This is a direct excerpt from a larger article by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger that can be found here.
The Scriptures are very clear about the effects of Adam’s sin upon the human race, and there are a host of passages that speak to the issue of human sinfulness. In Job 14:1-4 we read, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!" In other words, we are born "impure" or sinful, and therefore, subject to the judgment of God. Job asks the poignant question in this regard, "who can bring what is pure from what is impure?" and the answer is emphatically, "no one." Jeremiah (13:23) asks a similar question, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Thus because of our sin, we are impure, accustomed to doing evil, and unable to do anything to change our true nature any more then a leopard can wish his spots away, or that we can change the color of our skin simply by wishing it were so.
The Scriptures are also clear that our sinful nature is something with which we are born. According to the Psalmist in Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Thus we are born sinful, sinful from the very moment of conception. The Psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 58(3), "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies." We go astray from birth and we are born liars. We do not need to learn how to sin, it comes quite naturally to us.
The sinful nature (i.e., "the flesh") with which we are born produces a host of sinful actions. The author of 1 Kings (8:46) contends "there is no one who does not sin" and the author of Proverbs (20:9) laments, "Who can say, `I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? Indeed Moses writes in Genesis 6:5, "the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Thus because we are born in sin, every thought, every inclination is purely evil. This is not something that we enjoy hearing, but it is what the Scripture clearly teaches about human nature.
And this doctrine of human sinfulness is not only clearly taught in the OT, it is found with equal force in the New Testament, even on the lips of our Lord. For our Lord says much the same thing in Matthew 15:19, when he declares "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." Thus the specific sins which we commit come from the sinful condition of our hearts. For as it is used in Scripture, the heart is the seat of our very personality – the heart is the true self, what we really are. Jesus went on to point out in Matthew 7:16-20, that "By their fruit you will recognize [wolves who come in sheep’s clothes]. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Can any one of us here pretend for even a single moment that unlike everyone else, we are born good trees, and that we somehow escape the effects of sin which befall the entire human race? For out of each of our hearts inevitably spring the evil deeds and sins that all of us commit on a regular basis.
And if that is not all, it is Jesus who also reminds us that even if we haven’t committed a specific sin with our hands, you can bet we have done it in our hearts. It is Jesus who declares, "anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus also said, "You have heard it said, `Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’" And so there may be someone who is even now saying to themselves, "I am not a murderer!" I have never taken a life. Jesus says otherwise. You may not have taken the life of another, but as Jesus says, "any one who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," and "anyone who calls his brother a fool will be in danger of the fire of hell." Thus any one of us who has ever driven a Southern California freeway is certainly guilty as charged.
While the Scriptures are clear that we are born in sin, and that we sin because we are sinners, the Scriptures are equally clear about the specific effects of our own sinfulness upon our relationship with God. According to the Apostle Paul, (Romans 8:7-8), "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." Thus because of the sin into which we are born, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor do anything to please him. So much for non-Christians supposedly keeping the 10 Commandments. In his letter to the Galatians (5:19-21), Paul speaks of the human condition this way: "The acts of the sinful nature [the flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." While we are apt to make distinctions between so-called big and little sins, Paul would not agree. All sins damn, even such things as jealousy and ambition, and these sins that damn spring forth spontaneously from our sinful nature. This certainly calls to mind our Lord’s comments about bad fruit coming forth from a bad tree. The sins of the flesh spring forth from our sinful hearts as surely as apples grow on an apple tree.
And when all is said and done, Paul indeed paints a very dark picture. In Romans 3:10-12 he writes; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Paul is clear, here, though many of us do not like what he says.
First, he points out that there are none righteous, that is, none without the guilt of sin. And for the sake of emphasis, he repeats the phrase, "no, not even one."
Next he states that because of sin, there is no one who understands, for as he says elsewhere, sin has darkened our understanding, made our thinking futile, and hardened our hearts to the things of God (Ephesians 4:18 ff).
Third, the result of these blinding effects of sin is that there is no one who seeks God. Even though these words make many of us choke, they are simply un-American, nevertheless, Paul is utterly clear, because of sin, "no one seeks God." Tough words, but we cannot evade them simply because we do not like them.
And if we do not believe the testimony of Paul, Jesus says exactly the same thing. Speaking to the crowds that followed him after he feed the five thousand and because they saw the miracles and wanted their stomachs filled (John 6:44), Jesus declared, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." In other words, you cannot come to God unless you are drawn, the term translated here as "to draw" is also translated "to drag" elsewhere in the NT, as for example, when Paul is dragged out of the temple against his will in Acts 21:30. And then again in that same discourse in John 6, as if he was not clear enough the first time he said it , Jesus went on to say in verse 65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Thus unless we are enabled to come to Father, we cannot and indeed will not turn to God and embrace Jesus Christ. For we are sinful, we do not seek God, we do not understand God, we do not obey God’s law, and indeed says Paul, we cannot. Our hearts are sinful, there are none righteous, not even one, and we sin freely and willingly because we want to.
Thus when all is said and done, what this means is that if God does not do something to rescue us from our predicament, we will perish in our sins. And this is what we mean when we say we are saved by grace alone, because there is certainly nothing in us worth saving and there is nothing that creatures in such a predicament can do to save themselves. Our salvation depends upon God’s graciousness and not upon our goodness.
So it is against this backdrop the biblical description of sin and its effects that we now turn our focus to grace alone.
NOTE: Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is a graduate of California State University in Fullerton (B.A., Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph. D.). Kim has contributed chapters to books such as Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites & Divides Us, and Christ The Lord: The Reformation & Lordship Salvation, and is currently the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Placentia, California.