Posts Tagged ‘Debating Original Sin’
On Original Sin, Sinful Nature, and Romans Chapter Five
“What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die….Yet say ye, Why?
There is no doubt that Arminius affirmed original sin. He wrote,
The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.
Later Arminians such as John Wesley or Richard Watson affirmed with Arminius the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin is defined as:
the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.
I have no problem with such definitions. The Catholic writer GK Chesterton wrote, ”Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” Chesterton, and others, point to the fact that children have to be trained to do what is right and not what is wrong. I heard one original sin defender state once, “Just look at infants. They are not good. They are selfish and always want their way. They cry when you don’t serve them and give them what they want.” While I think he is reaching here a bit, he is correct to note that all humans are born with the inclination toward sin and toward pleasing ourselves.
Arminians, however, disagree over whether humans are born guilty of sin. Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, holds that humans are born in a state of “original grace” until they are tempted by their own flesh and sin. He rejects that any person will be found guilty on the day of judgment simply because Adam sinned but each person will be found guilty for their own sins. The Church of the Nazarene states about original sin:
“We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”
My brief thought here is whether one should be viewed as a heretic if they reject original guilt or inherited guilt? I agree with Arminius and Wesley that we are born in original sin. No one is capable of salvation apart from the gracious work of Christ. None can save themselves. Our desire is for the flesh. Our desire is to please the flesh. Our desire is not to honor God. Salvation is the work of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and good works cannot save. Why? Because good works are measured by sinful humans who often have an eye on flesh and not God. Our “goodness” is not that good. God’s standard also is not good but perfection. Any one violation of His just laws requires judgment to come (James 2:10). We are not good. We are tainted by sin and by our flesh. We need a Savior (Romans 7:24-25)!
I agree that because of sin, we cannot earn God’s perfect righteousness (Romans 10:4). We must look to Christ alone to be saved and to have His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ alone turns away the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).
What is interesting is that even those who reject inherited guilt believe that because of sin, we still cannot earn God’s salvation. We still must look to Christ. While they reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, they hold that because of Adam’s sin, we inherit a corrupted nature that loves sin and not God. They agree with those who would hold to inherited guilt that none of us can save ourselves because of sin. We must look to Christ alone to be forgiven (John 3:14-18). Christ alone is the One who washes away our sins (1 John 1:9).
The older that I get, the more I see how corrupt I am apart from God’s grace. I don’t love God in my flesh. I love myself. Yet I rejoice in both the mercy of God (that He withholds His just wrath against my sins) and His grace (which enables me to be forgiven of my sins). By no means do I want to abide in sin. I hate sin. I want to fear God, to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). I want to honor Christ as Lord through faithful obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:15). However, I know that apart from His grace, I would be living in sin and rebellion against Him. I read Romans 3:10-18 and I see myself. I see my desires. But oh the joy that comes from loving Jesus and allowing Him to guide my steps. I am not perfect by any means but I seek to be like Christ more and more (Philippians 3:12-14). My goal is not to see how much sin I can get away with but to look to Christ to help me, forgive me, restore me, and strengthen me to overcome sin. He is certainly more than able to deliver me by His power (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I have been reading a bit from the early Church Fathers. What is interesting to read is, apart from Augustine, the early Church Fathers were not Calvinists. I knew this previously having heard a Calvinist theologian state once that Augustine was the first Calvinist and Calvin merely borrowed from Augustine. Reading the Church Fathers helps one to see their theology and I find it fascinating that they nearly all held to libertarian free will, conditional salvation, and required disciples of Christ to be obedient to Christ until the end (necessary perseverance).
However, this morning I was reading from Athanasius on the fall of mankind. There is no doubt that Athanasius would not agree with Pelagius and say that man is born innocent and perfect. Athanasius taught that mankind is wretched because of the direct link to Adam and Eve’s lapse into sin. While he taught that man fell in Adam and Eve, he did not hold to the Calvinist view of total depravity but instead taught that while man has lost immortality of his body, he retains that of the soul, and his will remains free. He taught that man inherits a sinful nature from Adam but he never hints that we participate in Adam’s actual guilt.
Ironically, Athanasius even hints at the possibility of being sinless. He even claims that Jeremiah and John the Baptist actually did this and were sinless. This is not to say that they were born sinless as Jesus was and remained His entire life but rather they overcame sin by the act of their own free will.
All this comes from Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly (pages 346-348).
I wanted to write a final post about 2012 as we move forward into 2013. The main posts that I focused in on in 2012 was on the subject of original sin and how various Christians approached the doctrine. I tried to balanced on the subject by allowing many sides to state their cases. Calvinists clearly affirm the doctrine of original sin and some go so far as to make it an issue of orthodoxy. Arminians have not been as clear on the doctrine. Arminius affirmed it along with others such as John Wesley (though he felt that each person would be condemned for their own sins) and men such as Adam Clarke and Richard Watson. Arminians have never taught though as strong a view of the doctrine as Calvinists have mainly because we believe in the free will of humanity and prevenient grace toward all wherever the gospel is preached.
I have mixed thoughts about the doctrine of original sin. I affirm that Scripture is clear that Adam’s transgression brought condemnation and destruction to the human race (Romans 5:12). I affirm that sin is universal (Romans 3:23). I affirm that the atonement of Christ is necessary because of the nature of Adam’s sin. Christ, the second Adam, came to die for our sins and to suffer in our place so that through faith in Him, we might be justified before God by grace through faith (Romans 5:12-21). None can be saved but through faith in Jesus (Romans 10:17). Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6). We are not saved by merely belief in God (James 2:19) or affirming doctrinal truths but through personal saving faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:23). The way is narrow to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). This is why we must preach the saving gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15).
2012 was also a year of hardship for me. I lost my precious mother in August. I miss her still. The precious promises from God’s Word of His Presence with me has been of much comfort to me (Romans 8:31-39). I remember sitting by her bed while she was dying reading from John 11, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 22 about the promises of God concerning death and heaven and life in Jesus’ name. I remember reading Psalm 27 and Psalm 116 over and over again while she lay dying from cancer knowing that God was faithful to the very end, that He is a Father to the fatherless. He would be my comfort (John 14:26) and He has been. I will always miss my mama.
Trial have a way of either being used by the enemy to try to push away from Christ or trials push us closer to God. James 1:2-7 speaks of the blessing of trials. The text reads:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.
I like how the NKJV says that we are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. Isn’t that the truth about trials? We don’t go looking for trials. We fall into them. Just like we don’t run into sin (James 1:14), we don’t go looking for trials. Trials do come. Our response to them is critical. We can either praise God through them or we fall into despair. I have learned that when we face trials, we should praise God despite them. Our focus should not be on the temporal but upon the eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Soon all trials will be past and we will spend eternity with Christ (John 14:1-3). He is a worthy reward (Hebrews 11:6, 13-16). I long to see Him. More than I long for heaven itself or to see my mama, I long for Christ. I long to behold the One who shed His blood for me. I long to worship at His throne, the One who alone is worthy to be praised. I long to see Him face to face (1 John 3:1-3).
I look forward to seeing what God will do in 2013 and what I can do to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
F. Lagard Smith in his book Troubling Questions for Calvinists (and all the rest of us) asks 15 questions about the Fall in Genesis 3:1-7. I will post his questions here without comment.
1. What do you think? Were Adam and Eve free moral beings, fully able to decide between obeying and disobeying God without any predetermined secret eternal will of God preempting their freedom to choose right from wrong?
a) If not, is there any way that God Himself is not responsible for their sin and “the Fall”?
b) If so, were they simply exceptions to an otherwise universal rule of predestination and sovereign causation?
