We all know that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus’ purpose in coming being, “…not to condemn the world but to save the world…” Our faith and belief in him being key components in this process however; without which we will indeed be condemned. John 3:16-18 Another given is that, no one – on his own – can attain Godly righteousness, as “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..” Romans 3:10 & 23Because, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way,…” Again, the saving grace being that, “…the Lord (God) has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Is. 53:6 (See also Ephesians 2:8,9 & John 10:7-18)
Does that mean even the vilest sinner can be saved? Yes, if and when they acknowledge their sin and repent of it. Could it likewise mean every sinner will be saved? A position held by many who would like to believe that because of the adverse effects of family dysfunction, societal pressure and personality predispositions; God – could and should – overlook their sin as beyond their control. Which is found nowhere in scripture. (Even as compassion for people in dire straits is.)
What scripture does teach is that we are to, “…throw off everything that hinders (our approach to God) and the sin that so easily entangles,…” Hebrews 12:1 Paul advising us to, “…flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11 (See also 2 Timothy 2:23) The urgency of that directive mirrored in the angelic message to Lot and his family recorded in Genesis 19:17. Paul explaining that, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 James focusing our attention on the true cause and effect of our sin. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15 That downward spiral noted by Paul in Romans 1:21-32; where, in the end, recalcitrant sinners are given over to a “depraved mind” – causing and experiencing “trouble and distress.” Romans 2:5-9
Truth be told, we are all afflicted with a sin-nature, essentially the desire to be accommodated and pleased first and foremost, i.e. selfishness. Jeremiah attesting to that fact when he lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things… who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 Jesus commenting on the influence our “hearts” desire has over our actions, saying “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 Thus the warning in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life.” (See also Proverbs 27:19) Again, Jesus explaining, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man bring(ing) good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man bring(ing) evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Matthew 12:34,35 The only cure for a deceitful heart being the Lord Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit. (See Romans 8:1-11 & Galatians 5:16-25)
God responds to those who come before him with a broken spirit and contrite heart (Psalm 5:17 & Is. 66;12), seeking his will and way, developing a focused and undivided heart and mind (Psalm 86:11); part of which is accomplished by “hiding” his word in our hearts so that we will have the resources to resist temptation and sin. (Psalm 119:11 & 51:10)
We are all aware of individuals who fall short of that high-water mark and know of some who are genuinely depraved. A few Biblical examples of the former being Paul, a blasphemer and persecutor of the early church who became a master theologian of Christian faith and a missionary beyond compare. Peter, a boisterous reactionary who vacillated between heroic support of his Lord and cowardly denial of even knowing him, became one of the pre-eminent leaders of the newly-formed church of Christ. Simon, a Zealot, usually associated with political intrigue if not outright rebellion, who was called to a new occupation as a disciple of another cause. Matthew, a tax collector and thus, a Roman collaborator, became a disciple and an expositor of the gospel. All changed through repentance and redeemed to a new life in Christ.
But can the truly depraved be saved? Consider the demoniac of Mark 5, who was healed and then told to go home and witness to the saving power of Christ; proving that Jesus can heal, redeem and use anyone. But does that include those who choose to consistently behave in ways contrary to God’s will? Whose every inclination and thought is evil all the time. (Genesis 6:3&5) Scripture giving answer in Hebrews 10:26,27, “If we deliberately keep one sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth (an inkling of which all men possess by virtue of God’s creation – see Romans 1:18-20), no sacrifice for sin is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment…” But even here, there is an over-riding desire on God’s part for salvation and redemption, even if and when it is expressed in the form of discipline; which has at its core love and a seeking for our good. (Hebrews 12:5-11) Discipline/punishment coming so that, if possible, “…we will not be condemned with the world.” 1 Corinthians 11:32 (See also Revelation 3:19) Jesus setting the standard of discipline for the church in Matthew 18:15-17, Paul further instructing believers on the proper way and motivation for handling sinners in our midst (1 Corinthians 5:4,5 & 2 Corinthians 7:9); the goal being, “…so that the sinful nature may be destroyed (but) the spirit saved…”
The most egregious example of this goal is recorded in 2Kings 2:11-18,2 Chronicles 33:1-20; which actually mirrors the numerous times Israel sinned and rebelled against God, earning his rebuke and punishment. King Manasseh epitomizes the worst of the worse, following the “detestable practices” of the surrounding nations – worshipping at the Baal altars and degrading himself beneath the Ashereah poles (Phallic symbols of the fertility cults) – bowing down to “the stormy host” and erecting altars to pagan gods in the temple of the Lord, the One True God – and even sacrificing his own sons in the fiery embrace of Molech.”…shed(ding) so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.” In his spare time, “…practic(ing) sorcery, divination and witchcraft,… consulting mediums and spiritualists …”; naturally provoking God’s anger.
God spoke to Manasseh and those he led astray through his prophets, denouncing their sin and warning of judgment. “…but they paid no attention,” so the Lord was forced to bring punishment on them through the armies of Assyria, who destroyed many while taking others into exile, including Manasseh – who was led away in shackles with a hook in his nose. Most of us believing he got exactly what he deserved.
Never-the-less, God could – and did – hold out hope, even in the midst of discipline; to which even Manasseh eventually responded. Because, “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” 2 Chronicles 33:12,13Giving greater credence to God’s purpose throughout scripture to, “…seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10
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