The following is adapted from a sermon delivered in 1986 at the Billy Graham International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam.
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One scrutinizing glance at this world reveals to us that there is something twisted and almost demonic within the heart of man. At this very moment there are 40 wars raging in this world. More blood has been spilled in this century than the previous 19 put together. We continue to live under the illusion of progress but reality screams back at us. What is the problem?
The Bible diagnoses man’s dilemma as the problem of sin. To put it differently, man is lost in a world whose Creator he does not know. Rather than seeking the Creator, he busily attempts to play God himself. Time and again, man sees the collapse of his ideals, wreaks havoc on his dreams and brings his pathetic optimism crashing down in disaster. There is no culture, race or government that has escaped the blight of sin. The only difference is the degree of sophistication with which we manifest this condition.
Romans 1 is one of the most definitive treatments of this subject. Paul is writing to the people of the capital city of a powerful empire to which all roads led. It was the throbbing heartbeat of a civilization that esteemed itself as the measure of all things—a utopia for pleasure-seekers, the ultimate expression in some of man’s gallant endeavors and self-perception. And Paul wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter. After minimum pleasantries, he launches into a penetrating analysis of man’s present condition, portraying man’s slide into utter lostness in four stages: rejection, separation, domination and condemnation.
Rejection of God
Paul’s description of man’s rebellion echoes back to the Book of Genesis, which makes clear from the beginning that one could not live in the Garden of Eden without respect for the moral parameters set by God. The choice facing Adam and Eve was either to allow God to be God, or to usurp His authority. Their choice of doubt and disobedience was thus a doubting of His Word and a rejection of His Person. The calamity that was brought by that choice defies imagination.
The same attitude of rejection surfaces again and is manifested in Cain and his anger that led to murder. At a museum in Denmark there is a marvelous sculpture of Adam carrying the bloodied body of Abel to his grave. It is captioned, “The First Funeral.’’ It is not accidental that the first book of the Bible, which portrays our roots, begins with, “In the beginning God,” and ends with, “So Joseph died—and was placed in a coffin.” We start out with God and end up in the loneliest of all experiences—death.
Separation From God
Romans 1 describes the slippery slope onto which man has set himself. It tells us that what may be known about God is plain to man, both His power and His deity. Instead of heeding that, man suppressed the truth with his unrighteous choices. God, therefore, describes man’s spiritual condition as being darkened, and inheriting a mind that has become foolish.
Jesus, in biting words, describes man’s separation from God as a shroud of darkness (see Matthew 22:13). This separation from God is, therefore, a separation from wisdom in man’s choices, a separation from light in his pathway, a separation from direction in his journey, and the absence of purpose in his entire life. Man is now a stranger in a land where he thinks he speaks the language, but he does not really understand. In his separation, he feels the alienation from truth itself.
Domination by Sin
Indeed, man has pursued freedom with an intensity that is staggering. Yet in his “freedom,” what man has brought upon himself is a tyranny beyond any of his wildest dreams.
It has been rightly stated: ‘‘The worst effect of sin is manifest not in war or pain or bodily defacement; but in the discrowned faculties, the unworthy loves, the low ideals, the brutalized and enslaved spirit.” In Romans 1:29-32, Paul delineates for us the long list of enslavements: wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, slander, backbiting, arrogance and boastfulness, ruthlessness … on and on.
The enslavement in sin is as deep a bondage as one could imagine. That is why Paul cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). Yet, the immensity of man’s lostness is only deepened by the fact that he does not know that fact.
Paul talks about the wrath of God and the judgment of God upon such. This judgment of God that men have brought upon themselves at death becomes final and eternal, conscious and painful. This eternal punishment is further described in Mark 9:43 and 48, in Luke 16:19-31 and in Matthew 26:24.
It is most sobering to look at these passages. I am always reminded of what British preacher Robert W. Dale said on the preaching of hell: “The only man I can listen to preaching on hell is D.L. Moody, because I have never heard him talk about it without breaking down and weeping.” We, as evangelists, would do well to remind ourselves that there is no joy in preaching on hell. The joy is to proclaim redemption from a destiny such as that. The good news is that Christ has paid the price and our destiny may now be altered.
Before closing, we shall also remind our audience that hell is not the choice of God, it is the choice of man. We are not consigned there, but by rejecting Him we have entered the pathway of destruction. It is a choice with a damnable destiny.
Man is lost in sin, and our great privilege is to tell him, “We have a Savior for you.” The biggest difference between Jesus and ethical and moral teachers who have been deified by man is that they came to make bad people good. Jesus came to make dead people live.
The Scripture quotation is taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.
Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Image
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