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Original and Actual Sin

Juhani Liukkonen | The Voice of Zion May 2018 --

1. Introduction

We live in a choppy sea of disparate lifestyles, amid great changes. Moral change is that which most influences the human mind. In our time, a demand for freedom from anything that restricts a person’s inclinations and their fulfillment is emphasized. There is a desire to make the boundary between what is permissible and impermissible relative. Many, in their inner being, recognize that they are completely lost, and don’t understand what is right and wrong. Under the pressure of this conflict man easily loses sight of his or her life’s meaning. God’s Word is interpreted from a selfish premise and only that with which one may justify one’s own choices is brought out. In addition, there is a wish to change the biblical image of God. God is spoken of as infinite love, but not that He is at the same time holy and righteous. There is no need for a redeemer since man is not seen to be corrupted by the Fall, but rather as fundamentally good. The Bible is explained to be a document that reflects the time of its origin and has but little significance for people of this time. It is very difficult for people to accept that, based on God’s Word, we want to speak of the evil or of the personal evil that is in man, the enemy of God. Talk about sin is regarded as old fashioned. There has been an attempt for thousands of years to explain sin as human weakness, which can be understood psychologically. Nonetheless, the greatest burden, which consumes man’s strength, is still man’s own guilt. Fallen man longs for freedom from sin and the guilt that it brings, even if he does not understand it. If man does not feel his sinfulness, he finds God’s grace unnecessary. The meaning of the good message of the gospel opens only when its antithesis, sin, is recognized.

2. God Made All Things Good

God created man in his own image (Gen. 1:27). The psalmist praises his Creator: “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:5,6). The life of man being created for eternity was pure in every dimension; his relationship to his Creator, neighbor, and the rest of creation was perfect and whole. In creation man received free will in relation to his Creator and was at the same time made responsible for his life. In precisely this man was separated from the rest of creation. Man could make choices without either internal or external compulsion. Neither evil or death were yet present. Thus man, who had been made partaker in God’s perfect righteousness and innocence, was without sin, righteous, innocent, and holy. Man fulfilled God’s holy law, which in creation had been written in his heart (Rom. 2:15). “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

3. A Broken Creation

The Bible’s creation narrative is followed by an immediate account of the Fall (Gen. 3:1). The origin of the evil that prevails in the midst of mankind is described there. Evil destroyed and destroys the wholeness born in the creation, which God had gazed on with admiration. The narrative does not explain from where evil has entered creation. There is only suggestive mention elsewhere in the Bible of the fall that occurred in the realm of angels (Rev. 12:7–9). The biblical narrative of the Fall is not a historical record. It is to be understood as God’s revelation, looking back. By faith we understand that the author of the narrative was guided by God’s Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). The narrative can be said to be a painting that is not very detailed. However, it is a true and sufficiently accurate description of the event. In the same way that the creation narrative portrays the birth of all the visible and invisible from nothing, God’s Word relates an event by which the spiritual power of evil obtained a grip on man and corrupted God’s plan. The Fall has occurred in this world just as truly as, according to the gospels, the birth, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

It is noteworthy that the enemy of souls seduced with positive things. The serpent did not entice man with fleshly sins, but rather with knowledge and the desire to be like God. According to the Apostle Paul, God’s opponent may impersonate an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Men had permission to eat from every tree of the garden other than that which gives the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16,17). The first human pair’s obedience to God began to falter when the heard the question of the enemy of souls: “Yea, hath God said.” The Fall occurred in their hearts when they believed the serpent’s words: “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4,5). Sin’s essence is in this, that man wanted to be like God. Thus, man turned from believing God’s words and the love of righteousness to hearing and believing the serpent’s words.

The results appeared immediately; man was no longer able to communicate with God, but fled from Him. When God called Adam and Eve, they hid because they were ashamed and afraid (Gen. 3:10). The connection to God broke when the ruler of the heart changed. Man was subjected to God’s anger and the condemnation of the law.

Having lost righteousness, become subject to sin and death, man no longer had God’s law in his heart in the sense that he would live and observe it. Man feels the laws judgment and his subjection to guilt and punishment. According to Christian Doctrine, “sin is the heart’s rejection of God” (CD 1948:23). Man, who had originally obeyed God’s law freely and with his whole heart, begins to love evil and hate righteousness.

Difficulties between man and women and in all human relations also followed the Fall. The first couple’s prior mutual trust was replaced by accusations, and love by selfishness. Man’s relationship to the rest of creation—which had been given to their cultivation and care—was distorted (Gen. 3:17). According to the Epistle to the Romans, all creation “groaneth and travaileth” (Rom. 8:19–22).

The Old Testament relates that the first fratricide followed the expulsion from Paradise and that evil increased on the earth. God finally destroyed the first world by the Flood. As men, we cannot comprehend how great the issues in question must have been that righteous God, who had seen all His creation to be good, regretted “that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Gen. 6:6).

4. The Corruption of Human Nature—Original Sin

The first humans lost the innocence of their initial state as a result of their disobedience. They no longer had the opportunity to eat the fruit of the tree of life and live forever (Gen. 3:22–24). Paul writes of this: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Although man is the image of God even after the Fall, original sin has completely defiled man. Heikki Jussila writes: “The poison of sin stained and spoiled his being, his soul and nobler abilities. And his heart became a den of iniquity” (Iankaikkinen Evankeliumi [The Eternal Gospel], 1974, p. 22).

According to the Bible, the Fall cast its shadow far into the future; sinfulness was transmitted to all people. The psalmist states: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David expressed man’s unworthiness before God: “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:2,3). Although mankind’s sin is inherited, each one is personally guilty. The question is not only of a sense of guilt, but of man’s real responsibility for the wrong direction of his life and evil deeds (Rom. 1:18–32).

