Comprehensive Corruption

by John MacArthur Friday, January 8, 2021

When it comes to man’s fallen nature, Scripture is clear about the depth and breadth of its defilement. The apostle Paul delivers a blunt assessment of man’s sinful corruption in his epistle to the Romans.

As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,” “the poison of asps is under their lips”; “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)

It’s worth noting that none of the condemning statements in the above passage originated with Paul. With the words, “As it is written,” Paul indicates that he’s quoting extensively from the Old Testament—specifically from the Psalms and Isaiah. God’s Word has always been clear and consistent about the utter defilement of sinful mankind. In that sense, this statement is essential to our understanding of the chaos that surrounds us. Paul is showing us the pathology of sin and its comprehensive corruption of the sinner’s character, conversation, and conduct.

Regarding man’s character, Paul writes, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). From the perspective of heaven, all sinners stand equally guilty. No amount of good works can counterbalance the weight of our sin—that’s why the imputed righteousness of Christ is crucial for our salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Moreover, Paul says, “There is none who understands” (Romans 3:11). In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul describes the futility of the sinful mind—that it’s darkened, ignorant, and callous (Ephesians 4:17–19). Not only is the sinner incapable of righteousness, he’s incapable of understanding it.

Paul adds, “There is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside” (Romans 3:11–12). This is a damning commentary on the religions of the world. Paul is identifying them all as satanic counterfeits, sending men away from the truth about God. In the words of Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Man’s natural disposition is to flee from God, and he invents false religion to accommodate his rebellion. Paul concludes, “Together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Man’s sin has thoroughly corrupted his character, leaving him ignorant, rebellious, deviant, and useless.

There’s more. Not only is the sinner’s character corrupt—so is his conversation. Paul writes, “Their throat is an open grave” (v. 13). We all try to be conscientious about bad breath. But in a graphic metaphor, Paul says the speech of the wicked carries the stench of death—their mouths are like filthy, putrid, open graves. He adds, “With their tongues they keep deceiving” (v. 13). Like a baited fishhook, they deceive in order to catch and kill. Even their words are venomous and deadly—“the poison of asps is under their lips” (v. 13). In verse 14, the apostle abandons all subtleties—no disguised hooks, no sneaking poison—and says plainly that the sinner’s “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” It is little wonder that Scripture says, “The tongue is a fire,” and that “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:68). As we see almost routinely today, the mouth of the unregenerate man is capable of great destruction.

Finally, Paul’s condemnation moves to the corruption of man’s conduct. He writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (vv. 15–17). Human history vividly illustrates the truth of those chilling words. In John 8:44, Jesus describes the devil as “a murderer from the beginning.” Satan is the archetypal murderer, and his followers are likewise “swift to shed blood.” Humans are dangerous. In terms of lives lost, the six years of World War II are some of the costliest the world has ever known. As many as 85 million people died—at least 50 million were civilians. Given the opportunity, sinful man will attempt to exterminate his enemies.

While we don’t see the same staggering death toll in wars today, man’s bloodlust still rages. Since 1973, the United States has committed its own holocaust, executing more than 60 million babies in what should be the safest place for them—their mother’s womb. If you make laws that allow people to kill, they will kill. If you allow them to riot, they’ll riot. If you allow them to break windows, loot businesses, burn police stations, and run roughshod over whole communities, they will. The unredeemed heart has no interest in peace—Paul says it is bent in the pursuit of bloodshed, destruction, and misery.

The apostle concludes his condemnation with the summary statement, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). That’s the driving reality behind the rebellion and wretchedness that surround us—this world does not fear God. Proverbs 16:6 says, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” Where there is no fear of God—no sense of eternal culpability, guilt, and punishment—the restraints have been removed and humanity is able to live out its corrupt, destructive desires. And that is exactly what we see playing out before our eyes today.

(Adapted from Chaos, Corruption, and the Christian Response)

Rejecting God’s Restraints

Rejecting God’s Restraints

by John MacArthur Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The only true hope for all sinners is salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Apart from that, mankind remains “dead in [his] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Only through God’s mercy and love can the spiritually dead be made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:4–5). And by God’s grace, He continues to redeem sinners, drawing them to Himself in repentance and faith.

But in the wisdom of His divine design, God has also placed restraints within us and within the structure of society to mitigate the effects of man’s corruption and hold back the full chaos into which the world repeatedly devolves. And when these restraints are carefully maintained, life can be enjoyable. But when they’re assaulted, diminished, or destroyed, life quickly becomes difficult and miserable.

