Posted in Freewill, Uncategorized

Sin after Consummation? Responding to Haden Clark’s Musings on Freewill and the Possibility of Sinning in Eternity

Sin in heaven? Possible or not?

A few weeks ago, I read an article (read here) by a fellow blogger Haden Clark that claimed it is a real possibility. Not just in heaven, but “in the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth…we will be capable of [sin], but we won’t. Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.”

I waited a while before commenting on this teaching provided by Mr. Clark. I didn’t want to give a knee-jerk reaction. But I must confess I was astonished that a person whose motto is: “Strengthen the Believer. Answer the Critic” in regards to the Christian faith would teach something so unbiblical?

Gracious Differences on Matters of Truth…

There are peripherals in the area of Christian doctrine where grace is given. For example, there are differences in the manner/method of the Eucharist and Baptism within the orthodox Christian faith. Some Christians use wine others grape juice, leavened or unleavened bread when they remember what our Lord did for us at Calvary. Some fully submerge the person in running water, others in a pool or baptismal, still others pour the water or even sprinkle the water identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Is there a correct way of doing these things? Yes. Is there one truth and not many in the practice of these sacraments? Yes. But we are gracious to those whose understanding differs.

Some eat meat, others are vegetarian, but both are accepted by the Lord who purchased them, and so we are gracious towards the brethren in areas of conscience. But even in that example, it is the stronger brother who is right not the weaker. The one who knows that all things are blessed from the Lord above if accepted by faith is acceptable and right to partake of[i]; that person is the stronger brother because he has learned not to go beyond what is written (1Cor 4.6).

Not Free Thinkers, but Submissive Ones…

As Christians we are commanded to bring everything thought captive to obey Christ (2Cor 10.5). If we desire to oversee Christ’s flock that is a noble pursuit, but only insofar as humility grants. Holy Scripture is given to fully equip the man of God for all righteousness. This is accomplished through rebuke, correction, teaching and training our hearts/minds to not be conformed to this world’s way of thinking, but to adopt the mind of Christ. Those who desire to be teachers of the Word need to bear in mind the great responsibility that bears down upon us. Those who claim to have been given more light will be held accountable to/by that light. Since our tongues cut like swords and burn like fire, we must continually seek to temper them in the knowledge of God.

Where Error Seeps in…

However, when your gospel is man-centered, and you fail to regard all that Scripture says on a given topic you will, at times, be prone to gross error.[ii] The chief among those errors is to deny what God says about man’s condition post-Fall. In particular, if your claim is that our will has been untouched by the mark of sin. If you profess that it is not held captive to sin, unless Christ frees it. Then you are traveling down a slippery slope, that will drag you to places you never should have gone. Like embracing an idea that states after the consummation of all things, after the final judgment, that man will still be capable of sinning. Why? Because human freedom is so precious, we need to be able to slap God in the face or we are not really human?!?

Clarifying Intentions, Motives and Looking at the Argument…

I realize that Mr. Clark was intending to respond to an atheist on the so-called Problem of Evil. I am not calling into question his intentions. I am not judging his motives. But his teaching is found wanting. That is the issue—the teaching. I hate to even add this qualifier, but with today’s ME TOO attitude you cannot challenge the teaching of someone without it being seen as a personal attack. So, I pray that the mature of heart know the difference. I have nothing against Mr. Clark as a person, but I do believe his teaching in a public forum needs discerning. As do all of us who speak on such matters.

To keep the integrity of Clark’s belief intact, I will quote the specific portion that I have chosen to interact with. Here it is:

Will we have freewill in heaven? My response: Will we be humans? Yes, so yes, we will have freewill. A human without freewill is not a human. What it means to be a human is to be a rational animal. And freedom of the will is necessary to be rational. A determined will cannot rationally justify anything.

Is there the possibility for rebellion in heaven? There was once. Christians believe the Satan rebelled against God in heaven. So, it fits within the worldview and is a real possibility.

However, remember this: the final destination on Christianity is not heaven. The final destination is the new heavens and the new earth, which really comes to mean heaven on earth.

The Bible begins in the garden of Eden, that picture becomes corrupted by sin, and the Bible ends in a new garden of Eden, made possible by Jesus the Messiah.

Adam and Eve had freewill in the original picture and I believe we will in the final picture.

One thing they had that we won’t have is the pesky serpent that got the ball rolling in the first place. At bottom, sin enters the world because of the Serpent. Yes, Adam and Eve had a choice, but the serpent gave them the choice, if you will. All I mean is that he tempted them.

What I believe, as many other Christians do, is that we will have free will to an extent, which is what we’ve always had. Nobody believes we have an unlimited free will. Only God has that. For example, I can’t just decide to jump to the moon. I’m limited by my own nature.