It is very difficult for a person to understand his inherited inclination to evil. According to the Confessional writings, “This hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that reason cannot understand it. It must be believed because of the revelation in the Scriptures (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 5:12, Exod. 33:20, Gen. 3:6)” (The Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 1). Due to the Fall, every child born on the earth is on the part of his flesh and blood entirely defiled and unacceptable before God. He is at the same time a partaker of Christ’s righteousness (Matt. 18:6; Rom. 5:18,19). God’s Son promised His father in eternity that He would atone for the sins of the entire world (Ps. 2:7,8; 40:8). For this reason, every new member of redeemed humankind is born as Christ’s own (Eph. 1:4,5).

5. The Fruits of Original Sin—Actual Sin

According to Christian Doctrine, evil thoughts, speech, and deeds are the result of the corruption of original sin (CD 1948:22). In the Confessional Writings, original sin is called a disease, which includes among other things “such faults as ignorance of God, contempt of God, lack of the fear of God and of trust in him, inability to love him. These are the chief flaws in human nature” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article II, 14).

Thus, man became like a gate through which the influence of evil pierced the visible world that God has created. The New Testament (Eph. 6:11–17) speaks of the efforts of wicked spiritual powers to conquer believing man. Rebellion against God, which began with the Fall, spread to humankind. Evil is a constantly experienced destructive power whose fruits are visible in every person and all around us. Sin is not merely individual evil deeds, but rather their source is deeper. Jesus taught that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and defiles man. He said, “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18,19). Jesus’ words, from the Sermon on the Mount, stating that a good tree bears good fruit and an evil tree bears evil fruit touch on the same topic (Matt. 7:17).

It is always timely to ask: What is sin in its essence? According to the Bible, sin is always sin against God (Ps. 51:4; Ps. 130; Luke 15:21). Man is naked “before God” (coram Deo). This position defines every person’s entire life. This caused Martin Luther great distress, when the enormity of sin was revealed to him. Luther experienced that “sin is that which separates me from God and my neighbor” (CD 1948:24). Between righteous God and man and an impassable gulf, which separates man from God, has formed (Luke 16:26).

Everyone must once give an account of his life. So even an unbelieving person, although he would not understand his responsibility before God. A debt is a debt, even if we don’t know that it exists (Rom. 14:12). Man is not only a sinner, but he commits sin.

Religious discussion of this time emphasizes the status of the neighbor in man’s relationship to God. There is a danger in us believers as well that the correct understanding of sin as the transgression of God’s will, as resistance to God, and as misuse of the life that He has created will blur. Transgression against a neighbor is always transgression against God (Matt. 25:40).

Sin’s clearest forms of manifestation are unbelief and disobedience, which can be held as rebellion against God. Sin causes man, at all times, to question God’s holy will: “Yea, hath God said.” At the same time, sin is pride, exalting oneself and the desire to be like God (Gen. 3:5). According to Martin Luther, “man cannot help but to seek his own and love himself above all else” (CD 1948:23). The Apostle John warns of love of the world: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15–17). Sin is not only of doing, but also of leaving undone (Matt. 25:45; Rom. 7–8). According to Jesus’ teaching, the most extreme form of sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Who falls into that sin no longer has the possibility of repentance (Mark 3:29; Heb. 6:4–6).

Sin corrupts the life of individuals, families, and nations. The prevailing common opinion actually encourages man to seek individual happiness and place the attainment of personal pleasure as his most important goal. Man’s powerful, lustful sensuality is construed to be dependent on his drives and needs and thus its fulfillment is deemed a desirable freedom. Peter warns of false teachers who promise freedom but are themselves slaves of corruption (2 Pet. 2:19). Supposed freedom proves itself to be slavery (John 8:34). Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is the shame of nations (Prov. 14:34). Living in sin can lead to hardness. The most severe consequence of sin is eternal punishment. It means the loss of eternal life and ending up in eternal torment (Matt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:6–9).

6. The Call to Partake in Atonement

Already in Paradise following the Fall, God gave the promise of the Savior of mankind that was to come from the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). Because no man can make amends for his sins by his deeds, God prepared redemption and salvation in His Son. Christ’s complete and perfect atonement touched all humanity just the way the Fall did: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). In His eternal love God calls man to become a partaker in this atonement through the gospel of His grace kingdom. God himself made reconciliation with the world in Christ and does not reckon men guilty on account of their transgressions: He entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:18–21).

Even today the blessing of Christ’s reconciliation and redemption work is brought to man, to be possessed by faith, through the ministry of reconciliation. For that reason, Jesus endowed His followers with the Holy Spirit and sent them into all the world to preach the gospel to all creatures (Mark 16:15; John 20:22–24). God’s forgiveness transmitted by the gospel frees from all sin. The blood of Christ purges our “conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14).

7. The Christian and Sin

Even as a partaker of Christ’s complete and perfect atonement work, a believer is still corrupt due to original sin. The apostle writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9). The effect of God’s opponent on a believer is strong. According to the Apostle James, everyone is tempted by his own lust; it draws and entices. If sin grows to its full measure, life’s connection to God is lost (James 1:14,15). According to Luther, a Christian cannot escape tempting thoughts: “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

The reformers stated that a believer is simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator). An endeavoring Christian experiences like Paul, that “in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me (Rom. 7:18–20). Here Paul does not picture the corruption that was in him while he lived in unbelief, but rather relates of his endeavor as a Christian: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh [my corrupt nature] the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24,25). The experiencing of one’s own sinfulness and God’s immeasurable grace is the lot of an endeavoring Christian.

The gospel provides the life of the believing with a goal and the will to struggle. A child of God journeys in the fellowship of the kingdom of grace leaning on the staff of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every believer (Rom. 1:16). The Apostle James writes: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). There is then no longer any danger of falling.

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