Saturday, May 16, 2015
A Brief Statement and Defense of Original Sin
In his delightful labor, Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck writes, “The point of the “fall” narrative in Genesis is to point to the human desire for autonomy from God. To “know good and evil” is to become the determiner of good and evil; it is to decide for oneself what is right and wrong and not submit to any external law. In short, to seek the knowledge of good and evil is to desire emancipation from God; it is to want to be “like God.” The temptation and fall of man is a tragedy that no human being is capable of escaping. Man’s desire was a desire planted in his mind by the fallen angel, Lucifer. And Lucifer’s fall was along the very same lines as man’s fall. Lucifer sought to surpass the greatness of the glory of his Maker. Adam, no less than Lucifer found the idea seemingly irresistible. He bought the story hook, like, and forbidden fruit.
In terms of the narrative laid down in Genesis, one has only two choices. Either the narrative is a straightforward account of actual history or it is myth or some other genre. The trouble with taking Genesis any other way than simple, honest historical narrative is that there seems to be no good reason offered by those who take it as such, that does not itself reduce to an arbitrary rescuing device designed to save their prior philosophical commitments. There are no objective literary rules that lend themselves to the view that this account is legend, myth or even poetry. The literature and grammar of the text demand historical narrative as the genre. The only way to arrive at any other conclusion is to formulate a philosophical approach to Scripture as a whole that is informed by something other than Scripture itself, say modern historical critical methods that are themselves entangled in numerous difficulties, contradictions, and obvious controversies. The fact is that the historical character of Genesis 3 has been something that the Church has maintained for centuries. Only in the shadows of modernity do we have competing views offered for what the account actually reflects. One has to ask if such modern notions are the product of faithfulness to the biblical text, or perhaps the outcome of unbelief borne out of the very fall it seeks to interpret.
Orthodox Christianity has held that the temptation and subsequent fall of Adam and Eve into sin was an actual historical event that happened just as Genesis describes. John Frame tells us, “The normative definition of sin (“sin is lawlessness, 1 Jn. 3:4) is often prominent in Scripture, especially because the first sin was disobedience to a specific divine command. Adam decided to reject the law of God in place of his own law. We do not have to observe humanity very long before we see men doing the very same thing today. There is an enormous distaste for law even within the ranks of the Christian community. Men despise an overpowering imposition, even if it is God’s overpowering imposition. Observe how Christ is offered to men in modern times. There idea that God demands repentance and complete surrender has been displaced and God is not pictured as a kind old father begging people to just give him a chance and if they do, he will show them just how happy and satisfied he can make them. That is NOT the gospel! But that is what you hear, or nearly hear, in nearly every Church in the Western hemisphere. That message is designed to accommodate the law-hating reality that is at the very core of humanity. Sin is lawlessness.
John Gill writes, “Adam, being the common parent of mankind, may be considered as the ground of the derivation of a corrupt nature to them.” He goes on to say, “Adam stood in the relation of a federal head to his posterity.” As a result of the fall, Scripture reveals that all men now are born guilty and corrupt before an infinitely holy God. This guilt is what we refer to in theology as reatus poenae. We are born in the state of being found guilty as criminals in relation to the divine law. This condition we designate original guilt. Death serves as the overwhelming evidence for this doctrine. Paul tells us that sin entered the world through one man and infected everyone and we see this is the case because all men die. Paul tells us that through the transgression of one man, all men became condemned. Through one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners. It was not through actual transgression that we were condemned and made to be sinners but rather through Adam who stands as our federal head. In Adam, all die. (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22)
Not only are we born into this world with original guilt, we are also born into a state of original corruption. Eph. 2:3 explains that all men live in the lusts of their flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and mind, and are by nature children of wrath. Berkhof writes, “But original sin is not merely negative; it is also an inherent positive disposition toward sin.” (Systematic Theology) Col. 1:21 informs us that all men are alienated from God, hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds. That an infant is born in this state is exegetically irrefutable. Just as Adam was created in the image of God and then corrupted that image, Seth was born in the corrupted image of his father and his children after him and their children after them. Paul described this condition in more detail in the New Testament. In Romans 8:7, he informs us that the mind that is set on the flesh (all unregenerate minds) is hostile toward God and it does not submit to the law of God and indeed is not even able to do so. The reason this is the case has nothing to do with what men do, but rather, what men are from birth. Men are born natural haters of God. That is the state of original pollution or corruption into which all men are born. Francis Turretin, in his Institutes writes, “The necessity of regeneration without which no one can see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). For why ought men to be renewed by regeneration unless he is naturally corrupt by generation?” Paul, writing to the Corinthian Church says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14) All men are natural men until the Spirit of God regenerates their being.
