For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17 ESV)
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:13-25 ESV)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51 ESV)
The greatest fear of David was that God would take from him the Holy Spirit. Of course, what he meant by that can be summed up in the NT teaching of:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Recently in a sermon on the Lord’s prayer my pastor taught in principle that there is no “lump sum grace.” I have called it carte blanche grace. Historically, it is more or less known as imputed grace, “the force,” if you will, which is assistive and can be cashed in at anytime if one so wills. But there is no such thing, according to Scripture, and thus the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This has been considered to be merely petition for daily provision of food, or those physical needs which sustain our biological life. But, there is a greater meaning, for man does not live by bread alone. If we look at David’s Psalm we will see the very pattern of the Lord’s prayer including that God’s will be done. If we look to Paul, we also see the very same. That in everything, we are so dependent upon God’s provision, Paul makes clear, that it is only in the mind where we can truly serve the law of God, for our sin is ever before us. Because we are in the flesh, it must be according to the Spirit that the deeds of the flesh are put to death. He wars for us. Therefore, we pray, you kingdom come, your will be done, because our will is opposed to his and so we cannot do what we please even if it pleases him, but only according to his good pleasure will we do anything. David’s life, he says in Psalm 139, was written for him, even the very words of his mouth, and in fifty-one, also, the very words of the lips are formed by God. He speaks as one who wants to be carried, not as one who carries. Born along by the Spirit, David proclaims, is every moment of every day a dependence upon the providential care of God’s meticulous design. Even his very words. So, he prays that God will not take the Holy Spirit from him, for that would spell catastrophe.
Daily provision might further be explained as all that pertains to life, not just the physical, but the spiritual as well. We see in the petitions at least four other parts- forgiveness of sin, contriteness, submission, and deliverance. The whole is predicated upon God’s sovereignty as our Father, enthroned in heaven, transcendent, whose kingdom is coming into being by his will. And why? Even though the closing doxology is not found in the majority texts, it appropriates the invocative doxology in that it is God’s eternal kingdom, by his power, for his glory, in which he has decreed his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this have to do with depravity?
As David acknowledges, and as the Lord’s prayer does also, it is God, who by the Spirit grants all things, sustains all things and determines all things. This day’s provision reminds us of the creation narrative in Genesis. When we read that we cannot do as we will, it comes as a shock to most believers. Why, they say, has God regenerated us, but leaves us unable to do what he commands? That is not quite accurate, we do what he wills. That is the point. If it were left to our wills we would not do what he commands. Instead, he works in us the willing and the doing of his good pleasure, not our own. He creates in us a new heart, upholds our spirit as we do and that ability is by the moment sustained by his power.
We find in us always the allurement of sin, even as believers. So, Paul says, even if we wanted to do good, we are unable because evil is present in us at all times. So also, when we do not want to do evil we find ourselves unable in our own strength to resist. It makes for a wretched existence except for the proviso that Paul offers in Christ. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians that we have been given the mind of Christ and his Spirit that we might understand the things of God. In Romans, Paul explains that it is in the mind where we serve God. At all times, believers are unable except as God enables. Thus we must pray, give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us, this very day. Even when we do good, it is tainted with sin. The greatest of saints still has enough evil in him to make another devil, it has been said. If and when there is true righteousness done by us, it is the Spirit who has done it, for we are sinners at our core.
Then how is it that when we are commanded to do good, we do at times? While it is true that we have been given a new nature, the manner of that gifting is often left undiscussed. So much so that we find the lump sum grace idea fills the void. We are told that the graces God has imparted are ours to use as we will, denying the Spirit’s sovereignty in them.
We often hear of the now not yet reality with which Scripture characterizes the situation of the believer in this between times as we await the appearance of our Lord. As believers we know God, or better, are known by him, and by that know ourselves to be sinners even as Scripture declares us saints. In speaking of the Spirit’s work, Paul says that it is the Spirit who endows, it is the Spirit who works, and it is the Spirit who will sanctify. To state it succinctly, it is the Spirit who is restraining evil in us while working the willing and doing of good deeds from the first repentance and faith to the final transfiguration at the Lord’s appearing. Calvin speaks of the Spirit of regeneration when he speaks of the new heart, and Ezekiel tells us that the new heart which we have been given is His Spirit. Or as Paul has said, God has given us his Spirit that we might understand. Or, out of the heart flows the issues of life, or, with the heart one believes. David’s plea becomes understandable, then, if God were to remove the restraining power of the Spirit, he would again fall to the temptations which caused him to steal, kill, and destroy. So, also, with us. If God does not prevent us we will do the will of our flesh.
There is then a mystery about the new man which seems to go along with 1 Corinthians 15. That, for now we exist as perishable. That, we are corruptible in thought and deed cannot be denied. It is only in the resurrection where it is said that we will be incorruptible. But, we are told to now consider ourselves dead and alive in Christ, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. Then it is now, also, where we are dead in trespasses, he makes us alive in Christ, by the Spirit. For what is impossible for a dead man, God has done by his Spirit when he raised Christ from the dead. Though now it remains that we are in and of ourselves, dead, unable to do the good we want, or to resist the evil we do not want, by the Spirit we have been set free so that in the mind we serve God while in the flesh we serve sin. In all ways we are set free in Christ Jesus who for us was condemned so we are not. Knowing that we have been set free is the private property of the spiritual man, who alone desires to please God. Those who are unspiritual cannot. Indeed, they refuse to.
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?”
“O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV)
What we must note in this passage is that it cannot be solely speaking of the material, but of the immaterial, as well. For the material cannot sin, nor is it inherently sinful, even though it is subject to the effects of sin which plagues the creation. Beside, the context is found in the beginning of the chapter, speaking of the resurrection, that we who were dead in sin were made alive in Christ. We find here that sin’s effect is death and it is the law which empowers it. We sin. And when we do we are judged and we die. We are not left there. What we also find is that the victory over the powers of sin and death has been granted us through Christ. That it is against him we have sinned, that judgement begins with the household of God, that we are being disciplined as sons, that we are made alive in him, that we are granted in him to declare his righteousness and not our own, is all owing to the fact that we are depraved from the womb, and that having our sins blotted out by him, it is even his doing that our lips will sing his praises. What God has done in us through Christ we proclaim, not what we have done. It is that Gospel which David exalts when he says that he will teach sinners God’s way. Sinners, like himself. The victory belongs to Christ, for sinners cannot please God.
The fact that the believer remains in a state of depravity throughout his life is found everywhere in Scripture, it is thus we find in both the OT and the NT, that it is the Holy Spirit to which we must look if we are to do at all any labor which is not in vain. It has been granted us to not only to believe but also that we may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus, to the glory and praise of God alone. The good work begun in us by the Spirit is completed by him and not by us through our flesh. The Spirit began it, it is the Spirit who works it, and it is the Spirit who will bring it to completion all for the glory of God through Jesus’ work on our behalf.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV)