What is wrong with me, what was I thinking?! I can't believe I just did that, again! I'm such an idiot, I should know better by now, why do I never learn? How did I end up here again? Will this ever end, will I ever be able to stop, be able to resist, get it right?
Do those words sound familiar, or if not the words, the idea? Don't bother answering, I know they do, I know you've been there. We all go there. There's something wrong, something fundamentally wrong with me, and there's something fundamentally wrong with you. We have these internal battles don't we… we want something but we know we shouldn't… but we want it and we go back and forth… Maybe you're hungry and you think of chocolate and that's it, you have to have it… but you're trying to cut down so you really shouldn't, but the thought of it just keeps coming back and next thing you know you're in the kitchen cupboards…Maybe you realise you've got too close to someone you shouldn't, they're becoming more than a friend, you're flirting and you know it's got to stop… but then you see her and you're off…Maybe you've had a bad fight with a friend you want to put it right, you start to apologise but she says something hurtful and know you shouldn't bite, you're there to it make up, but you just can't help yourself you have to make a point and then off you go again and you're killing that friendship ...Maybe there's something you can't stop, maybe something serious, and you want to stop, you've sworn you'll stop, you've promised to stop, but then you feel that urge and you want to fight it, but you know you don't really have the strength…
What is going on inside of us when we have this internal battle? And why is it that we so often make the wrong choice – that we chose to do the very things that in sober mind we firmly decided never to do again? There's something perverse about that isn't there? If we've decided ourselves that we're not going to do something, and we believe ourselves that it's wrong for us to do it, then why would we go back to it and do it again… we can't deny there's a problem can we?
What is wrong with us?
That's the question that we ask ourselves time and again? That's the question that fills the couches of the psychoanalysts and funds the lifestyles of the self help gurus and life coaches and diet peddlers and … And we have to admit that we're a society that's desperately aware that we have a fundamental drive to, to self destruction, to foolish and hurtful and downright wrong behaviour, but why?
Well this morning we're going to listen to the first half of the Bible's answer. Our world runs this way and that groping for an answer, but the Bible makes perfect sense of our experience. We won't listen to it, but the explanation's there. It shouldn't surprise us that God would know us better than we know ourselves – if the Bible really is God's book we should expect it to puts its finger on us and reveals what's really going on inside. And it does… the Bible clearly and consistently says that we've got a problem, and it traces this problem out from cause to symptom, and even better, to solution. This morning we're going to be looking at the problem and the cause. Next week we'll look at the symptoms, and then when we come back to the 39 articles next, we'll look at the solution.
So this week we look at article 9, and article 9 is about original sin. The article is longish and complex, as it rules out errors, but it can be summarised in three statements:
Original sin means that people are all corrupted in their very nature and bent towards sin.
Original sin isn't removed when we become Christians.
That inward compulsion to sin is itself sinful, but we're not condemned if we're in Christ.
Let's have a look at those three statements. We'll be working mostly from Genesis 3, so you might like to keep that open in front of you, just keep your finger in there for now….Because our first point comes from Ephesians 2.
1) Original Sin Means that People are All Corrupted and Bent Towards Sin (Ephesians 2.1-4)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. – That is, when you were just like everyone else before you became a Christian – this is the key verse: All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
That last phrase sticks in the mouth a bit doesn't it – by nature we were objects of wrath. And that's the case for everyone, by nature we are all objects of God's wrath. That just sounds outrageously harsh doesn't it? How can we be objects of God's wrath, by nature – how can we be under the sentence of death before we've breathed a single breathe– how can that be just? It just doesn't sit right does it… it can't be right, can it?
Yet that is exactly what Ephesians 2 says, we are objects of wrath in our very nature.
How can this be right?
This is the heart of the issue for our doctrine this morning. The Bible's answer is that we weren't created objects of wrath, we were created good, very good even (See Genesis 1). But we didn't stay good. Something happened that has changed things for all of us ever since. And that something is recorded for us in Genesis 3 – the first sin.
You know the story, we just read it – God created the world good, without sin, as he is: God knows no evil, God cannot act against his character and God never wants to, God is good and he only does good and all he makes is good. Sin does not have it's origin in God, God is not a duality – good and bad in eternal conflict, or anything like that, God is good, top to bottom, through and through and all his works are good.
So God made a world in which there was no evil, only good. And in that world he provided everything that was needed, he gave it all to Adam and Eve so that they could look after it. As the only creatures in God's image Adam and Eve ruled God's creation for its good and their flourishing.
There was only one thing off limits – the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. What was this tree? Was is sex – no; God gave Eve to Adam as his wife and said 'the two shall become one flesh' – sex is a gracious gift of God in creation for a man and a woman in marriage. Was it information about what was good and what was bad? No, because they knew that obedience was good and disobedience was bad before they ate. Was it experience of doing good and of doing evil? no – because after they sinner God says now they have become like us, knowing good and evil; God doesn't know evil from doing it. So what was it? Well the snake says it – it was being like God – when they take the fruit for themselves against God's command they claim the right to judge for themselves what's right and wrong; they choose to act as their own god, their own master, and to make their own moral choices for themselves. To do this they had to reject God's rule – he said they must not do it, they did it anyway, they decided that they didn't trust God to make good choices for them.
