Medical misdiagnosis is a serious problem. Recent studies have estimated that as many as 12 million adults a year seeking outpatient care are misdiagnosed. Worse yet, diagnostic errors may result in as many as 10% of patient deaths — more deaths annually than breast cancer. To be fair, diagnosis is incredibly complex and patients place extraordinarily high expectations for accuracy on their doctors. Patients often bet their lives on the opinions of their doctor. When those opinions are wrong the prescribed treatment will fail to address the real condition and may even make the condition more acute.
Misdiagnosis is serious but nothing compared to the misdiagnosis of a deeper sickness that affects us all – a spiritually terminal condition the Bible calls sin. This condition is congenital and inherited. It is always fatal. Every one of us has it. Yet it is often misdiagnosed. Doctors of skepticism dismiss that any sickness exists, while doctors of philosophy are more concerned with classification than cure. Doctors of psychology declare this sickness to be a non-fatal dysfunction, easily resolved with the right therapeutic tweak. Doctors of religion prescribe a course of works, coupled with a regimen of rituals and outward piety. But with all these prescriptions, the cirrhosis of the soul continues unabated.
Just before the Reformation, the Church taught that man needed the grace of God to overcome his sin problem, just not grace alone. The Church and its teachers had misdiagnosed the depth and severity of sin as mere spiritual sloth. If only the patients would exert themselves, even just a little, and show that they were trying, God would give them the loan of grace they needed to make up what they lacked. God helps those that help themselves!
Yet these Doctors of the Church had failed to read their diagnostic manual, the Scripture, which reveals that the patients are suffering from total depravity. They are already spiritually dead (Ephesians 2) and none of them can exert themselves, even just a little (Romans 3).
Martin Luther worked and worked to do his part, yet with all his working he only felt that more working was needed. Far from loving or seeking God, he hated and despised God for his implacable justice and harshness. It was not until he read in Romans 1, “the just shall live by faith” that he realized that his hope was not in a loan of grace, but in grace alone, grace given to him, not in response to his willingness, but in spite of his rebellion. Luther commented.
“He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ…. The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it…. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”
Dead men do not need renovation, but resurrection. For this reason, the Reformers insisted that the only remedy for sin was Grace alone (Sola Gratia) through Faith alone (Sola Fide).
Our diagnosis is much more serious than we imagined. The Fall broke more in us than we are aware. The effects of total depravity extend into every last aspect of body, mind, and soul. The prophet Jeremiah expressed this most poignantly. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The ancient word heart used in this verse is an inclusive idea, encompassing the heart, soul, mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, will, conscience, the seat of appetites, emotions and passions and convictions and courage. All these, Jeremiah says, are treacherous, rebellious and incurably sick. Yet, we cannot see it. As one pundit noted.
“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” ― Malcolm Muggeridge
Join us this Sunday, February 9, as we examine Jeremiah 17 and consider the diagnosis of total depravity and the remedy God offers us in Christ. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.