No Sin Nature? – Conclusion and Summary

Introduction: This is the final part in a series interacting with a gentleman that holds to libertarian freedom, denies the imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to all humanity, and holds to sinless perfectionism.

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Hi Jack,

Sorry I haven’t responded before now; but I have been busy caring for pressing family matters. You said,

“’Nature’ as taught in the bible means “manner of life”, not some coercive force that governs man; like Adam, man is a free moral agent as well.”

Given your suggested definition, that would mean that when the Bible refers to God’s nature (Rom. 1:20) it refers to God’s “manner of life”? The BDAG Greek lexicon never defines Ephesians 2:3c’s “nature” (phusis) as “manner of life”. Entry no. 1 defines phusis as “condition or circumstance as determined by birth, natural endowment/condition, nature” and goes on to elaborate “we were, in our natural condition (as descendants of Adam), subject to (God’s) wrath Eph 2:3 . . .”. Ephesians 2:3c is actually a demonstration of what all men are apart from Christ; namely, children of wrath, hopeless, and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). I commend this very well-written technical and exegetical paper that wonderfully discusses what I have argued for regarding the spiritual condition of all people from conception: EPHESIANS 2:3c AND PECCATUM ORIGINALE. As to the issue of coercion and “free moral agency”, please see my comments below.

You go on to say,

“. . . Paul tells us to “put on Christ”… this does not imply some coercive force that conforming us to holiness. “By nature children of wrath…” doesn’t in any way imply being born with a coercive sin nature and how you can get that implication is only by theological bias. People are children of wrath by their willful continuance in a sinful lifestyle.”

These statements contradict Scripture and erect somewhat of a straw man. We do not believe that people have the ability to do things that are spiritually pleasing to God, for such goes against their natural, spiritual proclivities (Romans 8:7-8). Nor do we believe that they are forced to act contrary to their constituent wills, but instead they are first “born from above”; and once their constituent natures are thusly changed in regeneration, they freely come to Christ because doing so is now part of their new nature (John 3:3, 5; Philippians 1:29). According to Scripture, those who are born from above “are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12) In other words, John explicitly states that their regeneration occurs apart from their ancestry (“are born not of blood”), apart from their natural, fleshly wills (“nor of the will of the flesh”), apart from any portion of any man’s will (“nor of the will of man”) “but of God” and God alone. People always act in accordance with their desires, and since they are imputed with Adam’s sin and are accountable for their own actual sin, they do the desires of their father, the devil (John 8:44). Those without Christ are children of wrath not simply because they sin but because they are constituted as sinners from conception (Psalm 51:5). However, God’s born-again, blood-washed children willingly obey God’ word because God is working within them for their good and His glory. For example, Philippians 2:13 states, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” If you want to call Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:13 “coercion” then I leave you to your choice of words, but please remember that Paul himself never said that the Philippian Christians were acting contrary to their redeemed natures; nor do orthodox, confessional Calvinists. As to the imputation of Adam’s sin to the entire human race, John Piper states quite eloquently regarding Romans 5:12 ff:

At the end of verse 12 the words, “death spread to all men, because all sinned” mean that “death spread to all because all sinned in Adam.” Death is not first and most deeply because of our own individual sinning, but because of what happened in Adam. (Ibid)

Paul’s Emphasis Upon the One Transgression
Fourth, at least five times in the following verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:

Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died

Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one

Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam’s one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.

The Direct Statement of Verse 19
Fifth, verse 19 provides us with a direct statement of imputation:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take “made sinners” here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with “made righteous.” The phrase “made righteous” in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ–not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says “made righteous” here, he means “imputed with righteousness” not “infused with righteousness.” Since “made sinners” is paralleled with “made righteous,” it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam’s sin.

You state,

“Often unbelievers will try to ascribe creation to the law of probability as if this law is coercive when in fact it is merely descriptive. Why do men universally sin? I believe once Adam was expelled from the Garden, He lost his fellowship with God, he also lost his hedge and men are now subjected to a world full of myriads of demons and sinners all enticing him to sin. This is why all men will sin, because they choose to selfishly satisfy their pleasures and follow the enticements of the evil-doers.”

