Category Archives: Bible Study

Twin Implications of Original Sin

 

Having examined the doctrine of original sin, along with some of the more common objections levied against it, we turn now towards two implications that flow naturally from this neglected, yet profoundly significant Scriptural teaching.  These twin implications are the Doctrine of Total Depravity and the Doctrine of Total Inability.

As with original sin, these daughter doctrines are usually objected against strongly.  Often, some will affirm original sin, yet emphatically deny her two offspring, certainly an inconsistency, but perhaps most likely the fruit of failing to think deeply on the things of God.  Bear in mind, though I’m using the word doctrine rather freely, it shouldn’t be thought of as academic, high-browed, or otherwise reserved for the theologian.  In a sense, we are all theologians (students of God, i.e. disciples) and doctrine is simply shorthand for the “teaching of Scripture” as in 1 Timothy 4:16.

The much maligned doctrine of total depravity refers to the influence that original sin has had on an individual’s human nature, specifically corruption.  We can think of it like this, if we have a glass of water and add to it a drop of cyanide, the entire glass is polluted.

Is it as polluted as it could be?  No.  It certainly could be at a higher percentage of cyanide, but it is nevertheless polluted, completely.  Could you spoon out a little corner of the water that was untainted?  No.  Some have summarized total depravity as corruption, “not in degree, but in extent”.  Additionally, all of our faculties have been corrupted, from our exterior bodies and members to our interior thoughts, will, and desires.

Biblically, Romans 3 is the locus classicus on total depravity:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

I’ve discussed this passage elsewhere, particularly the trajectory that the Apostle moves along from the mind, to the mouth, to the hands.

A.W. Pink summarizes:

The doctrine of total depravity is a very humbling one. It is not that man leans to one side and needs propping up, nor that he is merely ignorant and requires instructing, nor that he is run down and calls for a tonic: but rather that he is undone, lost, spiritually dead. Consequently, he is “without strength,” thoroughly incapable of bettering himself; exposed to the wrath of God, and unable to perform a single work which can find acceptance with Him. Almost every page of the Bible bears witness to this truth. The whole scheme of redemption takes it for granted. The plan of salvation taught in the Scriptures could have no place on any other supposition. The impossibility of any man’s gaining the approbation of God by works of his own appears plainly in the case of the rich young ruler who came to Christ. Judged by human standards, he was a model of virtue and religious attainments, yet, like all others who trust in self-efforts, he was ignorant of the spirituality and strictness of God’s Law, and when Christ put him to the test his fair expectations were blown to the winds, and “he went away sorrowful” (Matt. 19:22).

As to the doctrine of total inability, this refers to man’s incapacity to improve his standing with God through his own efforts, will, or exercise of his volition apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to renew the heart, changing both the affections and the will.  When God says in Ephesians 2 that man is dead in his trespasses and transgressions, this implies the doctrine of total inability.  Dead men cannot choose God.

To clarify a common misconception regarding the will, man still retains his “free will”.  He is not a robot.  However, his will is consistently bent towards sin.  He is so comfortable in it, he lacks the desire to do anything otherwise.  In his own, unregenerate “free-will” he cannot and would not choose God, a total inability.

Turning again to Pink we read:

Fearful indeed are the effects of this darkness. Its subjects are rendered incapable of discerning or receiving spiritual things, so that there is a total inability with respect unto God and the ways of pleasing Him. No matter how well endowed intellectually the unregenerate man may be, what the extent of his education and learning, how skillful in connection with natural things, in spiritual matters he is devoid of intelligence until he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. As a person who lacks the power of seeing is incapable of being impressed by the strongest rays of light reflected upon him, and cannot form any real ideas of the appearance of things, so the natural man, by reason of this blindness of mind, is unable to discern the nature of heavenly things.

If we misunderstand Original Sin and subsequently Total Depravity and Total Inability we misunderstand grace, ultimately the Gospel.  It is a front line issue.  A failure to understand the sinfulness of man and rightly explain it in a biblical manner has been a great malady throughout the history of the church.  The remedy is coming face to face with the holiness of the Sovereign God.

For more see these posts:

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/sermon-total-depravity-voddie-baucham

This post summarizes several posts, including answering some key objections brought against it.

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/summarizing-total-inability

 

Final Objections to Original Sin and their Consequences

 

This is our final post addressing some of the more common objections brought against what is often called the Doctrine of Original Sin.

Objection #5 – The theory of evolution does not allow for an historic Adam, therefore there is no connection to a concept of original sin.

This is the appeal to science that the authors of Adam and the Genome attempt to make.  Some make the argument that Adam wasn’t an actual historical person, but it is instead simply a shorthand designation for all of mankind.  This however destroys the One to Many representation argument that Scripture develops in both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 – Adam to many, Christ to many.  Just as Scripture states that there was a historical Jesus, so too does it state that there was a historical Adam and their relationship is clear.

