Lecture 27: Doctrine of Sin
Course: Systematic Theology I
Lecture: Doctrine of Sin
Sin is not a popular topic today. There are voices out there in the evangelical world encouraging pastors and other church leaders to avoid talking about it because it is negative or it is discouraging to people. But the Bible has much to say about sin. One of the most widespread semantic ranges of any doctrine in the Bible is the doctrine of sin. There are more terms for sin in Scripture than for any other subject you can think of. Obviously it is very important. When you think theologically, if you don't talk about sin, what is the point in talking about the atonement; what did Christ come to do? If we don't talk about sin, how do we understand sanctification, how we grow in Christ? If we don't understand sin, how do we understand the mercy of God? There is a kind of proportionality between our understanding of sin, it seriousness, its gravity, its consequence and how great is God's mercy. You sense that at the end of Romans 5; where sin has abounded, grace has abounded all the more. If we have a trivial view of sin we will have trivial view of God's mercy and grace and Christ's saving work for us on the cross. If we have a biblical view of sin, we will marvel that God has shown his mercy to us and saved us from this plight.
When it comes to the doctrine of Hell; so many people struggle with whether or not it is fair for God to consign people to Hell forever in eternal conscious torment. One of the reasons that people struggle with this is that we fail to have a correct view of sin, just how horrible it is and what a tremendous offense it is to a holy God. If we can understand it better, we can understand better what Hell is, and understanding Hell better we will understand better the importance and urgency of preaching the Gospel. It all makes sense. So much depends on how we understand the nature of sin.
II. Biblical Overview of Sin
A. Old Testament Treatment
We will look at three different major themes in relation to sin.
1. Sin as a Violation of Absolute (not relative) and Universal (not cultural) Law
In the ancient Near East it is very interesting that people viewed sin not as an absolute thing but as a relative thing. It was not universal but cultural, insofar as they believed that laws of a particular region were governed by the god of that region. Gods had territorial or regional jurisdiction. Because the gods differed from one area to another, then the laws differed from one area to another. Hence violation of law or sin differed from one area to another. The Old Testament comes along and announces that there is one God who is over all. Because there is one God, this one law is a law for all people whether they acknowledge him as God or not. Nonetheless, he is the true and living God, and all people are obligated to obey him. Sin, then, is a violation of laws that extend from this one holy and righteous God. So you can see that there is a pattern or a sequence. One God, one law, meaning one kind of violation; namely, an absolute violation. Sin is absolute. That means it violates an absolute standard. And sin is a violation of a universal standard because it extends from God.
This is a very interesting thing to keep in mind in understanding many parts of the Old Testament. When the prophets they speak against the nations, be it Babylon or Assyria or Edom or Egypt, they pronounced on them judgment for not following after God. Those people might say, "He is not our God; we have our own gods; we follow their laws. The attitude of the prophets is that there is one God, and because you have not followed him, you are guilty before him. A story that I think beautifully illustrates this conception of the one true God who must be followed and sin is a violation of not following him is the story of Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Do you remember where that took place, where the altar was made and Elijah poured water upon it and the prophet of Baal called upon Baal to bring fire down upon and he didn't but then God did? That took place at Mount Carmel. It is significant that it took place there and not in Jerusalem because in Jerusalem they believe that YAHWEH was God. If the confrontation had happened there and YAHWEH won they would say, so what, YAHWEH is God in Jerusalem. But at Mount Carmel, supposedly, this is where Baal had jurisdiction. So for Baal to be a no show when they called upon him to consume the altar and then for YAHWEH to consume the altar drenched with water was a vivid demonstration that, in fact, God was the God over all, and he was the one whose law had to be kept. So sin, then, is a violation of what are, in fact, absolutes and universal laws from God.
