The Bondage of the Will, the Sovereignty of Grace and the Glory of God

4. The bondage of spiritual death

When one of his disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father,” Jesus replied, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:21–22). And Paul picks up the language and describes the whole human race this way in Ephesians 2.

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3)

Apart from the life-giving grace of God, all of mankind are dead in trespasses and sins. All of mankind follow the prince of darkness. All of mankind are sons of disobedience—that is our true nature before conversion. All of mankind are in lockstep with the desires of body and mind, and are thus by nature children of wrath. By nature, alive and in lockstep with God-excluding desires. By nature we are carried by the course of the world, led by the prince of darkness. Disobedience is not just our choice; it is our nature. And in all of those trespasses and sins, we are spiritually dead—utterly unable to feel the impulses of spiritual life. This is the bondage of spiritual death.

5. The bondage of blindness to the glory of Christ

In 1 Corinthians 2:6–8, Paul says he imparts a wisdom that

is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Why didn’t they understand this wisdom of God? Why didn’t they see the glory of Christ? Paul answers in verses 13–14,

We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The “natural person”—what a sweeping indictment of the human race! “Natural person.” Ordinary person. Every person—minus the the Spirit of God. The natural person does not accept the the things of the Spirit of God. Why not? Because you cannot accept as wise what you see as foolish. Cannot. And the natural man can only see the wisdom of a crucified Messiah as foolish. Such things, Paul says, “are folly to him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually seen.” He is blind to such peculiar glory.

And it gets worse: Our natural blindness is exploited and hardened by the god of this world. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4,

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

There is a divine and supernatural light that shines through the gospel, namely the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. No human beings, apart from the omnipotent grace of God overcoming this blindness, can see that glory. When they look at it, it is foolishness to them, not glory.

This is our five-fold bondage:

  • The bondage of legal guilt and divine condemnation
  • The bondage of love for the darkness of self-glorification
  • The bondage of hatred for the the supremacy of God
  • The bondage of spiritual death
  • And the bondage of blindness to the glory of Christ

And the glory of God’s grace is that, in spite of all our guilt, and all our wicked loves, and all our hatred of his authority, and all our stone-cold deadness to his sweetness, and all our blindness to his glory, this grace saves us in every way from our own utter enslaving desire not to be saved from these things.

  • To the bondage of our guilt, God says, “Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). “We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24–25).
  • To the bondage of our love for self, he says, I give you the gift of “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, so that you will come to your senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26). Repentance from evil loves is God’s sovereign work.
  • To the bondage of our hatred for the the supremacy of God, he declares, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). I am sending my Spirit into your heart crying Abba Father, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord (Romans 8:15–16). Joyfully embracing the Lordship of Jesus is a sovereign work of the Spirit.
  • To the bondage of spiritual death, he says, “When you were dead in our trespasses, I made you alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). God said to your dead soul, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the command created life and obedience.
  • And to the bondage of blindness to the glory of Christ God says, “Let there be light!” and instantly the divine and supernatural brightness “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). If you see the crucified and risen Christ as more glorious and precious than anything in the world, you are a walking miracle.
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John Piper
John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.