Posted in Christian Perspective, Covenant, Sin, sinners, Theology

Proper Perspectives for Hard lessons…

All people sin. There is not a righteous person on the earth (1Kgs 8.46). The only one that ever existed in the history of human beings who did not sin is Jesus of Nazareth. That might not sound appealing to you. You may even want to say that I am exaggerating the truth a bit, but according to the Holy Triune God of the Bible that is the reality of how things truly are, and to take any other position regarding it is to call God a liar.

All are sinners and the evidence is that we all die. We are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. Sinners is a noun, nouns describe a person, place or thing. Sinning (to commit sin) on the other hand is a verb; verbs describe the activity of the subject in question. There are stative verbs, verbs that identity a state of being, but when the Bible describes humanity as sinners, and then attributes to our good works as dirty menstruation rags fit to be cast out as they bear the fruit of death (Isa 64.6), the point being blatantly made is that our state of being is that of a sinner—it is who we are as fallen creatures—and the result of our state of being is that we sin. Death is the wages of sin, because sin can only produce death. Living in sin is living in death; because that is the only possible outcome since as sinners we are separated from the Lord of Life.

This is the direct result of Adam’s transgression in the garden. This is what he purchased (gave to) all his offspring. Again, this point is stressed in Scripture (cf. Rom 5.12-21; 1Cor 15.21-22). What happened in the garden is that Adam apostatized from the covenant that God had established with man when he created him (them). Through Adam the human race (his offspring) became covenant-breaker’s—i.e. apostate’s.

Death as Biblically Defined…

If you are not a part of the True Vine, you wither and die. There are those who will argue that true death did not occur in the Garden of Eden. They take a naturalistic view of death as the true definition of death, but the Bible does not describe death in that fashion. Death is also referred to as separation. Being separated from something like the body, righteousness/sin, or ultimately God.

For example, we are told that when we die our spirit returns to the One who created it (Eccl 12.7). The spirit within this earthen vessel returns to its Maker for judgment (Heb 9.27). The physical body returns to dust; to the very earth it was taken from (Gen 3.19b). **The reason we return to dust (body’s die being separated from the spirit that sustains them) is because human beings in Adam have been separated from the life of God.

And yet, we are also told that there will come a time when all human beings’ lives will be weighed in the balance (not just temporally, but eternally). The scales will either be tipped in our favor or against it. The determining factor is whether (or not) we reside in Jesus the Christ (Rev 2.11; 20.6). For those who do not their inheritance is eternal death—i.e. separation from the goodness of God for all eternity; the lake of fire. The lake of fire (final judgment of the unrepentant not found in Christ) is rightly called the 2nd death or lasting/final death (Rev 20.14; 21.8).

The in-between that I have not discussed is another instance of death. In Romans 6 Paul effectively argues that those who are in Christ have died in Him and have been raised to new life. What the Scriptures refer to as a heart transplant (spiritual) in other places where the heart of stone is removed, and then replaced with a heart of flesh (Jer 32.39; Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26; Heb 8.10; 10.16-17). This the Holy Spirit does for many, but not all. When this transaction takes place, Paul says we have just witnessed the death of sin in the life of believers. We are no longer slaves to that former dominion, but are now transferred to slaves of righteousness. As I noted earlier this does not mean that we no longer sin, but our desires because of a new disposition gained by a new heart (spiritual bent) have effectively been changed. We have died to sin, to live in righteousness. This circumcision of the heart as it is also called is true death according to the Bible, but it is not naturalistic.

Seeing the Relational Connection…

Why is that important? Do you not see the connection? Are you purposefully closing your eyes so that you cannot see it and then can willfully deny it? It should be obvious…

The reason that should strike a cord in our minds is because the exact opposite occurred in Genesis 3. You say that Adam (and Eve) did not truly die, but God says that they did. “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). Some make a big deal about the fact that the words here repeat death in Hebrew so that it literally reads, “a death thou shalt die; or, dying you shalt die,”1 but the point is merely being emphatically stressed that death will result the very day this tree’s fruit is eaten. From the moment of Adam’s transgression (note the stress is on Adam in the Bible because he was the representative head of his wife and his children through him)—his apostacy—he died. He was separated from the life of God, his spiritual tie that originally bound him to the Lord was severed and this is evidenced by him and his wife’s behavior immediately after the deed was finalized.

Therefore, through Adam we have all become covenant-breakers. In a very real sense, we have been born in this world as apostates of the original covenant that God established with our forefather. We did not ask for this status, but we did inherit it.

Some may decry the unfairness of God’s judgment in this. “How can I be held accountable for Adam’s sin?” The answer is “You’re not. You are held accountable for your sin.” But then you say, “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach we are all condemned in Adam (cf. Rom 5.16, 18)?” The answer is “Yes, it does. However, the condemnation is judgment already past. The result or consequence being that in Adam we all die because we are all separated from the life of God. The resulting bent in the human heart is now in opposition to God. Thus, a new birth is necessary to have communion/fellowship/life with God (cf. John 3).

Proper Perspectives for Hard Lessons…

Why trudge on well beaten paths? Because, if we are going to understand properly the commands by God that seem to some cruel beyond measure in the O.T. we need the proper lens through which to view them. When individuals read or hear about the accounts of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the devastation of Egypt and Canaan, or one that really baffles the minds of some which I shall revel later, then our assumptions/presuppositions needs to be checked at the door.

Human beings are not described as good, but evil. We are not described as free, but slaves. We are not described as seeing, but blind. We are not described as living, but dead. Nor are we described as innocent, but guilty. Human beings are not neutral towards God, but it is written that they hate him. Therefore, with those precursors in place, I am hoping that you are prepared to properly digest what comes next…

Not everything that God’s commands are for the good of all people, but only for those who love Him (Rom 8.28). God does not always command that which is beneficial towards humanity, but is always beneficial to Him so that He alone receives the Glory owed to Him….:

“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16.27; ESV).

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ENDNOTES:

1
Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published 1810-1826), Gen 2.17. Clarke was an Arminian minister/theologian that was an expert in multiple ancient languages. I chose him primarily to show that this is an orthodox understanding of this text. Despite the claim often said that this is just the Calvinistic understanding. For Clarke also states in his notes that this declaration of God is not limited to physical dying, but spiritual death: “Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from the moment though shalt become mortal and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die…Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.”

Posted in Biblical Questions, Grace, Law, legalism, Romans 6.14, Salvation, slave, Theology

Romans 6:14: What’s Paul’s point?

“…you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6.14)

This is a very popular verse among Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, it is also often misunderstood. The assumption is made that since we are no longer “under law” but are “under grace” that the Law of God no longer applies to the Christian life. This proof-texting error occurs when one uses the text without giving consideration to the surrounding context.

Proof-texting is when a person takes a verse(s) of Scripture and then applies it to a certain teaching or situation in order to support their argument. To be fair, everyone proof-texts from one degree to another, there’s really no way around it. And, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so, as long as what is being argued is truly supported by the text being cited.

Now, if you are an observant reader—and I imagine you are since you’re reading my material; let’s be honest you need to be to follow my lines of argumentation—you will pick up on the fact that I have only cited a portion of Romans 6:14. All I’ve given you is the second half of the verse. Essentially, what I’ve done is taken a snippet of what Paul is saying and then ran with it.

Well, actually, I haven’t been running since the weather turned cold, but you get my meaning. Technically, I haven’t even made a point yet other than to start cautioning the reader of a very bad habit that sloppy readers and arguers use. If a person makes an argument on half a thought, then either they are being intellectually dishonest or are ignorant. Ignorance is like anything else in life, it’s either purposeful or not. If it’s purposeful, then shame on you. If not, then there is always time to learn to correct what you don’t know.

One of the greatest boons to Christians, other than having direct access to a Bible (something that was not possible hundreds of years ago), is the chapter and verse divisions in Scripture. Many people are not aware of what sort of luxury that even is. The original manuscripts did not possess such divisions within them. A guy by the name of Stephanus added them in order to help facilitate learning amongst believers who were not overtly familiar with the biblical texts. Of course, all things have their pros and cons.