2. Personal God and Personal Sin
God himself is a personal God, and therefore, sin against God is a personal matter. We shouldn't think of sin as some kind of abstract violation of a law like breaking the speed limit. Actually, breaking the speed limit is a sin and should be understood in a personal way. We really don't think of it that way. We think of the speed limit as a sign indicating a very impersonal kind of abstract law, maybe even arbitrary, so breaking the speed limit is no big deal; it is not personal. We should not think of breaking the law of God in those kinds of terms. Actually, we should know from the Old Testament that a most vivid image that God chooses to use is what it means to fail to follow him or to go after other gods, to commit idolatry. That image is to be adulterous before him. Think of the concept of adultery, what it means to the covenant partner in marriage who has been violated, the betrayal, the hurts, the pain that is brought upon the person when adultery takes place; this is how we ought to think of sin. It is a personal matter against a personal God. The Ten Commandments flow from God's nature. The very laws of God are laws that extend from who God is. The law is not some made up arbitrary thing, but it is a law that puts into expression the very character of God. So to break the law is to go against who God is in his character. It is a rejection of God, not just breaking some kinds of abstract laws. David got this point in Psalm 51:4.
Ps 51:4 Against you, you only, I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified when you speak and blameless when you judge.
This is an amazing statement when you realize that he sinned against Bathsheba; he sinned against Uriah the Hittite, her husband, as he arranged for his death; he sinned against the nation of his people, to whom he had pledged to lead as a godly king. But he realizes that above all of that, what really makes this a horrible deed is that it is a violation of the covenant before God; "Against you, you only," my sin is understood for what it is; I deserve your punishment for what I have done. So sin is seen in relation to a personal God and is therefore personal sin.
3. Corporate Nature of Sin
Having said that sin is personal, please don't leave that to mean that sin is strictly individual. It is personal but not individual; there is a corporate nature to sin. While it is true that all sin is personal rebellion against God, a personal affront to God's character, a personal rejection of God's ways; nonetheless, all sin involves a corporate element. It involves more than just the individual who is involved in the sin. An example is in Joshua 7. In this conquest one man, Achan, took some things that were under the ban and by that brought judgment upon the whole nation of Israel.
Josh 7:1 But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.
There were people killed attempting to go to battle during this time when God's blessing and hand had been removed from the people of Israel. People died in battle because of Achan's sin. Not until they removed that sin from their midst did God's blessing return to the people. I call this principle "the umbrella principle." One person can hold the umbrella and several people are under it. It is interesting that the umbrella principle works both positively and negatively; one person holds the umbrella and many people are affected by the one person who holds it. That relates to sin; one person sins and can bring harm to a broader corporate group of which he or she is apart. Also the reverse principle is true; one person can perform acts of righteousness, can be obedient and faithful with the Lord and those connected to him can be benefited. To see an example of that refer to Psalm 128 which indicates especially the role of the father in the home; and how he brings blessing to his family by his own personal faithfulness to God.
Ps 128:1 How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
This includes everyone, but it is clear as this proceeds that he has in mind in particular a father, a father of a home.
Ps 128:1 How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. Ps 128:2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
This is the dad, the breadwinner of the home.
Ps 128:1 How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. Ps 128:2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you. Ps 128:3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Ps 128:4 Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
This is a wonderful reverse statement of what happens with Achan. Achan sins, and it is corporate in its effects. This righteous man fears the Lord, and it is corporate in its blessing that comes to his family.
I think we need to think of this in the church as well. When one member suffers all suffer. If there is a sin in the corporate body it cannot but affect the larger group. I would encourage you to avoid thinking that sin that is committed privately is an individual sin and has no effect on anyone else. This is a Western way of thinking, perhaps an American way of thinking, but it is not a biblical way of thinking. Private sins may have corporate ramifications.
B. New Testament Treatment
1. Sin in relation to the Law
a. New Testament opposition to Legalism
It is very clear that the New Testament, in understanding the nature of the Law, is opposed to a kind of Law keeping that it refers to as legalistic. What is that? Legalism in the New Testament involved one of two things, perhaps both at the same time; they go together. One is a view of Law keeping by which we make ourselves right before God; the works of the Law give us credit or merit before God. Doing the works of the Law we can be justified before him. Both Paul and Jesus opposed this notion.
The second idea in legalism is often times the notion of people adding to the Law of God or substituting for the Law of God, the law of men. Jesus was critical of the Pharisees who set aside the commands of God for the sake of their traditions, their own man made principles and rules. That is a kind of legalism as well; it is adding to the Law. The subculture that I grew up with struggled with legalism. I am very grateful that my own parents guarded against this in our home. The church I was a part of was very typical of many churches in my growing up years that erred on the side of legalism in the sense of really adding to the Law of God; playing cards or going to dances or smoking or drinking were set up as violations of law. In some case, because they were talked about more, they replaced the Law of God. Things that really were a part of God's own standards of righteousness for his people were not even talked about and yet smoking, drinking and playing cards were. This becomes a problem. The New Testament is opposed to legalism, either works righteousness or adding to the Law substituting man's laws for the Law of God.
b. New Testament opposition to Libertarianism or License
This is the opposite problem; namely, believing that now that we are in Christ, now that we are in the age of grace, we are not under Law. That sounds like Paul doesn't it? We are not under Law but under grace, Paul says in Romans 6. Some people take that to mean in Christ we do anything we want to do. We don't have these standards any longer; we are free to do anything. That is not what the New Testament teaches. The New Testament conception of our liberty in Christ is not that we are free to do anything we want to do. It is that we are now free from sin's bondage, so we can do what God wants us to do. We are free to do what is right, free to obey, free to be faithful. That is what the New Testament commends, not the notion of freedom in a libertarian sense or having license to do anything that we wish.
So both legalism and libertarianism are opposed.
c. New Testament endorsement of Liberated Obedience
Rom 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh,
What he means by that is that the Law that was holy and righteous and good (Romans 7) but was unable to make us Law keepers. It could announce for us what the Law is; it could tell us what we ought to do, but it could not make us Law keepers. In Christ what the Law could not do, God did.
Rom 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Rom 8:4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
So now the Spirit works within us to enable us to keep the moral standards of God or to obey the Law of Christ, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, to love our neighbor as our self and so fulfill the Law as Paul says in Galatians 5.
So sin is understood in the New Testament as libertarianism or legalism, those kinds of expressions of law whether false law keeping or wrong law breaking in legalism or libertarianism respectively. Those are sins, but what the New Testament commends is a right view of the Law as fulfilled in Christ by the Spirit as we are enabled to keep the Law; to fulfill the Law as Paul says in Romans 8:4. Sin is not opposed to the Law rightly understood; it is opposed to the Law wrongly understood in libertarian or legalistic ways.
2. "Flesh" and Sin
Paul understands the flesh as in Romans 7, for example, to be the center of our lives that is dominated by rebellion against God. He doesn't see the flesh as the same as our physical body in this theological use of it. It is not the physical body that is corrupt or evil. In fact, it is interesting that if you compare in Paul's letters ''soma'', this word for the body, it is something that is going to be restored; we will have new bodies in the resurrection. Currently, even the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Paul is not opposed to the body, even though our body right now is affected by sin, just as our minds, our wills, our hearts and every part of us is affected by sin. Nonetheless, the body (''soma'') for Paul is redeemable. It was created good and is affected by sin, but it will be restored in the resurrection. Flesh is a different story.
For flesh (''sarx''), Paul has nothing good to say. It is not redeemable. What happens to the flesh is that it has to be crucified, it has to be done away with. What flesh is for Paul is really all of who we are that is drawn toward sin: our minds interested in things of sin, our hearts drawn to think about and meditate upon and value sin and our will drawn to choose sin. Every part of us that is drawn toward sin is flesh, for Paul. He sees flesh then as altogether wrong. For example, he speaks in Galatians 5:19 of the deeds of the flesh. Notice the qualification here; it is not bad flesh, not sometimes the flesh, but that is just what flesh is. The deeds of the flesh are immorality, impurity, greed, lawlessness; all of this is what flesh is. He speaks of the "works" or "deeds" of the flesh in Galatians 5:19.
Gal 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, Gal 5:21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In Romans 8:6-8 he speaks of the mind set on the flesh. It is a mind totally given over to flesh. This would be for unbelievers, a person who cannot do what is pleasing to God. If the flesh dominates altogether, then we cannot do what is pleasing to God. Sin then works in an unbeliever by the flesh dominating, or the way he puts it in Romans 7 is that we are enslaved to the flesh. For my own view of Romans 7, I follow Doug Moo's commentary and understand that the flesh for Paul in Romans 7 is totally dominating of a person, which is not true of a Christian. I don't believe Paul is talking about a Christian here. For example, in Romans 7:14 and 23.