In the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth, I don’t believe there will be anyone that wants to tempt us to do evil. We will be capable of it, sure, but we won’t.

Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.

Foundationless Freewill…

My main focus in this post is on sin and whether or not sinning in eternity with the Lord of Hosts is an accurate claim. However, the observant reader should note that the keynote issue for Mr. Clark’s claim is human freewill. He even goes so far as to say in the opening paragraph that without freewill, you cannot be human.[iii] He eventually relates this to Adam and Eve assuming that they were created with it.

Nowhere in the Bible is this taught. This is a philosophical presupposition that is unwarranted from the biblical text. It is true that Adam and Eve were presented with a choice between two particular trees.

God had set before them life and death:[iv]

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut 30.19; cf. Gen 2.16-17).

However, that ability to choose life was removed as seen in their expulsion from the garden:

Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever— ‘therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3.22-24).[v]

A change of status took place after the eating of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. The biblical history (post-garden) confirms this fact: Man, who was created righteous, became the opposite as a consequence. Sin entered the world through Adam, not the Serpent, though it is accurate to say that this is what that murderer Satan wanted from the beginning. As a result, all the offspring of Adam became sinners, unclean in everyway before God. And yet, are we to assume that sin left the human will unchecked?

Defining Sin…

In order to address Mr. Clark’s assertion that sin will be a possibility in eternity, I thought it appropriate for us to spend a few moments answering the pivotal question: What is sin?

It is known by many names: rebellion, missing the mark, transgression, and lawlessness. No doubt there might be others that you can draw from the God’s Holy Word, but these four should suffice. Now let’s probe a little deeper by putting them in question form.

  • Who or what is the rebellion against?
  • What or whose mark are you missing?
  • The transgression is against who or what?

The final one we won’t look at in question form, but we will ask a question of it in just a moment. According to 1John 3:4 “sin is lawlessness.”  Therefore, sin is a violation of a law.

Whose law is being violated? Whose law is being transgressed? Whose law is the person rebelling against? Whose law is the individual straying from—i.e. missing the mark?


What that Nasty Word shows us…

Law is a real nasty word in a lot of people’s books, but what it shows us about ourselves is of the utmost importance. As human beings we naturally want to kick against any command or edict or standard that seeks to have dominion over us. We do not want to be ruled, we want to rule. We want to determine right and wrong, not have right and wrong laid out for us. Our supposed freewill is really an exercise of insubordination to tyranny. We proclaim our freedom from all standards, all the while bowing the knee to the standard of sin that reigns in our hearts. That’s what that nasty word Law shows us.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is quick to point out that we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1), “alienated [i.e., separated] from the life of God” (Eph 4.18), walking as “sons [and daughters] of disobedience” (Eph 2.2), due to our natural inborn hostility towards God and His law (Rom 8.7-8) because we are His enemies (Rom 5.10), and this from birth (cf. Eph 2.3; Job 15.14, 16; Psa 51.5).

And so, Jesus rightly calls us all slaves to sin, which is bred in our hearts/minds. Rotten trees that produce rotten fruit, unless we are made anew.

Purpose of Christ Jesus…

If we look back at 1John 3 we find that Jesus came to end all of that.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (v.5).

Surely, Mr. Clark knows this. He knows Eph 1, he knows the stress laid “in Him,” “in Christ,” even if he fails to see how one ends up “in the Lord” he at least understands this much.

Christ Jesus stepped in the flesh (John 1.14) “to save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21; cf. Eph 2.11-22). How so? By setting them free from the constraints of sin, and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36). In Christ one finds the death of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8.2; emphasis added).[vi] When the gospel of Christ is declared as the power of God (Rom 1.16) that is what is being referenced. A breaking of the former life, gives way to the dawn of a new one.

Jesus’ Kingly Dominion…

Jesus is the king mentioned in Dan 7:13-14. He is the one who approached the Ancient of Days and received a kingdom (cf. Matt 28.18; Phil 2.9-11). The passage from the Tanakh cited more than any other in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Here David is found saying in the Holy Spirit: “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”[vii]

Who are the “enemies” being referred to? If we were to look at Psalm 2 we would find it’s the rulers of the nations that plot against the rule of this king, but that is not all. There are many enemies of King Jesus. Chief among them is Satan and his horde of angel’s, but that is not all. That which is at back of all evildoers is the wicked root of pride that stirs rebellion in their hearts; which, is sin. And not just sin, but the wages of sin as well, which is death:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15.21-27).   