The same is true with the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible. The primary con is neglecting what has come before and what has come after the passage we are studying. Failing to study the writer’s flow-of-thought limits the reader from being able to understand the intent of the message being given.

This brings us back to Romans 6:14. What came before “…you are not under law but under grace?” What comes after this statement is vitally important as well, but looking before is always a good place to start. Here’s the entirety of the verse, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”1 Just to help facilitate a better understanding of what Paul is saying here let’s look at this same verse in a couple more translations of the Greek text:

  • “For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (HCSB).
  • “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (NET).
  • “For sin will not be master over you, because you are not under law, but under grace” (LEB).
  • “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (TNIV).
  • “for sin over you shall not have lordship, for ye are not under law, but under grace” (YLT).

The meaning here seems rather plain just from the inclusion of the rest of Paul’s statement. All these translations (and there are many more, sadly too many in English) highlight that Paul’s concern is that these Christians in Rome know that sin no longer has dominion over them as believers. Sin will no longer act as lord over their life ruling them, for the bonds of their former master have been broken. We learn that just from reading the whole sentence.

To be honest there is actually more, which we shall look at here in a moment, but please notice that the reason we Christians are no longer “under law, but under grace” is because the bondage of sin has been broken. This should guide our focus as we seek to comprehend the meaning of this often misunderstood phrase. To argue that this phrase means Christians are no longer bound to be obedient to the Law of God grossly distorts the truth. In fact, all you need to do is look at the very next verse to see that is not what Paul intended: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom 6.15); or, as the NET translates it “Absolutely not!”

What does it mean to no longer be under the law, but under grace? In order to answer that question, we need to look deeper into the argumentation of Paul that led him to say what he did in Romans 6:14.

Paul’s concern is pretty clear from the get go in his Roman letter. After his introductory remarks, he makes a very poignant statement regarding the good-news of God. He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom 1.16).

It is precisely at this point where Paul takes a drastic turn from the good-news of God to the bad-news of man (human beings). And he spends the better part of two chapters proving it (cf. Rom 1.18-3.23).

Contrast Between the Bad and Good News

Through Paul we are told by the Holy Spirit that every person born is under the “wrath of God” (Rom 1.18). Why? Because people would rather worship the creature, than the Creator and so they suppress the truth that is evident all around them by their sin (cf. Rom 1.18-23). No one is better than the other for both groups—Jews and Gentiles; those who have direct access to the Word of God and those who do not—are rightly condemned (cf. Rom 2.12-13). Why? “[Because] we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside [since Adam]; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one'” (Rom 3.9-12). “For there is no distinction: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3.22b-23). The news about human beings, Paul says, “is all bad.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3.18).

However, after lambasting the human race Paul does offer a ray of hope, found in the grace of God and the good-work of Jesus Christ. For it is God who “…justified [us] by his grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3.24-25). He then adds shortly after this the following truths: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom 3.27-30).

So, in three chapters Paul has said that the gospel is the power of God for both Jews and Greeks. He has identified the problem that plagues the whole human race since the Fall of Adam in the garden and the necessary consequence—we are under God’s wrath/judgment. He explains that all are in this state under the dominion of sin (cf. Rom 3.9) regardless of our heritage, knowledge, etc. The result is that all people do not have faith in God, for no one fears God in his natural state. Man is not neutral towards God, but is, as Paul will later write, downright hostile towards God incapable of obeying Him (cf. Rom 8.7-8). Yet in the midst of this bad news, the good-news of God is the salvific work in Jesus Christ which is more powerful than our fallen state. Access to this redeemed state is not by works of the law—how can man do good in God’s sight, if man is hostile towards God naturally?—but by the gracious kindness of God.

Paul Expands his Argument

In Romans 4 Paul explains what this grace without the works of the law looks like in the faith of Abraham.2 Taking God at His Word, trusting in His promises, believing that He is and that Jesus Christ is in whom we place our undying fealty…that is what accredited (put in our bankrupt account) as righteousness.

(Am I saying that Abraham would have understood all that in light of the revelation given to him at that time? No. It was enough that God promised to do for Abraham what Abraham could not do for himself that is in view here. But in light of what God did for Abraham by His [God’s] own initiative is what is promised to us—cf. Rom 4.23-25).

In Romans 5 Paul explains the power (cf. Rom 1.16) of God’s work in Christ. How God “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”( Rom 5.8). Jesus died for his “enemies” (Rom 5.10). He saved those who were too “weak” (Rom 5.6) to save themselves “…from the wrath of God” (Rom 5.9).

This is demonstrated in the two federal heads of man. This is the point of Romans 5:12-21. What Adam ushered into creation in his rebellion (sin), Christ (the last Adam) defeated upon the cross when he ushered in righteousness:

  • “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the man were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.18-19).

In other words, all in Adam stand condemned before God, because all in Adam are under the wrath of God, since all in Adam suppress the truth in unrighteousness denying the Creator who made them in preference for the created things (idols) they fashion in their own hearts. This, all in Adam do, because all in Adam were made sinners by Adam’s sin. Adam (the first) represents the whole human race.

But, as Paul fondly points out in retrospect “the free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15, 16). The distinction Paul makes between the condemned and the justified (the sinners and the righteous) is that all in Jesus Christ (the last Adam) “reign in life” (Rom 5.17).

I realize that I have already covered this previously, but understanding this is vital to what follows in Romans 6. This chapter speaks of the transaction that has occurred because of the free gift in Jesus Christ. All those who are in Christ are ushered into life. That is what the work of the Triune God purchased for His people: “…righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5.21). The supernatural effect of “God’s love [having] been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5b). This has taken place in the life of the believer because they have been freed from the bondage of sin.

Changing Identity

When Paul speaks of Adam’s offspring being made sinners, what he is disclosing is that we are slaves of sin. We were never free we were in bondage, similar to the physical bondage that Israel experienced at the hands of Egypt. Sinners are slaves to sin. This speaks more about identity than it does action; although, it may be sufficiently argued that the identity of sinner equates the continual practice of sinning.

Paul explains that we, who are saved, are saved because of the transaction that took place on our behalf. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin—death—and so, through Him we die to sin and are raised as new creatures. In other words, our identity has been changed.

  • “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.3-4).

The conclusion we are supposed to draw is that since our identity has been changed, we no longer “live in sin” (Rom 6.2). Or as Paul says in 6:14 we are no longer under sin’s rule, dominance, lordship or mastery. We have “…been set free from sin” (Rom 6.7) since “…our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6.6). Therefore, just as “[Christ] lives to God. So [we] also must consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” refusing to “let…sin…reign in [our] mortal body…[obeying] its passions” (Rom 6.10b-11, 12). Rather, as new creatures in Christ we “present [ourselves] to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6.13).

Why Reference to the Law?

“If what you are saying is true,” Kris, “then why does Paul reference the law in Rom 6:14?” The word “law” has many meanings and the context helps limit the sense in which the word is used (e.g. Psa 119). Law can mean an overarching principle (a demonstrable force of will) being enacted upon someone. Paul uses it this way in Romans 7:21-23. He also uses it in reference to the general equity of God’s Word, as instruction (Rom 2.12-16). The use that Paul binds to the reader’s heart in Romans 6:14, is that in regards to curse.

In Romans 5:20 we learn that “the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Paul will develop this thought more throughout the course of his letter, but the point we need to focus on is why he says God gave the law “…to increase the trespass.” The answer will elude you if your anthropology is not biblically rooted.

Because of man’s natural state upon entering this world (direct consequence of Adam’s rebellion) the introduction of God’s standard (His Word) will increase sin. No, Paul’s point is Romans 5:20 is that not all hope is lost because where the sin increasing God increasing the grace. This is not a license to sin (see Rom 6.1-2), but a reference of hope. All is not lost, because salvation is no dependent upon man.

