Two of the most important things that Scripture does are show us who God is and show us who we as human beings are. This is simply another way of getting at what John Calvin wrote long ago:
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. (Institutes 1.1.1)
In my previous post, I focused on the transforming power of seeing Christ as he is revealed in Scripture. Today we will look at seeing our fallenness in the pages of Scripture. The term we will use is "fallen condition," which Bryan Chapell defines this way:
The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God's people to glorify and enjoy him (Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 90).
As a means of expanding on this concept here are some questions I have found helpful in prompting my own thinking: (1) What sinful tendencies, habits, thoughts, patterns of behavior, feelings, beliefs are explicitly stated in the text or reasonably implied by the text? (2) What evidence of the effects of the Fall are explicitly stated in the text or reasonably implied by the text that need the redemptive work of God? (3) What God-given human longings that are warped by sin are explicitly stated in the text or reasonably implied by the text that need the redemptive work of God?
In most cases a passage has multiple fallen conditions. Let's take as an example 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Here are just a few of the possible Fallen Conditions that emerge from this passage:
- Our ignorance about what happens to fellow believers when they die leads to sinful grief
- When we lose sight of the hope that we as believers have in Christ, we grieve as those who have no hope (i.e. we grieve like unbelievers who have no hope)
- Our grief when responding to death reveals that deep down we recognize that things are not the way they are supposed to be
- We become discouraged when we contemplate the delay in Christ's return
- We live our lives with little or no thought of the imminence of Christ's return
Notice, by the way, that some fallen conditions are not inherently sinful. For example, this text is not saying that it is sinful to grieve at someone's death. Jesus himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus, even though he knew he would raise him from the dead in a matter of minutes (John 11:35). The point here in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is that grieving as if we have no hope is sinful.
At this point, I then want to ask myself how I personally see these different Fallen Conditions manifest themselves in my life:
- It is only when someone I know dies that I am reminded that death is an intruder into God's creation
- Because it has now been almost 2,000 years since Christ promised to return, I can be discouraged into thinking Christ's return will not happen in my lifetime
- Because my life is usually so comfortable here in this fallen world, I find it easy to go significant periods of time without thinking about the return of Christ.
Notice that I have tried to be specific rather than general. The more specific you are able to be, the more targeted you can be in addressing the fallen condition with the gospel.
In our next post, I will consider how to apply the gospel to the fallen conditions that we discover in the text and see at work in our lives.