So Adam and Eve changed everything for everyone for ever. They moved outside of God's blessing and under God's curse. They had to leave the Garden of Eden and everything was tainted by sin – death entered the world, and sickness and pain and competition and blame and shame and bitterness and all the troubles we see day by day. Adam and Eve went from God's friends, walking with him without shame or fear, to God's enemies, cowering from him in terror, and flinging out excuses and blame. And God could not keep treating them as he had before. He excluded them from his garden, so that they could not reach out and take from the tree of life and eat and live forever – they were marred by sin, no longer innocent, no longer trust worthy, no longer safe.
And the doctrine of original sin explains that every person since has been born outside of Eden, with all that that implies - they took all of us with them when they were excluded from God's presence and blessing. Because they were tainted with sin, everyone who followed from them was tainted by sin. In rejecting the truth Adam and Eve fell under the power of a lie that they could not undo. That act corrupted their very character and nature – they introduced a contaminant (sin) that enters into every part of them – their will, their desire, their affections, everything – and that corrupts everything it touches. Sin is a corruption of our natures, not just choices that we make, but a fundamental characteristic that we inherit.
And as the article points out this doesn't just mean that we follow their example, this means that we have been fundamentally shaped by their sin so that we are not perfect as per God's good design, rather we are sinful in ourselves, in our nature, in our character, we, all of us, humanity are corrupted by sin and we can not be otherwise.
We see this as we go on in Genesis: we leap from eating the fruit of the tree in chapter 3, to murder in chapter 4 as Adam's firstborn son – born in Adam's likeness and image – kills his little brother. And things go from bad to worse as the impact of sin is worked out in the generations to follow until in Genesis 6 we read this damning summary of the human condition:
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.
Look at the first one – sin is extensive, it infects everything, every inclination of his heart was sinful; sin is exclusive, every inclination was only evil all the time and sin is utterly sinful – the inclinations of our hearts are evil, all the time. The point is that sin corrupts all of our faculties. We are thoroughly corrupted, not as evil as we could possibly be, but there is no part of us – not our will, not our desires, not our conscience not even our sense of justice – there is no part of us that is not corrupted by sin. And this corruption turns us to evil – to worshipping and serving ourselves instead of God – and we live like that all the time – not that we do every bad thing we can think of, but every thing we do is tainted, even the good things are tainted, our motives are a mess, our sense of justice is warped… nothing emerges unscathed from this corruption.
How many times have you heard someone say 'people are basically good'? No one who has a two year old could possibly agree. There is truth there – we're made in the image of God, we are capable of great beauty and self sacrifice and noble deeds… but we're corrupted through and through. We never need to teach our children how to do wrong, how to cover up, how to redirect the blame… those things come naturally.
When we think this through it's obvious that once Adam and Eve tasted the fruit of sin and became corrupt like this, they would be bound to pass it on to their descendants. If sin fundamentally corrupted their nature then of course they couldn't miraculously pass on an uncorrupted nature – how can corruption possibly produce perfection? Corrupt creature produces more corrupt creatures. I can't hope that my children will be fundamentally different to me, I expect that they will be in my image, in my likeness, not exactly the same, but all they are they inherit from me and my wife. Since we're both corrupted by sin, where could they get perfection from? Even though the logic is inescapable I wonder how you feel about that. I've explained Christianity to a lot of people, and this idea that we're sinners is always the hardest for people to accept.
Maybe that's you this morning – you can't agree that you're sinful, corrupted through and through. You'll admit to doing bad things – you might lose your rag sometimes, but only when you're tired and stressed; you might say nasty things in a heated moment, or make decisions you later regret – but those things aren't the essential you, they're mistakes, aberrations, out of character - you would never normally act like that. What the bible says is that the bad things that come out of us in those moments are things that were always in us, we learn to cover them up because they're not socially acceptable, but when they come up that's just revealing what was always there – the situation is not the cause of our anger and violence and lust and greed and manipulation or anything else – those things are in us and some situations reveal that all too clearly. That's where we started this morning – we do and say bad things, things we know are bad and things we've decided not to do because we don't want to do them – we do those things because we can't stop ourselves – bad thoughts and desires are in us and we can't purge ourselves of them. Bad things come out of us because we're corrupted, original sin means that we all are, profoundly, sinful, in ourselves. Sin isn't just bad things we do, but a corruption of who we are, our very nature.