The Conscience

The first restraint is built into the heart of every man—the conscience. We know the conscience exists because so many people are full of guilt, anxiety, fear, and dread. All those issues frequently point back to a conscience that won’t be silent. Why?

We look to Romans for the answer. Paul writes, “For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:11–13). Put simply, all sinners stand equally guilty, regardless of their access to God’s law.

How is that fair? Paul explains: “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14–15). Built into every human is a moral reality—a sense of right and wrong.

The conscience is a gift from God. In the same way that physical pain alerts you to not rest your hand on a hot stove, your conscience cries out to warn you of moral danger—it pleads with you to not do the thing you know you shouldn’t do.

The conscience isn’t a substitute for the law of God, or some means through which He speaks. Rather, it is aligned to the highest moral law it knows. That means the law of God that is written in every heart—don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, and the other basic moral lines common to all people—can be overruled and replaced. In that regard, the conscience can be assaulted through misinformation. Some people have so twisted and distorted their consciences that they believe the right and moral thing to do is murder unborn children, attack police officers, or wear explosives into a crowded part of town to kill as many civilians as possible. History shows us just how susceptible the conscience is to propaganda and false teaching. 

The conscience is also assaulted through abuse. Go back to the analogy of the hot stove—if you ignored the painful warnings long enough, not only would you suffer severe physical consequences, the consistent abuse could cost you the ability to recognize the pain altogether. If you ignore your conscience long enough, eventually there won’t be any alert to ignore. When you repeatedly ignore the internal warnings and return to a particular sin, you’re searing your conscience and destroying its ability to function properly.

One of the great costs of removing the Bible from a culture is that people can no longer make sense of the conscience—both what it is and how it should be informed. What should be seen as a great gift from God is considered a curse—one that must be silenced or reoriented. Of course, our therapeutic society is quick to tell people not to listen to their consciences in the first place. Psychologists are happy to redirect feelings of guilt and shame somewhere else. When that doesn’t work, many people turn to drugs and alcohol to drown out a conscience that won’t shut up.

And when the truth of God’s Word is withheld and denied from the conscience for long enough en masse, you wind up back in Isaiah 5:20, with a culture that calls good evil, and evil good. You have a culture like ours.

Because man’s conscience is so easily corrupted, God has also instituted external restraints and authorities within society for reining in the destructive chaos sin creates.

The Family

The family is one of those restraints. Of course, the Bible instructs Christian parents to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). But even unbelieving parents have a restraining influence in the lives of their children. In that sense, the family is a divinely created institution for the formation of restrained sinners, who—through generations of morality, discipline, love, virtue, and obedience—become a benefit to society and enjoy God’s gifts with gratitude.

What we’ve seen in recent years is a comprehensive assault on God’s design for the family, and the subsequent short-circuiting of its restraining effect. Between the feminist movement’s subversion of male leadership, the explosion of divorce rates, and the widespread corruption of gender and sexuality, there’s significant confusion about what actually constitutes a family, let alone how it should function. When you consider the number of children born without both a mother and father in the home, combined with those who have lost that privilege through divorce, you can see why the family isn’t doing much to restrain sin and its effects in society today.

The breakdown of the family shatters God’s design for administering the love, discipline, and direction that little lives so desperately need. Today we see generations of young people who were never taught to respect and submit to authority, or to take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences. The Bible tells us, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). Parents are meant to be a threat to unruly, disobedient behavior—they’re meant to rein in their children and teach them how to live and function as productive members of society. Today we’re seeing the mayhem that’s unleashed when the restraint of family fails.

The Government

In those instances, God has established a separate authority to restrain sin. We can think of the conscience as a kind of personal authority, while the family represents parental authority. God has likewise established the government as a societal authority. The prime role of government is not material welfare—rather, as Paul describes, it is divinely appointed to bear the sword.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:1–4)

God uses imperfect means to restrain sin. Nobody’s conscience is perfectly informed and always accurate—no family is perfect, either. In the same way, God uses imperfect human governments—and imperfect agents of those governments—to hold back the chaos and corruption of sin. Imperfect though they may be, civil authorities were ordained by God, and anyone who opposes them opposes Him.

What we see today is a society full of people who were raised without the discipline, love, and stability of a family; people who have seared or silenced their consciences, and reject the notion that they need to submit to any authority. With catastrophic failures at the personal and parental levels, it’s left to the police to establish some order and sanity amidst the chaos.

