One of the truisms of our age, one of the basic ideas that we hear around us, is the idea that people aren’t all that bad.
We hear that basically people are good, but external things, the pressures they are under, their upbringing, things beyond their control in their environment, their lack of understanding, all cause them to do bad things.
Of course, people realise that there are certain people who are evil, and they should be locked away for life, in order to protect the rest of us.
For the others, if only we could protect people, and give them the information they need, then no one will do anything bad.
We see this in calls for education on a myriad of topics, and calls for greater penalties and more policing.
But then Covid 19 comes along and we see people when the veneer of looking out for each other drops.
We have seen stockpiling, and refusal to comply with quarantine regulations, brutality towards police, and then even those who are supposed to police the regulations, themselves need policing!
And so the initial idea that we are basically good crumbles as self centredness is shown to rule. This is where we see the Bible’s diagnosis of us humans is so right
Thousands of years ago, God sent a flood to destroy the earth, because of the level of sin He found there. God lamented “that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 NIV)
So He left just one righteous man and his family to start again. What was his verdict after the flood? After this thorough cleansing, getting rid of all the evil people? We see it in Genesis 8:21: every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. (NIV)
Even wiping all the “evil” people out, had changed nothing. As the prophet Jeremiah said 100s of years later “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
That is the human condition. And so the Apostle Paul, in Romans 3, could quote King David in his conclusions:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away,they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good,not even one.” (Romans 3:10-11 NIV)
That’s not to say that all our actions are as bad as they could be, they are not. But our hearts, our motives, are always self centred, we are at the centre of our universe. Even at our best, our natural aim is always to glorify ourselves, not God.
Because of all this, in two places, in Ephesians 2, and in Colossians 2, Paul describes us as being dead in our sins. If we are dead, then that means we have no ability to do anything to help ourselves. Dead people can’t do anything. All you can do with them is bury them and let them rot. That is our natural state. Hopeless.
But there is this very significant word that we see in the Bible. Its a short word, but a powerful word. I have just used it twice! It is the word “BUT”.
In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul uses it: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (NIV).
We were dead, totally unable to help ourselves, But God did something about it. God did it all, and it was totally undeserved.
To quote Paul again, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV)
Paul says that the charge sheet, the document that spells out every evil thing that we have done, has been cancelled, it has all been dealt with, by what Jesus did for us on the cross.
But you may say to me, but don’t we contribute anything to our salvation? No, we don’t.
In John 6:44 Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (NIV)
God draws them. This is like drawing water out of a well, the water is unable to move, it by nature will just sit there. It is like it is dead. But God, in the picture that Jesus is possibly giving us here, lowers down a bucket, and by physical effort, draws the water up to him.
In other places, that word translated here as draw, ἑλκύω, is used of fisherman hauling in a net, or authorities dragging people off to jail! That is what God has done for us. Jesus had to work hard to save us. He did that on the cross.
So Paul says “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, … Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:1-9 NIV).
How do we respond to all of this?
We can start by acknowledging that we deserve nothing from God, glory in all he has given us in Christ and overflow in thankfulness.