...thoughts expressed here are not necessarily final.

April 25,2005 What is wrong with the human race?

Anthony Foster

The study of the subject of sin, if taken personally, is a most demanding one. The reality of sin has been widely evident in the news this week. Yet sin is not news. It is a key, if horrible component in the fabric of human life. The shameful reality of one's own personal sin drives one to the depths where one can be confronted with and better appreciate the heights of the glories of grace. There is a very real sense in which the deeper the devastation and sense of revulsion over sin that we are graced to bear, the greater and deeper is the apprehension of the reality that Grace is greater than all our sin. The work of Christ has, in a sense transformed even the evil of sin into a lens that magnifies the amazing Grace of God.

But sin is a concept that the world at large remains unconvicted of and unconcerned about. That is until one who is of the world experiences a disruption of one’s own agenda. Then sin becomes very real, if exterior to their being. The world has understood that there is something very wrong but its diagnosis of the problem invariably “misses the mark” itself. None of the major “world religions” offers a permanent solution to sin.

In this essay I will outline the only viable answer, which is contained in the biblical theology of sin. The world’s great need is not only a proper diagnosis of its disease, but also communication conduits for the biblical solution so that the convicting work of the Holy Spirit might effect the only cure available for sin.
In the beginning, all that God created was declared by God to be "good". The biblical narrative quickly turns from the creation of a very good world to the origin of human sin. The account provides us with a context for the remainder of scripture and the history of redemption. The first man was willfully self-corrupted when temptation presented itself. Man was created in innocence and was privileged to commune with God. Man chose to not take God at His word and received the due penalty of that sin: death and separation from his creator. The balance of scripture from Genesis 3 on relates the ongoing unfolding of man’s journey back into the presence of that holy and righteous fellowship. Immediately God comes in the form of an intercessor who judges and mitigates the curse in Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelion.

The Bible may actually allude to the origin of sin in the heavenlies in passages like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 and Jude 6. Passages like these seem to indict pride as a catalytic sin agent that induces other sin. The biblical narrative tells us THAT sin occurred; it does not give us a concise philosophical understanding of HOW a free responsible act of sin can exist or exactly WHY a holy, righteous, and sovereign God would permit its expression in space and time.

The Bible is very clear in its contention that God is not the author of sin in any sense, even though we are confronted with the mystery that God works all things after the counsel of his own will. While mysterious, we must hold to the biblical revelation that God decrees from eternity that sin exists- but it must be in some sense in which he is not the author of sin. It is ultimately a false assumption on man’s part that “what ought not to be ought not to be permitted” in the cosmic sense. God’s permissive decrees are seen to be for his own purposes of revelation. The “but God” of Genesis 3 and the “but now” of Romans 3:21 may be the most important texts in scripture in my thinking.

The Bible reveals the scope of sin to be universal and the state of sin to be one of condemnation, defilement, a perversion or deprivation of good, and depravity. It also shows man’s sinful state to be one of inability to do other than sin, and as the recipient of the penalty of sin. We must be saved from the presence, power, and penalty of sin if we are to be saved at all. Augustine described our nature in relation to sin before the fall as able to sin or able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); after the fall we are said to be not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); after our redemption we are said to be able not to sin (posse non peccare); and upon our future glorification we will be unable to sin (non posse peccare).

Having struggled through Berkouwer on the riddle of sin, I am compelled by his notion that sin is basically the ultimate irrationality in the universe. It is senseless and self-destructive and without viable motive or ultimate explanation. It is worth noting here that the Bible seems to indicate that the sinner operates on a level akin to insanity in some sense.

Thank God for the law that gives validity to our knowledge of sin that would not be possible on our own! We can only apprehend sin’s essence by repentance in the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

The Bible is replete with its characterizations of the nature of sin. We find a linguistically rich tableau of descriptions of the many-faceted dark jewel of sin. The Westminster confession declares sin to be any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This is a good distillation of the teaching of scripture, but it must be unpacked. Sin is personal and it is enmity with the person and a violation of the character of God Himself. Thus every notion of sin is heinous, hideous, and devastating. Sin is revealed in scripture to be a matter of act, thought, or inner disposition, and even a state of being. Sin is characterized by unbelief, rebellion, perversion and missing the mark of God’s standard of righteousness. In fact this writer has found it helpful to think of sin in terms of “wrongeousness”- or the antithesis of righteousness.

Sin is essentially a failure of the rational creature to let God be God. Can anything be conceived of that is more deserving of judgment? To devalue Him who has the highest value in the universe is a heinous act. We were created to do just the opposite! He is not only worthy of worship, but of obedience and conformity to his will which is always good. The Bible reveals the major factor in our failure to obey God is unbelief. We seek our own will as if it is higher than God’s. Yet choosing any finite thing over the eternal One is wrong. It is idolatry. In praxis, sin dehumanizes the human being.

The Bible does not define the origin of sin as anxiety over finiteness, or existential estrangement, or animal nature that can be cured through the evolution of self or self control, attitude adjustments, education or the elimination of oppression. Nor does it attribute our desire to enjoy things, obtain things and do things as bad in their original state. It points to that seminal tragedy – the fall of man as having perverted and twisted the image of God in man in such a way that these good things became perverted- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Failure to accept God’s limits and submit to his control and trust his providence are shown to be at the basis of the first, and all sin.

As a result, man could no longer have free access to God’s presence. Instead divine disfavor and guilt would attain in the light of the judicial and aesthetic violations sin produced in the creation. Sin is bad like a disease and sin is wrong and deserves punishment. The need for an intercessor became apparent. The gracious revelation of the law, of the sacrificial system and priesthood, kings and prophets would reveal to man the way back into good standing with God and point to the way in which God would ultimately solve the sin problem. The basic motifs of sacrifice, propitiation, substitution and reconciliation are revealed as means by which expiation of sin and justification of the sinner would be effected by faith.

