The Struggle is Real
In November 20, 2012, a Scientific American article titled "Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good, After All" It reads, "When it comes down to it—when the chips are down, and the lights are off—are we naturally good? Are we predisposed to act cooperatively, to help others even when it costs us? Or are we, in our hearts, selfish creatures?
This fundamental question about human nature has long provided fodder for discussion. Augustine's doctrine of original sin proclaimed that all people were born broken and selfish, saved only through the power of divine intervention. Hobbes, too, argued that humans were savagely self-centered; however, he held that salvation came not through the divine, but through the social contract of civil law. On the other hand, philosophers such as Rousseau argued that people were born good, instinctively concerned with the welfare of others. More recently, these questions about human nature—selfishness and cooperation, defection and collaboration—have been brought to the public eye by game shows such as Survivor and the UK's Golden Balls, which test the balance between selfishness and cooperation by pitting the strength of interpersonal bonds against the desire for large sums of money.
But even the most compelling televised collisions between selfishness and cooperation provide nothing but anecdotal evidence. And even the most eloquent philosophical arguments mean nothing without empirical data.
A new set of studies provides compelling data allowing us to analyze human nature not through a philosopher's kaleidoscope or a TV producer's camera, but through the clear lens of science. These studies were carried out by a diverse group of researchers from Harvard and Yale—a developmental psychologist with a background in evolutionary game theory, a moral philosopher-turned-psychologist, and a biologist-cum-mathematician—interested in the same essential question: whether our automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively."
The article concludes, "Although this evidence does not definitely solve the puzzle of human nature, it does give us evidence we may use to solve this puzzle for ourselves—and our solutions will likely vary according to how we define "human nature." If human nature is something we must be born with, then we may be neither good nor bad, cooperative nor selfish. But if human nature is simply the way we tend to act based on our intuitive and automatic impulses, then it seems that we are an overwhelmingly cooperative species, willing to give for the good of the group even when it comes at our own personal expense."
Are We Good Enough?
Are we good? Or a better question to ask is, Are we good enough for God? This question is philosophical and cannot be answered correctly outside of the Bible for believers. The Old and New Testaments have much to say about human nature, sin, redemption, and forgiveness. However, the Bible does not teach universal goodness, redemption and forgiveness to all people regardless of how they live their lives. Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul all taught that true forgiveness and redemption are available to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, and have been made alive through the awakening from death to life by the Holy Spirit. Their teaching counters the widespread belief that God is an all-encompassing, tolerant being who grants salvation to everyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof. There is a general belief that humanity is essentially good and that our core nature is good. But we see in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that salvation is not universal and is not for everyone; in fact, there are conditions, and it is only available to those who meet those conditions. Now, before you accuse me of works-based salvation, hear me out. To fully understand the conditions oof redemption and forgiveness, we must realize humanity is sinful and completely depraved.
Romans 3:23 states that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This simply means we are, at the core, sinful. We are sinners by nature. When Adam and Eve deliberately and willfully disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, the result was a curse on humanity. This is what third century philosopher and Theologian Augustine of Hippo called the doctrine of “Original Sin.” This doctrine means that due to Adam and Eve's disobedience, humanity inherited the nature of sin. Sin is a genetic disorder we all inherit, and there is no human cure for this.
But as we dive deeper into our text for today, Romans 5:12-21, we can better understand God's plan of redemption for humanity.
Vs. 12 - 14: We see that sin was introduced to the world by Adam. Death is introduced to this world. I firmly believe that we can deduce that life was ultimately God's original intent for humanity. Death and sin are incurable and infectious diseases passed down from generation to generation. But death spread to all because all have sinned. And there we have it again, "all have sinned."
To fully understand redemption, we must realize that humanity is not good at the core. If you don't believe this, history has also proven this accurate. We need not look any further than the Holocaust, the despicable acts humanity has committed through war, violence, and crime, etc.. But, at the core, can good and decent humanity commit the evil we see or read about daily? We are, by nature, sinful, selfish, and evil. Yet, the only redeeming quality about us is that we were created by a perfect Creator in His image, ultimately making us redeemable. God found this sinful race worthy of redemption despite who and what we have become. Not because of who we are but because of who He is.