Rom 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
Rom 7:23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
So Paul sees an unbeliever as someone who is totally dominated by flesh. He cannot buck sin. Maybe he can choose which kind of sin to do, but one thing for sure is they can never please God, and they can never do what is honoring to him. What God does for us in Christ is that he does what we cannot do on our own: free us from the dominion of the flesh. Now the flesh is still present for believers. For example, in Galatians 5 Paul speaks, in my judgment, of believers and the struggles they have with the flesh. Romans 7 is not about a struggle; it is about all out defeat to the flesh; this is true of an unbeliever, not of a believer. But in Galatians 5 he speaks here of a believer. He says for example in Galatians 5:16,17.
Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Gal 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
Here we have within us the Spirit of God, yet this on going center of rebellion, center of our heart, will, and mind is still drawn toward sin. Praise God the day will come in Heaven and glory when that is removed altogether, and all of who we are will be drawn only toward God, toward our Creator. But now we have this conflicted reality so that the flesh is the center of us that desires rebellion against God and sets this desire against the Spirit, the Spirit against the flesh. These are in opposition to one another so that we not do the things that we please. I take it he means by that, the things that we instinctively want in our flesh; you can't do those because those are in rebellion with God. But rather walk in the Spirit; let the Spirit control your way of life and you will be able to live in a way that is honoring to God. So the flesh, for Paul, is the center for human rebellion against God. Sin holds us captive because of the flesh until we are saved, and then in salvation it continues to use the flesh. We wage against the flesh until the day of our glorification, until the day we are with the Lord; we struggle and fight against the flesh as one of the battles Christian people must face all through life.
3. Sin and Unbelief
Especially in John's gospels, and in John's letters, a central theme of sin is simply disbelieving who God is and what his promises are. It is an amazing thing when you think that it could be this simple, that we just do not believe what God has said and don't believe his promises. Look back at the Garden of Eden; isn't this exactly how sin originated? Even though God had said to the man, and the man had told the woman in the garden:
Gen 2:16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; Gen 2:17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
Here was the promise of God for plenty. "Of all the trees in the garden you may freely eat." God was not stingy in this; he had provided for them lavishly. Nonetheless, because of the serpent, now the woman looked at that tree differently, and she disbelieved what God had said. God had said that tree will kill you, and now she sees the tree as a source of life, so she disbelieves the promise of God.
2 Thess 2:9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 2 Thess 2:10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 2 Thess 2:11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,
Here again disbelief or belief in what is wrong is a basis for rebellion against God; it is the basis for sin
1 Pet 2:7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone," 1 Pet 2:8 and, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
They received the doom because they were disobedient because they disbelieved. So the root of disobedience is disbelief.
John Piper in his book ''Future Grace'' makes a marvelous case for how important belief is in growth in holiness and in growth in the Christian life to believe the promises of God. He preached a sermon series that preceded that book entitled "Battling Unbelief." So claiming the promises of God in all of those areas where we are tempted to disbelieve then became a series that was written as this book. So unbelief is at the core of what leads us to sin, the core of what sin really is.
4. Sin seen anew in the light of Christ
When Christ comes on the scene, all of a sudden we understand sin differently
a. The Horror of Sin
We understand, as we never have before, the horror of sin. This is because we never realized so fully what it would take for God to defeat sin. How horrible is it? So horrible that it required God sending his Son. It required the eternal second person of the Trinity taking on human flesh; the word became flesh to dwell among us, to live his life and to die for sin. This is how bad it is. The logic of his point is that the cure is proportionate to the affliction; the remedy is proportionate to the problem. Would God had sent his Son as if sin or defeating sin were a little thing? Would he have solved it another way? I am convinced that this is the only way it could have been done. Why else would God have sent his Son if there were any other way of doing this? Imagine the Father when Jesus is pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if you be willing let this cup pass from me," and he prays this three times. Can you think for one moment that the Father knows sin could be defeated another way, but he insisted his Son do this? I cannot imagine that that would be the case. This is what it took to defeat sin, therefore this is how horrible sin is.