Rather than enlighten us to the exact nature of the origin of sin or its purpose in the universe, the scriptures pay much more attention to the theology of original human sin in Romans 5: 12-21. It is to this passage the writer will next turn his attention. In this passage Paul sets forth the context in which to unfold the beauty and perfection of God’s redemptive acts in history, which he had introduced in Romans 3.

First, I will explore some theories of original sin that will provide an atmosphere in which the biblical revelation speaks clearly. One of the earliest hamartologies is known as Augustinian realism. Augustine reasoned from the scriptures that man’s nature is pervasively corrupted by sin. Adam’s sin brought death to Adam’s race, and all who are in Adam participate in his sin. There is a corporate and individual aspect to sin. Adam’s nature and the guilt he bore for sin is imputed to every man. Later, Beza and other Reformed theologians would develop the notion of federal headship focusing on the manner of imputation as revealed in Romans 5.

This view does not really diverge from Augustine’s view of natural headship of Adam; it clarifies and extends Augustine’s logic based on the biblical text, and tends to leave behind the problems associated with simple traducianism. Realism focuses on God’s justice and that we are co-sinners and plays down man’s individual personalities. It focuses our attention on condemnation and pollution of the entire human nature. It is very important in discussing the doctrine of original sin to apprehend that it is indeed OUR sin. We are sinners because we sin and we sin because we are sinners. Sin has a double cause and requires a double cure. We possess an inherited, corrupt nature we received from Adam’s generic nature that was disseminated to us, and we sin because we are accounted Adam’s sin penalty he received for us as the representative or federal head of the race as well.

One of the early heresies of the church was the Pelagian controversy, which arose in opposition to Augustine’s views on original sin. Pelagius contended that each soul is created by God without corruption. Thus Adam’s sin does not affect others; each man volitionally sins and could do otherwise. All choose to sin by following Adam’s example. Man is not depraved, nor are Adam’s sins imputed to any of his descendants. This view holds that is possible for man to not need salvation, which flies in the face of the Biblical witness to the contrary.

One other view that I would construe as sub-Christian is the Arminian view that man has a sinful nature but he is able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit through prevenient grace. This denies that regeneration precedes faith as is the biblical witness. In seeking to preserve and elevate human free will to a sovereign level, violence is done to the doctrine of imputation, and I would contend, the work of Christ as well as well while keeping many a sin-diseased soul from the medicine Christ’s cure affords. One can only thank the Lord that his grace is far greater than man’s inability to discern his ways, even when they are revealed.

The doctrine of original sin as elucidated in Romans 5:12-21 hinges on verse 12. Paul says that one sinned in the verses following his initial statement that all sinned, and both declarations pertain to the same Fall. So there is a solidarity we have with Adam in some sense, and understanding this sense makes all the difference in communicating the Christian view to the world. Romans 5:16-19 does in actuality teach us that there is solidarity in our sin and Adam’s sin. They require us to understand guilt in terms of imputation. They also make us grapple with alien sin. Conversely, in grappling with these truths, we can more full apprehend the nature of alien and imputed righteousness, and our solidarity with the second Adam and particularly a more effectual understanding of what it means to be in union with Christ.

There is a corporate nature to sin. We are all stockholders in Adam’s inheritance. One way to think of Adam is like an ark. The first Adam is an ark bent for and doomed to destruction and the second Adam is the ark of sure deliverance. We are born into one but can enter into the other for salvation. Being born in Adam means we have a seminal relation to sin-Adam’s generic nature as the Father of us all was passed onto us, making us sinners as well. A covenantal view in no way abrogates the seminal one, it intensifies the guilt associated with sin in that while we are also said to be personally responsible for our sin, the union we have with Adam is due to the fact that he was our representative head from creation. His guilt is shared and charged to our account, because the account is corporate. We were the receivers of an imputed corrupt nature and of an imputed guilt. We are tried in Adam and found guilty. The only answer to the corporate and personal guilt is to be placed by faith in the true ark, the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

An understanding of the nature of original sin is prerequisite to begin to do justice to the nature of our guilt, and just what Christ’s work accomplished and how we enter into that solidarity with Him that is required for our salvation. A correct understanding of what it means to be in Christ (the book of Ephesians expounds this) will lead to freedom and power in the Christian walk and proper worth and glory being ascribed to the beautiful mind of Christ that conceived and made it a fait accompli. It also provides the basic understanding of the rich gospel message we are to proclaim in evangelism and in preaching to the sinners of this present age who are in such dire need of this magnificent truth. The wrongness of the humanity can only be made right in Christ.

We find in the life, death and resurrection of Christ the fulfillment of the basic motifs found in God’s revealed answer to sin. Christ becomes the final sacrifice, becoming both victim and priest who makes the required offering. He becomes the public propitiation for sin, declaring his righteousness to the world while satisfying God’s wrath (John 3:14-17 and Romans 3:21-27) when it is poured out on Christ. Atonement for our sin is accomplished by the substitute who died in our place to pay the judicial penalty for our sin. Christ fulfills the law in his sinless life and pays its penalty in his death. Christ puts a finish to the enmity between God and Man since the fall as he fulfills the promise in Genesis to crush the serpent’s head. So we are reconciled from our estrangement to God once for all when we believe and receive this finished work accomplished by his blood. We are redeemed from the slavery of sin, justified before the moral courts of the universe and by being placed in Christ we receive the very imputed righteousness of God in Christ. This is the basis for our ongoing sanctification and ultimately we will be unable to sin when we are glorified at the consummation of all things. It is all of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

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From the personal weblog of Anthony Foster @http://anthonyfoster.com/blog/