Here are two excerpts from my manuscript from week 4 of Reformation Doctrine based in Romans 5:12-21. You can listen here.
Why is the doctrine of sin important? Why are we spending all this time trying to understand the problem—why not spend all our time on the solution, isn’t that more important? It’s because every other system and religion in the world agrees with Aristotle, that we become righteous by doing righteous deeds. This is the root of Buddhism—that happiness is attained by leading a good life. Not all systems agree on what righteousness or goodness is exactly or what constitutes righteous deeds or a good life, but they all are basically self-help programs. If that isn’t true, if we don’t become righteous by doing righteous deeds, if we can’t contribute anything to our justification, but are sinful by nature, that’s important to know. Really important.
Brene Brown is a popular figure in the self-help genre that more and more women are turning to. I once saw a clip of her talking about shame and guilt. She said that guilt is feeling bad for what we do. I did something bad, so I feel guilty, but that shame is feeling bad because we believe we are bad. So, she was trying to help people change how they talk to themselves. Stop the self-talk of “I’m bad,” and start the self-talk of “I’m not bad, I did something bad.” But this is the opposite of the Christian doctrine of original sin. And it matters which is true. It matters whether we are simply good people who do bad things sometimes or if we are actually bad people who can’t do anything good in and of ourselves. Paul has shown us that we don’t just do bad things, we were born in Adam—born in sin—it isn’t so much a choice we make as an inherited family identity.
But, we DO all make the choice to sin on top of it all. And how incredibly sad and depressing to have your hope of getting rid of shame be dependent on your self-talk, your internal messaging to yourself—talking to yourself rightly about it. That’s no hope at all. We need a hope outside of ourselves, we need something deeper than our flawed minds to rely on to get us out of this mess.
Martin Luther, for all his obsessing over seemingly minute sins and constantly running to the priest in confessional with an overactive and tortured conscience, was actually not even close to reckoning with the depth of depravity in all of us. He could confess all that he DID wrong, but where could he go to confess that HE was fundamentally sinful, inside, tainted?
We need the freedom to acknowledge that I don’t just DO bad things, but I am, by nature, a sinner, because look who my father is—Adam, the trangressor. And look at the inclination of my heart—it’s condemning evidence. Freedom doesn’t just start with grace—it starts with the confession of core sinfulness—it’s after we reckon with the fact that every part of us is tainted by sin, in our very nature, that we take our first step toward sanity, our first step toward truth.
Without the doctrine of sin, the grace that flows out of the fount of the crucified and risen Christ is meaningless. Without knowledge and acknowledgment of sin, we make the cross of Christ small, we make his grace an unnecessary and we shove down what we know to be true from our conscience.
Without the doctrine of sin, grace becomes casual, no big deal, cheap, and belonging to me, not Christ. Have you noticed this? We get everything one hundred percent backwards. We believe that sin is outside ourselves, just something we occasionally do and that grace is something we get to dispense from our own fount inside ourselves, rather than Christ’s. So, we say things like, “I just need to give myself some grace.” As if the dispenser of grace is a faucet or well rooted in our own heart that we can turn off and on. What we usually mean is, I need to let myself off the hook for whatever obligation I failed to meet or whatever thing I did that is making me feel bad about myself. But, we don’t get to give ourselves some grace. Grace originates in God, not us.
God gives grace through his Son, Jesus Christ. And when we have Christ, when we’ve trusted him and received him and put ourselves at his mercy, he gives us grace without measure. He gives and gives and gives it to those who need. But it isn’t a cosmic letting off the hook, because Jesus paid the price. Jesus was on the hook. When we talk about grace like a silly little way of getting let off the hook for something and sweeping it under the rug, we forget that the forgiveness that he gave us freely, cost him dearly.
