First Principles: Part Two

GOD FORMED MAN OUT out of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature (see Gen. 2:7). God put the man (Adam) in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. The name Adam comes from adama, a Hebrew word meaning “earth.” God said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). This is often referred to as the Adamic Covenant—a covenant of works (“standard” of behavior to be followed) consisting of a blessing of eternal life on the condition of perfect obedience, and a curse of death upon disobedience. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of days before Adam and Eve disobeyed God. What causes our predisposition to sin?

What is Sin?

Sin (Gr. hamartia) means transgression, overstepping the line established between good and evil, right and wrong. It is an “error” or departure from the right path. God did not “create” evil. Augustine of Hippo believed evil is a privation which cannot be properly said to exist at all. In fact, he believed evil is simply the absence of good—there is no cause to do evil outside the will itself (1). When we sin, we willfully decide to intrude into the sphere of God’s authority—to choose for ourselves what is right and wrong as did Adam and Eve. It is considered lawlessness; a lack of conformity to God’s will. Regardless of the nature of sin, its wages is death (Rom. 6:23). The ultimate results are total and permanent separation from God. Adam and Eve traded their lives in a virtual paradise, walking with God in the cool of the Garden, for exile to a life of toil and pain, disease and death. A loss of the manifest presence of God.

D.G. Bloesch writes, “Sin is not only an act of wrongdoing, but also a state of alienation from God… it signifies the rupture of personal relationship with God” (2). Paul said sin is not only a conscious decision to not choose that which is good, it can be considered a malignant personal power (or obsession) that holds humanity in its grasp. In Reformed theology, sin’s core is unbelief. We see this when Adam and Eve choose to trust the serpent over God—surely God did not really mean they would die. Sin causes a hardness of the heart; an unwillingness to be open to truth. Its manifestation includes pride, sensuality, fear, self-pity, selfishness, jealously, greed, sexual immorality, and more. Its effects are physical, moral, and spiritual.

We are born with a propensity to sin. “Original” sin refers to a spiritual infection. Adam and Eve’s disobedience doesn’t tell us much about the nature of sin. But, as Bloesch writes, “…this was not its intention” (3). Their disobedience is meant to spotlight the universal predicament of falling into temptation. Bloesch thinks demonic sin happened prior to human sin. Christian theology speaks of Lucifer’s desire to be like God, and his attempt to elevate himself. God expelled Lucifer from heaven, throwing him down to earth. This angelic fall preceded humanity’s fall. Amazingly, Adam and Eve were guilty of the same sin as Lucifer—wanting to be like God, able to decide for themselves the meaning of good and evil. This is the root cause of man looking for his own answers to questions about origin, purpose, morality, and destiny. I believe this is the very moment when man chose secularism over religion.

The Scope of Salvation

Because sin is such a prolific problem, it requires a potent and all-encompassing remedy. We are not saved by ourselves, for works can never lead to righteousness. We cannot behave our way into heaven. Through the grace and mercy of the Father, we are washed white as snow by the righteousness of Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus (see Titus 3:5-7). This is the basis of our salvation and the foundation upon which we build our new life in Christ. Salvation (Gr. sōtēria) comes from a word root meaning “width,” “spaciousness,” “freedom from constraint.” We are delivered from the bondage and punishment of sin. Hallelujah! Without redemption, we are prone to destruction, divine wrath, exile, lawlessness, disease, and death.

