Recognizing One's Depravity
The True Gospel 1 of 8
By Jim Allen
A person once wrote to me about growing up in a church, having an understanding of the gospel, but did not think he had been granted repentance unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). He went on to say something was blocking him from seeing himself as a full-blown sinner and that he was not fully disgusted with himself…did not see himself as that bad or like the tax collector in Luke 18:13. In other words, he believed the gospel but did not recognize his own depravity.
In response to his question I wrote, "Your view of being a sinner might need to be modified. A full-blown sinner would be, indeed, a very despicable person and demonstrate a measure of depravity exceeding most people. May I assure you, the "measure" of one's depravity has nothing to do with our separation from God. We are born with a rebellious, sinful nature and whether you sin a little or a sin a lot makes no difference to God. Sin is sin and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23 and 6:23).
One way to look at this truth is from the eye of a perfectionist who would see a fly speck on a wall and muddy foot prints on white carpet as equally abhorrent. Speck or mud, it is all the same and the measure of difference between the two is hardly the issue. The issue for the perfectionist is the need for his dwelling place to be immaculate. God is a "perfect being" with zero tolerance for sin. God is holy, all powerful and lives in unapproachable light – attributes of the divine we obviously fail to grasp.
So then, what is sin and where did it come from? According to the Bible, sin originated with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) and since then passed on to every human generation. Sin is a disease of the heart, the central most part of our being. Sin is all the dreadful stuff people do to each other and themselves. Sin is worldwide, abiding in the hearts of people everywhere like a hissing snake in a dark den coiled to strike. Sin varies from wrong thoughts to the really bad stuff. The Bible pulls no punches when it says everyone is born a sinner (Psalm 51:5). The Bible is candid when it says no one is righteous, not even one (Psalm 14:1–3). The Bible continues its outspoken view of human depravity by saying, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
One believer recognizing his sin said, "Like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, God opened my eyes to see my depravity and the sacrifice of his Son on the cross for my sin. I was heartbroken, grieved, and humbled by the picture of it all. I prayed to receive Christ and went on to experience a changed life." This believer understood what it meant to be granted true repentance. God revealed the believer's depravity, his need for mercy and forgiveness. Like the tax collector, he saw his guilt and unworthiness and came to embrace Christ as his Savior. This believer's experience in coming to Christ is nothing like the "all friendly and reaffirming gospel" preached by Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and their gospel contemporaries. These charlatans transform the seriousness of sin into nothing more than innocent mistakes, and then redefine repentance to mean nothing more than adopting a positive attitude.
Why would a loving, holy God require a sinner to look upon his or her depravity? As we all know, rules establish the boundary for acceptable behavior. If everyone ignored the rules set up by societies, the outcome would be unending confusion and mayhem. The same is true with God's way of doing things. Recognition of depravity produces in the sinner a sense of guilt, entrapment, and accountability. Although not a pretty picture, recognizing one's sinfulness and then calling upon God for deliverance is the beginning of repentance (Luke 18:13-14). A Bible commentator by the name of Matthew Henry writes, "Sorrow (repentance) according to the will of God…renders the heart humble, contrite, submissive, disposed to mortify every sin, and to walk in newness of life. Repentance begins with recognition of one's depravity and need for deliverance, becoming the life-saving tether to faith in Christ." 
1. Paraphrased from Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:5-11
In closing, if people are led to receive Christ before being led to see their own sin described in Romans 3:23, they will not see their need for Christ to save them in Romans 6:23. In my next post in The True Gospel series, I will to talk specifically about law, sinfulness, and hope in Christ.
The True Gospel, The Series
Part 1: Recognizing One's Depravity
Part 2: Acknowledging Sin and Law
Part 3: Continuing in the Word
Part 4: Going to the Cross
Part 5: Believing Unto Salvation
Part 6: Examining Our Faith
Part 7: Walk in the Spirit
Part 8: Reviewing the True Gospel
Image Credit: Dino Abatzidis; "dark"; Creative Commons