b. The Defeat of Sin
We have never seen so clearly or so fully that sin is defeated as when we see Christ come forth from the grave. It is a marvelous thing. Obviously we have seen all through the Bible examples of how God has defeated sin in various ways. But we don't know for sure if it is defeated finally, once and for all. Even the sacrificial system had to be performed over and over. So will sin, as a whole, ever be defeated? Not until God made Christ "who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor 5:21). Only then do know that sin as a totality has been defeated by Christ. When he raises from the dead we realize that he has conquered sin, once for all, finally, and will lead us in the triumph of this defeat of sin.
III. Nature of Sin
A. The Essence of Sin
You recall that I mentioned a moment ago about the Garden of Eden and the sin that Eve committed. I think that there is a help in this very first instance of sin, in understanding the essence of sin. What is sin at its heart; not specific sins, but what is common to all sins? What is it that really makes sin what it is as sin?
1. Urge for Independence from God
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" Gen 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; Gen 3:3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" Gen 3:4 The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! Gen 3:5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Gen 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
What is it that we learn about sin and its essence from this? It looks to me that if you analyze what is common to all sins, I think the element would be what we might call an urge for independence from God. It is sort of like the Fourth of July, Independence Day,; it is when we raise our fist to heaven and we say before God, "I'll do it my way, I'll go the way I want to go; I don't care what you have said; I think I ought to live this way. I don't care if you said I can or cannot have something; if I want it, I'll have it." So sin is really this urge for independence from God. It seems to me that this urge for independence is manifest in Genesis 3:6 in three different ways. Interestingly these same three parallel the three temptations of Christ that we find in Luke 4 for example. Also the kind of sin we see in 1 John 2:16, which speaks about lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world; it is parallel to the same three.
2. Three Kinds of Urges for Independence
a. Hedonist Urge
Gen 3:6a When the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
When God had told them of all the trees of the Garden you may freely eat, she wasn't lacking food. It was just that God had said you can satisfy you appetites with all of these other trees but not with this one. Here the woman says, "I will satisfy my appetite for food my way; I will have what I want."
I think of this as the Hedonist urge. It is the desire to have my appetites satisfied my own way. So one of the urges for independence can be this Hedonist urge, an urge to satisfy drives. In many cases, in fact probably in all cases, these are God-given drives. Think of the state of our culture in terms of sexuality today. How many people look at God and say, "I don't care what your standards are; I will satisfy my sexual appetite my way; I will do what I want to." This is the Hedonist urge. It is the denial of God and his standards and what is right and best for human beings.
b. Covetous Urge
The second thing that Eve says as she looks at the tree is that it was a delight to the eyes.
Analyze this. God had not forbidden Adam or his wife to look at the tree. There was no prohibition of noticing how beautiful it was, of delighting by just looking at the tree. I imagine that that tree was beautiful; God had created it, so I imagine that it was a marvelous specimen of a tree. So when she says "a delight to the eyes" it doesn't mean just looking at; rather, it means, "I want what my eyes see. God has said I can't have it, but I want it. I want to take it. I want to have what God says I can't have." This is the covetous urge, an urge to have what God says no to. I think of children and how they are born manifesting this covetous urge. Take a little child and send him over to someone's house to play with their toys, and what does he want? He wants to take them home with him. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is the confines of what is theirs and what is not theirs and that they cannot have certain things. We all have to realize that. Sin tells us, "I'll have what I want." It is the covetous urge, the second way that our rebellion and independence from God is shown.
c. Prideful Urge
She not only says it is good for food and a delight to the eyes but that the tree "was desirable for making one wise." She wanted her own wisdom. She wanted to be wise herself, not subject to the wisdom of her husband Adam, or subject to the wisdom of her God, whom she is dependent upon. She wanted her own wisdom. She wanted the stature, the prestige, the honor that would go with being wise herself. I think of this as the prideful urge. She wanted the credit, she wanted the stature, she wanted the prestige of being wise.