Don’t miss the rhetorical question in verse 3: “Do you want to have no fear of authority?” Paul presumes an affirmative response, and answers his own question: “Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good” (vv. 3–4). The point is simply that there is no need for us to live in fear of the government’s authority—it’s not an inherent threat to those who abide by the law. Instead, it bears the sword and brings the wrath of God “on the one who practices evil” (v. 4). Their resistance and rebellion must be punished. Where the restraints of conscience and family might fail, the government represents a unique and potentially deadly threat against the chaos and corruption of evildoers. And just like the world’s attempts to destroy the family and quiet the conscience, the calls to defund and disband the police are another direct assault on God’s ordained means of restraining sin.

The Church

There is one more restraint God has placed in society—the church functions as its spiritual authority. God has called His people to be a righteous and sanctifying influence in this world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13–16)

We understand the effects of sin—how it has corrupted God’s creation and set it on a destructive trajectory. We understand the world is dark and decaying. But the Lord has established His church as the last line of restraint against sin’s influence. We are the salt that slows the decay and the light that diminishes the darkness. Through our Christlike influence—through our love, mercy, humility, kindness, compassion, and holiness—we’re called to restrain the corruption and chaos of sin. In that regard, the church is the most precious commodity in the world.

However, just as Christ warned, the effects of salt and light can be diminished. Salt can become impure and lose its taste. Light can be covered up and hidden. The tragedy today is that so many churches have failed to be a preserving, illuminating influence in the world. False teachers abound—charlatans promoting religious Ponzi schemes and selling phony miracles. Unholy and immoral leaders tarnish the church’s testimony. Worldly entertainments dominate, while hard truths are dulled or dismissed altogether. Whole denominations deny the authority, sufficiency, and inerrancy of Scripture. Others deny the deity of Christ. Too many churches don’t confront sin, don’t call for holy living, and don’t uphold the gospel as the only hope for salvation. What kind of restraint can a church like that provide?

We need to recognize the correlation between the state of the world and the state of the church. A weak, worldly, false church has no ability to restrain the chaos and corruption of this world. A church like that actually contributes to the problem.

God’s people need to be different. We need to be salt and light, and live holy lives that glorify the Lord and adorn His gospel.

(Adapted from Chaos Corruption and the Christian Response)

The High Cost of Rejecting God

Rejecting God’s Restraints

by John MacArthur Monday, January 11, 2021

We rightly shudder at the eternal consequences of sin, and the perpetual punishment that awaits unrepentant sinners. But we would do well to also consider the temporal cost of sin. We need to recognize how it pollutes, perverts, and corrupts—and particularly its destructive influence on the sinner.

Paul wrote about the consequences of rejecting God in his epistle to the Romans. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18–19). Planted in the heart of every human being is the knowledge of God. We don’t need to be told that God exists—our ability to reason, to understand the simplicity of cause and effect, is enough to point us to the existence of our Creator. In this case, the effect screams for the reality of the cause.

Paul makes that very point: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (v. 20). No one can claim ignorance of God’s existence—His creative work leaves them no excuse for rejecting Him.

The apostle continues, describing the extreme and irrational lengths men will go to in their attempts to deny God’s creative authority over this world:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:21–23)

When sinners reject God, they rebel against reason. Reason recognizes that the intricacies of creation testify to a Creator—that His creation speaks to His character and nature, and points to His full self-revelation in His Word. But rebellion actually extinguishes man’s capacity for reason altogether—Paul says they become fools with darkened hearts, as they run from reason into the illogic of false gods and idolatry just to escape the truth about God.

But the tragic consequences of rejecting God don’t end there. In one of the most profound passages in all of Scripture, Paul illustrates the devastating results that follow, as God unleashes the full corruption of their sinful rebellion.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:24–32)

That repeated phrase, “God gave them over,” is legal terminology—God is handing those who reject Him over for the execution of His sentence and punishment. He turns them over to the pursuit of their sinful desires, and the destruction that follows.

Space won’t allow for a thorough exposition of these verses, but we need to pause long enough to recognize our own society amidst the rubble. God’s judgment turns people over to a sexual revolution, until the whole culture is swimming in a septic tank of pornography. Consider the way our society aggressively sexualizes children, corrupting their view of God’s design before they can even fully comprehend it. And it doesn’t end there—the sexual revolution gives way to a homosexual revolution that ushers in transgenderism and other kinds of unspeakable deviance. Such perversion has so thoroughly permeated our culture that we’re now debating the question of how young is too young for children to begin mutilating their bodies in defiance of God’s creative design.

Paul says such corruption ultimately leads to a “depraved mind” (v.28)—that is, a mind that doesn’t function. It’s the inability to think straight or do right. It defaults to wickedness, selfishness, strife, and all the other sinful dispositions Paul describes. Moreover, the depraved mind applauds and promotes those who sin likewise. Today we have political parties that have constructed their platforms on killing babies in the womb, destroying the structure of the family, promoting sexual perversion, and many of the other sins Paul describes here in Romans 1. And with the hearty approval of other depraved minds, they are elected to office where they can institute and normalize their corruption.