Christ’s dominion brings all of His enemies—everything opposed to His Holy Righteousness, the Righteous Holiness of the Triune God (Father and Son and Holy Spirit)—to the status of dust under the soles of His feet. A symbolic expression of the conquering King whose victory is untarnished. The final enemy, which is the result of sin (the wages this labor produces), is death. Christ has victory over death. Not just in spiritual resurrection which is wrapped up in the concept of being born again, but in a final perfected Resurrection to eternal life. In other words, what had been lost in the garden (freedom to life) is gained in the eternal sanctuary of God where the Tree of Life is said to be placed all along the river that runs through that blessed garden.

Real or Imagined Victory…

Are we to then suppose, as Mr. Clark does that sin is still a possibility in that eternal state? He assumes “…at least in theory, right? …we will be capable of it….” No, we won’t. If that were the case, even in theory, it would mean that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient, and that His power as King, as God, would also be insufficient. For it would prove that He was incapable of defeating the enemy called death, which is only possible where sin reigns. But Scripture says that sin will not reign, since death (it’s wages) has been completely vanquished.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6.22-23).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall be there mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21.3-4; cf. Rev 20.14).

Which means what precisely? That every evidence of the curse has been removed in the consummation. The former bondage that enslaved creation as a result of sin, has been eradicated. Did we not see a glimpse of this during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? We did. Did He not remove blindness, deafness, lameness, leprosy, enable the mute to speak, raise the dead to life, calm the storm and wave, even cast out demons with a command? He did. Have we not then witnessed the power of King Jesus; is this not the root of the gospel of God? It is.

Closing Remarks…

While, I believe Mr. Clark was well-intentioned in attempting to deal with a rebellious sinner who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, his own argument is wrought with error. And while, he may cherish the concept of freewill he has no biblical justification for it. He is right when he admits that there is a limit to our freedom, and he attributes true freedom to God. But he errs when he fails to see that God’s freedom is governed by His own Holy nature, and we are governed by our nature which is unholiness.

Only God can free us from the state we are in, and so we are turned to Christ who like Almighty God was/is governed by holiness and not by unholiness. And sin will never have a part or parcel in the place God has prepared for us in Christ at the completion of all things.

Back to the beginning: Sin in Heaven? Possible or not? No, it is not possible in heaven. Nor is it possible at the consummation of all things—i.e., God dwelling with His people for eternity. For Christ’s work finished its destruction, and while we only see a glimpse of this victory now in this life, there is more to see in the next life when we see our Lord, our God face-to-face (cf. 1John 3.2).


[i] This is drawn from the argument presented in Romans 14 over proper Christian service and perspective “that is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom 14.18). Which is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14.17).

[ii] The truth is that even the best intentioned, well-informed student of Scripture will commit errors in thought, reasoning, observation, interpretation and application of a biblical text; even elements of an entire doctrine. Truth definitionally avoids and subset that strays from its well beaten path. A red car cannot be at the same time a black car. The red car may be misidentified as a black car in the wee hours of the night, but that is a failure on the part of the observer/interpreter, not the truth statement regarding the color of the car.

[iii] This is an example of the No-True Scotsman Fallacy.

[iv] I realize that this passage is being spoken directly to the second generation of Israelites in the second giving of the Law of God—i.e., His Instruction for life vs. death. However, this is a repeated pattern from the earlier Genesis narrative in a more detailed form. The message is the same in principle in Gen 2:16-17 and Deut 30:19.

[v] This picture of a drawn sword shrouded in flame is symbolic of God’s judgment (Deut 9.3; 2Thes 1.8; cf. 1Chro 21.16-17). The man would desire to gain access to the Tree of Life, but God forbade him from doing so. Either the sword of God will be for you or against you (cf. Num 22.23; Josh 5.13). The only access to life is via God’s grace demonstrated in the life of the obedient (Prov 11.30; Rev 2.7, 22.14).

[vi] John Owen explains Paul’s usage of the term law (nomos) in Romans 6-8. He wrote, “A law is taken either properly as a directive rule, or improperly as an operative effective principle which seems to have the force of a law…in [the] SECONDARY SENSE, an inward principle that constantly moves and inclines someone towards any actions, is called a law. The principle that is in the nature of a thing, moving and carrying it towards its own end and rest…In this respect, every inward principle that inclines and urges something to operate or act in a way suitable to itself, is a law:” he then cites Romans 8:2 as an example. John Owen, “The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believer’s,” in The Works of John Owen, Vol 6, ed., William H. Goold, reprint 1850-53 (William H. Gross: March 2015),, Kindle Edition, loc 422-426.