So whether it is the Hedonist urge, the covetous urge, or the prideful urge, in all three of these ways the urge for independence from God is really at the heart of sin.
The temptations of Jesus show these. Make bread; that is the Hedonist urge. In the second temptation Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, you can have one if you bow down before me. Jesus says no, you shall worship the Lord your God. He doesn't contest that Satan is offering him something that he doesn't have. He contests the terms of the offer, and he says, no, you should worship the Lord your God. The third temptation is throw yourself off this pinnacle of the temple and prove that you are the Son of God. Again, this is a prideful urge; show off, demonstrate your place as the Son of God. And Jesus says, be gone Satan I will obey the Lord my God. In these ways we manifest sin. The essence of sin is this urge for independence from God in these various ways.
B. Total Depravity
Total depravity should be defined as the effect of sin on every part of who we are as human beings. This means that "total" in the phrase "total depravity" is used in a quantitative sense but not a qualitative sense. Quantitatively, every part of who we are is affected by sin. Qualitatively, it is not true that we are totally sinful or another way to put it is that we are not as sinful as we could be. Thankfully, that is not the case. Thankfully, unregenerate people can do good things. Jesus said, "You being evil know how to give good gifts to your children." Unregenerate parents can provide good homes for their children; it can happen, and it does happen. Unregenerate people can be philanthropists. Unregenerate people can show kindness during times of tragedy or crisis. So "total" is not in a qualitative sense (as bad as we could be) but a quantitative sense, every part of us is affected by sin.
Here is another distinction. Total is used in the extensive sense; it extends to every part of us. It does not mean in an intensive sense; we are not as bad as we could be. Extensively but not intensively.
This doctrine means that we are affected by sin in every part. What support is there for this notion that we are affected by sin in every part of who we are? Our minds, our emotions or desires or affections, and our wills are affected by sin.
a. Our Minds are affected by sin
Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Rom 1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
Romans 8:5-8 is also a key text. The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God it cannot do what is pleasing to God.
Rom 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. Rom 8:6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, Ro 8:7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, Rom 8:8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Eph 4:17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, Eph 4:18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
Col 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
2 Cor 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
b. Our Desires, Emotions, Affections are affected by sin
Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Romans 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts and to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Gal 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
Gal 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Eph 2:3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
1 Pet 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
c. Our wills are affected by sin
Rom 1:32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Rom 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?
Rom 6:19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Rom 7:14-23 the whole latter part of Romans 7 where the things I want to do I can't do says Paul; in my judgment speaking of himself as representing Judaism, a high minded Jew who respects the law but cannot keep it and therefore needs Christ, needs the Spirit in order to be free from it.
Rom 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. Rom 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. Rom 7:16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. Rom 7:17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Rom 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. Rom 7:19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Rom 7:20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Rom 7:21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. Rom 7:22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, Rom 7:23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
C. Total Inability
This is a doctrine that flows out of total depravity. Sometimes total depravity is spoken of as including this. Technically total depravity has to do with the affect of sin on every part of us. Total inability is the consequence of that. Namely, how has total depravity rendered us as human beings? What has this done to us in terms of our capabilities? Total inability would say that we are totally unable to please God or do what is good and acceptable in the sight of God. We are totally unable because of sin to do what pleases God or do what is good and acceptable in the sight of God. Apart from grace, none of us could ever do anything that, God would say, is good and right.
Jn 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Obviously he doesn't mean you can't do good deeds; you couldn't help an old lady across the street; you couldn't give money to an orphanage. Obviously you can do those things, but you cannot do anything that bears fruit for the kingdom that has eternal value. Apart from me you can do nothing. So Jesus says you must abide in him. To do that you must believe in Christ and draw life from him in order to do what is acceptable to God.
Note how strong the language is that Paul uses for the effect of sin upon us in Romans 8:6-8.
Rom 8:6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, Rom 8:7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, Rom 8:8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Unbelievers apart from God's grace can never do anything that God says, "I approve or I am pleased with that; it is of eternal value, and it is honoring to me."
Look at the natural man in 1 Corinthians 2:14. A natural man is the person without the Spirit. That is what that term means. The ''psychikos'' is not the Spirit-filled man; he is the one who doesn't have the Spirit.