“There is, indeed, nothing that man’s nature seeks more eagerly than to be flattered.” (John Calvin, The Institutes) We see, even in my dispute with Dan Trabue, one position that elevates humanity, giving it the greatest benefit of the doubt, even placing it in a position to make moral judgments about how God handles His own guilty creation, juxtaposed against my position, which seeks to exonerate and defend the actions of the Creator as, set down in Sacred Scripture. Calvin writes, “Yet it is at the same time to be noted that the first man revolted from God’s authority, not only because he was seized by Satan’s blandishments, but also because, contemptuous of truth, he turned aside to falsehood. And surely, once we hold God’s Word in contempt, we shake off all reverence for him.” Indeed, the denial that Scripture is binding, authoritative, authored by God for a very unique purpose is nothing short of holding God in contempt. “Therefore all of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin. In fact, before we saw the light of this life we were soiled and spotted in God’s sight.” (Calvin, see Job 14:4)
Modernism, and I speak of the philosophy, seeks to elevate man above his supposed ancient religious superstitions. The law of God is viewed as an ancient mechanism produced by evolution designed to preserve men until he could evolve into a more enlightened state. Once there, man could discard such silly mechanism and replace them with things like science. In so doing, man has simply replaced one religious commitment with another. Science seeks to displace the sort of laws found in religious ideals like the law of God. Just like Adam, man desires to remove the weight of the law of God and wants to replace it with a law of his own. That is, man wants to determine for himself what is good and evil. The corruption that began so long ago in the garden continues to express itself to even much greater degrees in our own day. The denial of original sin is a denial of the force and binding nature of the law of God itself. It is a doctrine that seeks complete freedom from the Creator. Jesus warned that lawlessness would increase in the last days. Paul tells us that the man of lawlessness must be revealed before the second coming of our Lord. Sometimes I wonder if the man of lawlessness is more like an ideal state or condition of mankind in general as he seeks to destroy any traces of the law of God in his own existence.
If Dan is right and original sin is a false doctrine, then one has to wonder in great bewilderment how sin has become so pervasive. If he is right, what need have we of a Savior or Redeemer? If man is a sinner because he sins and there is nothing corrupt about his natural state, then it follows that he could, if he willed, avoid sin altogether. And if that is actually the state of affairs that has obtained, Christianity is nothing more than a superfluous religion that is in some ways very fascinating, but in others quite insane.
Original sin points us back to the place of the law of God and its prominence in the reality of human affairs. For the Church, original sin reminds us of our desperate need for a Savior, a Redeemer, One Who will rescue us from our helpless condition. However, this also points out the need for the Church to never leave behind such topics in her preaching, her teaching, and her discipleship. The lawlessness we see in the Church is more than just a little disturbing. Christian pastors, teachers, and Christians mock law keeping all across the Church. It is as if grace has destroyed the idea of divine law. Yet, John tells us that those who claim to love God but who refuse to obey His law are liars. How can it be that the Church has come to hate the law of God so intensely? Many ignorantly refer to divine law keeping as legalism. One pastor I know constantly framed it up as list keeping. Moreover, because he was too vague in what he meant, people thought that Christianity had no ethic by which to order practical living. The love of God expressed in Christ points to the law of God violated by humanity. Christ did not come to negate the divine law. He upheld the law of God. He fulfilled the Law of Moses. Christians without law cannot be a city set on a hill for all to see.
The denial of original sin is a denial of biblical Christianity. The denial of the binding and authoritative nature of Scripture is a denial of biblical Christianity. The denial of God’s righteous nature in how He judges unbelievers, even young ones, is a denial of biblical Christianity. The denial of God’s design for marriage is a denial of biblical Christianity. The endorsement of gay sex under any circumstances is a rejection and denial of law of God over the area of human sexuality and is itself a denial of biblical Christianity. For this reason, the Church, throughout the centuries and from her early beginning, insisted on basic confessions of belief before she would either baptize or receive into membership anyone claiming to know Christ. We must purge the heretical leaven from the Church because it spreads like a cancer and will infect the entire body eventually and the results will be nothing short of cataclysmic.
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