You Can’t Preach Christ Without Preaching Depravity
Depravity isn’t exactly en vogue these days. You don’t hear friends at coffee shops talking about the blackness of their hearts. We don’t put verses about human sinfulness on coffee cups, or surround them with filigree in inspirational memes.
We want to hear uplifting verses, “for I know the plans I have for you” verses. We don’t want to hear “the heart is desperately sick” verses.
But if we are to understand the magnitude of God’s grace, we need to understand the totality of our depravity. In fact, we must never shy away from depravity, for not only is it true, but it clarifies what Jesus accomplished on the cross. We must preach this doctrine, understanding that our job in gospel proclamation is not to tickle ears with self-help, but to pierce souls with truth.
Charles Spurgeon once said:
The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.
Preach Christ or go home, Spurgeon says. And for what was Christ crucified? Why did his pure blood flow down the plank of a criminal’s cross? Because of sin. Because of our depravity. Therefore, to ignore the depth of our darkness changes the story—it weakens it.
If we aim to preach Christ in our churches, then we must preach about what he endured and overcame on the cross. We must explain the depravity from which he rescued us.
AN UNAVOIDABLE TRUTH
Many pastors keep the doctrine of depravity out of the pulpit but still believe it’s true. They file it away in their minds as a conversation in seminary, but rarely applicable on Sunday morning. To be sure, some deny depravity altogether, claiming humanity is basically good but flawed.
This is, of course, bad theology—out of step with the Bible and out of step with human history. The Holocaust. The My Lai Massacre. The Rwandan Genocide.
When the depravity inside us comes outside us and manifests itself in the world, destruction follows. And what we must know, the terrible news we cannot ignore, is that the sin in our hearts isn’t of a different flavor than the sin in the hearts of those who commit atrocities. And so, as we mourn and weep and shudder from such horrors, we must recognize that the sin in our hearts means we have a capability and even a tendency toward evil things.
Simply put, our depravity must be proclaimed from the pulpit so that our people understand the magnitude of their need for Christ and the corresponding magnitude of the power of the cross and the work of the Spirit in sanctification.
PREACH A GRACE BIGGER THAN DEPRAVITY
Some might say that all this talk about how bad we are obscures God’s goodness. It leaves people feeling horrible about themselves.
It’s certainly possible to preach a biblical sermon that can leave someone feeling heavy with conviction. But it’s also possible something else is at play. Perhaps depravity was preached sufficiently, but grace was preached insufficiently. Jesus’ victory over death proves that grace is bigger than depravity.
God’s wrath is justly kindled toward our sin, and we need Christ’s atonement to rescue us. When teaching the atonement of Christ, we must thoroughly explain the magnitude of grace after we’ve explained the nastiness of sin.
WHAT CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED ON THE CROSS
Just consider: on the cross, the Perfect One was murdered. He suffered more than execution, he was humiliated and tortured until death. Jesus—the sinless One, God the Son—was pierced and mocked and spit upon and killed.
If we were merely flawed people, then the cross would have been an extreme overcorrection. If we were merely imperfect, then the cross would have been heavy-handed. But when we remember sin for what it is, then what happened on Calvary was apropos for the offense.
Eternal treason requires eternal payment.
We must remember this. We must preach this. We must understand the magnitude of God’s grace toward us in Christ. We aren’t rescued from childish mistakes; we’re resurrected from spiritual death.
Preach this, pastors. Articulate the offense of depravity, and then present the radical liberation that Christ won for his people through his cross and empty tomb.