Summary: A gospel presentation originally for a baptismal service.
Channel 7 recently launched a new series called, ‘Flash Forward’. It’s a science-fiction-action-romance show that wants to satisfy everyone. In the first episode, the whole world passes out for about 2 minutes, but time keeps on ticking away. So helicopters fly into buildings, there are huge traffic pile-ups on the freeways, and people even miss 2 minutes of television.
But there is a twist. Everyone in their passed out state has a glimpse of their future in about six months time. Some see this—some see that. The main characters become quite distressed. One man has a horrifying sense of future danger whilst investigating the cause of the blackouts. His wife pictures her estrangement and attraction to another man. Another man sees nothing but black and fears that he will be dead in six months time.
If we were to flash forward your life—to flash forward into your future—would you really want to know? The characters in ‘Flash Forward’ are uncertain. They are unsure whether they can change their future. They feel embarrassed and insecure. The future condemns them.
The Bible shares a similar view. The future condemns men and women who remain in their natural state. There is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment’ (Heb 9:27). When we flash forward into the future, our natural state condemns us before a holy and just God.
If this seems harsh, then perhaps you don’t understand your natural self. This is where the reading we heard earlier from the letter to the Ephesian Church is helpful. It’s penetrating honesty brings to the surface our basic instincts and its not a particularly pretty sight. The natural man and woman are described as being dead in their transgressions and sins (v.1), slaves to their corrupt desires and thoughts (v.3), and having a sinful nature which rebels against God (v.3).
That’s a slap in the face! But we cannot avoid the reality of the situation. The natural person is impotent, dead and the object of God’s anger. We were born out of alignment. The natural person deviates from the perpendicular. Our inclinations, our thoughts, our words and our deeds fail to glorify God. In our natural state we are not good enough to enjoy the presence of a holy God. That’s what the passage is saying—in our birth condition we can do no good.
This may surprise you and surely it flies in the face of reality. After all the great humanist dream is that we can evolve ourselves from bad people into good people. Given enough time, we can create our own Utopia. But when the Bible summarises our natural state it doesn’t have a good thing to say. It says that we are dead in our transgressions and sins. We are spiritually dead and there is no life within the natural person. There is no spark of hope that can redeem the human situation. The flame of moral purity is extinguished.
Only God is good, and when we hold ourselves up before God, our claim to goodness is overshadowed by his holiness. And so the conclusion is inescapable: the natural man is dead man. The natural woman is a dead woman. No-one does good, not even one.
How does a worm get inside an apple? Perhaps you think the worm digs its way in from the outside. But scientists have discovered that the worm comes from inside. How does he get in there? It’s simple! An insect lays an egg in the apple while it is still a flower. As the apple grows it encases the egg. Then sometime later, the worm hatches in the heart of the apple and eats his way out. Sin, like the worm, begins in the heart and works itself out through a person’s thoughts, words, and actions. And so the natural man is dead man. The natural woman is a dead woman. No-one does good, not even one.
I’m sorry to say that the diagnosis of the natural person gets even worse. For not only are we dead to goodness, but the natural person mindlessly follows the ways of this world. This is far more than shopping at Woolworths and buying new clothes from Target. The world is a mentality, an outlook, a view of life without God. People shut God out because they prefer to be the organising principle of their life. A natural person is controlled by the world—by its mind, by its outlook, by its mentality. Is this not tragic? But that is people in their sin. The natural person is spiritually dead because he or she can do no good and is controlled by the mind of this world.
Our passage says that the natural person is also held in slavery. People often mock Christians when we they talk about ‘Satan’. They conjure up a devil in a red suit holding a pitch-fork with an evil smile as he stokes the fires of hell while selling BBQ accessories. But it is because Satan is ignored that the world is as it is.