February 8, 2010

There is None who Understands

“There is none who understands” Romans 3.11

I’ve never given a great deal of thought to this particular part of Paul’s long and devastating assessment of human-kind. The highlights of Romans 3.10-18 have always been, for me, the more broad statements:

*“There is none righteous, not even one”
*“There is none who does good … not even one”
*“There is none who seeks for God”

I think my emphasis has probably been fairly correct. The sentences above really are the main things. But this week I noticed verse 11a, which seems to be a sub-point of those other, more over-arching statements: “There is none who understands”. It’s actually quite an important sub-point! Why? Because Paul would have us remember that it wasn’t just man’s moral capacity that was shattered by Adam’s fall … but his ability simply to understand as well.

Let me put that in bold print so that it stands out: It was not simply man’s moral and ethical capacities that were lost when Adam fell – not simply his ability to obey God and do good. When Adam fell, men and women everywhere also lost their ability to properly understand God. Or, as Paul said it in chapter 1: “They became futile in their speculations” (v.21) and “God gave them over to a depraved mind” (v.28). So I’ll say it one more time: It’s not just that man’s heart was blackened by the fall, but his mind was warped as well! ‘Not one of us, apart from Christ, even so much as thinks rightly’ Paul says. “There is none who understands.”

Now let me insert this word of explanation. Paul is not simply referring to people who aren’t very quick-witted, or who are slower learners. He is asserting, rather, that the astrophysics professors at Harvard and the literary scholars at Oxford are just as warped in their spiritual understanding as the crack addict on Liberty Street. Just because you understand how a supernova works, or can appreciate the short stories of William Faulkner does not mean that you understand God. In fact, some of the world’s brightest secular people stumble over the simple gospel message as though it were written in Mandarin Chinese. So I repeat: “There is none who understands”. Humans minds, be they ever so sharp in science, literature, engineering, home economics, carpentry, pedagogy, or political theory are, without the help of the Holy Spirit, futile when it comes to understanding the things of God.

And even as followers of Christ, our understanding is still so very imperfect is it not? Surely this is the cause of many of the doctrinal differences between various groups of serious minded, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians. Our minds – just like our hearts, and wills, and moral capacities – are still in the process of being renewed by Jesus. We are not yet morally perfect. We all know that. But it is important to remember that we are not yet mentally perfect either!

These facts are vital to take into account … and on a number of fronts. Let me mention three applications that flow from Romans 3.11a:

1. Prayer. The men and women with whom you share the gospel day by day have warped minds. So, while that calls for clarity and simplicity in your sharing of the gospel, it also means that no matter how clear and simple you may be, they ain’t gonna get it without God supernaturally clearing away the fog. I am sure you have experienced this if you’ve shared the gospel very often. Your friend can understand how to extract files from a zipped internet folder, but the message of the cross draws blank stares. So you’d better pray that the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave the explaining up to you by yourself!

2. Humility. If we are still, even as believers, hacking our way out of the dense cloud that original sin has hung over us … then it means that we probably don’t see everything as clearly as we’d like – and neither do our Christian friends who are on the other side of the fence about baptism, or election, or the end-times, or you name it. Maybe they don’t see as clearly as they should. But then again, maybe neither do we! So let’s not be quick to throw stones … seeing as how the mental haze of Adam’s fall often prevents us from seeing exactly where and why we are throwing them.

3. More prayer. Don’t just pray for those people with whom you share the gospel. Pray for yourself. You’re still lingering on the edges of the mental fog bank, remember? So that means that, whenever you go to the Scriptures, you are still liable to miss some things, or misunderstand some things. You still need the Holy Spirit’s illumination even as a Christian. So ask for it whenever you hear, speak, or read God’s word!

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