There are many theories that vie to explain why man is sinful. Millard Erickson lists a few of these in his book, Christian Theology (600-613). Some believe that man is still animalistic and merely cannot help his low evolutionary development. Others believe that mankind’s finitude and ability to aspire to greatness compels humanity to overstep its bounds. Still others define sin within the liberation theology context of the oppression of the poor. The opinions are endless.
If one desires to truly understand sin, then one must return to the Fall. The Fall is in drastic need of recapture in the 21st century. Man’s ruin, like the ruins of the Roman empire, speak of unbelievable grandeur and beauty. Nonetheless, the decay of what was once mighty is clearly evident. It is within this century that the stagnation of man’s flower has come to full wither. The rise of sexual perversion, secularized European governments, post-Christian America, casual dalliances with promiscuity, eradication of ‘undesirable’ beings and the love of violence have been sanitized, institutionalized and placed on pedestals as virtues.
The nature of sin can only be explained through its historical origin. Genesis 3 must be taken literally if any portion of the Bible is to be taken literally. None of the elements that would signify that it is entirely symbolic or allegorical are present in this retelling. Though there is the presence of symbolism, it is presented in a literal framework. By references by Paul to this moment, one may garner that he believed it was an historical event (Romans 5:14, I Corinthians 15: 22, 45). The author Luke built Christ’s lineage on this fact of history in Luke 3:38. Like a domino in long line of dominos, to discount a literal Fall featuring the original, specially created human pair, one must also discount the rest of Biblical history which bears the same fingerprints of the supernatural, the same literary elements and the same attestation by Jewish and Christian historians.
Oddly enough the most vitriolic attacks upon a literal Genesis come from those that cite the empirical evidence of science. It is entirely ironic that the body of science has changed its mind countless times and rewritten the texts more times than may be counted. Yet the Bible has remained unchanged as promised (I Peter 1:25). When will the world realize that in all our scientific greatness, we are still children playing with the pebbles of the universe? This blindness is part of the nature of sin.
The historical Fall is the only religious diagnosis that makes sense of the human predicament. Philosophers of various religions have tried to tie all of humanity together as something profoundly good in its current state. The Bible clearly indicates that while Creation was originally good (Genesis 1:31), that now it has fallen into a state of disarray. It is only Scripture that illuminates why humanity is not good as some religions blindly insist.
How did we become bad? Two commonly accepted theories of transmitting sin from Adam to the human race are the “Natural headship of Adam” and the “Representative headship of Adam”. Natural headship posits that all humanity was biologically and spiritually within Adam when he rebelled. Therefore, all mankind was plunged into sin by this one act of rebellion (Romans 5:18, 19). Representative headship contends that Adam, as one who held dominion by God’s command (Genesis 1:28), acted on behalf of the entire human race (Arrington 140).
Adam and Eve, as mankind’s spiritual and physical fore bearers, represented mankind in a legal and perhaps seminal sense before God. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve appear to have been in a state of untested innocence or righteousness. Sin did not begin with an act, but with a thought or mindset that established itself apart from God (Genesis 3:1-6).
It is important to one’s thinking to understand that the foundation of sin is not merely the enactment of evil, but the thoughts and nature of mankind. Romans 5:12 envelops all of humanity in the original sin of Adam;
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned - for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
Paul pointedly argues that the sin he is talking of does not involve the breaking of a law. Sin is not just an act.
In Genesis 3, Satan tempts Adam and Eve on multiple levels. One of the areas that he attacks is their sense of justice. He implies that God has misled them. Rising from this sense of injustice, Adam and Eve began to rationalize their behavior. Satan’s lie freed them to obey their more prurient desires. They felt that they could legitimatize their willful disobedience. Sin appears to follow a pattern of human expression that was first set in the Garden of Eden.
Satan also inspires a sense of independence. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Man began to move from his created order in existence to plotting his own destiny. In the words of William Earnest Henley in his poem “Invictus,”
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul (qtd. in Erickson 492)
Man’s decision to leave God may not be blamed by entrapment, Satan’s wiles, or his cunning. If Adam and Eve did not have these desires rage within them, they never would have fallen. Man is solely responsible for his fate.
Nor is God responsible for allowing this moment to come to fruition. Adam was created as a masterpiece and the center of Gods creation. To have stripped Adam of the ability to respond to God in a free fashion would have marred the Creator’s creativity and the perfection of His work. The offer of sin when man was not fallen implies that Adam and Eve had free will prior to the Fall. James in James 1:13 absolves God of any wrongdoing by reflecting on His nature. “God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.”
