here are not necessarily final.
What is wrong with the human race?
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 ones 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 worlds 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 mans 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
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 mans
part that what ought not to be ought not to be permitted in
the cosmic sense. Gods 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 mans 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
||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 sins 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 Gods 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 Gods. 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 Gods limits and submit to his control
and trust his providence are shown to be at the basis of the first, and
As a result, man could no longer have free access to Gods 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 Gods
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 mans nature is pervasively corrupted
by sin. Adams sin brought death to Adams race, and all who
are in Adam participate in his sin. There is a corporate and individual
aspect to sin. Adams 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 Augustines view of natural
headship of Adam; it clarifies and extends Augustines logic based
on the biblical text, and tends to leave behind the problems associated
with simple traducianism. Realism focuses on Gods justice and that
we are co-sinners and plays down mans 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
Adams generic nature that was disseminated to us, and we sin because
we are accounted Adams 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 Augustines views on original sin. Pelagius
contended that each soul is created by God without corruption. Thus Adams
sin does not affect others; each man volitionally sins and could do otherwise.
All choose to sin by following Adams example. Man is not depraved,
nor are Adams 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 Christs cure affords.
One can only thank the Lord that his grace is far greater than mans
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 Adams 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 Adams
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-Adams 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 Christs
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 Gods 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 Gods 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 serpents 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!