See I think I can illustrate this problem of original sin with a scene from the LORD of the Rings. We can probably find an illustration for most things in the Lord of the Rings, but most weeks I try and restrain myself. This week it's just too clear. In the return of the King there is a great stirring scene when the Riders of Rohan come to the aid of their brothers at the battle of Minas Tirith. You're probably familiar with it… but just in case you've forgotten the city is under siege from a massive, massive army. The riders come to support the city in their stand against the forces of evil. Now it's clear that the evil army is far, far too powerful for them. And these men mass on their horses on a ridge above the battle. Below them they can see the forces of evil spread out, and it's obvious that they can never defeat so many. But still they line up to charge into the battle. And the King rides in front of his troops and he draws his sword and he gives that rousing speech that kings give to their troops before leading them into battle … you know that speech 'there may come a day when the sons of men fall before the forces of evil but it is not this day…' only it's not that speech. No this time he says the black day has come, this is a day of death, not glory and as he rides along in front of his troops shouting the battle cry, the battle cry is 'death' 'Death' he calls them to ride with him to almost certain death. And it's noble and stirring isn't' it? They fully expect to give their lives in this battle. They expect to die. But they will fight, even to the death, rather than give up their freedom to the evil tyrant.
And what I want to say to you this morning is that is the Bible's picture of humanity since Adam, and you and I are right there among them, swords raised, fists clenched, shouting 'death' – death before surrender, death to the tyrant, or death to us in the trying. But it's not noble, it's not heroic and it's not good. Because God is the enemy we will never surrender to. As we shout 'death before slavery' we make our stand against the God who made us; the good God who knows no evil and does no evil and in whose presence evil can not stand. That's what sin is – it's to throw off all restraint from God and to live as if God were the devil himself. Now its seldom blatant like that. But that is the power that is at work in us.
2) Original Sin Isn't Removed When We Become a Christian (Galatians 5.16- 17)
So I say live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Notice there the presumption that both the sinful nature and the Spirit are at work in one and the same person. When we are saved, or regenerated as the article puts it, the Holy Spirit cleanses us and makes his home in us – this is baptism, the true, inner baptism that saves us, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit God makes his home in a believer. By the Spirit we are joined to Jesus so that we receive all his benefits – his death becomes our death; his resurrection, our life; his righteousness, our righteousness. I'm labouring the point - Paul is describing a Christian experience in Galatians 5.16-17. And part of that experience is that the sinful nature remains at work in that Christian person.
Roman Catholic doctrine says that baptism washes away original sin. That's where we get this crazy idea that a baby is saved at baptism, they're done and they have a magic ticket to heaven. The Anglican reformers were very clear that this is not the teaching of the Bible. After our baptism – that is after the true inner baptism of the Holy Spirit of which our washing with water is only an outward sign – after baptism we are regenerate by the Holy Spirit – today we would say 'born again' – we are born again, but we're not free from sin. No our nature is not changed by salvation, the sinful nature remains sinful, and sin remains at work in us. That is why we have this inner struggle that Paul describes here in Galatians 5, and also in Romans 7 – which I suspect you'll hear more of next week.
For as long as we live on this earth – until the time that Jesus comes back and makes all things new – we remain sinful in our nature. The Spirit cleanses us and changes us – and we go on changing, growing in godliness all our lives, we are continually sanctified to use the technical term. But we will never be perfect until Jesus comes back. And everything that we do remains tainted by sin. Our motives remain mixed, suspect at very best. We can't do a single perfect thing, and if we think we have, well that's pride, and that's sinful, so there's at least one flaw right there.
3) That Inward Compulsion to Sin is Itself Sinful, but We Are not Condemned if We Are in Christ (Romans 8.1)
Should be one of your favourite verses if you're a Christian. If you only learn one memory verse, learn this one:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
It's important that we know this because the article rightly points out that because sin is still at work in us we still deserve condemnation. In ourselves - by our actions, our desires and our thoughts – we continue to sin and we continue to rack up debt to God.
The Roman Catholic church taught that it was possible by trying really hard – with God's help – to do more good than bad. And they taught that saints actually had an excess of good merits that could be shared among the rest of us. But the Bible never says anything like that. No that experience we all recognise of struggle with temptation and sin – that's regular Christian life. The Bible tells us to expect that struggle until God re-makes us perfectly in Jesus image at the end.
And that means that we are not racking up merit points now to weigh up against our debit points, it means that in ourselves we continue to be guilty and deserving of condemnation by God.
But thanks be to God we are not condemned because God credits Jesus righteousness to us. We continue to the day we die to need grace, everyday we need forgiveness. We don't say a confession prayer at church each week because we're worried we might have done something wrong this last week, but because we know we're constantly in the wrong before God, we never get it completely right. We always need grace and forgiveness..
We need to see this clearly so we don't think that sin is something light and easy that we can deal with and move on. Sin is no light and small thing at all, sin is not doing naughty things, sin is a fundamental characteristic that we who are descendants of Adam and Eve all share and it makes us all liable to God's wrath, God's right judgment on us that we are guilty. And it is always at work in us so we could never do more good than bad, we can never make up for the bad we've done in the past, and we will never reach a point where we leave that behind. No we're way, way, way past saving ourselves.
This doctrine is essential for us to understand because until we realise just how lost we are, we will never come to Jesus as we should.