Vs. 15 - 21: "But there is a great difference between Adam's sin and God's gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ." Death and sin were introduced as a result of the acts of one man, yet humanity is redeemed by the actions of another, namely Jesus Christ, who bore our sins and iniquities in our place. Just a few verses back in Romans 5:8, we read this, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." How amazing is this? Jesus willingly went to the cross of Calvary and gave up His life, knowing that we were still sinners. Knowing this, I think, was his motivation. Jesus' purpose for going to the cross was not to die for the righteous (because he knew there were none) but for the sinful man.
Can we grasp this together? Unless we acknowledge that we are sinful, we cannot be redeemed. Salvation results from repentance (from our sins) and faith (believing our need for a Savior) in Jesus Christ. If we assume we are perfect, sinless, or exemplary, Jesus Christ died in vain. What makes God so good is that our redemption is not based on our merits. They are established and secured in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
We may hear statements like, "If God is so good, then how come He allows bad things to happen to good people." The problem is that there is no such thing as a good person. The fact that God allows good things to happen at all is a testimony of His grace and mercy.
The beauty of this message is that despite our sinful nature, God still loves us and offers salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It also emphasizes the importance of acknowledging our sins and the need for God's saving grace. It also highlights that God's love and forgiveness are a source of encouragement and hope for believers. Additionally, it emphasizes that it is not helpful to ignore or downplay our sinful nature and the need for salvation but rather to acknowledge and confess our sins.
So if we are saved by grace and sin is conquered at the cross of Calvary, then why do believers struggle with sin? Romans 7:15 – 21 addresses this question (Romans 7:15 – 21). Despite being redeemed by Christ, believers still struggle with sin in our lives. This passage references the Apostle Paul, considered one of the greatest Christian leaders in history, who also struggled with sin, which is comforting to me to know that even the most devout believers struggle with sin. He doesn't tell us what sins he struggles with but informs us that he does, in fact, struggle and does give in to what is wrong. He writes that sin is an ever-present factor in his life and that while he has the freedom not to sin, se still find himself wrestling with sin. Paul suggests that the struggle with sin is a normal part of the Christian experience and that acknowledging our sins, repenting our shortcomings, and relying on God's grace are necessary for growth in the faith.
Paul expresses his internal struggle between his desire to do what is right and his tendency to sin. He says that even though he knows what is right, he still does wrong things. I think we all can relate to and understand this struggle. It is a struggle we all face as we fight the daily battle against our sinful nature, even as believers. Sin is an ever-present factor in every believer's life, and it is something that we must constantly be aware of and guard against ourselves. We have the freedom not to sin, but this is a constant internal battle, and it requires a continuous reliance on n the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and God's grace and forgiveness.
So, Paul tells us why we should pursue holiness despite God's forgiveness for sins.
Hebrews 10:26: "Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins." The author of Hebrews says that if we keep sinning deliberately, we are in danger of harsh judgment and fury. The key word here is deliberately, which means that if we continue to sin with intention or with the mindset that God will forgive us regardless, we are making a mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and putting ourselves in danger of eternal punishment.
Romans 6:1-2 asks, "Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?" Paul emphasizes that we who have died to sin should no longer live in it. Paul is rebuking those who believed they should continue to sin to give God more opportunities to show grace, and forgiveness, which is a preposterous notion. Grace and forgiveness should never be taken lightly, for granted, or as an excuse to continue in sin. Instead, we should strive to live holy and righteous lives, dying to sin and living for God's glory.
As I conclude today, I want to issue a challenge to examine ourselves and reflect on our commitment to God. Here are four specific questions:
It is essential to truly consider these questions and not give a superficial or flippant response. Answers like, I signed a card at an evangelistic outreach or crusade as a kid, I said a prayer at an altar long ago, or I have grown up in the church, so I am good. Won't cut it. I'm not saying that you are not a believer if these things happened in your life. Instead, I am asking and challenging you to determine whether you are living a life-giving, life-changing, and God-glorifying life?
Today's message is one of hope, life, and redemption, emphasizing that despite the struggles with sin, we are free from the bondage of sin, and we are now bondsmen to righteousness and bondsmen to God. It also emphasizes that the goal is to draw closer to God and to understand the incredible grace, mercy, and love that God has for us and that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are his children, and He is our God.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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