Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Me or Adam? By Winkie Pratney (Part 3)

IS SIN A “SOMETHING”?
(3) Sin is not physical
Many think they have explained the fact of sin in the human race by using a phrase we shall call “Doggie Logic”. It goes essentially like this: “A dog is not a dog because he barks: he barks because he is a dog. Thus, man is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner.” The assumption is, of course, that all sin flows from a preexistent sinful nature, and it is this nature that creates the sinful acts of the sinner. Just as the bark of a dog comes undeniably from the fact that he is a dog, so man’s sin will flow inescapably from the fact that he is a sinner, and was born so. It sounds nice; is it true? There are unfortunately two things wrong with this logic. They are serious flaws, because once they are assumed, they actually destroy the basis of the very thing they seek to prove – that all men are guilty of, and responsible to God for their sin. These logic flaws are:

A MAN IS NOT A DOG. A dog’s actions are right if he barks, because God created a dog to express itself naturally by barking. But God did not create men to sin! A dog’s bark is natural; sin is not. The Bible everywhere represents sin as an alien invasion to a moral nature made in the image of God. Assuming that man sins because it is his normal nature to sin, also assumes that sin is natural. A dog barks because he is a dog. A man can also bark if he chooses to. Does this prove that he is a dog? No, it proves that he has chosen to do a thing he was never created to do naturally. If a man sins, it merely proves that he has chosen to sin, and his sin will certainly be treated as unnatural in the eyes and judgment of God.

Do we need a sinful nature to sin? Is it necessary to have an preexistent “implanted sinfulness” to enable man to do wrong? If one sinner can be found in Scripture who sinned without first having a sinful nature, the answer is no, and the case is closed. And of course, there are at least three moral beings who committed sin without sinful natures. Satan was the first. The first man Adam was the second, and then his wife Eve. The angels who were cast out of heaven were apparently first perfect. No moral being needs a sinful nature to sin. If he is given one that makes it really impossible for him not to do right, he is not guilty, but helpless.
Neither does sin reside, as some sincere men have speculated, in the blood. Scriptures associate mortality with blood, but never morality. It is a symbol of human life. As the key electrochemical and circulatory system of the body, it is both the “life of the flesh” and the “circuitry” of the soul. As a statement of outpoured life, it is certainly a precious symbol of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. (Is. 53:10-12; Heb. 9:22-23; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24-26; 5:9-11; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 10:10-14; 10:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 Jn. 1:7). But blood in the Bible does not carry good or evil. If we can transmit morals through blood, then a blood transfusion from a saint will make a man more holy, and one from a sinner will make a saint less sanctified. It will follow then, that a prenatal blood transfusion on a “blue” baby will give it a totally different nature. Now, while it is true that the blood of any creature contains its life essence and the blood of Christ cleanses from sin, no Scripture assigns either sin or love to blood. Blood never holds morals in the Bible.

What is sin if it isn’t a substance? As Christians we speak of sin as a power or a force and know it is something much more than just an isolated wrong decision. Somehow personal sin can keep record in our body, mind and emotions. All habits, both good and bad, are developed the same way: by repetitive choices, stored as patterns in our memory. Sinful patterns built around a life of supremely serving ourselves can be terrifyingly addictive and far stronger than any wishful intention to do better. We may see and approve what is good, but have no power in our own strength to escape the bondage.

In Romans 7:7-24, the Apostle Paul personifies sin to show its power over an enlightened, but unconverted mind. He calls it the law of sin and death. Any habit of wanting our own way clashes with the judgment of conscience and God’s moral law. Any such developing death-style of evil habit (the “law” or “rule of action of sin”) conflicts with the changeless reality of the true state of things, the law of God. A sinner may discipline his life to try to break some bad habits, but no-one ever escapes unaided the ultimate addiction of serving ourselves. Without the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, no sinner can free himself. Only Christ by the Gospel can truly deliver him. (Rom. 7:25; 8:1).

