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Hamartiology

(9 posts)

The second of five realities rising from the holiness of God, according to David Wells, is that There Is Sin. This is a reality we lose when we fail to see God as the “outside God.” The second consequence is that without the holiness of God, sin loses all its meaning. Sin, as I have argued, is not simply the breaking of some church rule but is every act that is an affront to the character and will of God. It is true that only 17 percent of Americans define sin in relation to God, but their mistake in no way diminishes the nature of what their sin is. What has been lost is not the sin itself but its culpability. Sin in all its forms is still present in life. It is still trailed by all the pain and confusion that always attends it, but it is not being understood in relation to God. It thus loses its depth, character, and culpability because we have lost our internal compass. That compass lines up our sinning, not merely horizontally, but also vertically. Sin brings not only shame, but also guilt when we understand it in relation to God”s holiness. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 5:14), after the calamity he brought upon himself by his sexual affair. Only then do we understand its nature. When we lose the holiness of God we have sins pains and calamities, but we do not understand it anymore. But if we begin to see the nature of sin, we are on the road back to reality. We are on our way back into the presence of God through Christ. It is not that the knowledge of sin alone suffices, but rather that it pushes us to seek our deliverance from it. Knowing about sin is therefore vital knowledge. There is none quite so lost as those who know little or nothing of their sin. Knowing about our sin, therefore, is something for which we should be deeply grateful. This is why it is so important for us to be able to understand that God is not simply the inside God but he is the outside God as well. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 128.

Cosmic Treason

Wednesday··2008·09·24
Sin, R. C. Sproul writes, “is cosmic treason.” We rarely take the time to think through the ramifications of human sin. We fail to realize that even the slightest sins we commit, such as little white lies or other peccadilloes we are violating the law of the creator of the universe. In the smallest sin we defy God’s right to rule and reign over His creation. Instead, we seek to usurp for ourselves the authority and power that belong properly to God. Even the slightest sin does violence to His holiness, to His glory, and to his righteousness. Every sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is truly an act of treason against a cosmic King. There are two aspects of the one problem we must understand if we are to grasp the necessity of the atonement of Christ. . . . God is just. In other words, He cannot tolerate unrighteousness. He must do what is right. . . . The other aspect of the problem [is that] we have violated God’s justice and earned His displeasure. We are cosmic traitors. We must recognize this problem within ourselves if we are to grasp the necessity of the cross. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 32–33.

Spots and Blemishes

Thursday··2008·09·25
R. C. Sproul, considering the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary, draws three circles. The first represents the character of man. Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If another sin occurs, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sin continues to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. . . . Human character is clearly tainted by sin . . . The sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt. . . . To take it further, when the apostle Paul elaborates on this fallen human condition, he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . There is none who does good; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10b-12). That’s a radical statement. Paul is saying that man never, ever does a good deed, but that flies in the face of our experience. When we look around us, we see numerous people who are not Christians doing things that we would applaud for their virtue. . . . But how can there be these deeds of apparent goodness when the Bible says that no one does good? The reason for this problem is that when the Bible describes goodness or badness, it looks at it from two distinct perspectives. First, there is the measuring rod of the law, which evaluates the external performance of human beings. For example, if the law says you are not allowed to steal, and you go your whole life without stealing, we could say that you have a good record. You’ve kept the law externally. But in addition to the external measuring rod, there is also the consideration of the heart, the internal motivation for our behavior. We’re told that man judges by outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. From a biblical perspective, to do a good deed in the fullest sense requires not only that the deed conform outwardly to the standards of God’s law, but that it proceed from a heart that loves Him and wants to honor Him. You remember the great commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matt. 22:37). Is there anyone reading this book who has loved God with all of his or her heart for the past five minutes? No. Nobody loves God with all of his heart, not to mention his soul or mind. . . . If we consider human performance from this perspective, we can see why the apostle would come to his apparently radical conclusion that there is no one who does good, that there’s no goodness in the full sense of the word found among mankind. Even our finest works have a taint of sin mixed in. I have never done an act of charity, of sacrifice, or of heroism that came from a heart, a soul, and a mind that loved God completely. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 85, 87–89.