[vii] See: Matt 22.42-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 22:41; Acts 2:34; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 12:2; 1Pet 3.22; 1Cor15.25; Heb 1.3, 13; 10.12-13 to name just a few. Every reference to Christ sitting on a heavenly throne equal with the Father (i.e., at His right hand) is in light of this passage or a close reference Psa 2.

Posted in Freewill

Freewill is a Misnomer

Freewill is a misnomer. There I said it.

“Parties on both sides of the aisle (believer’s and non-believer’s) please keep your voices down. Yelling and sneering at me will not convince me to adopt your way of thought,” the author of this writing rationally pleads.

The fact of the matter is I do not believe the human will is free. Of course, I can understand why there might be some who seek to convince me of the contrary. By all means, please deliver your arguments. Or if you don’t have one of your own and would instead prefer to point me to another that you believe wiser than yourself, then by all means do so. I’ll read it. I’ll listen to it. Regardless of the format, I’ll give it my rapt attention!

But please refrain from offering me your caricatures. I’ve seen Pinocchio. I know your objection that without freewill we are all puppets on a string. The analogy is a false one, but you are welcome to it. I just won’t be purchasing it. Nor would I take it if you handed it to me, for I’d freely and willfully reject it.

“How can that be? You’ve already denied ‘freewill!’” you exclaim.

I deny the popular conception of it. I DO NOT deny that as human beings we make free choices as free moral agents. What I DO DENY is that our free choices are not driven by our internal desires. Notice I did not say that my “free choice” is determined by someone holding a gun to my head. I reject the idea that our choices are dictated by some other power, but I do not deny that our choices are influenced by some other power.

Ultimately, when I do something it is the result of my personal desires. As Hubert Gruender puts it, “Man is not capable of a ‘motiveless volition/’ but must of necessity in all his strivings have some good in view…” at least what is “under the appearance of good.”[i] That is an interesting statement by Gruender, I think. It sounds oddly familiar. I wonder…where could I have heard this before?

Ah, yes…it is similar to the statement found in that dusty old volume written thousands of years ago by a bunch of sheepherders as the philosophically astute modern man loves to claim…the Holy Bible.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight” (Isa 5.20-21).

I included v.21 because of how aptly it applies to humanity in their fallenness. We identify no king over us, and so we do whatever we desire (cf. Judg 17.6; 21.25). Such is our humanly plight.

I speak now to the brother or sister that professes Christ. On what grounds do you justify your belief in human freedom? In freedom of the will? From what well do you draw this truth from? In short, what positive case can you possibly make from Scripture that warrants your presupposition.

What evidence have you collected? What repository of truth have you found that contains what you love? Oh yes, you do love this doctrine called freewill. But the ground upon which you have built it is shifting sand, not solid rock.

“Experience,” you say. “That is our evidence.” “Logic,” you pine. “That is our wisdom.” “Love,” you purr. “That is our truth.”

Experiences are fleeting, who can truly understand or depend upon them. Logic is determined not by personal wit, but from the source of wisdom which it is drawn. Love, a famous word to be sure, but what is it? How do you define it? If you define it through experience (“I feel…”), then it is not dependable for feelings (as are experiences) are as volatile as the wind. If you recognize it as commitment, then it is not satisfactory as a person’s commitments are dependent upon the desire of the mind and this too is an arbitrary thing.

A dear friend of mine has written the following excerpt regarding the notorious doctrine of freewill:

“I am reminded of the constant struggle that we face as human beings, the battle over wisdom. We have a never-ending desire to be right, to be all knowing because ultimately this is an extension of our desire to be independent of God. Therefore, we fail to see that we are our own worst enemy, constantly sabotaging the truth for the lie…Sin began in the beginning in the garden. A direct result of Adam and Eve’s desire to be independent. This is seen in Eve’s evaluation of the fruit, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom” (Gen 3.6; HCSB)…I simply see that man is always making the same mistake when we reason…we always fall back on ourselves to evaluate and establish [the] truth.

The error in our reasoning occurs when we step away from Scripture…Like Eve who utilized her own judgement…mistakenly attempting to find truth apart from truth, apart from the very foundation of truth…our logic becomes faulty….Rather, we must find our truth in God and God alone….There must be an ultimate standard, one that is self-evident, one that is utilized to determine all other truth, otherwise we…find ourselves in a never-ending world of irrational thought.

So, the question remains: “What does the Scripture say about free will? What does the source of all wisdom and truth say about it?[ii]

As my friend goes on to explain, God created mankind (Adam and Eve; male and female) as dependent creatures. What the Lord promised was that man had a choice between two types of fruit. The fruit He approved of led to life; whereas, the other led to death.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating “death” in biblical terms does not mean cease to exist. It is not limited to our natural understanding of the word; “death” means separation. Whether it is separation from the body with our flesh returning to the dust and our spirit to the Lord, or separation from righteousness, or separation from unrighteousness, when the Bible speaks of dying it says much more than “your heart will stop beating, your lungs will stop breathing, and your brain will stop firing.”

