Archive for April, 2019
08/01/95; 1 Kings 8:46-53; 1 John 1:8-10; BC 15. Original Sin.
When Solomon had finished building the temple in Jerusalem, he organized a dedication service, and during that service he led in prayer. Solomon’s prayer contains a major theme: it is that prayer of intercession for people who fall into sin, knowing that to be true for everyone, “for there is no one who does not sin.” That’s life. The yeast of sin permeates the dough of life into every molecule. We do not sin by imitation; we sin because the very stream of our being has been corrupted. That is the way it is. This evening I will deal with original sin as it is involved in the sins we do, and our response to it.
At our creation, we were not corrupted by sin. As Calvin said: we must remember our original nobility which ought to arouse in us a zeal for righteousness and goodness. But we are no longer as God created us: our fall was exceedingly great, to put such poison and corruption in our souls as human behaviour continually demonstrates. As we think of our original nobility, we cannot help but notice the contrast, the sorry spectacle of our foulness and dishonour. Bk II, ch.1, 1. This is now the sorry truth concerning every person: “the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God’s righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench.”
A War Veteran was reported as saying something like this: “we act like beasts, but we know that is not what we are.” That’s the human dilemma.
We act like beasts indeed.
We see so much human behaviour that is really and truly terrible, but we hardly notice anymore. Our hearts are hardened. But sometimes the reality of it strikes us personally, and then we face how ugly we sometimes are, and how sinful. “We can’t figure it out,” we say. Or we ask about criminals: “what made him do it?” Or we hear about something horrible and we say: “I don’t believe it.”
The church has an old expression for it: the mystery of iniquity. That means: while we can say much about sin and evil, the bottom line is that we do not understand it. This is the way things are. Boys not yet in their teens kill a child. A university professor justifies date rape by saying that young men need release. One person dies in the midst of life, another, late in life prays every day: “may this be the last day of my life, dear Lord,” and lives on and on. Christians, across many centuries, have struggled to understand human reality as it is, and I believe we do well to take very seriously the church’s conclusion: iniquity is at heart mysterious. It certainly exists; but it should not be, and we cannot understand it.
Take this to heart, when some form of evil faces you, or hits you so hard that it knocks the wind out of you. “Why?” you ask. I have heard people scream this question with great rage. The church says: face it: this ugly reality, this horrible enemy is beyond understanding. Somewhere along the line we must come to terms with the fact that our efforts to understand will not succeed. We understand your quest for understanding what has happened, but the response to evil, and coming to terms with it will not be found that way.
From the Bible we know something of how things came to be this way. The creed says: this is how it was with Adam and Eve. They sinned. They were not supposed to. They knew better. But they did it anyhow. And this disobedience was carried into the whole human race. Fact: Adam and Eve sinned. Their children did, too. Think of their two boys: one became a murderer who killed the other, his brother. And we lived sinfully ever after.
We know from Scripture that this new intrusive reality caused God great sorrow. In Genesis 6: 6 we read that it grieved God to his heart that he had made humankind. Only Noah found favour in the sight of God, and the rest he blotted out with a flood.
The Church uses the phrase “original sin” for this. It is not found in the Bible. Augustine invented it 1500 years ago in his dispute with a teacher named Pelagius who said that we sin only by imitation. Augustine picked up a Biblical theme, that you find expressed sadly in Psalm 51:5; “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”
Theologian James Packer says that the church means to make three points when it speaks about original sin. Sin is present in everyone from birth in the form of motivationally twisted hearts. This inner sinfulness is the root of all sinful deeds. And sinfulness comes to us in a mysterious way from our first parents, Adam and Eve, especially from Adam, our first representative before God.
What do we do when we awaken to the power of sinfulness? What do we do when we tremble before God in our self-discovery of being sinners who stand before a Holy God?
- We are inclined to seek to understand. But part of our discovery of how bad and ugly and powerful sin really is includes the discovery that we cannot understand it. Think of the murderer Teale. We can probably find contributing factors. Maybe he had a bad childhood. Perhaps he drank too much. Was pornography a contributing factor? Likely such factors enter in. But all sinful and criminal behaviour will have a dimension that we do not understand. Sin is an ugly part of who we are. It is also a mystery.
- The effort to understand sin is often in cahoots with our desire to excuse ourselves. “I couldn’t help it,” someone says. “My excuse is that my father beat me mercilessly.” Another says: “sorry, when I drink, I lose control. So, don’t blame me.” When we try to blame sinful behaviour on such factors, we are saying that we are not responsible. We cannot help it. There are all those excuses. However, a statement like: “I did it because I was drunk” is never adequate. Even worse is a statement like: “she made me beat her up.” When we do become aware of circumstances, we do often say now that understand better. Indeed, we must take circumstances into account.
- The right thing to do with our own sinfulness is confession. When all our efforts to understand have been carried out to the fullest extent, and when we have taken account of mitigating circumstances, the most important thing to do remains confession. We might say: Lord: I don’t know why I did it. I do not understand the sinful person that I am. And I do live in difficult circumstances. However, when all is said and done, I did it.
The proper response beyond understanding or excuses is confession, because that is how we deal with it before the Lord. We go to the crucified Jesus, and we acknowledge what we did.
We do not say: if I sinned, forgive me. When we realize what sin is all about before the Holy God, we stop playing cutesy little games like that.
We do like David did in Psalm 51. We plead with God for mercy, and we come clean. We dust off all the shelves in our hearts. Out of David’s awareness of sin, comes this heartfelt prayer: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
When we have learned to be transparent, honest and open before God in this way, then we have learned the wisdom of God in our secret heart.
And then the gospel comes: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When out of our awareness of guilt we go to the Lord and hear his word of forgiveness, then we understand Psalm 32: 1,2:
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.