Is Same-Sex Attraction Sinful?

Tuesday··2012·10·02 · 3 Comments
Right now, if you’re a Christian, you’re thinking—or, at least, I hope are—that the answer is obvious: of course same-sex attraction is sinful. But that answer is not as universally obvious among Christians as you might think. It is becoming increasingly popular to acknowledge innate homosexual orientation, even accepting the term “gay Christian,” while maintaining that homosexual acts are sinful. So-called “gay Christians” must therefore remain celibate. As long as they do, their homosexual attraction incurs no guilt. The attraction itself is not sin. At least part of this opinion is based upon equivocation. I say, “Same-sex attraction is sin,” and the other guy replies, “Is it a sin to be tempted? Surely not; so the one who is tempted only sins when he surrenders to the temptation.” Nicely done, very tricky—but not so fast. Of course, I agree that to be tempted is not sin, or Christ himself would be a sinner, but that’s not what I said. I said “attracted,” not “tempted.” Temptation is nothing more than the enticement to have or do something God has forbidden. The store clerk gives me too much change. I can remain silent, keep the money, and get away with it. That knowledge is temptation, but it is not sin. As soon as I want to do it, as soon as I am attracted to dirty money, I sin, even if I overcome the desire and return the money anyway. To be tempted is to be offered a potentially attractive opportunity; to be attracted is to want it. I need to repent of my urge, however momentary, to have that money. When did Eve first sin? Was it when she saw the fruit, or when the serpent enticed her to eat it, or when she actually ate it? It was none of those. Eve sinned when she looked at an object that God had declared off-limits and found it attractive. Jesus teaches just that when he tells us that murder and adultery are only the outward expressions of sin that has already been committed in the mind (Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28). Potiphar’s wife enticed Joseph to sin (Genesis 39:7–18). We do not read of Joseph struggling with his desire to have her. Rather, we read of his repeated refusal to even consider it. Joseph did not sin. Nor did Christ struggle with his desire in the desert. Read his terse answers (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13) to the greatest tempter of all time and see if he ever said, “I’d love to, but I can’t.” It is sin for me to be attracted to other women than my wife, not because they aren’t attractive, but because they are forbidden. Just so, I am not to desire men; it is forbidden. As noted above, the desire is the same as the act. I must repent of my sinful inclinations as well as my sinful acts. How sad and cruel it is to gloss over sin and deny sinners the grace of repentance, which they so desperately need.

Is Same-Sex Attraction Sinful? (The Sequel)

Thursday··2014·01·02 · 2 Comments
Once upon a time, I wrote this, probably as a response to something. I don’t remember. Now, once again, the word comes down, from Desiring God this time, that: 1. The Bible explicitly says that impenitent homosexual acts, not homosexual desires, keep a person from inheriting the kingdom of God. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). 2. The Bible does not seem to explicitly mention same-sex attraction. It is possible that the “dishonorable passions” in Romans 1:26 could be dealing with SSA, but it’s unclear whether this is a reference to simply experiencing an attraction, or following the attraction into active lusting. 3. Our passions may be disordered by the fall of this creation, and yet be distinct from active sinning. Paul said, “the creation was subjected to futility . . . [and will one day] be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20–21). Even Spirit-filled believers groan under this “futility” and “corruption,” including “dishonorable passions.” “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Given the above three realities, it seems right to say that while homosexual practice is active sinning, the experience of same-sex attraction need not involve active sinning. John Piper says it like this: It would be right to say that same-sex desires are sinful in the sense that they are disordered by sin and exist contrary to God’s revealed will. But to be caused by sin and rooted in sin does not make a sinful desire equal to sinning. Sinning is what happens when rebellion against God expresses itself through our disorders (“Let Marriage Be Held In Honor,” emphasis added) In other words, although SSA is a disordered desire, owing to the fall and thus rooted in sin and broken by sin, nevertheless experiencing SSA is not in itself an act of sinning. Well, I have said what I have said, and have nothing original to add. However, if I did, I’d like it to be something mature and biblically well-rounded, like this from Pastor Don Green: Is it okay to be attracted to the same gender as long as you don’t have sex? Short answer? No. The sin of homosexuality is more than the external behavior. The disposition toward homosexuality is also sinful. This may surprise you if you have approached Christianity as a series of rules to be kept and going to church on Sunday. But biblical righteousness is far more than avoiding physical sin. Continue reading A Pastor Responds to Desiring God on the Issue of Same-Sex Attraction and listen to a discussion of same with Pastor Green and Pastor Mike Abendroth.

