The Disability of Sin
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . .
Eph. 2:1 (ESV)
Theologically, disagreement exists between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics over the nature our sin which was inherited from Adam. Roman Catholic teaching prefers the terms, “propensity to sin” and “inclination to evil” to describe our fallen state (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Roman Catholic teaching wants to leave open the possibility that we can in own ability respond to God’s call to faith and repentance.
However, Evangelicals teach the concept of “pervasive sin” and “inherited guilt.” Every aspect of our being is affected by sin–our minds, emotions, desires, hearts, wills, and physical bodies. Evangelicals do not deny that fallen people can do good things, but in relationship to God, no spiritual good can be achieved toward a relationship with him (Rom. 7:18; Titus 1:15; Jer. 17:9; Eph. 4:18).Evangelicals recognize that only God by his grace can awaken us from our dead state and draw us into the life of Christ.
Theologically, God’s drawing is called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts granting us the ability to receive or resist the gospel. Our sin enslaves us, God by his unmerited favor must go before providing us the ability to accept or reject his offer of salvation in Christ.
[Prevenient] grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own righteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gifts of God (John 6:44).
Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 246.
Jesus himself illustrated human lostness by the language of physical disability. By ourselves we are blind to God’s truth and deaf to his voice. Lame, we cannot walk in his ways. Dumb, we can neither sing to him nor speak for him. We are even dead in our trespasses and sins.
Moreover, we are the dupes and slaves of demonic forces. Of course, if we think this exaggerated or ‘mythical’ or frankly false, then we shall see no need for supernatural power; we shall consider our own resources adequate. But if human beings are in reality spiritually and morally blind, deaf, dumb, lame and even dead, not to mention the prisoners of Satan, then it is ridiculous in the extreme to suppose that by ourselves and our merely human preaching we can reach or rescue people in such a plight . . . .
Only Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit can open blind eyes and deaf ears, make the lame walk and the dumb speak, prick the conscience, enlighten the mind, fire the heart, move the will, give life to the dead and rescue slaves from Satanic bondage. And all this he can and does, as the preacher should know from his own experience.
John Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 329.