Other religions, such as the Latter Day Saints leave God solely responsible for evil. Once, upon dialoguing with Mormon missionaries, we broached the subject of the Mormon interpretation of Genesis. In their view, God gave man two conflicting covenants which made it necessary for man to break one of them in order to please God. In Mormon theology, man had to either multiply the earth and subdue it, or he must not eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. If the first man had not eaten of the Tree, he would have sinned since he could not produce children to multiple until sin entered the world (a peculiar doctrine of Mormonism). If he ate of the Tree, which he did, he would also sin. God forced man to sin. Evangelical and Mormon may at least agree on this point, that sin brought death and destruction into the world. Mormon’s, however, must make God fully accountable for death, rape, incest, murder, stealing, lying and genocide. It is only in Christianity that God is fully absolved of the charge of bringing both physical and moral evil into the world. The brunt or responsibility in Christian theology falls fully on man.
The nature of sin is such that man stands at the epicenter of its heinous intrusion into God’s perfect creation. In Genesis 1:31, God saw His creation and called it very good. Man is responsible for the inception of incest, murder, rape, thievery, and lying. It is interesting to note that the Serpent’s and Eve’s curses were specifically upon their offspring or future generations (3:14-16). Since Satan has no physical offspring and demons are not known to procreate, we should probably see this statement in the light of Christ’s words in John 8:44 where he identifies Satan’s spiritual offspring. This is one of the impacts of sin upon humanity; that there is a struggle between the righteous offspring of Eve and the evil offspring of Satan. Ultimately, this battle would culminate in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ per the message of the Protoevangelium (3:15).
Woman’s curse includes brokenness in her two greatest domains; the life of her children and her relationship with her husband (3:16). Childbearing is characterized by pain. One might expand this to also encompass mother-children relationships after birth since these are often painful, but this would likely be an unfounded stretch.
A woman’s longing for her husband will be intense. Any conflict in the relationship will be magnified due to God’s curse. Harsh, dictatorial husbands will partially define the curse upon women as roles between husband and wife will be murky and in turmoil.
The curse specifically spoken to Adam is tied to the created order. Genesis 3:17-19 is a curse of futility. Once, man’s labor would be fulfilling and productive. Evermore it was to be filled with failure and ultimately swallowed by the despair of death that erases all toil, deeds, and memory. Man is a desperate creature whose stress and anxiety erupt in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. It is here that his alienation from God boils over into despair.
God’s greatest and most wounding curse is upon man’s relationship with God. Without instruction, without guidance, and without feelings of eternal worth, unsaved humanity now stands as an island. Haunted by divinely given capacities to understand eternity and by loneliness in the vastness of God’s creation, humanity throws itself into fulfilling its insatiable needs. Isaiah recognized that sin separates. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Mankind is not only alienated from God, but men and women are alienated from one another. This bore itself all too quickly in the Genesis account as Cain murdered Abel and Lamech boasted of killing a man for a slight offense (Genesis 4). The common brotherhood of man, if it ever existed, was quickly extinguished after the Fall. Human interaction is marked by strife and communication failures. Even husbands and wives find unity to be a challenge, as was mentioned previously concerning the curse on Eve.
Humanity’s mire in sin is chronicled in Romans 1 through 3. Romans 1:20-21 tells us that man is thoroughly aware of God’s general revelation concerning Him. Verse 28 states that mankind discards the truth. The last regression is that people know the truth and willingly embrace error (vs. 32).
Underlining that sin seeks substitutes to fill the God-given desires, Romans 1 is a profound statement on the nature of fallen mankind. While God has provided natural means for satiating human desires, man, in alienation from God, endeavors to meet those desires with things that never satisfy. Human sexuality was intended to be satisfied in marriage. God Himself intended to fulfill human spirituality and intellectual curiosity. It is the nature of sinful man to find counterfeits or substitutes for God’s good things.
Sin’s impact on humanity is immeasurable. Businesses attempt to cure its effects, feed its longings and address its consequences. Mankind lives as if this were normal. But in bitter times, the sense of oughtness that permeates dire situations awakens men’s consciences to the way things should be. If death, destruction and moral depravity are normal, why do they cause such a tumult in the human soul? If God used these as his agencies of creation or if there is no God, then why are they not embraced and accepted?