Objection #6 – Real sin is only committed through an act of the will or volition.  Since we were not in the Garden with Adam, it was not our choice to sin and thereby we do not share in his guilt.

This is true, the actuality of sin is committed by an act of the will or volition, as we saw in the Ezekiel 18 objection.  However, that will has a natural bent towards sin.  It is not morally neutral and certainly not morally good.  It’s natural inclination towards sin is a direct result of the corrupting influence of Adam’s original sin in the Garden.  As was already mentioned, the case with Adam was unique in his representation of mankind.  In this respect, we were there with him.

Objection #7 – If Adam is the natural progenitor of all mankind, and Christ was born into mankind, wouldn’t this make Him guilty and polluted for being “in Adam”.

Christ is commonly understood to be the Second Adam.  By means of His divine, miraculous conception, He assumes the full human nature of mankind, but not the fallen nature of mankind, thus the importance of both the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  Additionally, we must remember the uniqueness of Christ, not merely human, but divine-human, distinguishing Himself from Adam and all other mere humans.

As to His humanity, in a sense, he was made human in a similar way as Adam, that by direct divine intervention (His divine nature is eternal and uncreated).  Adam was formed from the dust of the ground by the hand of God.  Similarly, Christ was formed, humanly speaking, by the power of the Holy Spirit and conceived in the womb of Mary.  Here too it is important to clarify that the Holy Spirit did not have intercourse with Mary, as some erroneously assert.  The purity of the conception of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit stops the corruption of human nature from passing on to Him.  Simply stop and wonder at the majesty of God and the sinlessness of Christ through His miraculous birth.

Consequences

Though the doctrine of original sin may be unpalatable to some people, it nevertheless must be wrestled with, as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord.  We must not let go of Scripture til we have been blessed by it through a clearer understanding of this teaching.  Otherwise, there are grave consequences.

Though we have looked at the consequences for denying the resurrection as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, let’s briefly expand on that for our subject of original sin.

Consequence 1 – Denying original sin denies the need for Christ’s obedience and death on the cross.  If people are born innocent, unstained by their relation to Adam, then we would do well to usher them to an isolated island ensuring their ultimate salvation apart from the corrupting influence of the world.  Christ’s death then would be for only those for whom Plan A, isolation, had failed.

Cons. 2 – Denying the relationship of Adam, his original sin, and his posterity, undercuts the necessity for Christ’s virgin birth.  Consequently, Christ would have no need to be the product of divine conception, because the corrupting influence of Adam would be non-existent.  The doctrine of original sin explains the necessity for Christ to be born of the Spirit through the vessel of Mary, apart from the seminal influence, i.e. Adam, of Joseph.

Cons. 3 – Denying the relationship of Adam to his posterity undermines the parallel relationship between Christ and His posterity.  In other words, if there is no “in Adam” then there is no “in Christ”.

Cons. 4 – Simply stated, if there is no “in Christ” then we are doomed.

Cons. 5 – Denying the relationship of all mankind “in Adam” leads to a logical conclusion of evolution and the denial of a historical Adam.  This consequence works from both directions, either starting with a denial of the historical Adam and working forward or a denial of original sin and working backwards.  In any event, the consequence is grave and one would not be surprised if the next shoe to fall is the doctrine of inerrancy.

Summary

The concept of union with Adam, as a result of our birth, places all men under condemnation and God’s wrath, worthy of eternal punishment.  Likewise, it explains our need for a Savior and  the necessity of Christ’s virgin birth, thereby establishing Him alone as sinless and apart from the original sin of Adam, i.e. outside Adam’s seminal line and federal headship.  Additionally, original sin magnifies God’s grace.  Truly Christ is our only hope and the only name under heaven by which man may be saved.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul brings union with Adam and original sin into his argument of Christ’s resurrection and it’s benefits for the specific purpose of introducing the concept of death, namely that all men die as a result of being in Adam.  The reason for this is to assert the supremacy of Christ over death and the glorious resurrection for all those who are in Him.  But that is a subject we’ll take up yet another future post.

An Objection to Original Sin – Ezekiel 18

 

Continuing our look at some of the common objections to the Doctrine of Original sin.  You can get caught up here:

In Adam and Original Sin

What About Eve

Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

Objection #4 – What about Ezekiel 18?

This passage is often used as a proof text not only for those who wish to deny original sin, but also for those who wish to deny the seminal headship of Adam, discussed in An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

In short, Ezekiel 18 is not talking about the seminal transmission of sin, nor does it have Adam (centrally) in mind.  It’s focus is on an individual’s deeds (see Objection #6, forthcoming) and the judicial punishment associated with those.  The fault of the Israelite’s was to drift into fatalism by shifting the blame of their exile from their own sins, to the sins of their fathers and essentially throwing their hands up in hopelessness.