If we look back to Romans 3:19-20 we find another important admission by Paul: “Now we know that whatever the law says
it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” What’s he saying? First, the law offers condemnation to those who are under it. That is to say it shows that all men are guilty before God. Since all men are God’s creation, all men know that they will be held accountable before Him for their sin. Both Jew and Greek know this to be true, which is just another way of saying “all people are without excuse because all know the truth of their misdeeds.” Second, this use of the law3 sheds further light on our predicament as sinners (again identity). Oddly, enough this is what makes the gospel meaningful. The contrast of the good-news with the bad-news is what highlights the beauty of Christ.

Why is this necessary? Because “most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20.6; KJV). In other words, this use of the Law prevents us from proclaiming our goodness, for when we are confronted with it there is no denying that we are wickedly deceitful creatures who rightly stand condemned under the wrath of God.

The meaning of 6:14

Finally, we have come full circle for this is Paul’s point in Romans 6:14. The bondage of sin has been broken; therefore, we are no longer under the curse of the law, but are found under the blessings of grace. This is not a freeing of the believer’s responsibility before God and man to uphold His Law-Word. Christ purchased our freedom from sin. He gave us new life, new faith, new hope and new love. This transaction freed us from condemnation, put us beneath the fountains of grace and gave us the strength and willingness we formerly did not possess…a desire to “uphold the law” (Rom 3.31).

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ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 This chapter looks back to the statement made in Rom 3:30; as well as other comparisons made between those who are and who are not God’s. A distinction made not in the flesh, but in the work of the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

3 There are actually three uses of the Law of God. 1) Identifies sinners by pointing out their sin, 2) Curbs the evil of fallen people in the civil arena, 3) Identifies that which is pleasing to God for the saved to follow after—i.e. what the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify us. NOTE: We do not sanctify ourselves. Only God can sanctify us, and it is through the right use of His Law-Word that He continually changes and shapes the attitude of our hearts—i.e. How the Potter molds His vessels of honor.

Posted in Biblical Questions, Communication, critique, Depravity, Freewill, philosophy, Theology

Back in the Saddle with Original Sin: A Review of “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty”

Do you like cake? Do you enjoy eating it? So do I, and I think I shall have a slice.1

Recently, I had responded to a fellow blogger (Haden Clark) in light of his denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Wherever you may fall on this particular issue, this is an important biblical doctrine. We are told in Scripture that God made man upright, but in response to how God made us we have sought out many sinful schemes (Eccl 7.29). If I accurately understand Clark (and I believe I do, but he is free to correct me if I am wrong), he would merely respond to this verse that yes God made man without sin (upright), but using his freedom to will whatsoever he desires man chose to rebel. What Adam did in the garden we all do. Not by necessity. Not because Adam’s trespass is somehow consequentially afforded to us perverting who we are as human beings. Such things as these (that our sin is tied to a twisted fallen nature) Clark seemingly denies.

  • He writes: “Human nature entails imperfection (we are not God) and freewill (we are free to make our own choices). This equation (imperfection + freewill + temptation) is all I see to be the necessary for the conclusion that we will all inevitably sin of our own choosing. It is by this freewill decision to rebel against our Creator that lands us all justifiably under God’s wrath. But no, not for a second do I believe that we are born guilty, or guilty by our nature, and I have shown why I don’t believe this in the article already cited” (opening par).

I don’t want to be redundant, so I will attempt to refrain from stating what I have already said in response to the article which Clark refers. However, I do want to add that the syllogism that he offers while valid in form (modus ponens; affirming the antecedent) has a faulty premise in line 2. Namely that he seemingly equates Jesus the Son of God on equal footing with the race of Adam, denying that the “virgin birth brought on by the Holy Spirit” does anything to differentiate us (humanly speaking) from our Lord.

Clark in his new article entitled, “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty” (https://helpmebelieveblog.com/why-romans-512-21-does-not-say-we-are-born-guilty/) hones in on three key verses (Rom 5.12, 18-19) in order to deny a doctrine that he does not want to “be stuck with” because of “the ugly conclusions” this doctrine naturally brings (par 11). I think that it is fair to say that the one possible conclusion that Clark desires to deny and thus goes to great lengths attempting to avoid is what the doctrine of Original Sin draws out…we are not FREE.

If the doctrine is true, and if this is what Paul is saying here in Romans 5, then our natures are corrupted by sin. Which opens up the logical conclusion that we are not truly free in an autonomous sense. That is to say, free to will good or evil without any internal mechanism that pushes in a direction that we do not want to go. Clark has already denied this conclusion “wholesale” (par 1) before looking at these verses in Romans.

To be fair Clark does seem to suggest that “we are prone to sin,” but he is speaking externally since there is no necessary internal pressure being applied to the individual in question who does sin. If the choice of good or bad is presented before us, we can deem what we desire—good or bad. In effect, according to Clark’s worldview we are neutral towards righteousness or unrighteousness, since our “human nature” is essentially free. Not even Erasmus would dare step into those murky waters.

Philosophically and experientially I can see why Clark would draw such conclusions. I can honestly sympathize, as there was a time in my past when I believed such things, but let’s be honest here the Bible does not paint humanity in such flowery overtones. (But…I get ahead of myself.)

What I want to do is look at Romans 5:12 and then vv. 18-19 as Clark has done in an “honest exegetical way” (par 4). What we want to avoid when studying biblical texts is doing “snapshot exegesis.” That is taking a few verses and treating them as if they stand alone, without bearing in mind the overall context/flow-of-thought. Just for clarity, I am not accusing Clark of necessarily doing this, but I want to be clear it is something I want to avoid.

Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”2

What is this verse saying? Clark says, “The verse is clear that the curse of Adam was death. Death entered the world through Adam” (par 4). A little later he says the same thing, “Whereas, in verse 12 “death” entered through Adam and spread to all…” (par 5).

Please reread Rom 5:12 and notice that Paul says that it is “sin” that entered through Adam. To be sure “death” does find its entrance in the garden, but “death” is the consequence of sin; sin on the other hand is the antecedent (the cause). Whatever v. 12 says, it most assuredly says Adam ushered in sin, and as Paul points out just a couple verses later “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19).

Now I agree with Clark when he writes, “…I think Adam’s sin clearly had an effect on not only us, but all of creation” (final par). I would imagine that Clark draws this conclusion from what God decreed in Gen 3:14-19 and Rom 8:19-23, and if so I congratulate him but there are others places in Scripture that likewise reveal the fallen condition creation in a whole has been left in since Adam’s rebellion. I fail to see the logical consistency in this, how he can accept the one and deny the other, but I will leave him to muddle over such issues.

One of the things that I teach my students in studying their Bible’s is to pay attention to the grammar of the text. You do not have to know Greek (although it is admittedly better if you do) in order to notice transitional words or phrases, emphasis placed here or there.

Verse 12 starts with “Therefore”3 and so the reader is immediately keyed off to the fact that this looks back to what was written earlier. The “therefore” is there “because of” something else. Well, what is it?

What conclusion is Paul driving at from what he has said before?

Verses 1-3 speak of our rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” (v.2), “since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a) and we have by this act of justification gained “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1b). Which, in turns enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a) that come in this life as a disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul explains that as Christians our “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).

When did this transaction take place? What is the root cause of our rejoicing and hope, and what was our condition beforehand? Paul tells us that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6; italics added). In fact, Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8; italics added). And, not just sinners but when “we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5.10a; italics added).

So, let’s get this straight. Paul says we were weak and ungodly, sinners and enemies of God before being justified in Christ receiving the Holy Spirit. For this reason, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). That is to say, we were estranged from God—far from Him—before being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

And you say, “So what, what’s the point?” That starting in verse 12 Paul begins to do a compare and contrast between the work of Christ (a work of God), and the work of Adam (a work of man). In identifying this work, he says the one is not like the other (vv. 15, 16, 17). The consequences are markedly different, although the similarities are found in two representative heads: Adam or Jesus. Up until the 5th chapter of Romans Paul has been making a careful category distinction between two different people groups (and no I’m not speaking about Jew and Gentile) those who are in Christ and those who are in Adam.

