Romans Lesson 40 - The Prodigal People
From the beginning of time men have preferred to fashion gods in their likeness rather than allow God to fashion us in His. We are a prodigal people . . . and there is only one way back to the Shepherd. In this message Stephen tells us what it is.
“The Prodigal Human Race”
In our last discussion, we had arrived at the Apostle Paul’s 14 indictments upon the human race.
In Romans chapter 3 verse 10 we learned that mankind is totally depraved – totally sinful – totally wretched – totally enslaved to sin.
We also read that mankind is spiritually dense. Paul wrote, in verse 11 that there is no one who understands spiritual things.
Even though our world talks about spiritual experiences and spiritual things and spiritual existence, according to the word of God, apart from the saving regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of man is dead. Not semi-conscious, but dead. Not in a spiritual coma, but dead.
Then we learned that mankind is not only totally depraved and spiritually dense, but naturally disconnected from God. Paul writes in the latter part of verse 11, “There is no one who seeks for God.”
But surely, everyone seems to be seeking for God, right?!
The truth is, sinful man, like Adam and Eve in the garden run from God, not to God. They do not seek after the Him, He seeks after them.
Jesus Christ said, “I have come to seek and to save those who are lost!” (Luke 19:10)
But doesn’t everybody believe in God – but in just different ways?!
50 years ago there was a fundamental belief in America that there was one God and that He was the God derived from the scriptures. You either believed in this God or you didn't believe in God at all. Today, the God of the Bible is only one god among many gods, each equally valid in their claims.
In fact, by the mid 1990’s, according to one religious survey called the Barna Research Group:
“Nearly two out of every three adults believed that the choice of one religious faith over another one was now irrelevant because all religions taught the same basic things.”
Everybody believes in God, we just call Him by different names.
That’s why you’ll hear people say things like this at school and at work and in your neighborhood or dormitory:
“I respect Jesus Christ just as much as anybody, but I don't think He is the only way to God...God would never limit the way to heaven to one person.”
Or, “I think that all the religious of the world are essentially the same; why should we argue about minor points of disagreements.”
Or, “There are a lot of things I like about Christianity, except the fact that it seems so dogmatic and intolerant of other religions.”
The religion of today is simply one happy buffet of possibilities; your path to spirituality is a supermarket where you can choose the ingredients that you like the most in life.
But does the Bible teach that? The Bible says, “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is (literally) the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Isn’t everybody gonna make it to heaven?
The Bible says, “Broad is the path that leads to destruction and many are those who enter by it . . . the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it!”
Thus, the gospel is first of all the new that man is lost. That man is on the broad path to destruction . . . that mankind is in deep trouble and all his amalgamations of religions, all his combinations of spiritual ingredients has concocted nothing more than guilt and shame and confusion and ultimate death and separation from the one true and living Yahweh.
There is hope and salvation in Yahweh – there is only deception and despair in any other god and any other faith and any other way – they lead to death.
I stood this past year outside a Hindu temple in Chennai, India, an incredibly massive temple with a tiered roof that rose 4 or 5 stories high. On each tier were brightly painted figurines of their chief gods and goddesses. Two headed gods and half animal, half human gods, and many breasted female gods and gods with fierce expressions and gods with kind expressions. And there on the ground below it I stood among a throng of people in the hot sun, with beggars pulling at my shirt sleeves putting their hands to their mouths, dying from hunger. One beggar in particular followed me all the way to our jeep – she carried a baby on her hip – and she kept begging with this pitiful voice for food.
What a picture of humanity. It has created it’s gods, but it’s gods cannot help them – physically or spiritually.
The Apostle Paul now delivers the fourth indictment on the human race; that man is purposefully defiant.
Verse 12 begins with the scathing announcement, “All have turned aside!”
All have turned aside! What does he mean?
It means, literally, “to lean in the wrong direction.” In a military context it means to run away from battle. Alva J. McClain writes that the phrase was intended to provide the picture of a caravan crossing the desert, which has gotten off the route.
Alva J. McClain, Romans; The Gospel of God’s Grace (BMH Books, Winona Lake, IN) 1973, p. 94.
It’s another way of saying that man is lost! Man has lost his way!
Isaiah said the same thing this way, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6).
John MacArthur reminds the reader in his commentary, “In the early church the gospel was sometimes called “the Way” (Acts 9:2, and Christians were often referred to as followers of the Way. Even the demon who had given a certain slave girl the power of divination acknowledged through her that Paul and his companions were “bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Luke referred to some Jewish opponents of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus as men who were “speaking evil of the Way” (Acts 19:9), and because of that opposition, “there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23). . .the writer of Hebrews spoke of Christ’s atoning work as “a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). Peter spoke of false teachers who had infiltrated the church as those who had forsaken “the right way” of the true gospel, which is “the way of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:15, 21).