I agree that the laws of science tell us what is the case versus what ought to be the case. However, you confuse categories when you compare that which is descriptive in the world via natural law with that which is declarative in Scripture in regards to the nature of the natural man. The issue is not descriptive versus prescriptive aspects of nature as compared to God’s word, the issue is that you disagree with the conclusions of the traditional Reformed exegesis and interpretation; thus leading you to Pelagianism and sinless perfectionism. Again, Scripture knows nothing of man’s freedom as being that of “the power of contrary choice.” Biblical freedom is not autonomous, but is defined as a deliverance from the slavery to sin in which all humans are born (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:18), into the glorious freedom of the children of God: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18, emphases added). He can try to as hard as he wants, but a man can never escape being someone’s spiritual slave. The Devil’s motive was to get Adam and Eve to think that if they disobeyed God they could begin to rule their own lives — they could be the autonomous, masters of their own universe. Instead, by rejecting God’s rule, they took upon themselves Satan’s yoke (Ephesians 2:2). However, for those who have been set free from this bondage to corruption, Paul says in Romans 6:22-23, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Far from human freedom being the “power of contrary choice,” the very exercise of that power exercised by the first man and woman robbed their descendants of the only freedom for which we were made: the freedom of obedience to the Most High. Contrary to Pelagius, because our first parents exercised “the power of contrary choice” the resulting and resident corruption within man can never endue him with the natural ability to free himself from sin’s clutches since those who are descended from Adam physically and are in him spiritually are now “dead in trespasses and sins” and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). They are thusly afflicted, as Luther put it in the title of one of his most famous books by The Bondage of the Will; the will of the lost man is bound to the corrupt, rebellious, and sinful nature that he inherited from Adam and as a result, this fallen disposition and natural proclivity towards sin causes the lost to further corrupt themselves by their own wicked desires through the free and willful committing of actual sins.

We do not need a libertarian free will, we need a new and righteous nature that hungers for holiness, righteousness, and truth (2 Corinthians 5:17). We cannot produce that new nature for ourselves and by our own power, and least of all can we do so by an act of our own will, which is bound by the contrary nature. Dead, rebellious humans do not, cannot, repent, believe, and embrace the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14). Man is indeed a free moral agent, but Calvinists have always defined free moral agency as man doing what man desires to do because what he does is ultimately a reflection of who he is spiritually enslaved to; hence, natural man has free moral agency, but no power of contrary choice insofar as that choice pertains to being able to do spiritual good and to spiritually please the Creator. Paul says further,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Regarding 1 John 1:8 in light of the rest of the epistle, you stated, “I believe that 1 John 1:8 was dealing with the Gnostics who denied the concept of sin. John was speaking to those Gnostics and refuting their teachings, they claimed to be enlightened and denied any sort of sin. They claimed to have the truth within them, yet denied the need of redemption from sin. This is evident because if you go on to read the epistle you will see that John expects believers to live in holiness and without sin especially chapters 2 and 3.”

It is true that these early antinomian Gnostics denied the need for forgiveness of sins and that this is what John was directly addressing, but it is not true that John expects believers to live completely without sin but instead he is teaching that the lifestyle of a born-again person is not characterized by habitual patterns of sin. When 1st John 3:6 says “No one who abides in Him sins . . .”, he is not teaching sinless perfectionism. Quite the contrary, the present-tense Greek verbs are correctly translated so as to indicate continual and habitual activity. For instance, this is why the NIV rightly translates 1 John 3:6, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” The same idea is found in John’s later statement in 3:9, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (NIV) If these verses are going to be used to prove sinless perfectionism, they would have to apply to all Christians since these verses describe what is true for everyone who is born of God. However, there are verses in both the Old and New Testaments that clearly teach that no one can be sinless in this life, excepting the Lord Jesus. For example, Solomon said in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) . . .” (1 Kings 8:46) Another example can be seen in the rhetorical questions in Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?’” and finally Solomon says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) In the New Testament, Christ commands His disciples to pray for the forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 6:11-12). When Paul talks about the new power over sin that is given to a Christian, he does not say that there will be no sin in the Christian’s life, but simply tells the believers not to let sin reign in their bodies nor yield their members to sin (Romans 6:12-13). Note that Paul does not say that believers will not sin, but says that sin will not dominate or “have . . . dominion” over them (v. 14). The fact that Jesus and Paul would give such commands shows that they realized that sin will continue to be a present reality in the earthly life of a believer. Even James, the brother of Jesus said in a very matter of fact way, “For we all stumble in many ways . . .” (James 3:2)