Starting in chapter 1 Paul thanks God and praises the Romans for their faith, desiring to share blessing with them if only he could get to them. He rests secured in and offers praise for the gospel of Jesus Christ which he identifies as the power of God (Rom 1.16). And then, for the remainder of chapter 1 all the way through the majority of chapter 3 he offers scathing remarks against those who are in Adam. It makes no difference if they are Jew or Gentile, if they have the Law-Word of God or not, the conclusion is the same: “None [are] righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10-12). Like I said earlier no flowery overtones.

The only difference, the only hope is found in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3.22). Man, in his natural state possess nothing to boast about or in. The fourth chapter keeps up this necessary distinction between to people groups—the justified and unjustified—where Abraham is separated as markedly different than fallen man for he took God at His word, when all he was receiving were promises that had not yet been answered (cf. Rom 4.18-22).

Paul explains that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for our also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4.24-25). Not everyone is a true child of Abraham, but only those who have the faith of Abraham (Rom 4.16).

What Paul has been arguing for is a category of two different types of people. This is the key to understanding the discussion to Romans 5:12-21, for Paul is comparing and contrasting two different categories of people under to different representative heads: Adam or Christ. As you will see in a moment this is important to finding your way through the weeds that Clark is unfortunately lost in.

Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

In looking at these verses (Rom 5.18-19) Clark readily admits that “on the surface these verses seem to buttress” the claim that we are “by nature guilty” (par 8). Now he denies this conclusion, and we shall see why here in a moment, but I do want the reader to understand the phrase “the many” does mean all. So “all men” were rightly condemned by Adam’s sin, just as “all men” are rightly justified by Jesus obedience; “all men” were made sinners because of Adam, just as “all men” are made righteous because of Jesus.

I think what Clark states regarding these verses is actually very helpful. He writes, “The important thing to note (and this really is the main point!) is that the relationship between part a and part b of both verses are univocal, symmetric…what’s true of part a must be true of part b in both verses” (par 12; italics in original). He is right. However, his conclusion is wrong because he fails to follow Paul’s line of thought throughout the Roman document separating the two distinct categories of people.

Adam represents all of mankind. We are all in Adam, we are all descended from him. I think on this Bible-believing Christians can agree.

Paul says that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5.14). That is to say Adam resembled (Gr. tupos) the one who came after him. We know that this individual is the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3.15) promised in the beginning, and the “seed of Abraham” (Gen 12.7; 13.15-16; 15.5, etc.; cf. Gal 3.16). In light of the “type to come” who Paul calls in another place “the last Adam” (1Cor 15.45), his “free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15a; emphasis added) “and the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5.16; emphasis added).

In other words, what Adam’s action brought in, Jesus’ action brought with it something else entirely. Because of Adam’s sin “death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5.17a); but, “through the one man Jesus Christ…the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life” (Rom 18b; reordered for clarity).

Knowing these things to be true, how then should we read vv.18-19?

Through or “in Adam” all men receive condemnation, but through or “in Jesus Christ” all men receive justification (v. 18). In Adam “the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19a), but in Christ “the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.19b). Clark assumes that the only way to understand this is to believe in universal justification for all people, which he says “the Gospels, and New Testament in total” (par 12) deny. I agree, and would only add that the entire teaching of Scripture (Old and New) flatly deny any form of universal justification, but that is not what Paul is arguing for. He is effectively arguing and the remainder of his Roman epistle continues this line of thought there is a category distinction between the two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. All those in Adam are rightly condemned (v.18) as sinners, just as all of those in Christ are rightly justified.

Clark writes, “Trying to say that Jesus’ atoning death is not universal, but Adam’s guilt is, is a fallacy” (par 12). Again, depends on whether or not you are properly defining your categories making distinctions where necessary. Words have various semantic ranges, and their meaning is definable by context only.

On the one hand Jesus’ atoning death is not universal in that all people are not saved, but on the other hand Jesus’ atoning death is universal in application to those who believe in Him. All of those individuals (universal in application, not content of the entire human race) who come to Jesus, he promises to never drive away (John 6.37). We are all born in Adam, but we are not all born in Jesus. In order to be born in the first we come by way of the flesh, but in order to be born in the second we come by way of the Spirit (John 3).

This is important. Both works of Adam and Jesus were completed in the natural world, but both men’s actions had spiritual ramifications (results) tied directly to them. We should note that Paul has no problems tying the natural implication of Adam’s sin (i.e. we all die) with the spiritual fruition garnered by it (i.e. we are all sinners). In Adam, we receive condemnation, but in Christ we receive justification—both are spiritual judgments by God.

Closing Remarks:

Clark you write, “I’m committed to letting my theology be informed by the text and not the other way around” (par 13), and yet you are adamant that “we possess a human nature which is imperfect and free to chose as we wish” (final par). You also seem to deny the concept of being “spiritually dead” (you use the phrase “spiritual death”), because you do not see it “described in the Fall narrative whatsoever…nor does any other Old Testament prophet describe the curse of the Fall as a spiritual death” (par 5).

May I suggest to you that the reason you fail to see anything to the contrary of your position is because you are so entrenched in the idea that we must be “free to choose” whatsoever we wish? To be fair the term “freewill” is nowhere plainly laid out in Scripture either, but you most assuredly believe it. Now I figure you are smart enough to realize that this does not actually prove anything, since it is an argument of silence, and such reasoning could be used against any number of orthodox Christian teachings.

My point, however, is that your theological/philosophical commitments do have a direct bearing on what you see or do not see in Scripture. The Bible does not paint us in the optimistic light that you seem to assume.

Paul is quite clear that before we are redeemed by Christ we are enslaved to sin (cf. Rom 6.6). Slaves are by nature not free, are they? David, who was a prophet of God did say that he “was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51.5; cf. Job 14.4; 15.14-16). Obviously, Paul agreed for he says that we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1) because we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3). Jeremiah, another prophet states categorically that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer 17.9), no doubt this is what the Lord alluded to when he said that from our hearts comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Matt 5.19-20a).

Why are all men sinners? Why does the Bible speak with such pejoratives describing the human condition, if what you say is true that we are essentially good? You admit that Adam’s ushering in sin did something, but when the language is before you describing what that something is, you categorically deny it? Could you please turn me to where you learned from Scripture that man is this angelic like creature (able to will the good or the bad) that you presuppose so that I might learn these things for myself?

_____________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 By the way Clark, I loved the sarcasm in your statement regarding having your cake and eating it to. I had a few good-natured laughs in light of it. Of course, it was that biting mockery that led me to want to respond yet again.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 Various English versions translate the phrase (dia houtos) “So then” (NET), “Because of this” (LEB), “Wherefore” (Webster), “Just as” (ISV) with the idea of comparing what came before. It should be noted that much of what Paul discusses in Romans 5:12-21 also has a direct bearing on what follows after in the subsequent chapters of the letter. In particular a compare and contrast between being a slave to sin or to righteousness (the one by natural means, the other spiritual); as well as, the internal struggle with a dual nature dueling within the heart of the redeemed (cf. Rom 7), etc.

Posted in Biblical Questions, Depravity, Freewill, Salvation, Theology

Postulating a “Sin Nature” is Necessary: A Response to Haden Clark

Unfortunately, I feel a little pressed up against the wall. On the one hand, I do not want to come across as the type of person who unnecessarily attacks another Christian’s argument just to dismantle it. And yet, one of the historic creeds of the Christian faith is that mankind in his fallen-state (post Gen 2) is said to be under the reign of a sinful nature. I realize that smacks in the face of our pride. We are free! We make real choices every day! God made me this way!

Okay I get it, from an experiential point-of-view I can see where we might draw such conclusions. No one forced me to brush my teeth, nor take a shower every day, or exercise, or work, etc. Those are things that I purposely intend to do every day, and I freely chose to do so.