Human Alienation, Mediated Reconciliation

Wednesday··2014·01·22
A number of authors have begun to argue that mankind is really just one part of God’s vast creation, and that man in fact derives his significance from being part of that creation. So, it’s said, God loves creation, and therefore he loves humans. God will redeem the whole of creation, and therefore mankind will be redeemed. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 70–71. Among the problems with that thinking, say DeYoung and Gilbert, is that in the Fall, it was man, not creation, that was alienated from God; the salvific hope given in Genesis is not to the whole creation through Adam, but to Adam through Christ; and the theme of man’s alienation from God and mediated reconciliation is central to the biblical narrative. First, and most importantly, the prime problem that the Bible sets up in its first three chapters is the alienation of man from God. To be sure, there are enormous consequences that follow from man’s sin and alienation from God. Relationships between human beings themselves are disrupted. God tells the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16), indicating that she will sinfully desire to master her husband (cf. Gen. 4:7), and he will sinfully tend to dominate her. God also tells Satan that there will be “enmity between [his] offspring and [the woman’s]” (Gen. 3:15), the result of which will be strife not only in the family but throughout society (see Gen. 4:8, 23). Moreover, the created order itself is affected by Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:17). No longer will the soil willingly yield its fruit to Adam. Now he will have to work for his food, and work “in pain,” God tells him, and “by the sweat of [his] face.” In the midst of all this suffering, though, we must remember that all these tragedies—the alienation of man from his fellow man, and the alienation of man from his world—are symptoms of the underlying problem, the alienation of man from God. It was Adam’s decision to rebel against God that precipitated all the rest. Twice God makes this point in the curse he pronounces over Adam: Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree . . . cursed is the ground because of you. (Gen. 3:17) The fundamental problem, the one at the root of all the others, is man’s severed relationship with God. Second, we should notice that even in the first dreadful moments after Adam’s sin, the hope of salvation is not for Adam to work to return the world to its original “very good” state, but rather for God to effect salvation through a Mediator. In the midst of all this postfall bad news, the first hint of any “gospel,” any good news, comes in Genesis 3:15. There God promises Satan that the woman’s Offspring “shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is a poignant description of Christ’s victory over the Serpent, once you know the end of the story. Satan does indeed bruise Christ’s heel (a wound, but not a finally fatal one), but Christ bruises Satan’s head, crushing it by his death on the cross and his resurrection. That’s how God would bring about salvation. Again, there is nothing in the early chapters of Genesis that would lead us to believe that the work of returning the world to its original “very good” state falls to Adam. God does not give him such a charge, and the reason is that Adam has already blown it. To be sure, his original mandate was to protect the garden and “cultivate” it, even to build from it a society that would perfectly glorify God. But he utterly failed at that task. When God exiles Adam from Eden, it is not with a commission to continue the work of building the world into a God-glorifying, cultivated paradise. Adam’s existence in the world would not be one of continual progress toward godliness anymore; it would be one of frustration and painful work in a world that was now reluctant and even hostile toward him. No, the work of fixing the disaster fell to another, to the Offspring of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head. Third, these themes of alienation from God and salvation by a Mediator are central to the whole story line of the Bible. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 21, the Bible is the story of how a gracious God who is also perfectly just and righteous acted to bring sinful human beings back into his presence and favor. It is the story of how God justly and righteously lifted the flaming sword of Genesis 3:24 and reopened for his own people the way to the tree of life. —Ibid., 73–75.

