From the autumn of 1618 to late spring in 1619, an assembly of godly pastor-theologians met in a city of the Netherlands called Dordrecht (or Dort for short). This synod, or assembly, was truly international having eight countries present and involving nearly 100 delegates. They assembled to settle a dispute about the nature of salvation, specifically how God saved the souls of sinners. At the end of the Synod of Dort, the affirmation brought forward was contained in a document called the Canons of Dort. The summary of the work was simple: God is sovereign over the salvation of every soul.
Why is this good news? For many today, the assumption is that people are either inherently good or inherently neutral. But is this a biblical view? Instead, as we begin to look at the Scriptures, we find that humanity isn’t described in this manner at all. Let’s just look at the Scriptures together.
The book of Romans teaches, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12). Paul continues, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explained the Christian’s former state of being in this way, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked … we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:1-23)
Though this is a brief cross-section on the natural estate of the human heart apart from Christ, it is a fair and genuine testimony to the whole of Scripture. The human heart is not neutral in its natural fallen state. Nor is it good.
There is an undeniable reality that the biblical view of humanity (that is rooted in the Scriptures) leads to this idea that we are by nature dead in our sins. We are, by nature, sinners. We are born spiritually dead. We are rebels, at odds with our glorious God. We are not indifferent, but inherent traitors. This is our natural estate and the reality and outworking of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We have inherited this sin nature. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
Therefore, not a soul keeps God’s law perfectly. How could it? As Paul affirms, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, IT CANNOT.” (Rom. 8:7) Not only does the natural person not have the ability to keep God’s law, they also have no desire for the God of the Bible. This is why they replace Him with whatever they choose. We have a true and natural liberty which is so enslaved to sin that our freedom is manifested in the various sins we choose to pursue.
Consequently, without God’s help we are utterly hopeless and left in our sins as the Synod of Dort wrote, “all men are conceived in sin … and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God…” (CD 3/4.3) If God is going to stand by and wait for natural humanity to choose Him then heaven is going to be rather vacant.
But thanks be to God that He does not wait for us to desire what we never would or could naturally desire because of sin. Thank God that He steps in to raise the dead. As the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus by the command of His voice (John 11:43), so Christ today by His Word and Spirit raises the spiritually dead. His perfect righteousness covers our unrighteousness (cf. Gal. 3:27). His perfect obedience and sacrifice in our place satisfies the justice of God. And this most wondrous gift is granted to us by faith because “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal. 2:21)
Christ’s death was not senseless, but the only means of saving a particular people for Himself. Our inability is conquered by the work of the Spirit who takes the redemption accomplished by Christ and applies it upon us weakened sinners. You are what you are because of Christ, O church. We have no room for boasting, for even faith “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8) Let us admit our inability, and marvel in all that was accomplished for us by Christ.