Language has grappled to explain the nature of sin and its impact. The Greeks were not satisfied with just a few words for it as they tried to capture several of its nuances. An exploration of the pertinent terms is useful.
· adikia – The opposite of righteousness. To commit injustice, deal unjustly, a wrong. The concept of adikia is tied to legal considerations. It may reference particular crimes. This word captures the concept that sin is not an individual domain, but that it actually impacts the community as well. In the Old Testament, the community was seen as the preserver of justice, so a sin against justice was also against the community as a whole (Brown 573-576).
· hamartia – To sin, to transgress. In classical literature, it means to miss the mark, to lose, to not share in something or to be mistaken. It was used in this period to describe anything that was not part of the accepted social order. In the Old Testament, the word was used to describe a conscious deviation from the right direction. Here sin is thought of as a breach of the covenants. The New Testament uses this word to describe man’s sins that are against God (577-583).
· parabasis – To go aside, to turn aside, transgress. By its use in Homer and onwards in history, its meaning was centered on a deviation from the original and true direction. It was sometimes used in the sense of an obligation or debt that was not kept. This word was not common in the Septuagint, but it meant to neglect God, to transgress the covenant or to become lax in the maintenance of one’s relationship with God. In the New Testament, it is used of Judas who abandoned his discipleship. In the Pauline writings, it is used to speak of transgressing the law in the context of the Jewish theology of the law (583-585).
· paraptoma – To fall beside, go astray, err, trespass, to step falsely. In classical literature it referred to an excusable error. In the Septuagint, it was used to translate six different Hebrew words that encompass the idea of conscious transgression, not merely accidents. It is only used in the verb form in the New Testament in Hebrews 6:6 where the meaning seems to be that of ‘falling away’. This is the deliberate rejection of the Christian faith. The noun is used in Matthew to speak of actions that result in man falling from the position God gave him (585-586).
· asebeia – Ungodliness. This word means that one is unlike God (Arrington 126).
The range of meaning for all of the words used for sin demonstrates both its individual and corporate effect. Sin can result in the personal loss of position and relationship with God. It may also speak of the community’s deviation from God. In general, sin misses God’s intended purpose in an individual’s life. The true deviation begins when a person fails to maintain their proper relationship with God. This was true of Adam and Eve and is true of all sinning humanity today.
An important question is whether man is a sinner because he personally sins or if he is a sinner through some sort of imputed or adopted inner nature. The Bible appears to clearly indicate that man is a sinner by nature, not labor. The ancient heretic Pelagius believed that every individual that enters the world is innocent by nature (Lewis 184). David, in the Psalms, states that a human’s entrance to the world already bears the taint of sinfulness (58:3). Evil men are evil even from the womb. As to his own entrance into the world, David writes in the Psalm 51:5 that he bore some of this taint from the moment of conception. Some have unwisely tried to interpret this passage to mean that David was saying that the actual act of conception was sinful, but this is unfounded by the text.
Various groups have battled over whether man has a sin nature or how that nature impacts mankind. The Socinians of the sixteenth-century denied original sin, any inheritance of depravity and even that sin was punishable by death. Roman Catholics adhere to the idea in A New Catechism that the Fall was not a historic event and that mankind did not become “depraved and guilty as a result of Adam’s sin.” Individuals are not condemned for Adam’s transgressions, but ratify his transgressions by their own personal acts of sin. Arminians either believe in a general preventing grace that covers Adam’s transgression so that people are only responsible for their own personal sins, or that the inheritance of a sin nature only encompasses a predisposition to sin, not actual sin or condemnation. (Lewis 184-188).
Counter to these ideas are the thoughts of John Calvin. Calvin defined original sin as “a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ ” (George 214). While denying the idea that the sin nature is biologically inherited from Adam, Calvin believed that God had ordained that all men should possess a sin nature (215). Viewing sin as all pervasive, Calvin saw inner awareness of sin as a necessary step in salvation. “No one is permitted to receive God’s blessing unless he is consumed with the awareness of his poverty” (216).
Scripture affirms that mankind has a sin nature that has been inherited from Adam. Many have taken umbrage to this since they believe that it implies that people do not bear personal responsibility for their sins if the inheritance of it is beyond their control. R.C. Sproul writes, “In protest we want to say, ‘No damnation without representation’” (Sproul 149). Karl Barth believed that the story of the Fall was a saga that recounts the fall that every human being individually makes at some point. He objected to the idea that sin was passed like a disease from person to person. Brunner concluded that the universality of sin was due to humanity’s finite limitations. He refused to recognize sin as a state, but only as an act (Lewis 189).