Paul illustrates the battle by speaking as if he is presently in it. That it is only an illustration and not a present personal problem is clear; the passage ends in true freedom. He speaks of the tug of this “law of sin” as if it is at home in his bodily members. “Flesh” is a phrase used to describe the concentration on emotional gratification through our five senses. We feel excited desires sparked into unnatural strength by habits of selfish gratification in our bodies. Jesus comes to break the cycle of death and bring deliverance.

Even here Paul does not really make a case for “physical” sin, and certainly is not seeking to prove it as his helpless inheritance. He is not concerned with how a man sins, but the fact of an internal battle raging that cannot be won alone. His point is to show us we have no hope of salvation in ourselves; the law of moral thermodynamics is against us. Who can help him get free? Only Jesus Christ, who faced all the temptations in His own body and did not give in at all; only Jesus, whose perfect character was sealed in death and whose resurrection demonstrates His power to face our worst and ugliest and win.

If sin is physical, in what form does it exist? Is it solid, liquid or gas? If sin is identifiably material, can it be isolated in a test-tube? Can it be injected into a saint to make him wrong? May we see the phenomena of a vial of sin concentrate? This is, of course, absurd. All efforts to trace actual sin to some biologic or materially organic connection with parents have failed of genetic, medical or physiological evidence,. Attempts to trace actual wrong to some gene or chemical deficiency is the humanist’s last shot at explaining morality, and still fails to deal with the universality of sin. At the most, all inherited traits from parents simply contribute influences for later selfish choices.

How then, can we account for the fact that all have sinned? It is customary to trace this universal sinfulness to some kind of organic connection with Adam. Out of the mass of historical theological opinion, we may reduce all views to two basically opposite ideas:

Augustine, began with the premise that souls, like bodies were transmitted to children. Thus man was unable to help sin, since he inherited a sinful soul. The logical conclusion of a premise like this is that man is not to blame for his sinful nature, and cannot properly be urged to repent of it, since true repentance involves self-condemnation by the sinner. It follows then, that man can do nothing in salvation; God makes all the choices, and man becomes a mere puppet in His hands. In such a system, man can be sub-Scripturally devalued; being human is equated with sinfulness. Doctrines of infant damnation, physical baptismal regeneration, unconditional eternal security; annihilation or Universalism, and forms of fatalism may logically follow. On the other hand, the Bible holds man fully responsible for sin; though he is indeed damaged, hurt and unable to save himself, he is not pictured as irresponsibly “helpless”. He himself can choose to respond to God’s Spirit drawing him to repent, believe Jesus and obey His Word.

Pelagius, held that a man was born innocent, free of contamination; if left to his own way, he would “naturally” choose God. Logically then, a man might actually save himself from sin by consistent right choices; he does not need a Savior at all! If this was true, why should God need to intervene in our lives? Given the right teaching and environment, we can carve out our own holiness and happiness without Christ! This leads to the unscriptural deification of man, and the dangerous errors of humanistic and rationalistic thought, which may lead on to religious atheism and the abandonment of God altogether. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that man is incapable of saving himself; that his plight cannot be corrected by education or environment, but only by the sovereign drawing power of God the Holy Spirit, who alone can lead a man into a “grace-by-faith” salvation not based on man’s works. We all need God, even the holy angels who never sinned at all.
All other positions on human depravity place somewhere between these two extremes. Our own understanding of this subject will modify every facet of practical theology! This is no mere theoretical issue, but essential to our picture of the Gospel. If we excuse sin, we shall do so at the expense of God’s love, and at the peril of our souls. If we dogmatise as sin what Scripture does not support, by calling temptations, influences and involuntary actions “sinfulness”, we will be bound and falsely condemned by the Enemy of our souls, too busy fighting our own failures to turn the world upside down, while all Heaven mourns. We have seen what sin is not; to resolve these difficulties, let us see what sin is.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/26/2012 at 1:29 PM

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