Comprehensiveness of Salvation:

  • wholeness
  • soundness
  • peace
  • preservation
  • spiritual blessing
  • freedom from the bondage of habit and vice
  • endurance
  • justification
  • reconciliation
  • atonement
  • adoption into the family of God
  • new birth

Atonement always requires sacrifice. Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” There is no redemption without the shedding of blood (see Heb. 9:22). In fact, the first blood sacrifice occurred when God killed an animal and fashioned clothing for Adam and Eve to cover their sin and shame. Paul wrote, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He shed His blood as the ultimate atonement for all sin. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:8-9). The blood of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Christ has redeemed us from the Law, which could not save us. It could only show our need for a Savior. Paul pairs redemption with justification and propitiation (see Rom. 3:24). He wrote, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Attaining Salvation

I have the tendency to be fiercely independent, determined to heal myself, fix my life, put the past behind, become holy and obedient. Guess this comes from wanting to prove to my family, indeed to everyone, that I am okay now. Those decades of active addiction, lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating others, have come to a close, yet it is hard to convince others that I am different today. It makes me think of “I’m Not Who I Was” by Brandon Heath:

There is no self-ransom; no self-redemption. Without Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sin; no freedom from slavery to our sin nature. But, in Christ we become a new creation. The old has passed away, and the new has come (see 2 Cor. 5:17). For our sake God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes; through salvation the righteousness of God is revealed (see Rom. 1:16). John said it is only by believing that Jesus is the Son of God that we are able overcome the world (see 1 John 5:5). Through Christ, we can put on the robe of righteousness (see Rom. 1:17). We are saved by grace alone (Sola gratia) through faith alone (Sola fide) in Christ alone (Sola Christus).

Born Again

Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was confused. How can a man possibly enter his mother’s womb and be born again? No, Jesus said, this is not what it means to be born again. Instead, “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). As a rabbi, Nicodemus should have remembered the teachings of Moses and the prophets, who used metaphors to describe this second birth. J.I. Packer identifies “born again” as new birth, or regeneration. He writes, “The Bible conceives salvation as the redemptive renewal of humans based on restored relationship with God [through] Christ” (4). Packer believes regeneration changes a person’s disposition. This word is often associated with types of personality. Further, it reminds me of the “character defects” we work to eliminate in recovery work. It “…enlightens the blinded mind.”

The Regenerate Person Has Forever Ceased to be the Person He or She Was.

Matthew Barret wrote, “Being called a ‘born-again Christian’ can mean many things to many people. For some, it means you are a Bible-thumping fundamentalist or a political conservative. For others, it means you were converted at a Billy Graham crusade. Countless stereotypes have created endless confusion” (5). Jesus chose a different metaphor from those used in the OT, but the message is the same: Unless the Spirit of God does something supernatural, we remain spiritually lifeless. Barrett says we we think the new birth is something we must do, but it is the work of the Spirit, not the work of the sinner. I think where we get confused comes from crusades and alter calls. We decide, we raise our hand, we go down front, we recite the “sinner’s prayer,” and we are saved. Let’s look at the process from a biblical perspective: (i) God provides a prevenient grace that causes our heart to know the truth of our sin and yearn for a savior; (ii) God gives us the courage to move toward Him—”nudge” us in His direction; (iii) the Holy Spirit testifies in our heart that Jesus is the Savior we yearn for; (iv) God hears our confession of faith; (v) God forgives us, and clothes us in the righteousness of His Son.

Second Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus actually became our sin to that we could literally become His righteousness. Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We are given access to God’s riches at a great cost; at the expense of Jesus (see Eph. 2:13, 18). Paul said, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Paul tells us that because God sacrificed His Son on the cross for our redemption, it is only reasonable that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice (see Rom. 12:1). Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit within us. We are not our own; we were bought with a price, and should glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In Part 3 we will explore temptation, examine the temptation of Christ in the desert, and learn what His death and resurrection means for us as followers of Christ.

References
(1) Augustine of Hippo,
(2) D. G. Bloesch, “Sin,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed., Daniel J. Treier, editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 808.
(3) Bloesch, Ibid., 809.
(4) J.I Packer, “Regeneration,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Ibid., 734.
(5) Matthew Barrett, “Even Among Well-Meaning Christians, ‘Born Again’ is Often Misunderstood,” Christianity Today (June 22, 2022). Accessed May 8, 2022. URL: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/steven-lawson-new-life-christ-born-again.html

Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are taken from the ESV (English Standard Version).

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