My friends’ point is merely this. If we think like Eve, we will find ourselves walking in all sorts of error being separated from the truth. She knew what she’d been told from the Lord, “You are not free to eat of this tree.” And yet, when she looked on it and reasoned apart from the truth and wisdom of God, what did she see? A fruit that was not bad, but good. A fruit that was not unpleasing, but pleasing. A fruit that was not undesirable, but desirable. In short, Eve’s conclusions about reality were wrong on every point. She deemed evil good and good evil. She pretended she had no king over her, thinking herself wise did what she deemed right.

The result? She was separated from the life of God. Abusing her freedom, her freedom was taken away. Thinking herself wise, she became a fool and her foolish thoughts were darkened.

And you think to argue for “freewill?” What positive case can you make for it from Scripture? For from the moment that Adam followed in his wife’s steps the human race was cast down being “subjected to futility” (Rom 8.20). Mankind is not described as “free,” but as a slave: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8.34). Slaves are not free, are they? Is that where your confusion lies? You assume that though you are a slave, you are really free? Is that not the error of Eve being repeated? God says this and you say not “this,” but that!

Again, I ask what positive case from God’s Word can you possibly make for freewill? I can show you a multitude of texts that state the contrary, but where is the ONE that promotes your foolish doctrine? No, unless the Son sets you free you shall remain a slave to your sin, and that slave master is not kind for he binds your heart to do all manner of evil. Only when a stronger one comes and binds that master; will your house be set free (Matt 12.29; Rom 8.20-21[iii]).

But you are a wise one. You’ve heard these arguments before and you remain unconvinced. You say, “But I am alive. I choose my own destiny. I see the good and the bad before me and I make my choice freely.” No one denies that you choose freely, but you do make your choice in accordance with the desires of your heart (Gen 8.21; Jer 17.9). You see, God has something to say about that as well. Mankind is not neutral to the truth, but antagonistic to it and is incapable of adhering to it (Rom 8.6-8; cf. Jer 13.23).

Regardless of the truths reported in Scripture; regardless of how hard the Holy Spirit hammers this point home, there are still rebels in the court of Christ that say “freewill” is my champion. And yet, I eagerly await an answer for where you might turn me to prove your point?


**Crickets are found chirping to break the unnerving silence…. **

[i] Hubert Gruender, Free will: The Greatest of the Seven World-Riddles (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1911), 10, Adobe Digital Editions.

[ii] The writer’s name is Justin Miller a parishioner, a brother in Christ, a husband and father of two, a family member, and longtime friend.

[iii] Interesting that the Holy Spirit explains how creation is not free from the corrupting spirit of sin. The consequences of evil hold it in bondage, until it shall be set free by God. “But NOT man, Oh no…not him/her!” They are somehow untouched by this corruption, this bondage, even when the Lord says quite the contrary.

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” ( 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?



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. 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.



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 Foreknowledge, Freewill, Predestination, Theology, Worldview Analysis

A Reasoned Critique of “1Samuel 23: God’s Foreknowledge and Predestination vs. Man’s Freewill”

Recently I read a post written by Hadden Clark at Help Me Believe entitled, “1 Samuel 23: God’s Foreknowledge and Predestination vs. Man’s Freewill.” The title alone is what held my attention. I found it very interesting that 1Samuel 23 would be used as a pretext for speaking about God’s foreknowledge, predestination in comparison with man’s freewill. Normally, one refers to the more didactic references in Scripture, those texts that speak primarily on these specific issues, not a historical narrative. This is not to say that the biblical recounting of historical events never sheds light on these theological topics. They do. You don’t even have to leave the first book of the Bible to see these subjects addressed (God’s foreknowledge, plan contrasted with man’s free choices); Here are just a couple examples: Gen 20.6; 45.5-8; 50.20.

Although Mr. Clark and I have never had personal interaction with one another, we have followed each other’s blogs for some time. A comparison of some of our writings will reveal that we do differ in various areas theologically speaking, yet I believe we share common agreement on some truly foundational issues of the Christian faith (e.g. Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, the Holy Bible as the Word of God, etc.). In short, we are professing believers in Jesus Christ, and therefore I would consider him a brother in the Lord despite any differences we may have. We both serve in Christian ministry, and use this blog platform as a means of communication to others.

