Radically Corrupt!

I saw a news headline this week which reads, Ron Paul: Mobs in Europe a Sign of Things Coming.  Political ideology aside, Paul’s prediction regarding America’s future is probably spot on.  He and other fiscally conscious leaders base their predictions on our economically irresponsible policies.  Paul said, “There’s going to be an inflation tax to hit us and I am just afraid there will be people in the streets when they don’t get what they want.”

Ron Paul is an American medical doctor, author, and U.S. Congressman of the House of Representatives

Again, his prediction is probably accurate, but he hasn’t probed deeply enough – to the root of the issue – to reveal the true cause of people’s angst.  Political conservatives point to failed economic policies as the culprit, but the true question centers on what lies behind these selfish, misinformed policies.  A simple reading of God’s word reveals the root problem: sin.

Unless and until our country re-embraces the destructive, life altering, eternity ruining nature of sin, we will follow Europe’s example, post haste.  American life and culture lag behind that of Europe for the mere fact that our nation is younger.  Give us time.  Like a younger brother, we are falling for the same pitfalls, just a bit later.  Unless we embrace the reality of sin, which Europe cast to the wasteland, look for riotous mobs and chaos to fill our streets in the coming days.

And Christian, before you nod your head knowingly, please understand that the church is by and large the chief culprit for America’s ignorance regarding sin and its destructiveness.  Our pulpits and people have treated sin as a mere problem, a nagging nuisance to be pushed aside or worked on.  When 77% of professing evangelicals (see George Barna’s surveys) agree with the notion that mankind is basically good, you know for certain that the church is ignorant of sin.

People are not good.  As the apostle Paul warned, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).  As he said later in the same chapter, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

I think I hear a few Amens, but hold on.  What is it about sin that we are nodding our heads to?  Is sin just a pesky personal problem?  Is it limited to those things about us that we can’t quite exercise control over – lust, overspending, overeating, bad temper, lying?  Is sin something that a bit of therapy will fix?  Or is sin a diabolical plague that is eating away like cancer at individual lives – from the inside out – encroaching daily upon our entire culture?  The only explanation for bad economics and riotous mobs is sin; it is our nation’s greatest problem.  Let me explain.

Theologians once used a phrase to capture the essence of man’s understanding of God, himself, life, and the afterlife: total depravity.  Mankind is a sinner, the phrase suggests; therefore, everything else in life follows suit.

Modern man can’t quite swallow this, though, for at least a few reasons.  For starters, we believe that people are inherently good.  Few reject the notion that we do bad things, but, in life’s grand balance, we are more good than bad.  So, if people are basically good, how can we be totally depraved?  The word total seems to leave no room for any goodness.  Surely, one’s elderly grandmother who is the sweetest person imaginable is not totally depraved.

Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler with their pets. The German Shepherd is Blondi.

But total is not to say that we are utterly depraved.  Utter means complete, with no room for any goodness.  Think of one of history’s most evil persons: Adolf Hitler comes to mind.  But wouldn’t you agree that Hitler, as evil as he was, could have been even more evil?  Reports verify that he was fond of children and dearly loved his German Shepherd dog.  While Hitler was a heinous madman, he could have descended even more deeply into depravity.  So, to say that he or anyone is totally depraved does not suggest that we are as evil as we can possibly be.

The Bible teaches, in fact, that evil would flood the earth in unspeakable ways if the Holy Spirit did not continuously restrain its presence.  Imagine a dam containing a vast reservoir of water, but the dam is precariously and structurally damaged – ready to break.  Only the Holy Spirit’s restraining hand holds it together.  Water leaks from the jagged fissures and cracks, but the millions of gallons stay contained….unless and until God’s Spirit releases His hand.  Bible prophecy teaches that He will indeed release His restraining hand as the days grow short, and many commentators speculate that this is already beginning.  But as of now, the Lord keeps sin at bay; nevertheless, sinners are totally depraved – just not utterly.

But what does the Bible mean by totally depraved?  Perhaps a better phrase is that we are radically corrupt.  Consider both the ancient and modern meanings of the word radical.  Our English word radical comes from the Latin word, radix, meaning, root.  And our modern word radical has come to mean extreme.  Both meanings wonderfully capture the Bible’s description of mankind: we are radically corrupt, to the extreme, at the root of our being.