But with the doctrine of sin—which is reality whether we believe it or not, we get is more than just a new way to think about shame or guilt. When we confess our sin and our nature as sinners who rebel against God not in actions merely, but by the bent of our souls that cause us to want to rule over him–when we receive him, we get a new heart, a new man to be born from, a new nature. We really can be called saints, not because we’re perfect, but because we were born of an imperishable, perfect seed in Christ.
When we are in Christ, and Christ in us, the hope of glory, we are free to dispense HIS grace to the people we meet. We do that by telling them the Gospel and introducing and re-introducing them to Jesus. We can look inside to find grace, not because it originates with us, but because Christ is in us, the giver of all grace. Then, yes, we should talk to ourselves and remind ourselves when we sin that that is not who we are anymore.
William Tyndale, “By grace…we are plucked out of Adam the ground of all evil and graphed in Christ, the root of all goodness. In Christ God loved us, his elect and chosen, before the world began and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of his holy gospel: and when the gospel is preached to us it openeth our hearts and giveth us grace to believe, and putteth the spirit of Christ in us: and we know him as our Father most merciful, and consent to the law and love it inwardly in our heart and desire to fulfill it and sorrow because we do not.”
So, what are we to take away from this very major, very important, very deep, very hard passage [Romans 5:12-21]? What summary statement should we give it?
If I had to give it one, it would be Jesus is MUCH MORE better than Adam! How’s that for grammar? But, I think for our purposes, what we want to first draw from this text is that it shows human kind’s sinful origin in Adam. This passage makes it clear that we are all “in Adam.” We are born in Adam and are partakers of the sin nature.
Here’s a quick run down of everything that came through the one man, Adam:
▪Romans 5:12a: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin”
▪Romans 5:14: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam”
▪Romans 5:15a: “many died through one man’s trespass”
▪Romans 5:16a: “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation,”
▪Romans 5:17a: “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man”
▪Romans 5:18a: “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men”
▪Romans 5:19a: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,”
That’s a pretty robust doctrine of sin that Paul has given us. It’s different than the descriptions of sin he gives in Romans 1 concerning the Gentiles and Romans 2 concerning the Jews. This is the deeper reason for sin. It’s called Original sin, because it gets at the origins.
I think it might help us to answer one objection that may have arisen in your minds. It’s the obvious one—which is, “If we sin because we were born in Adam, how can we be at fault for it—we didn’t ask to be born in Adam?” We touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth addressing more fully. Here’s what Luther said in The Bondage of the Will, on God’s freedom to harden Pharoah:
“Why then does He [that is God] not alter those evil wills which He moves (meaning why doesn’t God change Pharaoh for good)? This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty, where “His judgments are past finding out’ (Rom 11:33). It is not for us to inquire into these mysteries, but to adore them. If flesh and blood take offense here, and grumble, well, let them grumble; they will achieve nothing; grumbling will not change God! And however many of the ungodly stumble and depart, the elect will remain (John 6:60).
The same reply should be given to those who ask: Why did God let Adam fall, and why did He create us all tainted with the same sin, when He might have kept Adam safe, and might have created us of other material, or of seed that had first been cleansed? God is He for Whose will no cause of ground may be laid down as its rule and standard; for nothing is on a level with it or above it, but it is itself the rule for all things. If any rule or standard, or cause or ground, existed for it, it could no longer be the will of God. What God wills is not right because HE ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it. Causes and grounds are laid down for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator—unless you set another Creator over him!”
Luther makes a good point–maybe the only point as relates to this objection. When we question why God made things a certain way, it’s like questioning why fish swim or why birds fly or why we all have parents or why we all enter the world needy, dependent infants or why trees loose their leaves in fall or cucumbers are crisp or why roses smell so lovely. We may ask, but it is not to the point. We cannot change God—nor if we could would it be for anyone’s good. This is His world, run by His will for his good pleasure. And he is the kind of God who reveals his glory to sinners in a very unusual way—by saving them through his “MUCH MORE” grace given through his Son, dead on a cross and resurrected three days later.
We dare only say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom 11:33