For these reasons alone, I want to offer a fair and reasoned critique of what I believe to be errors in the aforementioned post on 1Samuel 23. If we are called to be loving to our enemies, how much more so fellow servants of the Lord? However, like the Bereans we need to carefully search the Scriptures to see whether or not the things being taught to us are true. Never to belittle or demean one another, but to spur us on to greater faithfulness in serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  As Christians, in particular as stewards of the Word of God, we must allow ourselves to be sharpened, enduring the loving rebuke of another, for we do not serve ourselves but God above.

My hope then is that this critique is faithful to this end, even if our disagreement on these issues remains sharp. This post will be, a thorough but no means exhaustive investigation into the passage in question and the claims being made of it, to see whether or not the interpretations Mr. Clark has offered to his readers is valid and warranted. The passage for our consideration is 1Samuel 23:1-14. I will post it here, but for those that have their own Bibles I would recommend that you carefully consider the text in question within the entire narrative in which it is written to have a better understanding of the overall flow.

‘It was reported to David: “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and raiding the threshing floors.” So David inquired of the Lord: “Should I launch an attack against these Philistines?” The Lord answered David, “Launch an attack against the Philistines and rescue Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” Once again, David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him: “Go at once to Keilah, for I will hand the Philistines over to you.”[1] Then David and his men went to Keilah, fought against the Philistines, drove their livestock away, and inflicted heavy losses on them. So David rescued the inhabitants of Keilah. Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, and he brought an ephod with him. When it was reported to Saul that David had gone to Keilah, he said, “God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates.” Then Saul summoned all the troops to go to war at Keilah and besiege David and his men. When David learned that Saul was plotting evil against him, he said to the priest Abiathar, “Bring the ephod.” Then David said, “Lord God of Israel, your servant has reliable information that Saul intends to come to Keilah and destroy the town because of me. Will the citizens of Keilah hand me over to him? Will Saul come down as your servant has heard? Lord God of Israel, please tell your servant.” The Lord answered, “He will come down.” Then David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah hand me and my men over to Saul?” “They will,” the Lord responded. So David and his men, numbering about six hundred, left Keilah at once and moved from place to place. When it was reported to Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he called off the expedition. David then stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul searched for him every day, but God did not hand David over to him.’ (1 Samuel 23.1-14, CSB).[2]

Observing the Text first

Anytime one comes to the text of Scripture (this is actually true of any written text) the primary responsibility of the reader is to be observant of the text. The historical-grammatical method of interpretation (hermeneutics: What does this mean?) requires that the reader pay special attention to the flow of thought, with an awareness of the historical setting and the people to whom the message was originally written (i.e. context). This is to be done before we move onto the interpretation step of the process, and then finally the application (How did it apply to them? How does it apply to me?). 

If we fail to follow these steps precisely, then we invite the possibility of various errors entering into our interpretation and application of God’s Word. The biblical interpreter, regardless of their educational background (child to adult, general to advanced) is seeking to exegete what is before them. That is draw out (prefix—ex) what is in the written message, rather than read into the text our own ideas (eisegesis).[3]

Now, Mr. Clark having read the text states, “In the above passage God (fore)knows two things that do not come to pass…God’s foreknowledge doesn’t necessitate predestination. God knows things that don’t come to pass. If this messes up your theological construct, take it up with God” (par. 1, 3).

“The two things are:

  1. That Saul will come down.
  2. That the people of Keilah would turn David over to Saul.” (par 1).  

We will get to those two things a little later, but for now I do believe that it is prudent for the reader to know that this text does not speak about God’s foreknowledge or predestination.

The text does indirectly speak about what God (fore)knows, for David seeks God’s answer on how he should act in the circumstances that he faces, something that Mr. Clark recognizes in paragraph 2: “As a finite human being, David could not predict the future, not with any amount of certainty anyway. So David asks God, an all-knowing being, what will happen in the brief future. God answers him and David makes his next move based on what God revealed to him.”

What does the text reveal? We are introduced to three key players: God, David, and Saul. Well, we know who God is—the Creator and Redeemer of Israel, the God of the hosts of heaven and earth. Who is Saul? He is the current king of Israel. Who is David? He is the king that God has selected as a replacement of the tyrant currently serving. The text offers a comparison between these two men. One seeks the will of God before he acts, the other does not. One (David) views the Philistines as the true enemy of God and His people, the other (Saul) views God and David as the enemy.

You won’t get all of that from reading only 14 verses in the 23rd chapter of Samuel. However, in order to faithfully exegete what is going on in this passage you need to be willing to do some research. This is what makes preaching out of historical texts a little more difficult than other passages recorded in the Bible. More work is required by the student, but if we want to get beyond our traditions/assumptions/biases we must be willing to go the extra mile. The responsibility is not to win an argument, but to accurately represent the Lord above.