Does this sound like a mere problem, one we need to work on?  Does this condition sound like something modern therapy can fix?  Does it sound like a condition that inherently “good” people can cure by using pragmatic, psychological tools?  No, these views of mankind’s ailments lie on the surface; they don’t go to the radical root of who we are as people, affecting us to the extreme.

God describes us sinners as radically corrupt in our very natures, the essence of who we are.  Just as the furthest leaf of a majestic oak tree is tied inextricably to the roots, so every facet of our being is affected by our innate sin nature.  Sin sits behind us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like a cancer, it mars our root, from which all of our thoughts and actions spring.

The apostle Paul described mankind in our natural, unsaved state: “…they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).  Further, Paul warned the new Christians in Ephesus:

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:17-19).

We see here clear evidence that unsaved people are radically corrupt.  Emanating from our root, our whole person is extremely affected by sin.  Our mind is affected, our reasoning ability, our capacity for emotions and feeling; each of these in turn affects us physically.

Before Adam’s great fall in the Garden of Eden – before his radically corruptive fall into sin – he would have been what we would call a superman, a mental giant, a man of untiring disposition.  His thinking and reasoning were unclouded by sin.  With amazing insight, harnessing every brain cell and exercising unfettered wisdom, Adam tirelessly lived the freest life imaginable.

A single bite of fruit; however – representing direct rebellion against God, an attempt to control his own fate – marred him to the core.  At his root, Adam was now stained by sin.  No longer did he live free and unfettered.  Even his labor became tiresome; work – in the “four letter word” way we think of our tasks today.

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

Adam, our ancient father, passed on his radically corrupt sin nature to us.  Our daily lives are affected in ways we fail to comprehend.  Our eternity in hell is secured by it.  Today’s headlines manifest it.  Europe’s mobs attest to it, as do America’s of tomorrow.

In the final analysis, I find satanic irony lying behind the church’s response to our current life setting in the U.S.  At a time when but a match could inflame the chaotic powder keg of national life, the church – which alone has the answer – has forgotten it; worse, it has grown ashamed of the answer, sweeping it beneath the rug.

We are fearful to tell people that they are sinners, to the core; they are radically corrupt.  We are afraid to speak authoritatively on God’s behalf, telling them that ultimate truth is real and that God’s truth declares that His wrath burns against man’s sin.  We are ashamed to point to sin as the culprit behind people’s problems.

Absent the church’s voice of warning, our culture grows inevitably worse.  At the one moment in U.S. history when the gospel alone is powerful to rescue and save, the church has fallen prey to pragmatic business and marketing methods for growth, methods which render calling someone a sinner the greatest mistake imaginable.  Rather than thundering with the voice of the prophets and apostles, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” we have turned our pulpits and churches into venues for self help.  We dole out human-based therapy, having thoroughly bought off on the idea that mankind is basically good and that bad is the mere product of environmentally caused factors.  We treat each other as innocent victims who merely need to be rehabilitated from bad experiences, most of which wasn’t our fault.

We are now a nation of over-indulged victims who have no idea that we are radically corrupt at our root and that we ourselves are to blame for our problems.

I believe God is challenging His church to re-embrace the truth.  Ironically, we carry the worst news imaginable as well as the best news imaginable.  The worst news, obviously, is that we are sinners, totally depraved, set with a collision course for eternal hell.  The best news in human history, however, is that Christ died for sinners.  His death and perfect life alone turn away God’s wrath.  God, who is rich in mercy, is willing to save sinners and to embrace them as adopted children.

The mobs are already forming, I fear.  Each week carries news stories of young thugs who assemble as flash mobs, wreaking havoc born from radical corruption.  Let’s change our churches right now.  For those in leadership positions, stop bowing to the gods of marketing, growth, and tolerance.  Fall before a holy God and renounce your love affair with the world.  Embrace God’s word – all of it.  Preach it, live it, boldly proclaim it.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, Pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church – Tulsa, OK