1 Cor 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
There is a limit to what a natural person can understand of the truths of God; he cannot get it correctly.
In Hebrews 11:6 the writer of Hebrews speaks of the necessity of faith in order to please God.
Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
"He must believe that he is." I don't think that he means by that that merely God exists. The question of the existence of God was not a first century issue. There weren't many atheists running around in the 1st century. The question was not whether there is a God, but who is the true God. Polytheism was rampant, so who is the true God? When he says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that he is God," he means the God of the Bible is the true God and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. In order to please God we must have faith. "Yes, you are God, and I trust you to provide for me what I need, you are rewarder of those who seek you." That is pleasing to the Lord, but without that faith it is impossible to please him.
Jn 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
Jn 6:65 And he was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father."
Acts 16:14 refers in particular to the necessity of God's work in the heart of a person for anyone to come to faith in Christ. God must draw a person or they cannot come to faith in Christ.
Acts 16:14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
Total inability renders us totally unable to do anything that pleases God. Our minds are bound; our wills will not obey God; our hearts, our affections are drawn away from God, and we cannot believe in Christ; we cannot come when we hear the Gospel apart from God's work in us.
D. Acts of Personal Sin
I want to talk about some categories that will be helpful to you. There are a lot of terms that are used in Scripture to talk about sins, that is sinning in the sense of actually committing sin. What do these look like?
1. Commission and Omission
Commission is committing acts of sin that we should not do; doing things that we ought not to do. Sins of omission are failing to do things we should have done. So either doing what we should not do or failing to do things that we should do are both acts of sin.
Biblical references for the acts of commission:
Obviously the Ten Commandments (Ex 20) are sins of commission. Murder, stealing, lying, and coveting are things that we should not do. If we commit them we have committed sin.
What about sins of omission?
Jas 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Matt 25:41 Then he will also say to those on his left, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; Matt 25:42 for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; Matt 25:43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me." Matt 25:44 Then they themselves also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?" Matthew 25:45 Then he will answer them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." Matt 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
It is the acts of omission (the failure to do what ought to be done) that Jesus points to as a basis for condemnation.
2. Outward Action and Inward Attitude
This is not the same as the first category. You can commit a sin of outward action either by committing it or failing to do it. It is an outward type of thing in that you did something you should not have done or failed to do something that should have done. But there is also inward attitudes that you can have that are wrong. You shouldn't have that inward attitude. There are also inward attitudes that you shouldn't have like greed, and jealousy. There are attitudes that you ought to have but don't have like love for God, affection for him and so on.
Sins of outward action would be sins like murder, stealing, adultery and so on, so what about sins of inward attitude?
Matt 5:27 You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery;" Matt 5:28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
This is the inward attitude; you haven't committed the sin yet.
Matt 5:21 You have heard that the ancients were told, "You shall not commit murder" and "Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court." Matt 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, "You good-for-nothing," shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, "You fool," shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
So it is your inward attitude that causes the sin.
One reference that I came across years ago that I felt was fascinating was in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 starting at verse 45.
Deut 28:45 So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping his commandments and his statutes which he commanded you. Deut 28:46 They shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever.
The emphasis there is clearly outward action; you didn't obey the things that you should have done.
Deut 28:47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; Deut 28:48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and he will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.
So loving the Lord your God with a glad heart and being a cheerful giver are things that the Lord requires. He requires inward attitudes.
3. Conscious Rebellion and Sins of Ignorance
Scripture distinguishes between voluntary, conscious kinds of sins in which I know what I am doing when I sin, and sin in which I sin but I am not aware of it; it is a sin, but it is done in ignorance.
The first category incurs greater judgment than the second; both are sins, but conscious rebellion is greater sin than sins of ignorance.
'''Passages of voluntary conscious sinning'''
Num 15:30 But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Num 15:31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.
Hebrews 10:26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
2 Pet 2:20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 2 Pet 2:21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 2 Pet 2:22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A dog returns to its own vomit," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
'''Passages of sins of ignorance'''
Num 15:27 Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. Num 15:28 The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. Num 15:29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.