John MacArthur Jr., Romans (Moody Press, Chicago, IL) 1991, p. 185
Thomas the disciple once asked Jesus Christ a very honest question. Jesus has been reassuring the disciples that they will one day be reunited in heaven. He promised them in John 14, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4. And you know the way where I am going." 5. Thomas [asked Him], "Lord, we do not know where You are going (so) how do we know the way?"
I love that. Thomas blurts out, “Wait a second Lord, I don’t know the directions to heaven . . . we don’t have a map!”
Jesus responded by giving that classic statement, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father , but through Me.” (John 14:6)
What I find interesting is that Jesus did not tell Thomas He would give him a map that would show him the way to get to heaven. Jesus told Thomas, that He, Himself, was the map.
What an incredible answer!
Think of it this way. Imagine you've moved here from another town. How many of you moved to this area within the last 5 years?
Suppose, when you moved here, you asked a person to give you some directions to the nearest grocery story. You probably did that, right? And what did they say? “Yea, go to the first intersection there and turn right, go about one block and then turn right again and then go to the blinking light and turn left and go about a half a mile . . ."
By the way, you ask someone from the north how to get somewhere – like somebody from Minnesota – how many moved here from Minnesota? You traded in Jesse Ventura for Jesse Helms! I’ll say no more . . . I’m already in trouble for bringing a dog in here!
Well, ask somebody from Minnesota how to get somewhere and they’ll say, “Go to the first intersection and turn north, go one block and turn south/east; go 3 blocks and head north again . . .” I don’t have a compass on my dashboard! It’s not a boat.
I love the story told by Billy Graham on himself. One day when he was a young preacher, he arrived in a small town for the very first time. He wanted to mail a letter and he stopped a young boy on the street and asked directions to the Post Office. After the boy told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, “Now listen son, if you come to church this evening, I'll be telling people how to get to heaven.” The boy thought a minute and then said, "No thanks mister, you don't even know how to get to the post office.”
Has it occurred to you that God has never given directions to heaven. Past Pluto and turn west – past Alpha Centauri and turn north east.
Was Jesus Christ giving the disciples directions to heaven? No! That’s the amazing thing about His answer!
Suppose that person you asked directions from said to you, “Listen, I have time this afternoon . .. tell you what, I'll just take you to the store.” In that case the person doesn’t show you the way, he becomes the way. He doesn’t show you a map - He is the map.
That's what Jesus is saying; He isn't saying, “Look I’ll give you really good directions so you can find your way to heaven,” He’s saying; “I am the way - that is, I will take you and lead you and guide you so you will never lose your way.
Jesus Christ declared in John 14:6, "I am the way. . .no one comes to the Father except by me.”
And what does Paul say mankind does – choose another way!
Paul is not addressing mankind as something that has tried it’s best to find the path, no – he writes, “They have all what? They have all “turned aside.” That is, they have chosen to take another path.
Man is totally depraved – spiritually dense, naturally disconnected and here in verse 12, purposefully defiant.
Talk about God with people and they will be glad to give you their version. But talk to them of a holy God who will one day, according to scripture, judge all of mankind and the world will mock you and trivialize the future and say, “That’s not the God I believe in . . . and I’m not worried about being judged, much less being sent to hell.”
They have purposefully turned aside!
I was in the store the other day looking for a birthday card for my wife. After reading a dozen cards or so, I was sidetracked by this one card – it’s meant to be funny I suppose, although it made my heart stop for a just a moment . . . I was stunned. It’s a friendship card – and it has a cartoon woman who looks to be in her 40’s on the front of the card holding a cup of coffee – writing to her friend – she says, “We’ll be friends until the day we die . . . and our friendship will not stop there. We’ll probably still be friends even in death. Yes, we’ll be friends after death because we’ll be in heaven together, or maybe hell! Goodness, I wonder where we’ll go? Probably hell because you know how vain and materialistic we are! Yes, I think we’ll probably end up going to hell! I wonder if there’s a mall in hell?
What an attitude of defiantly, unapologetically turning away from the horrifying truth of final judgment.
Paul goes on to give another indictment against sinful humanity.
Mankind is also increasingly decadent. Verse 12 again, “All have turned aside, together they have become useless.”
The Greek word, “useless”, is the translation of a Hebrew word used specifically to refer to milk that has gone sour. I can well remember the days of finding one of our children’s milk cups under the car seat – opening the lid, being knocked out by the smell. There is nothing like the smell of sour milk. That’s the word here.
But he also intends it to refer to the wasted nature of the milk that can no longer fulfill it’s function. It cannot be drunk – it cannot provide nourishment – it’s useless!
Like the prodigal son who left the father’s home with his inheritance – he spent all of his money on sinful pleasure – he bought friends who came along for the party – he was really living – until his money ran out and he eventually found himself in a putrid barnyard filled with pigs.