No rational person denies this, but where does that leave us when Scripture tells us it is true “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl 7.29)? We are told that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psa 53.1-3; cf. Psa 14.1-7; Rom 3.10-23).

I would imagine that Haden Clark would agree that these texts validate rather than nullify his position. To be fair, after reading his post a few times this morning (1/31/19) he seems content to believe that our sinning is because we “freely choose to sin of our own accord” (final par.), not due to an inward bent towards rebellion against God (i.e. sin nature). In response, I would agree that we surely “freely choose to sin of our own accord,” it is not an act of coercion, but a result of fallen human nature. And, I would agree because of my sin “I deserve the wrath of God” as Clark readily acknowledges (final par.) If not for Christ being offered as a substitute in my place, then an eternity of separation is what I would rightly endure.

In this post, I wanted to be as brief as possible, but due to the serious nature of the subject matter I was more concerned about being thorough rather than short. This will require patience on the part of the reader. Since I did not want to misrepresent Clark’s position I used lengthy quotes that attempted to keep the context from the original in mind. Likewise, my own responses and use of the Bible is a bit lengthy in places, but again for contextual reasons.

The format that I have chosen is point-by-point, a systematic review of what Clark has written (cf. https://helpmebelieve.com/postulating-a-sin-nature-is-unnecessary/). My desire is to clarify what I believe are notable misunderstandings by Clark in regards to the Reformed theology (or even theologically conservative evangelicalism). Now I could be wrong, but the tag for “Calvinism” leads me to believe that the Reformed position is within his line of sight.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

The Syllogism

 

The first thing that is presented in Clark’s blogpost after his opening paragraph is a four-point syllogism.

  1. Human beings by nature are guilty
  2. Jesus is 100% human
  3. Therefore, Jesus is guilty.
  4. Also, therefore babies (born or unborn) are guilty.

He then writes, “The fact that Jesus was born of a virgin, or the Holy Spirit, does nothing to avoid the conclusion. As long as you affirm the two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows” (par 3). There is an underlying assumption that is carried through (premise 1) to the conclusion: sin nature equates guilt. That is not the Reformed (Calvinistic) position, let alone the historic Christian position. That is to say, I am not guilty for Adam’s sin, but my own. However, it is true that in Adam I received just condemnation as a sinner, meaning that without the grace of God I am hopelessly lost as a rebel.

The truth is that in Adam “sin entered into the world,” (Rom 5.12a), and by that corruption “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5.12b). In fact, “death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5.17), and as a result the “one trespass led to the condemnation for all men” (Rom 5.18) because of “the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19). That condemnation/judicial decree of God is separation (i.e. death/spiritual death).

Although we will look at Clark’s treatment of Gen 3 in a minute, it bears noting now that the death ushered in by Adam’s sin brought enmity between the offspring of the woman (who we know to be Christ) and the offspring of the serpent (who we know to be Satan; cf. Gen 3.15). It was only an act of God’s grace that truly covered the shame/guilty of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden (cf. Gen 3.7, 21), but the consequence of that sin is seen immediately in their being driven from the Tree of Life (cf. Gen 3.22-24) and the battle between Cain and Abel post hence (cf. Gen 4.3-16).

True the condemnation of sin passed from Adam to me (to all of his children) in that I am born a sinner, but this does not mean I am guilty for Adam’s sin. I am guilty for my own sin, as Clark does recognize. The assumption that we are just like Adam was before the fall, however, is false. We are not. Therefore, we need a savior.

Paul’s point is clear in his Roman letter that we are all born as sinners because of Adam’s rebellion. We are begat in Adam’s image. In fact, before you ever get to Roman’s 5 that is Paul’s whole argument. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” because we are born of Adam, which is why we need to be born of Christ. (cf. John 3). The distinction then is that “the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5.16a) for by “the grace of god and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5.15b). That “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom 5.18b) because of “the one man’s obedience…many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.19b), therefore just “as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5.21). The very idea of Jesus needing to substitute Adam in order to justify fallen men lends to the correct understanding that we are sinners by nature.1

Don’t stop with what Paul says in Romans 5.12-21, but continue on through the entire document. For he spells out very plainly the fact that human beings have another nature at work which opposes God on every point. So much so that he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7.24-26). If man were created without a sin nature, how can Paul identify this “law of sin” (Rom 7.26) “waging war against the law of my mind” (Rom 7.23), even though his “delight” was found “in the law of God, in [his] inner being?” (Rom 7.22). A war that the natural man does not encounter, because before the redeeming work of Christ begins the person merely born of Adam is in utter rebellion against God (Rom 8.7-8).

Premise 2 is also false in that it is incomplete. Jesus is not only 100% human, but 100% God. Unlike the rest of humanity (save Adam), Jesus of Nazareth is born of God. He is born from above. One of the keynote doctrines of the Christian faith is that Jesus was born of a virgin not by natural means, but supernatural means—via the Holy Spirit. Though Adam might rightly be referred to as a type of Christ to come he was just a human being, nothing more. In order for Jesus to atone (cover by means of justification) for the sins of His people, He needed to be more than just a mere man.2

One man dying for another man might offer that one-man life as a substitute for his, but not many. The Bible tells us that Jesus died for many, not just one. His blood was poured out for many. Jesus was not merely a man, for in him the fullness of deity dwelt (cf. Heb 1.3).3 Unlike other men who have never seen the face of the Father, Jesus has and He revealed the Father to His people (cf. John 1.18; Luke 10.21-22). Unlike Adam, Jesus is the preexistent one, the eternal Living Word that was with God in the beginning—that is before creation—as all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him (cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-18).

Because Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1.14) His nature was markedly different than the rest of mankind in that He had a dual nature. Unlike other people Jesus disposition was to love God and neighbor perfectly, upholding every facet of God’s Law and therefore living a perfect life (nothing could be added to it) as He did all He was created (in a humanly sense) to do. Unlike the children of Adam, Jesus was the exact imprint of the radiance of God’s glory and because of His supernatural birth He was not only created without sin being God in the flesh He could not sin. Therefore, what Clark posits in #3 as conclusion 1 is false.

Granted postulate 4 (conclusion 2) is a bit more difficult to tackle. From a biblical standpoint all the children of Adam are born as covenant breakers. But it is not a question of whether or not we are sinners in Adam that determines our eternal fate, but whether or not Christ died for us on the cross. If He took our place, then regardless of how much or how little life we lived (in the womb or outside of it) matters little, for the justice and mercy of God is applied where He deems it right (cf. Gen 18.25).

Whether or not this was intention, the argument presented in the syllogism is a strawman in so far as categories are not properly understood or rightly defined, and then subsequently knocked down.

Good, not God

 

In Clark’s second section he introduces an argument that I find much agreement in. For instance, he says “We often hear people say that Adam was perfect, or that the conditions in the Garden were perfect…this may be misleading” (par. 7).

Agreed. A better way of understanding the nature of things is how God describes them. People in their zeal to return to that pristine time in comparison with our own often use “perfect” as the word to describe things. However, God declares seven times that His creation is good; the seventh time after completing His creative work He calls it “very good” (Gen 1.31). It is in this case that we ought to view Ecclesiastes 7:29. Man was created good or upright. I think we would do well to notice the past tense stressed in the sentence as a comparison with what man is now, but good/upright is the correct way to see things.

And so, when Clark defines the good state of man in the beginning as “lack[ing] nothing” he is absolutely right. All of man’s needs were met. He had been created with many good gifts both externally (in creation outside of himself) and internally (his inner being). Likewise, a proper way of viewing God is one who “lacks nothing” as Clark points out.

The only confusing statement that I find by Clark in this section is the last sentence of par. 8. Here he says, “Adam was good, not God.” I want to say that Clark is striving to show the distinction between God (the Creator) man (the creature). I’ll let him speak on that for himself, but I would only add that Adam was good because God made him so, because God can only make good things. That is to say Adam’s goodness was a byproduct of God’s goodness. After the Fall, something changed in the state of things. For when man is later compared with God by the Lord, Jesus declares that “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10.18). A very strong universal categorical statement levied at a man who assumed that he was essentially good (cf. Mark 10.20).