Let’s look at the passage in context and allow that to determine whether or not this undermines the doctrine of original sin.

The crux of interpreting Ezekiel 18 hinges on the proverb cited in verse 2, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Admittedly, I have had a tough time with this proverb in the past, particularly because it is cited elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:29, where it is applied differently.  Clearly though, the intended meaning is that the action of the fathers has had consequences on the children.  As stated before, Israel seemed to place the blame of their pending exile at the feet of their fathers who had sinned and walked contrary to God.  In doing so, they had failed to recognize the sinfulness of their own sin, were guilty of blame-shifting, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and resigned themselves to a fatalistic view of the pending exile.

In our passage, God then commands that use of the proverb cease and makes a declaration of sovereignty that all souls are his, both father and son, and that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:3).  In other words, we are responsible for our own actions.  This does not have original sin in its cross hairs, rather we may add, the consequences of original sin’s corrupting influence, but let’s press home this point.

As the prophet unfolds an ethical case study (Ezekiel 18:5-18) against the erroneous belief of Israel, we find 3 scenarios: 1) The Grandfather 2) The Father 3) The Son, which are righteous, unrighteous, and righteous respectively.  The argument follows that the father is not credited with the righteousness of the grandfather, nor is the son credited with the sins of the father but each are responsible for their own actions.  Essentially this is a case study of the the law found in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

After raising their own argument against them in vs. 19-20, we read, But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22

This point is critical towards understanding that the fatalism of the Israelite’s was a fallacious belief because the passage clearly states that repentance, i.e. turning away from sin, is a decision that rests on the individual.  In other words, their situation is not hopeless but they can be restored if they recognize and repent of their sins.  The individual is responsible for his/her actions and the decision to repent of those actions rests with them as well (humanly speaking).  The reality is, this is a gospel, hope-filled passage declaring the justice of God in holding people responsible for their own sins, yet also the mercy of God in granting forgiveness and restoration to the penitent heart.

That said, understanding this individualism, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, has caused many to use this passage as a proof text against original sin and Adam’s seminal headship, as noted earlier.  However, this application simply cannot be allowed to stand.

First, this view subconsciously implies that individual responsibility for sins would have been unthinkable in Israel prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy and he was charting new territory.  Additionally, the alternative view, “corporate solidarity” would have had to have been the view that this prophecy was correcting.  Neither of which is expressly true.

As previously mentioned, Deuteronomy 24:16 is in the background of Ezekiel’s prophecy and would have been a familiar passage to the prophet’s audience.  Again, the view that was being confronted was the fatalistic view of being punished for another’s actual sin, a view that is explicitly denied when attention is given to the possibility of individual repentance.

Now this is where the objection against original sin finds its headwaters.  As you can probably hear, the argument often made is that Ezekiel 18 is speaking against Adam’s posterity receiving the punishment that was due for his sin.  However, as previously mentioned, the “corporate solidarity” view must equally be considered.  Ezekiel 18 must be harmonized with other areas of Scripture that affirm this solidarity, i.e. that the one can represent the whole.

A classic case study for this is Achan.  Though it was his individual sin, the entire nation was punished for it.  Joshua 7:11 – Israel has sinned, Joshua 7:20 – Achan has sinned.  A second example is the wives and children of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), where the ground split under those who would presume the priesthood and swallowed up whole families.  A further example is that of David, after his sin in the murderours affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and his sin in conducting the census of Israel (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  In the first, we find the death of his newborn son and the promised division of the Israelite Kingdom, both as a result of his sin.  In the latter, we find that God declared judgment upon Israel for David’s unwise, ungodly decision to count his people, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites.  Each of these are individual sins, in a sense, the one represented the many and yet corporately they subsequently suffered the consequences.

On the positive side, we have the example of Abraham, and subsequently, Isaac and Jacob, through whom God promised to bless the nation of Israel.  Repeatedly we find God “remembering” the promises made to the Patriarchs as the foundation and basis for how He deals with Israel in an ultimate sense.  Certainly not least in our example of corporate solidarity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who represented the many in His death and resurrection on the cross and His subsequent imputation of righteousness to those who believe.

When held in isolation and taken from its context, it’s easy to see how Ezekiel 18 may be used as an argument against original sin and also against the idea of Adam’s seminal headship.  However, context is king, as they say.  The concept of individual responsibility as well as corporate solidarity must be held together.  As Walter Kaiser states in his book on Old Testament ethics, “Both individual responsibility or worth and group solidarity must be understood and carefully defined in approaching Old Testament ethics.” Additionally, the whole of Scripture is in harmony and is therefore does not contradict itself.

In the next post from this series, we’ll wrap up our look at some of the more common objections raised against the Doctrine of Original Sin before proceeding with two implications which arise from the foundation of this critical, yet oft-misunderstood biblical doctrine.