He had chosen the path that led away from the Father – and now, his life was useless. Soured . . . unfulfilled . . . wasted . . . bitter.
The further away from the truth of God’s word a person or a society goes, the more soured and rancid and putrid and evil a society becomes.
This weeks issue of World magazine provided an illustration of our decaying society. It announced that the American Academy of Pediatrics, with it’s 55,000 members, endorsed homosexual adoption, claiming that children raised by homosexuals can be as well adjusted as those raised by moms and dads. The statement, published in Pediatrics, claims that evidence suggests no vital difference exists between homosexual and heterosexual parents. The report even claimed that “children seem to [actually] benefit from arrangements in which lesbian parents divide household tasks in an egalitarian manner.” There’s a picture here with two men sitting at the breakfast table with a little girl around the age of 4 that they have adopted.
World Magazine, February 17, 2002 p. 7
Apart from God, the prodigal human race runs further and further from true fulfillment, true pleasure, true guiltless living, true security, true hope and joy and peace.
Mankind is totally depraved, spiritually dense, naturally disconnected, purposefully defiant, increasingly decadent.
Finally, as Paul concludes the first section of these indictments, he says at the end of verse 12, “There is none who does good, there is not even one.”
Mankind is, 6th, entirely disobedient.
Paul began this section in verse 10 by saying there is no one who is good. Now in verse 12 he says, there is no one who does good.
None who is good . . . none who does good.
You say, “But I know unbeliever’s who do good things. . .” Remember, Paul is speaking here to the condition of man. He is speaking not so much about single acts – but a way of life compared to God’s holy standard.
Some people behave better than other people. That’s not Paul’s point. No human being has the desire or capacity for holy, righteous living unless the Spirit of God has invaded that life, brought him to his senses and caused him to leave the pig pen for the Father’s house.
Left to himself, man will wrap himself up with the hogs and say, “There’s nothing wrong with me . . . stop making me feel guilty . . . the god I’ve concocted accepts me the way I am . . . none of this sin and guilt!”
But the one who is being rescued is the one who recognizes sin for what it is.
The great evangelist of 100 years ago, Dwight Moody, once told of being asked by the warden of a large prison in New York City to speak to the inmates. Because there was no chapel or other suitable or safe place to speak to the groupl, Moody preached from a ramp at one end of a large tier of cells, unable to see the face of a single prisoner. After the message he asked permission to talk face-to-face with some of the men through the bars of their cells. He soon discovered that most of the men had not even been listening to his message. When Moody would ask an inmate why he was in prison, the man almost invariably declared his innocence. He would insist that a false witness testified against him, or that he was mistaken for the person who really committed the crime, or that the judge or jury was prejudiced against him. “I began to get discouraged,” Moody said, “but when I hat gone almost through I found one man with his elbows on his knees and two streams of tears running down his cheeks. I looked in the at the little window and said, “My friend, what is your trouble?” he looked up with despair on his face and said, “My sins are more than I can bear.” I said to him, “Thank God for that.” The evangelist knew that God was opening this man’s heart to admit his need for a savior, having finally realized that he was indeed a sinner.
John MacArthur Jr., Romans (Moody Press, Chicago, IL) 1991, p. 186
“My sins are more than I can bear.”
Have you come to see yourself in that way? Have you found your name, here in Romans chapter 3. Have you discovered that Paul is speaking of you when he writes, READ 3:10-12
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
The person who writes his name here, will find his name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
For to admit your sin and your need of a Savior is to be forgiven, redeemed, rescued . . . freed.
For you have come to know the One who is the way . . the truth and the life . . . and you, He promised, shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
I wonder if I’ve been speaking to someone this morning and you know in your heart of hearts that you’re the prodigal. You’ve been running from God . . . and life is sour, bitter, useless. Today, will you listen to His Spirit – will you come home to Him?
You can follow your own reasoning . . . your pride and stubbornness . . . you can follow the crowd on that broad path . . . it won’t change the fact that, according to the Bible, “It is appointed unto man, once to die, and after that the judgment.”
Now, my friend, is the day of salvation . . . it’s never to early to accept the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ . . . but one day, it will be too late.
I wonder if you’re here and you would admit to yourself and to me by raising your hand and thus saying, “Stephen, I want you to pray for me – my name is all over Romans chapter 3 verse 12. I’m the prodigal . . . would you pray for me . . . you don’t have to stand up or come forward . . . you’re just admitting to me and to yourself, you’re the prodigal . . . you want to be right with God.
I’ll pray in a moment – with you in mind – that you will indeed repent of your sin and invite the Lord Jesus Christ into your life – to forgive you and cleanse you and save you. To take you off that broad path that leads to destruction and place your feet on that narrow path that leads to everlasting life.
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