Necessary Conditions

 

I want to let Clark introduce what he believes to be the “real kicker” against the idea of an imputed sinful nature via Adam to all his progeny.

He writes, “In the condition that God determined to be good, Adam was already capable of sin. The necessary conditions for sinning are (1) freewill and (2) an imperfect nature. Perhaps, we should add the element of temptation as a necessary condition also” (par 9).

Response: (1) Yes, absolutely right that Adam was capable of sinning. (2) Right, because Adam was capable of sinning, he had the freedom to rebel against God’s commandment (cf. Gen 2.15-17). The second part of number two is correct if what is meant by “imperfect nature” is that unlike God, man is a creature. A finite being cannot possess perfection on the level that God as infinite does. (3) Well, in order to sin, which is an act of rebellion against the law of God, temptation is a necessary condition. I do think it would be better to define the term as “tested” for that is what we see take place in Genesis 3. The serpent tests the resolve of Eve, who tests the statement of both the serpent and God as instructed by her husband, and Adam tested the Word of God against what the serpent had said and the evidence he saw when he watching his wife bite from the fruit. Other than that, I see nothing necessarily wrong with these statements.

However, the conclusion that Clark draws from this line of reasoning is a bit perplexing.

He writes, “The idea of a sinful nature being imputed to every human being from Adam, has a fundamental problem. Adam sinned without such a nature. The sin nature is taught to be a consequence of Adam’s sin. But Adam’s sin comes first. He did not have a ‘sin nature’. At the very least,” Clarke argues, “this means a ‘sin nature’ is not necessary for a person to sin…This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exists, but it does mean it isn’t necessary” (par 10).

Response: This is a red-herring. It has already been granted by both sides of the argument (those who argue for and those who argue against a sin-nature) that at the very least Adam was capable of sinning in the beginning at creation. No one argues against this position. For Adam a “sin nature” was not necessary for him to sin against his Creator. He was made upright and was afforded the opportunity to love God with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor (yes, this means his wife) as himself or not to.

The biblical doctrine on the sinful nature of man—i.e. his depravity or radical corruption—is the consequence of Adam’s sin. The doctrine teaches that unlike him we are born into this world sinners. That is to say with a disposition towards sinning against our maker. This was the inheritance that Adam purchased for his offspring. The consequence of Adam’s sin is cursed children (and creation in general). No one worth their salt argues that a “sin nature” is necessary to sin, but it is the current state of things.

Who says? Let us look at the list of witness that have been offered to us:

  • David testifies of himself, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51.5).
  • David testifies of fallen men, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ears” (Psa 58.3-4).
  • Job likewise speaks of the state of man at birth, “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15.14; cf. 14.4; 25.4-6).
  • We’ve seen Paul in Romans, but now in Ephesians? “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1, 3). When were we dead? At birth? At 2? At 12? Paul says we were thus “by nature” just like every child of Adam.
  • Jeremiah offers a rhetorical question that demands a negative answer concerning man’s condition, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spot? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer 13.23).
  • Solomon admits, “Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead” (Eccl 9.3).
  • The very thing the Lord declared of Noah’s generation, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6.5; cf. 8.21).
  • Again, through Isaiah the prophet, “For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel” (Isa 48.8).

Clark’s Closing Remarks…

 

In the end Clark recommends that we don’t say that human nature is “guilty [or] shameful.” Why? Because he does “not for a second…believe human nature is of its very nature guilty” (closing par). He is willing to grant that “humanity is imperfect. [But] if this is a crime, we are not to blame” (closing par). I’m sorry Clark, but you are wrong.

Humanity is not just “imperfect,” human nature is sinful, and the desires of our heart are found to be in opposition to God and this is shameful. As sinners we bear the guilt of our sins. Lest we deny what the Bible teaches we must all agree “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl 7.20).

On this Haddon Clark and I agree. We are all sinners, and we are all in need of Jesus Christ. Without Him we will be justly condemned for the sin we freely chose.

Wait a Minute, Not Quite Done…

 

But before I go I want to present the testimony of the One we both call Lord and Savior. I’m not a “red-letter” Christian. I believe it is foolhardy and a grievous error to pit Christ’s words in the N. T. over and against what is written in the rest of Scripture. All of the Bible is Christ’s Word. Yet, just to be clear we ought to see what He has to say on the matter to those who assume they are God’s people and yet reject the truth recorded in other parts of God’s Word because they reason it can’t be so.

More importantly, what Jesus says here ties directly back into what is found in the early chapter of Genesis.

Jesus tells those would be disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32). His audience is incredulous, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?” (John 8.33). Listen to Jesus’ response and pay attention to his flow of thought:

  • Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8.34). All are sinners; therefore, all are slaves to sin? At what point does this reality come? If we compare it with the rest of Scripture, sin is what we are born into…not something we grow into.
  • The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever” (John 8.35). The slave is not guaranteed an inheritance, other than the inheritance of being eternally cast out, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36). If the Son does not, then you will remain a slave to sin. Unless there is a change of position (i.e. nature), then the current condition will remain the same.

Of course, the Jews vehemently deny this (cf. John 8.39), but denying the truth does not nullify the truth. Jesus goes on to explain that they desire to do the will of their father the devil who has no truth in him, since he was a liar and murder from the beginning (John 8.44). This the Lord says is an outpouring of the devil’s character (i.e. nature). In the same vain in a different place Jesus explains that it is the heart that is exceedingly wicked from which all sin comes. This is the result of the Fall, although it must be granted that our transgressions are not like Adam’s (Rom 5.14), because we are not like Adam in the sense of being free to choose good or evil.

Here’s the thing, Haddon Clark doesn’t believe in a sinful nature being imputed to us as Adam’s offspring because he “doesn’t see it in the text” (par 1). Besides the fact that Paul does say we have all become sinners because of Adam’s act of disobedience in Romans 5:12-214. So, let’s take that logic to its conclusion in other areas. Where does the Bible say that man has “freewill?” Where does the Bible teach that man is free to do good or evil post-fall? This is often assumed or inferred, but what does Scripture say about the heart of man, and where does it say explicitly that it is free?

In short, the argument presented by Clark is not based upon biblical truth, but a philosophical position that he holds dear (freewill). To say that man is a slave to a sinful nature smacks in the face of our pride. But we are called to submit to what is revealed in God’s Word and build our philosophy on it, not the other way around. His syllogism is based on faulty premisses and therefore what he sets up to reject is a type of strawman argument. In saying this, I am not saying that Haddon Clark is not a Christian, nor am I labeling him a heretic. However, it behooves me to point out that the belief that man is free from bondage to sin (i.e. a sin-nature) after the Fall is the same sort of heresy (non-orthodox teaching) that Pelagius taught and was rightly condemned in the 5th century.5

My hope and prayer is that Clark will reevaluate his position in light of what Scripture teaches, rather than what he presupposes.

ENDNOTES:

 

1 If man were born without an inward inclination towards sinning, then it would follow that some may not need Christ’s atoning death in order to be saved. What do they need to be saved of, if they have not sinned? If I am capable of freely choosing not to sin, then it is possible that I might never sin. In this case Christ’s death is pointless at least for those individuals. But the Bible argues that His death was necessary and determined before creation.

2 To reduce Jesus to the level of a mere human being is to equate him in a manner in which various cults/religions do today. I am not saying that is what Clark’s position is, but premise 2 is false in the way it is written.

3 One of the points that the writer of the Hebrews drives home to his audience is that the Lord is distinct from all other created things. He is greater than angels (Heb 1.4-13), greater than Moses (Heb 3.1-6), greater than Abraham (Heb 6.13-20; cf. John 8.58), greater than the High Priest (Heb 7.11-28), in Him we find a greater rest than in Canaan (Heb 4.1-11), His blood is greater than the blood of bulls and goats (Heb 9.11-10.18), He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12.2).