2. Were Adam and Eve either totally or partially depraved before “the Fall”?
3. What about immediately after “the Fall”?
4. By virtue of their created nature as human beings, were Adam and Eve:
a) innately inclined more toward evil than good; or
b) innately inclined more toward good than evil; or
c) simply given a neutral capacity for moral choice between good and evil?
5. Were Cain and Abel (and, more crucially, are we ourselves) “constitutionally different” from Adam and Eve in respect to any innate inclination to sin? If so, in what way?
6. Is there anything in the Genesis account or in the whole of Scripture specifically stating that some “constitutional change” in human nature took place between the first created generation and the first procreated generation? (We’re not talking here about any imputed sin, but a fundamental difference in human nature itself).
7. Is there any passage suggesting Adam and Eve, themselves, were “constitutionally different” once expelled from the Garden?
8. If you believe they were inclined toward good before “the Fall,” or created morally neutral, do you believe that as they left the Garden they were from then on inclined toward evil?
9. If the so-called “Fall” (replete with its assumed implications regarding original sin, depravity, and the lack of free will) is the supposed cause of our sins, what explains Adam and Eve’s sin prior to “the Fall” when (presumably) they had free will unfettered by either original sin or depravity?
10. Was “the Fall” predestined by God’s eternal secret will in order that mankind would be innately depraved and sinful for whatever purpose God intends? Or did “the Fall” occur without God’s foreknowledge and foreordination?
11. In the “penalty clause” of Genesis 3:16-19, we are given the specific consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, including the woman’s pain in childbirth and the man’s having to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Why do you suppose there is no mention in this passage that everyone born from that point forward would be condemned from the moment of conception?
12. Accepting that by the “curse of Adam” mankind was reduced to struggle and pain in a way never experienced in the Garden, is there anything in Scripture necessarily implying that mankind thereafter was innately more inclined toward evil or sin?
13. Even granting that ejection from the Garden put distance between God and man as compared with the close communion Adam and Eve had shared with Him, is there anything in Scripture suggesting that a fundamental change in human constitution also resulted?
14. Acknowledging the obvious, that Adam’s sin introduced condemnation for sin into the world for the first time, is there anything in this fact which necessarily implies that each and every person in Adam’s loins would thereafter be born innately condemned? Is there any reason that sin’s condemnation could not apply, instead, to each person’s sins, just as with Adam?
15. In Genesis 4:6-7, God says to Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Was Cain’s ability to do right and to master sin limited in any way either by God’s eternal secret will or by some effect of “the Fall”? If you believe that Cain’s ability to do right would have required a prior act of regeneration, what biblical passage indicates this?
In contrast to Dr. Jack Cottrell’s comments on Psalm 51:5, I wanted to post what the great Arminian commentator Adam Clarke had to say about the same passage of Scripture. Here are Clarke’s comments on the text:
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity – A genuine penitent will hide nothing of his state; he sees and bewails, not only the acts of sin which he has committed, but the disposition that led to those acts. He deplores, not only the transgression, but the carnal mind which is enmity against God. The light that shines into his soul shows him the very source whence transgression proceeds; he sees his fallen nature, as well as his sinful life; he asks pardon for his transgressions, and he asks washing and cleansing for his inward defilement. Notwithstanding all that Grotius and others have said to the contrary, I believe David to speak here of what is commonly called original sin; the propensity to evil which every man brings into the world with him, and which is the fruitful source whence all transgression proceeds. The word חוללתי cholalti, which we translate shaped, means more properly, I was brought forth from the womb; and יחמתני yechemathni rather signifies made me warm, alluding to the whole process of the formation of the fetus in utero, the formative heat which is necessary to develop the parts of all embryo animals; to incubate the ova in the female, after having been impregnated by the male; and to bring the whole into such a state of maturity and perfection as to render it capable of subsisting and growing up by aliment received from without. “As my parts were developed in the womb, the sinful principle diffused itself through the whole, so that body and mind grew up in a state of corruption and moral imperfection.”