

          What I do mean is that when humanity fell in the garden they fell in their totality. That means that everything about a person is polluted with sin. Everything you or I think, say, or do, every motive we have and emotion we feel, every decision we make, it’s all polluted by sin.

          Let me illustrate what I mean. Imagine that we have three glasses. Two contain pure drinking water and another contains black ink. The first glass, the one with the ink in it represents the devil, he is as wicked as we can possibly imagine. The second glass which is full of pure water represents humanity before the fall. But what about the third glass? Well, you know what happens when we put just a drop of ink into the water. The water quickly becomes cloudy and soon the substance has worked its way into every part of the water. Humanity is no longer what they used to be. Of course, we’re not as wicked as the Devil. But sin has polluted and stained and spoiled every part of us. That is the teaching of Total Depravity.

 

          Of course, I don’t want you just to take my word for it. Now let’s spend some time looking at what the Biblical has to say about this teaching. So, if you have your Bible with you then please follow along with some verses that I will give you. Or you can look at the screen behind me. The verses you hear will be, word for word, the same verses that you will find in the NIV translation.

 

          The only reason we should believe the first of these five great truths is because it is taught in the Bible. That we see it all around us, and in us, only serves to confirm what the Bible already teaches. Now you need to know that the verses we are going to look at this morning are only a selection. I’m going to present just 12 however, there are many more. But I think 12 will be enough for us to get the picture.

 

          The first verse we will look at is Romans 5:12 where the Bible teaches that men and women by nature are dead. Let’s see what it says, Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned” Have you ever thought why people fear death. It is because it is unnatural. We are all aware somehow that it is something that shouldn’t exist.

          However, physical death is only a symptom, a sign of spiritual death. We die physically because there is such a thing as spiritual death. What did God say to Adam in the garden? The day you eat of that fruit you will die. But we know that Adam lived for hundreds of years after he took that fruit. However, he still died that day, he died spiritually, and that is why physical death is in the world.

          Let me explain what Spiritual death is: The Bible teaches that we are all spiritually dead by nature in Ephesians 2 beginning from verse 1, Paul tells the Ephesians what they were like before they became Christians. He wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrathBut because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved”.

Now go with me to 2 Timothy 2:24. Here the apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor and he says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Look at any man or woman and know that they are dead in sin and also captive by the devil. Held in chains so to speak, a slave to sin.

          But, according to the Bible, it is worse than that. They are blind and deaf also.

          Let’s turn to the gospel of Mark 4:11 where Jesus explains to His disciples the difference between believers and nonbelievers. “He told them (the Disciples)“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!

          The bible is very clear that all people are dead, captive, blind and deaf.

We also cannot even be taught spiritual things. Go to 1 Corinthians 2:14. This is one of those verses that we need to be careful with because it doesn’t mean what some people say it means. This is what it says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. Now, this doesn’t mean that when I speak about the gospel unconverted people don’t understand what I am saying. They understand what I am saying, I’m not speaking mumbo jumbo to them. What it means is they won’t, they can’t receive it. They can’t see the wisdom, the power, the glory of it. It doesn’t affect them in a personal way. The reality does not penetrate their understanding.

          Of course, they understand the grammar and the sentence structure that I am using. But because they cannot be taught spiritual things, they don’t see it as applicable to them. What this means is, if a person remains unconverted after hearing the gospel then that is their fault. Some, see it, while others can’t.

          This is exactly what Jesus said in John 3:3, when he replied to the question of Nicodemus of how he could be saved, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Unless someone has a completely new nature, they can’t understand spiritual things.

          Are things starting to make sense? Do you see what I am saying? People are dead, bound, blind, deaf, and cannot be taught. Because of this, they are incapable of pleasing God, and even unable to come to Him.

          Did you know that the Bible teaches that ordinary people are unable to come to God? In Romans chapter 8 verses 7 and 8, we read, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God”. Or as Jesus says in John 6:65, “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

 

          We see the picture is becoming more and more disastrous for humanity who, according to the Bible, are dead, they are chained, they are blind, deaf; they can’t be taught, they are actually incapable of moving themselves towards God. They just can’t do it. They can’t even start. And what’s more, they are like that from birth.

Psalm 51:5 tells us that, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. This is king David’s own admission he was a sinner from the moment he was conceived. That’s why people sin. Because they are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin, because we are sinners.

          There is a very powerful verse in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time”. Everything is polluted by sin, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked says Jeremiah 17:9 and who can know it.

As we come to the last of our twelve verses let’s look at what Jesus has to say in Mark 7:20-23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

 

          Now, I hope, you can understand why in 1618 the Synod of Dort could not reconcile what Arminius’ followers were teaching with what was very clearly taught in the Bible. That every aspect of humanity is polluted, spoiled, defaced by sin. The leaders at the Synod could only arrive at the inevitable, and only logical, the conclusion that was this point known as Total Depravity. No matter what name you use to refer to “total depravity,” (“total inability,” “righteous incapability,” “radical corruption” or even “moral inability.”), the undisputable fact remains that, when properly understood, it is an accurate description of what the Bible does teach on this important subject.

          Let me bring this sermon to a close as we think about the implications of this teaching known as Total Depravity. Since Scripture is very clear that all of a person is affected by sin and so much so that “no one seeks after God,” then you may ask then how can anyone possibly become a Christian?

          God must provide the way to overcome people’s depravity.  He must show them that apart from the grace of God they have no hope. Our eyes that are blind to our spiritual condition must be opened. Only then, can our bondage to sin be broken. Only then, can we respond in faith to the Gospel message and receive the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

          Some Christians believe that God accomplishes this through some type of universal grace. They believe that God brings people to a condition where they then have the ability to choose or reject Him. However, what the Bible does teach is that for people who are “dead in trespasses and sins” to be able to understand and respond to the gospel in faith, they must first be ‘born again’ which means to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

          It is only after God gives spiritual life that the dead sinner’s eyes may be opened so that they can “see the kingdom of God.” This is a sovereign act of God. This is the teaching of John 1:12-13 which tells us “not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”.

          It has been my experience that even when this doctrine of total depravity is correctly taught and even understood, people still reject it. I’m not surprised, and neither should you. The world still thinks of man as being basically good. When people are confronted with the fact that the Bible shows clearly that people, by their very nature, are depraved sinners, they ignore it. This teaching goes against what most modern religions, psychology, and philosophy say about the basic nature of humans.

          But the fact remains, that the Bible does teach the depravity of the human heart. The root causes of humanity’s problems are not found in the facts that they were raised in less-than-ideal environments, but that their hearts are wicked and selfish. When this teaching of total depravity is properly understood, then the hope of those who place their faith in any type of works-based system of salvation are destroyed.  God’s sovereign grace is humanity’s only hope.

          We are left asking the same question the disciples asked of Jesus in Matthew 19:25-26, “Then who can be saved?” Of course, the answer Jesus gave remains the same: “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.

          The first of our five points, the doctrine of total depravity, really begins to focus our attention on the rest of the points. We will see by the end of this series, the reason why these five points have become known as the “doctrines of grace”. Because they teach us the wondrous work of God in the salvation of sinners.