Who is Saul?

Saul was the man that the people wanted in rejection of God as their king. Israel wanted a king “like the rest of the nations” (1Sam 8.5, 19-20; 12.12-15), and though both Samuel and the Lord warned them of this course of action the people refuse to listen (1Sam 8.19). At first Saul appeared to be a godly man, but in the course of time his true heart was revealed (cf. Matt 7.17-19). He continually disobeyed God (1Sam 13.11-13; 15.19, 22-23) , even going so far as to have a monument of himself erected before the people (1Sam 15.12), and as a result God ripped the kingdom from Saul (1Sam 15.28) intent on giving the rule of Israel to a man “after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1Sam 13.14; cf. 12.14-15, 25).

Who is David?

The son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, whose outward appearance is not meant to impress the prophet Samuel, but is found to be one who had a mind to serve the Lord (1Sam 16.7). He was a faithful warrior (among other things), who fought relentlessly against the enemies of God—the Philistines. That the Philistines are the première enemy of the people of God, at this time, is abundantly clear from the outset of the book of Samuel. They are the ones that God desired His people to drive out of the land. The prince of His people was intended to fulfill this act (1Sam 9.16). Supposedly, this was why the Israelites wanted a king over them to begin with. However, Saul because of envy became twisted in his heart and hated David so much that he entertained the idea that the Philistines might be able to do his dirty work for him (cf. 1Sam 18.17).

Compare that with David, who though on the run from Saul, believed it wise and necessary to deal with the Philistines. This is why he is found inquiring of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (1Sam 23.2). In spite of the dangerous situation he is already in—Saul is hunting him like a criminal to put him to death—David’s concern is not primarily on his own welfare, but the welfare of others (namely, God: “Lord what would you have me to do?” and His people). Notice that Saul does not even consider going to Keilah until he thinks that David might be easy prey, but the moment he learns that this is not the case he calls off his campaign against him (1Sam 23.7-8, 13b).

What is important to know?

Clark says that “What is important to note here [1Sam 23.1-14] is that God knew two things that didn’t happen…[Therefore] God’s foreknowledge doesn’t necessitate predestination” (par 3). Other than having an axe to grind against something he obviously disagrees with very strongly (predestination vs. man’s freewill), I’m not sure I see the leap of logic here? I will deal with this presuppositional thought a little later, but as readers of the text we need to ask “is that what is really being revealed here?” Is that really what’s important? God wants us to know that He knew something that didn’t come to pass, therefore He’s showing us that His foreknowledge doesn’t necessitate predestination?

What is important to note here is that we are offered the comparison between two key men in Israel’s history. One man is said to be a man after God’s own heart, the other is shown to be a hater of God in every way. Allow me to clarify that statement. To be a man after God’s own heart, means to be one who desires to be obedient to the will of God. David desires to know God’s Word, what God has revealed on a matter, so that he might not stray from the path that God has prescribed as righteous and good (cf. 37.31; 40.8; ff. Psa 119.11).

However, Saul has demonstrated repeatedly that he hates God, and is hostile to His instruction (cf. Rom 8.7-8). How so? Look back one chapter and you will see what I mean, although, I believe it ought to be pretty plain in the 23rd chapter as well. Saul put to death “eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod” (1Sam 22.18). He killed God’s priests, and he was still seeking to kill a man that he knew was God’s anointed (again compare with David; 1Sam 24.6, 10; 26.9, 11).

In 1Sam 23 we see two men with different starting points. One starts his reasoning with God’s revealed Word, the other with his own darkened mind.[4] Clark is right that David inquired of the Lord to know what he did not, but Clark is wrong that this is somehow a demonstration of freewill as the title of his post suggests. Nor does this text deal specifically with the doctrines of God’s foreknowledge or predestination as Clark attempts to convey to his readers.

Clark is right that God “knows [all] possible events” (par. 4; italics in original), for nothing is possible without God (cf. Matt 19.26). God is the author of all possibility, but this is because He has already determined the end from the beginning (Isa 46.10). We do not live in a universe of chance, random, accidents. For if this were the case then God could not “work together for good…all things” for His people who love Him (Rom 8.28).

Now Clark uses this idea that God knows all possible events, even what could happen as a way to suggest that what truly determined the outcome was David’s free will: “So what determines the outcome? God’s knowledge, or predestination? What does the text say? “So David and his men…left.” [Therefore] David determined the outcome” (par 5, 6; italics added). The argument presented here is a bit sketchy, and misleading. It also wrongly assumes that because David freely made a choice that God did not beforehand already predetermine that choice. You cannot argue against that “possibility” because of silence, for the very same reason you cannot logically argue for it. Arguments of silence prove nothing, because they say nothing either positively or negatively.  