What one applies to the Fall, they should also apply to redemption. To take offense with the position that all sinned in Adam and have inherited his sin and guilt, one should also take offense that Christ died and lived a righteous life so that all men might live. If representation is a bad thing in one instance, it should be a bad thing in other instances.
The fact of the matter is that to be human means to be fallen. Mankind can no more break from Adam than to declare that they are no longer part of the human kind. If humanity inherited Adam’s physical nature, the joy of living, the fullness of creativity, the bounty of his intellectual capacities, and the full range of his emotions, one should not feel tricked by also inheriting his baser characteristics. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology states that, “This inherited tendency to sin does not mean that human beings are all as bad as they could be. The constrains of civil law, the expectations of family…all provide restraining influences on the sinful tendencies of our hearts” (Grudem 496).
In their original state, Adam and Eve could respond to God. They walked with him in the Garden and freely conversed with Him. At the moment of their sinfulness, however, this interaction was marred and broken. God had to search for Adam and Eve to initiate communication. After the Fall, Adam and Eve did not even want to respond to God. The result of their experimentation with sin culminated in their banishment from His presence in the Garden (Genesis 3).
Can a man or woman freely respond to God today under his or her own willpower? That question is fraught with difficulty. Humanity certainly does not move in this direction easily. Christ said to the people of Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Even with the most persuasive representation of God’s mercy, people were not moved.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke, the rich man entreated Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers in the hope that they would avoid his fate. Abraham responded that if one was not persuaded by the testimony of Moses and the prophets, that they would not even respond to one raised from the dead (16:31). The redemption of man is not an easy thing.
The question really encircles how bad mankind really is. Did sin merely wound a man’s ability to communicate with God or has he been rendered utterly without illumination? Timothy George reflects on Martin Luther’s opinion of this matter in his book, Theology of the Reformers. In his words:
One of Luther’s complaints against the “pig theologians” was their thesis that the human will of its own volition could actually love God above all things, or, that by doing one’s best even apart from grace one could earn a certain standing before God. To this optimistic appraisal of human potential Luther opposed a stark contrast between nature and grace. “Grace puts God in the place of everything else it sees, and prefers him to itself, but nature puts itself in the place of everything, and even in the place of God, and seeks only its own and not what is God’s.” By “nature” Luther did not mean simply the created realm, but rather the fallen, created realm, and particularly the fallen human will which is “curved in on itself” (incurvatus in se), “enslaved,” and tainted with evil in all of its actions. At the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, Luther defended the thesis: “Free will after the Fall exists only in name, and as long as one ‘does what in one lies,’ one is committing mortal sin” (George 75)
Luther viewed mankind as damaged beyond human repair in relating to God. Per George, however, Luther never denied that free will retained its power in matters outside of salvation (75).
There are many verses that speak of men responding to God. Peter exhorts the people in Acts 3:19 to “turn to God”. Paul tells the Ephesian elders of his ministry that directed Jews and Gentiles to “turn to God in repentance”. In the quote of the Old Testament in Romans 4:1, Paul writes that Abraham “believed” God. Mark 9:24 is a synergistic passage where the demon possessed boy’s father affirms his belief and asks Jesus to aid his remaining unbelief.
It is worth noting that mankind must respond to God in belief, but how does mankind arrive at that wonderful moment? Even at the great confession of Peter regarding who Christ was, Christ replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). In John 6:44, Christ states that no one comes to him without first being called by the Father. John 3: 7 and 8 would seem to indicate that the Holy Spirit brings the new birth according to His own will. In the words of Romans 8:29,
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
God’s foreknowledge and calling predate a person’s response in our space-time reality.
There are also many verses that speak to the question of man’s bondage. Paul refers to sin as a prison in Romans 7:23. The bondage is so great that the whole world is a prisoner of sin (Galatians 3:22). Slavery is probably the best description of man’s relationship with sin (John 8:34, Romans 7:14). A person cannot consistently choose to do anything that is right. There is always some hidden taint even in the best products of a human being’s intentions. Often when reading the words of Paul in Romans 7:24, one may feel the anguish of his words and feel the desperation. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Ephesians 4:18 addresses the inner darkness of unredeemed man’s soul. He is cut off from understanding. His mind has been shut off to the revelation of God’s mercy. The writer of 2 Corinthians 4:4 proclaims that men’s minds are purposefully clouded by the evil one. There is an evil power that desires to keep mankind veiled in shadow. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus states that the devil steals the word from people’s hearts so that they cannot believe (Luke 8:12). Satan’s intent is to obscure the very face of God and to redirect lost mankind to other diversions. This alone would make a free response by fallen man to God difficult.