Lev 4:27 Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty, Lev 4:28 if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed. Lev 4:29 'He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slay the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering. Levi 4:30 The priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar. Lev 4:31 'Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat was removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.
1 Tim 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service, 1 Tim 1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 1 Tim 1:14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
Lk 23:34 But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up his garments among themselves.
Numbers 15 is in both categories; conscious and involuntary.
Num 15:27 Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. Num 15:28 The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven.
Num 15:30 But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.
4. Greater and Lesser Sins
God does distinguish between sins that are of a more serious nature and less serious in nature.
Matt 12:31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Matt 12:32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
Matt 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
1 Corinthians 6:17,18 is interesting because Paul is indicating a certain kind of sin against the body which evidently is more serious in nature.
1 Cor 6:17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with him. 1 Cor 6:18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
Evidently, because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit the sin against the body is more serious than other sins might be. At least he distinguishes them and gives that clear implication here.
For Jesus, obviously the sin of the cities where he performed his miracles was greater because he said,
Matt 11:21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Matt 11:22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
Your sin is greater because you were given greater revelation, more revelation. So rejecting the revelation they were given incurred more guilt before God; it was a more serious sin.
E. Systemic or Social Manifestations of Sin
Just as individuals sin out of their hearts in the different ways we talked about, individuals also form societal units, communities, and cultures. Within these societies they create systems which can, in fact, be sinful. So it is not just individuals who can commit sin, but cultures, laws, and structures can either promote righteousness or work against righteousness. Structures can either be good in God's sight or evil in God's sight. So we ought to understand sin in the individual sense but also in this social or systemic systems that either promote righteousness or promote sin.
1. Good Structures used for Evil
The first category is a good structure, something that is actually positive for people advancing the law of God. The structure itself is good, but it used for evil. For example a court system is a good thing, but when a judge takes a bribe and so fails to bring about justice in the particular case he is adjudicating then he uses a good structure, a legal system a court system, to bring about evil. I take it that the Supreme Court of the United States is a good thing; it is not evil in itself. It a good structure, but when it promotes abortion for example in the Roe vs. Wade decision, legalizing abortion, it has committed evil. So it is a good structure used to commit evil.
Here are a couple of passages that show very clearly a good structure used for evil.
When you read this passage, notice especially verse 4.
Is 59:1 Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short That it cannot save; nor is his ear so dull that it cannot hear. Is 59:2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Is 59:3 For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness. Is 59:4 No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. Is 59:5 They hatch adders' eggs and weave the spider's web; he who eats of their eggs dies, and from that which is crushed a snake breaks forth. Is 59:6 Their webs will not become clothing, nor will they cover themselves with their works; Their works are works of iniquity, and an act of violence is in their hands. Is 59:7 Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways. Is 59:8 They do not know the way of peace, And there is no justice in their tracks; they have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace. Is 59:9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
Amos 5:10-15 speaks about the gate where the elders of the city would sit and make judgment on cases that were brought before them. Those at the gate, which was actually a place of justice, oppressed the poor and needy and gave favors to the rich and used a good structure for evil.
Am 5:10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks with integrity. Am 5:11 Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. Am 5:12 For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate. Am 5:13 Therefore at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time. Am 5:14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you, just as you have said! Am 5:15 Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the Lord God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
2. Formation of Evil Structures to do Evil
This is actually adopting statutes, laws, and creating structures in society that are by their very nature unjust, and oppressive. Apartheid in South Africa is creating a structure that is unjust. The sort of thing that Hitler sought to bring about in Germany in which this whole structure is built so that Jews are viewed as less than human beings. These created structures are in themselves empirically evil.
Ps 94:20 Can a throne of destruction be allied with you, one which devises mischief by decree? Ps 94:21 They band themselves together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. Ps 94:22 But the Lord has been my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. Ps 94:23 He has brought back their wickedness upon them and will destroy them in their evil; the Lord our God will destroy them.
Is 10:1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, Is 10:2 so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of my people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. Is 10:3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? Isaiah 10:4 Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, his anger does not turn away and his hand is still stretched out.
These are examples of devising unjust systems that oppress some and favor others in unrighteous ways.
Blessings on you.