What we see, then—both on the pages of Scripture and in the chaotic world around us—is the dreadful cost of rejecting God. On top of man’s natural sinfulness is the added reality of divine judgment unleashing the full consequences of man’s rebellion. Based on the biblical testimony, we see mankind’s sinful corruption is systemic—not socially, but personally—and no one escapes. It’s not related to a lack of opportunity, money, privilege, or education. Man is a naturally sinful beast who rejects God and His law. All of us are born with that internal wretchedness that corrupts and defiles. It scars beauty, darkens wisdom, defiles love, robs purity, and steals peace.

That brings us to a natural question: If man’s corruption truly runs that deep, is there any hope of restraining the sinful chaos it creates? Since humanity is so depraved, deceitful, degenerate, destructive, and deadly, how did God ever expect us to survive? How did He expect us to get through this life with any measure of meaning, fulfillment and joy—or even simply to civilize, socialize, and survive?

We’ll unpack the biblical answers to those questions next time.

(Adapted from Chaos, Corruption, and the Christian Response)

The Heart of the Problem Is the Heart

by John MacArthur Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The book of Judges repeatedly employs a chilling phrase to depict the waywardness and corruption of God’s people: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). God’s people had forsaken His law and their covenant with Him, and did whatever they wanted to fulfill their sinful desires. It’s also a fitting summary of the world we live in today, as our culture is overrun by chaos and corruption. We’re seeing every day the consequences of a society doing what is right in its own eyes.

To make sense of the wretched state of the world, we first need to see through the world’s deceptive excuses for sin. In particular, we need to understand that sin is not the fault of external factors—it can’t be blamed on your education, upbringing, or economic situation. The world of psychology will point to every conceivable external rationalization for why people act the way they do. But Scripture is clear—the problem of sin is internal.

Jesus Himself made that very point in a confrontation with the Pharisees. Israel’s religious elite were obsessed with external religion. They reduced the law of God to a burdensome list of rituals and practices, and held up themselves and their good works as the standard of holiness. But their piety was empty, and they hated Jesus for exposing their hypocrisy.

After one such confrontation in Mark 7, Christ explained why the external religion of the Pharisees was impotent to address the sinner’s true spiritual needs. Regarding the danger of eating ceremonially unclean foods, He said, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:14–15). His point was clear—the sinner isn’t corrupted by external actions, forces, or influences. His defilement is already present within him.

When the disciples later asked Jesus for further explanation, He drove the point home vividly.

Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? . . . That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7:18–23)

The threat of sin and corruption is not external. In the specific case the Lord cited, both clean and unclean foods are consumed and eliminated in the same way. They are of no lasting spiritual consequence—especially when compared to the corruption that already resides in the sinner’s heart. Christ is saying you’re not wicked because of what happened to you on the outside; you’re wicked because of what you already are on the inside. He’s saying there is something wrong with your heart—not the physical internal organ, but with your inner self, including your mind, thoughts, attitudes, motives, and desires.

In verses 21 and 22, Christ identifies some specific categories of sin that flow out of man’s corrupt heart. “Evil thoughts” refers broadly to the bad motives, designs, and intentions cultivated internally. “Fornications” encapsulates all kinds of deviant sexual sin. He adds “thefts, murders, adulteries”—all external sins that are initially conceived in the mind. “Deeds of coveting and wickedness” speak to sins of greediness, along with the kind of malicious intent that seeks to harm others. But because the point isn’t merely the outward expressions of man’s sinful heart, Christ also identifies some of the inward evil attitudes that give birth to those evil deeds, including “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (v. 22).

The Lord concludes in verse 23 with the summary statement, “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” All of man’s sin flows from the inside out. The Pharisees were completely backward in their thinking because they had put their trust in external religion. At the beginning of Mark 7, they were criticizing Christ and His disciples for not observing the ceremonial laws regarding handwashing. Christ’s response was essentially, Your hands may be clean, but your hearts are filthy. They were counting on outward piety to win them favor with God, with no consideration for their internal corruption. They had neglected the lesson of 1 Samuel 16:7, that “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The heart of the human problem has always been the problem of the human heart. And only God can do the transformative work necessary to regenerate a sinful heart—to “give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and . . . remove the heart of stone from your flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

But before God changes us, we need to agree with His grim diagnosis of our hearts. Next time, we’ll consider the extent of sin’s corrupting influence.

(Adapted from Chaos, Corruption, and the Christian Response)

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