Man in the State of Sin

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The Origin of Sin

*The Bible teaches us that sin entered the world as the result of the transgression of Adam and Eve in paradise. The first sin was occasioned by the temptation of Satan in the form of a serpent, who sowed in man’s heart the seeds of distrust and unbelief. Scripture clearly indicates that the serpent, who appears as the tempter in the story of the fall, was but an instrument of Satan,

“Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. (John 8:44)”

“And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)”

“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)”

“And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. (Revelation 12:9)”

The first sin consisted in man’s eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This eating was sinful simply because God had forbidden it. It clearly showed that man was not willing to subject his will unconditionally to the will of God, and comprised several elements. In the intellect it revealed itself as unbelief and pride, in the will as the desire to be like God, and in the affections an unholy satisfaction in eating of the forbidden fruit. As a result of it man lost the image of God in the restricted sense, became guilty and utterly corrupt, and fell under the sway of death,

“in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19)”

“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned:– (Romans 5:12)”

“For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)”

The Essential Nature of Sin

At present many substitute the word ‘evil’ for ‘sin,’ but this is a poor substitute, for the word ‘sin’ is far more specific. It denotes a kind of evil, namely, a moral evil for which man is responsible and which brings him under a sentence of condemnation. The modern tendency is to regard it merely as a wrong done to one’s fellow-beings misses the point entirely, for such a wrong can be called sin only in so far as it is contrary to the will of God. Sin is correctly defined by Scripture as “lawlessness,”

“Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)”

It is lack of conformity to the law of God, and as such the opposite of that love which is required by the divine law. The Bible always contemplates it in relation to the law,

“who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them. (Romans 1:32)”

“12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law; 13 for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified: 14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; (Romans 2:12-14)”

“for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. (Romans 4:15)”

“for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)”

“9 but if ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one [point], he is become guilty of all. (James 2:9-10)”

“Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)”

It is first of all guilt, making men liable to punishment,

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: (Romans 3:19)”

“So then as through one trespass [the judgment came] unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness [the free gift came] unto all men to justification of life. (Romans 5:18)”

“among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:– (Ephesians 2:3)”

and then also inherent corruption or moral pollution. All men are guilty in Adam, and are therefore born with a corrupt nature.

“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. (Job 14:4)”

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)”

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)”

“5 For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: 7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

“17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; 19 who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Ephesians 4:17-19)”

Sin has its seat in the heart of man, and from this center influences the intellect, the will, and the affections, in fact the whole man, and finds expression through the body.

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)”

“19 For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: 20 these are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man. (Matthew 15:19-20)”

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil [man] out of the evil [treasure] bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. (Luke 6:45)”

“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: (Hebrews 3:12)”

In distinction from the Roman Catholics we maintain that it does not consist in outward acts only, but includes evil thoughts, affections, and intents of the heart.

“22 but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. … 28 but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:22,28)”

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit, I had not known sin, except through the law: for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet: (Romans 7:7)”

“17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. …24 And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. (Galatians 5:17,24)”

Sin in the Life of the Human Race

Three points deserve consideration here:

a. The connection between Adam’s sin and that of his descendants. This has been explained in three different ways.

(1) The earliest explanation is called the realistic theory, which is to the effect that God originally created one general human nature, which in course of time divided into as many parts as there are human individuals. Adam possessed the whole of this general human nature; and through his sin it became guilty and polluted. Naturally, every individual part of it shares this guilt and pollution.

(2) In the days of the Reformation the representative theory came to the foreground. According to this view Adam stood in a twofold relation to his descendants: he was their natural head, and he was their representative as the head of the covenant. When he sinned as their representative, this sin was also imputed to them, and as a result they are all born in a corrupt state. This is our Reformed view.

(3) A third theory, not as well known, is that of mediate imputation. It holds that the guilt of Adam’s sin is not directly placed to our account. His corruption is passed on to his descendants, and this makes them personally guilty. They are not corrupt because they are guilty in Adam, but guilty because they are corrupt.

b. Original and Actual Sin. We distinguish between original and actual sin. All men are born in a sinful state and condition, which is called original sin, and is the root of all the actual sins that are committed.

(1) Original sin. This includes both guilt and pollution. The guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to us. Because he sinned as our representative, we are guilty in him. Moreover, we also inherit his pollution, and now have a positive disposition toward sin. Man is by nature totally depraved. This does not mean that every man is as bad as he can be, but that sin has corrupted every part of his nature and rendered him unable to do any spiritual good. He may still do many praiseworthy things in relation to his fellow-beings, but even his best works are radically defective, because they are not prompted by love to God nor done in obedience to God. This total depravity and inability is denied by Pelagians*, Arminians*, and Modernists*, but is clearly taught in Scripture,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)”

“But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in yourselves. (John 5:42)”

“No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day. (John 6:44)”

“4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)”

“18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good [is] not. …23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? (Romans 7:18,23-24)”

“7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)”

“Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. (1 Corinthians 2:14)”

“Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)”

“1 And you [did he make alive,] when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, 2 wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:– (Ephesians 2:1-3)”

“being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; (Ephesians 4:18)”

“2 For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; (2 Timothy 3:2-4)”

“To the pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. (Titus 1:15)”

“And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing [unto him]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that seek after him. (Hebrews 11:6)”

(2) Actual sin. The term ‘actual sin’ denotes not only sins consisting in outward acts, but also those conscious thoughts, desires, and decisions that proceed from original sin. They are the sins which the individual performs in distinction from his inherited nature and inclination. While original sin is one, actual sins are manifold. They may be sins of the inner life, such as pride, envy, hatred, sensual lusts, and evil desires; or sins of the outer life, such as deceit, theft, murder, adultery, and so on. Among these there is one unpardonable sin, namely, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, after which a change of heart is impossible, and for which it is not necessary to pray (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27; 1 John 5:16).

c. The Universality of Sin. Scripture and experience both teach us that sin is universal. Even the Pelagians do not deny this, though they ascribe it to external conditions, such as a bad environment, evil examples, and a wrong kind of education.

There are passages in which the Bible directly asserts the universality of sin, such as

“If they sin against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not), and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captive unto the land of the enemy, far off or near; (1 Kings 8:46)”

“And enter not into judgment with thy servant; For in thy sight no man living is righteous. (Psalms 143:2)”

“Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? (Proverbs 20:9)”

“Surely there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)”

” What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much every way: first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God. 3 For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment. 5 But if our righteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men.) 6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? 7 But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 and why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just. 9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; 10 as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; 12 They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one: … 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: … 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:1-12,19,23)”

“But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (Galatians 3:22)”

“For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. (James 3:2)”

“8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8,10)

Moreover, it teaches that man is sinful from birth, so that this cannot be considered as the result of imitation, Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; John 3:6.

Even infants are considered sinful, for they are subject to death, which is the penalty for sin, Rom. 5:12-14, Eph. 2:3, I John 5:12.

Notes

*This is an excerpt from the book, Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof (1873-1957).

*Pelagianism is the belief that human beings were not affected by the sin of Adam and Eve. We are good by nature and have the capacity to do what is pleasing to God, without God’s assistance. A Pelagian is one who holds to this belief.

*Arminianism is a theological system which asserts that the individual’s will is decisive in his or her salvation. According to this view, a person’s salvation is ultimately attributed to the decision of the person.

*Modernism is the prevailing view whereby humanity seeks to understand and interpret life and reality on the basis of reason and experience alone. It rejects divine revelation and generally limits the role of religious belief in society.

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