4 Speaking on Pauls’ argument John Wesley (an Arminian) understands the implications of Adam’s sin in the garden. He writes, “As by one man—Adam; who is mentioned, and not Eve, as being the representative of mankind. Sin entered into the world—Actual sin, and its consequence, a sinful nature. And death—with all its attendants. It [death] entered the world when it [sin] entered into being; for till then it [death] did not exist. By sin—Namely, by one man. In that—So the word is used also, 2Cor V, 4. All sinned—In Adam. These words assign the reason why death came upon all men; infants themselves not excepted, in that all sinned.” John Wesley, Wesley’s Notes on the Bible: New Testament (Christian Classics Ethereal Library), notes on Rom 5:12, loc 504, Adobe Digital Editions. Emphasis Added.

5 Meaning the style of argument presented by Clark is not new, but old. Pelagius argued in a similar fashion, although like Clark I do not necessarily believe that Pelagius did so with malintent. However, Pelagius’ refusal to allow correction to flow from Scripture is where his greatest error came.

Posted in Christian Witness, Depravity, Reason, Theology, Worldview Analysis

What Do Idols Represent? Fallen Images

When Israel was delivered from the hands of the Egyptians, not long after Pharaoh and his mighty army were buried by the waters of the Red Sea. They met at the foot of the mountain to swear fealty to the Lord of Hosts; to worship the God of all the earth. However, within a very short period of time they forgot about God, about Moses and demanded that an idol be fashioned for them. For what purpose? To what end? They wanted a representation of the gods that had delivered them. One the golden calf that they could see, the other the invisible Lord they could not see (Exod 32.4). To these gods they gave offerings and sacrifices and had a feast in their name. They ate, they drank and practiced in devilry (Exod 32.5-6).

What you are witnessing as you read this section of Scripture is an act of syncretism, a combining or joining of two beliefs systems in equal status. The problem is when such worship is offered, even if the name of the Lord is mentioned, it is an act of false worship. In truth, such practices have nothing to do with worshiping the God of heaven and earth. Instead, they have everything to do with worshiping the idols of the heart.

The Israelites were not alone, for the Bible says people in general participate in this practice.

  • “For although [human beings] knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom 1.21-25).

In short, idol worship is common practice for sinners. Rather than give praise, honor, and glory where they are due, sinners in their zeal, offer these things to lesser beings.

Why?

Well, the answer is simple enough but few want to accept it. When Adam sinned in the garden he did no less than the Israelites recently freed from Egypt, for he too sought to give praise, honor and glory to a lesser being—himself. In fact, I would argue that what our forefather did was much worse (cf. Rom 5.14). His sin was what introduced sin into earthly[1] creation.

  • “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5.12; cf. Gen 3.17-19, 22-24; Rom 8.19-22)

On that day Adam experienced death. The promise given to him by his Creator proved true (cf. Gen 2.17). This confuses many people today. We read the word “death” and we assume cessation from life; entrance to the grave. As I have taught previously the Bible does not define death that way. Death in Scripture means “separation.”[2] And on that day in the garden both Adam and his wife Eve experienced true death.

They were immediately separated from God in their hearts. This is demonstrated by their attempt at covering their nakedness (Gen 3.7); which, is an illustrative way of showing their attempt to cover (atone for) their sin (shame).  And, they hid from the Lord when He made His presence known in the garden (Gen 3.8-10).[3] The final illustration of this death is found in being driven from the garden of the Lord; being denied access to the Tree of Life (again separation, not cessation). The only hope of life now would be at the mercy of their Creator.

The death of Adam was the antecedent to the rest of humanity, as his offspring we all experience this death (the consequent). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). As sinners we are separated from our Creator, from life, from righteousness and holiness and goodness. Ultimately, we are separated from properly imaging God in this world.

I pointed out a couple posts back that our responsibility is to love God with our minds. This is true because God is meant to be sovereign over our minds (our reason[ing]). What exactly did sin effect in the Fall (Gen 3)? If we could put a percentage on sin’s effects on the human nature, the human mind, then what should our numbers be? 50%? 75%? 100%?

Pelagius who argued with Augustine believed it was zero. Most evangelicals won’t go that far. Neither will Rome. Yet, few today desire to say 100%, but on what grounds?

What’s the Bible say? I know that is not the standard many wish to appeal to. Not many want to be dependent on that source entirely. It leaves little wiggle room. And, we love room to wiggle!

We’re Dead…

Regardless of our preferences we are left with the following statement of truth. Before we were made alive in Christ Jesus we were all dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1, 5). Even we who are truly born again must admit that we “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” (Eph 2.2-3). Even though we were originally made upright that is not our default position (Eccl 7.20, 29). For the only offspring that we can produce now is something unclean and hell bent (Job 15.14; Psa 58.3).

READER: “Wait a minute, Kris…you said in your last post that you were going to talk about Psalm 115. What does any of this have to do with that Psalm?”

ANSWER: Everything.

Psalm 115 is a song of comparison.

The focus of Psalm 115 is the Lord above (as depicted in verse 1, but we’ll get to that a little later). The writer offers the rhetorical question of the nations, “Where is their God?” (Psa 115.2). For those unfamiliar with the history of the period, gods and goddesses ruled over the nations in their own localities. More often than not the gods of the pagans were not limited to a monotheistic model, preferring a polytheistic pantheon of gods/goddesses instead. Each nation attributed victories in battle, blessings of the field and womb, wisdom and knowledge, and many other desirable venues to the particular deities of their choosing. I say “of their choosing” because these people groups would fashion a god or goddess after the likeness of their own imaginations, going to great lengths to cover all their bases (see Acts 17.23).

Israel was different. Israel’s God was not like the rest of the nations, for making an image of any kind was forbidden. Theologically, this makes perfect sense, since God created mankind to be His image bearers in creation, and Israel was set-apart by God to be a light to the nations (cf. Exod 19.5-6; Deut 4.5-8; Isa 49.3-6).[4] Of whom, Jesus the Christ is said to be the perfect representation of the invisible God (Heb 1.3; Col 1.15), the light of the world (John 8.12), the true Adam (1Cor 15.45) and image bearer. What Christ is, man ought to be.

Because Israel was different, the nations mocked. They made light of the God of Israel. But, the psalmist answers their question with the following retort:

  • “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psa 115.3).

In other words, our God is not like your little gods or goddesses. He does not merely rule over the skies, or the battlefield, or this city or that state. His domain is not limited to the land of this nation or that nation. He doesn’t concern Himself about this group of people over here, or that flock of animals over there. No…He rules it all. He sits above the circle of the earth far beyond the sight of mere creatures. He is king over all that is in the heavens and that which dwells on the earth.

  • “[Your] idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they make no sound in their throat” (Psa 115.4-7).

In other words, you claim that your gods are gods, that they are mighty in power and deed. You cower before them, and offer them sacrifices and prayer. You have festivals in their honor and dedicate your children to them. You pretend that they are alive, that they are living, but they are dead! They are unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling, unable to smell or speak or move. You claim that your gods are gods, all the while mocking our own, but you worship dead things. Things created by your own hands. Things created in your own minds.

What are idols? They are reflections of the minds of man. What are idols? They are image bearers of fallen man. What are idols? They are representations of their creator.

  • “Like them are their makers, every one who is trusting in them” (Psa 115.8; YLT).[5]

Like the one who created them, these idols are dead things. Scripture uses various expressions to state that people are spiritually dead. They are said to have ears and not hear (i.e. deaf), eyes and not see (i.e. blind)[6]; they are said to have legs, but are incapable of walking (i.e. lame)[7]; they are said to have hands, but are incapable of feeling (i.e. leprous)[8]; freedom appears to guide their lives, but it does not (i.e. slaves)[9]; wisdom appears to guide their minds, but it does not (i.e. fools)[10]; knowledge is what they profess to have, but they do not (i.e. pseudo-knowledge).[11]

What’s my point?