At the root of all saving Christianity

Monday··2016·12·19
In the coming year, I’ll make another attempt to restart the blog. I intend to begin by blogging through several works of J. C. Ryle, beginning with what is probably his most-read, Holiness. Here is a taste: He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. . . . The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner. The material creation in Genesis began with ‘light,’ and so also does the spiritual creation. God ‘shines into our hearts’ by the work of the Holy Ghost, and then spiritual life begins. (2 Cor. 4:6).—Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief wants of the Church in the nineteenth century has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin. . . . I say, then, that ‘sin,’ speaking generally, is, as the Ninth Article of our Church declares, ‘the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone (quam longissime is the Latin) from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth alway against the spirit; and, therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.’ Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people, and tongue; a disease from which there never was but one born of woman that was free. Need I say that one was Christ Jesus the Lord? —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 1–2. Merry Christmas!

The Extent of Sin

Monday··2017·01·02
Concerning the Extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is by nature ‘evil, and that continually.’—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost. In short, ‘from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness’ about us (Isa. 1:6). The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners, and outward decorum; but it lies deep down in the constitution. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 4–5. Ryle is not writing here to explain or defend of the doctrine of Total Depravity, but this paragraph does provide a good description of that doctrine—that is, that “total” does not refer to the depth human depravity, but to it’s extent. Fallen humanity is not as wicked as could be, but sin “pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds.” As dirty hands pollute everything they touch, so all our thoughts and actions are to some degree tainted by sin. Ryle further writes, I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity with which it cleaves to man even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Ghost’s operations. To use the language of the Ninth Article, ‘this infection of nature doth remain—yea, even in them that are regenerate.’ So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption, that even after we are born again, renewed, ‘washed, sanctified, justified.’ and made living members of Christ, these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts, and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved. Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified, and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory, and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward ‘groanings’ which no one knows but he who has experienced them—all, all testify to the same great truth, all show the enormous power and vitality of sin. Mighty indeed must that foe be who even when crucified is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it, and while he rejoices in Christ Jesus has no confidence in the flesh; and while he says, ‘Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory.’ never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation! —Ibid., 7.

Sin Is Unbelief

Tuesday··2018·01·02
The root of all sin is unbelief. You tell me, my brother, that your sin consists of some particular failing. That is not your sin. Your sin is that you believe not on Him. If you would believe on Him, if you would believe on Him with abandonment of the life, all the guilt would be put away, all the power of the sin would be broken. . . . Here is a man lying sick of a fell disease. I bring him the one absolutely sure remedy for his disease. He puts it away and dies. You tell me he dies of his disease? In some senses you are right; but he died because he declined the remedy. That is the story of sin in the light of the mission of Jesus and the ministry of the Spirit. Whatever sin you are in the grip of, that sin must loosen its hold in the moment when you believe on Him and He commits to you the efficacy of His cross and the dynamic of His resurrection. You say, “My besetting sin is my temper, my love of drink, some form of impurity.” Nothing of the kind. You have not named your besetting sin. Your besetting sin is your persistent unbelief in Jesus. Sin is unbelief. If you would believe on Him your evil temper would be changed, the very fire and force of your love of alcohol would die out, quenched by the power of the spirit. If you would but believe on Him the feverish fire of your impurity would be dealt with. Some of you go mourning all the days, with a mourning which insults heaven and grieves the Spirit, over some besetting sin which you cannot cure. If you would but believe on Him! The Spirit comes to give sin its relation to Jesus Christ, to reveal to men the perfect Saviour in order that they may understand that if any suffer the penalty of sin it is because they have refused God’s one great all-sufficient remedy for sin. —G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit (Sermon: The Spirit’s Testimony to the World) (Baker, 2006), 1:158–159.

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