Paul the apostle dealt with many born again believers that committed sins yet he never told them they had to be immediately sin-free practically from the moment of regeneration lest they be in danger of losing their salvation. So, if John is teaching sinless perfectionism, then we have a huge threefold problem (1) all those who commit sins after regeneration are really just self-deceived as to their conversion experience and are on their way to hell, (2) they really are regenerated but “undo” their regeneration and so lose their salvation the moment they commit their first sin (even if its worry or anxiety – the gravity or degree of sin doesn’t matter, the issue is that it is sin, period), something that I believe is contradicted by other Scripture, and (3) we have a blatant contradiction in Scripture, and so the Bible is now rendered unreliable and unable to guide us into all matters of faith and practice (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 5:16). But if this view is not true, then all those who hold to and propagate it are lost and on their way to hell since John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) So, if you hold to sinless perfectionism, you are going to get cut by its double-edged sword because (1) if it is true that John was teaching this, you undermine any epistemological warrant to know it is true since the apostles would be blatantly contradicting themselves since Paul and Peter had to give Christians commands to adhere to in their letters because they were practicing the exact opposite (i.e., Galatians 5:15-17), hence sinning; and so by your interpretation of John’s epistolary statements all those whom Paul and Peter were correcting via their letters would be lost and Paul himself would be deceived in considering them Christians and you now cannot trust Scripture. (2) You are lost if you have misinterpreted 1 John 1:8 since that passage says that those who say they presently have no sin are self-deceived and the truth is not in them. In light of this, it would be wise for you to rethink the dangerous, eternal ramifications of this heretical teaching.

When those who hold to sinless perfectionism interpret 1 John 1:8 to say that this verse does not apply to Christians but only these early Gnostics, he contradicts the grammatical and syntactical evidence provided by the verse. John writes verse 8 using the present tense of echo, planao, and eimi (translated “we have”, “we deceive,” and “is”), and in doing so, he is thereby showing that this is something that is true of all people at all times and not just Christians. The verse is literally translated with the present tense verbs bolded, if we may say – ‘sins no we have,’ ourselves we deceive, and the truth no is in us”. As said earlier, this has dangerous implications for the sinless perfectionist if they are wrong not only because they lose any warrant to trust the rest of Scripture but also because John explicitly states that those who are presently saying that they have no sin (that includes all people, including Christians) are deceiving themselves (heautous planomen) and the truth is not in them. This indicates that those who teach the false doctrine of sinless perfectionism are not making some mild, relatively harmless doctrinal error. No, John says this view is a damnable heresy.

In regards to Psalm 58:3 it was said, “Hyperbole, poetic, do you know of anyone who was speaking lie as an infant?

NAU Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.

First, Psalm 58:3 doesn’t say that infants tell lies. The NASB 95 translation says “Those who speak lies go astray from birth” not “those who speak lies do so from birth”. The literal Hebrew reads, speakers of a lie go astray from the womb.” This is exactly what Calvinists believe; namely, that infants are constituted sinners from conception onward (Psalm 51:5). Second, David is speaking specifically in the context of wicked lairs that have come against him and notes that their present behavior is rooted in something much deeper than their own actual sins; i.e., they have gone astray from birth.