Certainly, David freely chose the action he was going to take, but this action of choice was directly tied to the knowledge that God had divulged to His servant. David was dependent upon God for the right course of action, and David dependently chose to go in a direction that honored the Lord. This is a key point we need to consider when coming to such historical texts. David does not demonstrate an autonomous form of freedom—I will decide to do whatever I so chose without any influence whatsoever—but rather a form of dependent freedom. He is exercising his will in accordance with God’s will. David demonstrated what Saul did not, humble obedience.

Consider the flip side of this argument. Could David had freely chosen to go to Keilah, after being told that Saul would kill him? Could Saul have decided to go to Keilah without desiring to kill David? If that were his original intention, could he have then changed his own mind after arriving? Let’s go farther back. Is it possible that Saul could have been faithful to the Word of God being obedient, and therefore saved the kingdom for him and his son’s, rather than have it turned over to David?

Well that raises all sorts of problems that are not often considered by those who wish to elevate creaturely freedom to a position of our Creator’s freedom.

Genesis 49.10 records the prophecy of Israel (Jacob) in that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (ESV).[5] Now this speaks not only of David, but of Christ of whom David was a type/shadow. How then could David have ever been the type or shadow of Christ Jesus to come, if the plan of God is determined by the freedom of man? Is history in flux until man decides what he is going to do?

The fact of the matter is this…

David obeyed God and submitted to the Lord’s instruction, not because David was the determiner of his actions in an absolute sense, but rather David’s heart was a changed heart that desired to seek the Lord and follow His will above his own. The text before us speaks nothing about predestination or freewill in a direct way, such “teachings” must be read into the text for they cannot be drawn out of it. Just because God says this will happen if you do this, does not then follow that you have the ability to do the thing He has just spoken or that God ever intended for that possibility to take place.

Would David had died if he went to Keilah at the hands of Saul? Yes, but David would never go to Keilah. First because that was not God’s plan for David (cf. Prov 16.9; 20.24). Second, because David’s heart was not like his adversary Saul—against God—for his heart desired to be enslaved to the will of God.

If we are going to argue against predestination or election (foreknowledge) or man’s inability to exercise free-will, as defined by many well-meaning Christians today, then we need to deal with those texts that teach specifically on those points (e.g. John 1.12-13; 6.37-44; 8.31-Rom 3.10-23; 8.28-30; 9. 10-20; 1Cor 1.27-29; Eph 1.3-11, etc.). Rather than, looking for a loop hole in texts that say nothing of what we may insinuate. 1Sam 23 says nothing about these things, but it is our understanding of the rest of Scripture that guide our theological interpretations[6] of the actions of people in the past, recorded in the Bible.


[1] What about the freedom of the Philistines here, for God surely infringes upon their freedom? Why do we often find Christians glazing over the fact that God shows a special love for His people throughout history over and above those who are not His people. The Lord constantly overruled the supposed freewill of other people in order to bring special privilege to His own. Does God not have this right with His creation? “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another dishonorable use?” (Rom 9.21).

[2] This is an exact quote from Mr. Clark’s post. I chose to keep the translation that he used to be as perfectly fair as possible, although I did look to other translations of the text to have a more rounded meaning of what was intended. Even if you do not have an expertise in the original biblical languages, it is beneficial to compare several English translations to notice any variations that the translating committee may have taken for their particular text. This is something that I recommend to my own congregation.

[3] For example, our bodies sometimes due to infection excrete fluids; specifically known as pus. What comes out (excretes) is what was inside. When we exegete the Bible we are wanted to draw out what is in the word, not what is in our minds.

[4] In case the reader is confused how I can make this connection, you need only turn to Deut 28.28 where God reveals that continual covenantal unfaithfulness—i.e. disobedience—will result in Him cursing (negative sanction) the ability to properly think/reason. This is not limited to members within God’s covenantal community, but all covenant breakers in Adam as seen in Daniel 4.16; Ecclesiastes 9.3.

[5] Notice that it is God’s intention all along, long before Saul or David that the line of Judah is to be established as the royal line in anticipation of Jesus to come. Every decision up to this point, although one might argue they were made freely was already predetermined to eliminate any straying from the Sovereign plan of God. For an example of this sort of predetermined activity by God in conjunction with the free choices see Acts 4:24-28.

[6] Scripture ought to lay the foundation for our theology, apologetics, anthropology, philosophy, etc., if we are to be consistent as men and women of God.