The biblical testimony of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)[12] continually mocks and ridicules the idols of human beings. He chides foolish people who believe (trust) in them. What we need to understand is that these idols are accurate representations of their creators. Not physical representations, but mental representations of the imaginations of fallen image bearers.

We will worship anything other than the Lord God. We will go to great lengths to fashion a god of our choosing, to bow down to. It doesn’t matter if the object is made of wood, precious metal or stone (cf. Isa 44.8-20). We may even take a portion of the truth revealed in the Bible, profess faith in God or in Jesus as incarnate deity, acknowledge the divine person-hood of the Holy Spirit, but then turn around and form and fashion Him into an idol of our own choosing (comp Matt. 7.21-23).

In short, fools beget fools. Idols are birthed from the hearts of dead men, and as God points out repeatedly those idols are an accurate representation of a non-living being. “The question of man’s depravity considers not the extent of his guilty before God, but the extent of his corruption in sin.”[13] So radically corrupted is the human mind, due to its dependency (i.e. bondage) to sin, that though the truth of God may be clearly perceived internally (cf. Rom 2.14-16) and externally (cf. Rom 1.18-20), man prefers to offer allegiance to anything other than the Lord—i.e. idols fashioned in the crucible of fallen minds.

What Troubles Me…

Is that in our rebellion we deny the very fact that the Bible so clearly reveals, human reason is broken, left as a tattered remnant of what it once was. The battle for man’s ability to reason correctly was lost in the garden, and unless some other victor comes marching on the field to bind that corruption that has dominated our hearts we are powerless to ever come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. Luke 11.21-22; Eph 2.4-6).

Unfortunately, I have now stepped into turbulent waters. There is no greater affront to our fallen minds, than to attack the sacred golden calf of human reason. And yet, should we not—we who profess that we know God (Rom 10.9-11; John 20.28)—declare with the psalmist:

  • “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and our faithfulness![14] …You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! …The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!” (Psa 115.1, 11a, 16-18).

How much glory, how much praise, how much fear and trust do we show in the Lord, when we present the truth of God to fallen mankind in a manner that makes the man the judge (reasoner) over and above the Creator? We present light to men whose eyes have been gouged out, ears that have been blown, expecting them to see and hear without the Lord first giving them eyes to see and ears to hear…what folly is this?[15]

Should we not rather, as we carefully/prayerfully consider our fallen brethren’s plight, present to them the truth as definable within a biblical framework trusting that the Lord is mightier than their fallenness. Should we not refuse to present evidences or facts at the feet of fallen image bearers allowing them to sit in a seat of judgment as if they were a god; rather, confronting them with evidence of their willful suppression of the truth. God is judge, not mankind. God sits on the throne not mankind. The evidence and facts of the Christian faith present the rightful condemnation of all (cf. Rom 3.19); they are only delightful truths to members of the faith, not the other way around.[16] Should we not let this weight burden their hearts, providing the Lord the opportunity to grant repentance?

As Christians we have no right, whatsoever, to pander to the pride of unbelievers. We are not to be peddlers of the Word of God (cf. 2Cor 2.17), but are commanded to present the truth. In this only Christ Jesus will reserve the right to boast, for the salvation of fallen image bearers is the work of God…not man (cf. 1Cor. 1.28-31; Php 3.3). We are ring bearers, nothing more.[17]

ENDNOTES:


[1] The chief of sinners was already in the garden before the man and woman fell—Satan; the devil; that vile serpent of old (Rev 12.9). The focus of the biblical account is earthly in that it is given on man’s behalf; from our vantage point. Even though, it is completely accurate to refer to the Word of God as God-breathed (theopneustos); an accurate retelling from God’s vantage point—to/for man.

[2] The reader needs to understand that “death” in Scripture does not mean cessation—i.e. ceasing to exist. Death in the Bible conveys the idea of separation. Therefore, death is described in the Bible in at least three different ways: 1) separation from our Creator (cf. Gen 3.8); 2) separation from being a slave to sin (cf. Rom 6.4); 3) separation from the body, what we describe as physical death (cf. Eccl 12.7).

[3] This hiding from the sound of the Lord was an act of rebellion. Adam admits that fear drove him to this course of action. No doubt, fear of His holy Creator and of the complete death that rightfully awaited him did make the man seek some refuge where God might not find him. However, the Lord made the man accountable for his actions. Even though he desired to be away from God as far as possible, the Lord made him answer for his offense.

[4] All other false religious belief systems attempt to mimic this truth, but in a watered down, distorted version.

[5] The ESV like some other translations present this verse in the following pattern: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” The order is logically inconsistent, for an image bearer represents the image for which it was created, not the other way around. The fact that people desire to make idols based upon their own imaginative minds shows that the idols accurately represents its maker—a dead thing.

[6] Cf. Deut 29.4; Matt 15.14; Rom 11.8-11; 2Cor 4.4; 1John 2.11; comp Isa 42.16

[7] Cf. Lev 21.18; Prov 26.7; contrasted with Isa 35.5-6; Matt 15.30.

[8] Cf. Lev 13.2-3, 44-46; Num 12.10-12; 2Sam 3.29; contrasted with 2King 5.1-17; Luke 4.27; Matt 8.2-3.

Many misunderstand the significance of these blemishes (including all that I have included before, above) found in the human body as a picture of sin. These individuals were cut-off from the congregation in Israel and access to the sanctuary of God via the priests. The only person who could remove this malady from them is the Lord God. His healing made them clean and grafted them into the fellowship of the covenant community. The purpose of Jesus’ healing in the N. T. is a highlighting of this fact. He brought healing in his wings. He alone could heal the nations (people). Jesus alone as the High Priest could declare what was clean versus unclean. Thus, the underlying foundation of the signs which he performed contrary to many “word of faith” preachers or liberal theologians today.

[9] Cf. Job 14.4; John 8.34; Tit 3.3; 2Chron 6.36

[10] Cf. Psa 14.1-3; Eccl 9.3; 1Cor 1.20.

[11] Cf. Deut 32.29; Prov 1.22, 29; 1Tim 6.20.

[12] Stress needs be laid on the doctrine of the Trinity—the One God revealed in three coeternal/coexistent persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but One Being; for the Father is not the Son nor the Spirit, neither is the Son the Father or the Spirit, nor can we say that the Spirit is the Father or the Son. They are distinct in functionality, but united in purpose and essence. In terms of salvific history, the Father sends the Son and gives to the Son the elect; the Son gives His life in honor to the Father for the life of the people given to Him; the Spirit is sent out from the Father and the Son in order to represent the Son in exaltation to those given by the Father and received by the Son, preserving and perfecting the elect for the final day of presentation. Therefore, God alone deserves the glory, honor and praise.

[13] Richard D. Phillips, What’s so Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 24, Adobe Digital Editions.

[14] Contrary to fallen image bearer’s own attestation: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Or as this verse is rendered in the KJV: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20.6).

[15] “Speculation which is independent of God’s word cannot lead a rebellious sinner to a proper knowledge of God. For the believer, the Christ of Scripture is the basis of human knowledge; He is the necessary starting pint for knowledge, or else man’s intellectual efforts will lead to utter skepticism.” Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, ed. Joel McDurmon (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press & Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, [2008], 2011), 29. Adobe Digital Editions.

[16] “Facts and logic are meaningful and useful to man within the context of Christ’s word.” Ibid, 29. Italics added.

[17] In case this last analogical reference is misunderstood, allow me to explain. The ring bearer presents the ring of union to the bride and groom. The two rings represent one life. The gospel is the ring that we bring forth to fallen man, but only the husband may put the ring on the one he has taken to be his bride. This act is an act of devotional love bestowed on the woman. The man is the first to act because he has preeminence, the woman follows suit because without the husband movement towards her (i.e. his putting his love on her), she would not be able to respond. Unfortunately, the beauty of this act is lost somewhat in our generation because of the feminist theology that pervades human thought (both inside and outside the church).