The assertion “Original Sin was not taught by the Ante-Nicene Church; it is an Augustinian invention . . .” is not true. There are many direct and indirect references from the writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers regarding the imputation of Adam’s sin to the entire human race. Obviously, there is much more commentary from the Ante-Nicene Fathers than what is listed below, but for the sake of time and brevity, here are three quotes that disprove this assertion:

IRENAEUS (c. 180 AD)

“. . . having become disobedient, [Eve] was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. . . . And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Even had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” Against Heresies, 3:22; 4.

“But this is Adam, if the truth should be told, the first formed man, of whom the Scripture says that the Lord spake, ‘Let Us make man after Our own image and likeness;’ and we are all from him: and as we are from him, therefore have we all inherited his title. But inasmuch as man is saved, it is fitting that he who was created the original man should be saved. For it is too absurd to maintain, that he who was so deeply injured by the enemy, and was the first to suffer captivity, was not rescued by Him who conquered the enemy, but that his children were, – those whom he had begotten in the same captivity.” Ibid, 3:23:2.

And not by the aforesaid things alone has the Lord manifested Himself, but [He has done this] also by means of His passion. For doing away with [the effects of] that disobedience of man which had taken place at the beginning by the occasion of a tree, ‘He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;” rectifying that disobedience which had occurred by reason of a tree, through that obedience which was [wrought out] upon the tree [of the cross]. Now He would not have come to do away, by means of that same [image], the disobedience which had been incurred towards our Maker if He proclaimed another Father. But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” Ibid., 5:16:3.

TERTULLIAN (c. 200 AD)

“In expressing vexation, contempt, or abhorrence, thou hast Satan constantly upon thy lips; the very same we hold to be the angel of evil, the source of error, the corrupter of the whole world, by whom in the beginning man was entrapped into breaking the commandment of God. And (the man) being given over to death on account of his sin, the entire human race, tainted in their descent from him, were made a channel for transmitting condemnation.” The Testimony of the Soul, 3:2, c. 200 AD)

METHODIUS (c. 300 AD)

For he [man] also was created without corruption, that he might honour the kind and maker of all things, responding to the shouts of the melodius angels which came from heaven. But when it came to pass that, by transgressing the commandment (of God), he suffered a terrible and destructive fall, being thus reduced to a state of death, for this reason the Lord says that He came down from heaven into (a human) life, leaving the ranks and the armies of angels. . . . For it remained that man should be included in this catalogue and number, the Lord lifting him up and wrapping him round, that he might not again, as I said, be overflowed and swallowed up by the waves of deceit. For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man’s ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return,’ should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that ‘as in Adam’ at first ‘all die, even so’ again ‘in Christ,’ who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should “all be made alive.” The Banquet of the Ten Virgins or Concerning Chastity, 3:6.

In conclusion, regardless of how difficult and unfair all of this may seem, people are conceived and born in sin because of their first father Adam. In other words, all people are blamed for something they did not do. However, God is not subject to our fallen notions of fairness and no one can restrain His hand or say to him “what have you done?” The Most High does whatever pleases Him and it is sinful for people to complain and shake their fists because they do not agree with the ethics of the Almighty (Dan. 4:34-35). Christians worship a God who is merciful and loving but they also worship a God who commanded the genocide of the Canaanites. As unfair as all of that may seem, Christians benefit from something they did not do because they have been set free from the bondage of original and actual sin because. If the unfairness of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity concerns people, then it is inconsistent to not cry foul when sinners receive pardon and forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness apart from anything they have personally done (Romans 3:21-26). In light of what has been said already, I believe that the proper response in all of these cases can be summed up in one word: Worship.

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2 Comments on “No Sin Nature? – Conclusion and Summary”

  1. Steven Long Says:

    That was really an awesome post! I found the answers logically ordered and easy to follow. Great point about people who have a problem with God’s “ethics” as well as the point about Christians benefiting from something they themselves could not have done.

  2. Dustin Says:

    Steven,

    I am grateful to God that you were edified. Soli Deo Gloria!


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