Not only is mankind troubled by demons without, but also by the rebellious nature within. Isaiah certainly realized this when he was ushered into the presence of the Lord and cried woe upon himself (Isaiah 6:5). Paul journalizes in Romans 7 his own personal fight with sin. Struggling with desires to do both good and evil is a plight that even redeemed men must face. In particular, Romans 7:8 states “But sin taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire.” Picturing sin as a restless entity, Paul writes that sin actually produced inner evil desires. Here sin is not seen as an act, but as a driving inner force of evil. Verse 23 strengthens the idea that there is an active sin nature.
Unregenerate man’s ability to understand God’s revelation has also been severely damaged. Paul writes that men are “dead” in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). We should be cautious not to construe death as total destruction, but as separation from God (Geisler 540). Unredeemed man is capable of understanding God’s revelation, but he disdains it (Romans 1:28). In the paraphrased words of I Corinthians 2:14, the word of God is “spiritually discerned” by someone who has the Holy Spirit in their hearts. To the un-spirited man, the word of God is foolish.
In our sinful state, God cannot accept us. Every part of our being has been effected by the blight of sin. Nothing good dwells in man (Romans 7:18). Human hearts are full of deceit (Jeremiah 17:9). Habbakuk wrote that “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13). Our decrepit nature bars us from entering into God’s presence.
Has man any power to turn to God in faith and repentance on his own? Even as a redeemed man, Paul apparently felt the gravity of the struggle with the sin nature. The answer that Paul supplies for his own query is a fantastic one. “Jesus Christ our Lord” is utterly capable of meeting our needs in struggle.
However, for the unsaved man who faces a spiritual foe, who has his own mind darkened, who is fettered by sin and who has inherited a natural disposition to sin, what may be said of his power to come to God? Paul’s Romans 9 sheds light on the human condition before God. In this context, Paul is discussing the apostasy of the Jewish people from the Lord. Paul is heartbroken over his people and earnestly desires their salvation. In order to make his point, Paul directs his reader’s attention to the story of Jacob and Esau. Even before he was born, Jacob was considered “elect” in the eyes of God. ‘What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” ‘ (vs. 14-15).
The sin nature has a grip on the heart of humanity that God sovereignly breaks so that His people might spend eternity with Him. It does not appear that man has the power to freely turn to God in faith and repentance on his own power. Man has tremendous freedom in expressing his sinful nature while in the unregenerate state, but his choices for God are severely curtailed. Like Adam and Eve in their untested righteousness, Christians have been freed to exercise faith and repentance.
Understanding that every human being has a sin nature should have an impact on how Christians understand their world. First, Christians should never place ultimate trust in another human being. Only God has proved trustworthy. This should not drive the Christian into skepticism about all relationships, but it should blanket them from blindly following others or from entrusting too much confidence in their leadership. Second, Christians should be not be amazed when sin happens even in the lives of those who are well respected. Sin is the common denominator of our broken world. Third, forgiveness should be given swiftly and without reticence. Fourth, evangelism should be undertaken with the understanding that our obstacles are great, but our God is greater.
Sin literally cracked the world, breaking asunder the earth, relationships, the beauty of God’s original creation, and the nature of man. To be human means to be sinful. To be alive in the earthly realm means that we navigate a broken world. Sin is a horrible blight, but as bad as it is, it has not snuffed out the awesome beauty of God’s craftsmanship. Mankind is the marvel of all that God created. Even after the Fall, the psalmist is still able to express the wonder of being human.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth (Romans 8:1-9)!
The nature of sin is unavoidable and it effects are dire, but these were not left without a remedy. In the reworked words of William Earnest Hensley,
Out of the morning that bathes me
Bright as the sun from pole to pole
I thank the God of calvary
For my unconquerable soul
It matters now how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
He is the master of my fate
He is the captain of my soul!
Sunday, August 05, 2007
My wife and I recently attended a party to celebrate the 85th and 90th birthdays of my grandmother and grandfather (respectively). It was a beautiful occasion to see all of the generations of the family present to honor them. Due to my grandparents' committment to Christ, many of their progeny are heaven bound.
Posted by For Christ's Fame at 5:35 PM