What is the Nature of Sin?

by
Jason Dulle
JasonDulle@yahoo.com


The following is a dialogue that ensued between a questioner and myself regarding the nature of sin:

Questioner

 Some say that God gives us a new heart, or a new disposition when we are saved. This seems to me to be a hybrid form of Calvinism and Arminianism, to wit, that sin is constitutional (in our nature) and that regeneration involves a constitutional change of nature. This, however, is technically false.

God does not give us a new heart in the sense of a change in our nature; rather, God effects a change in our will, by the operation of His grace (using, of course, all those means He has previously chosen to effect this change).

Jason

I have to disagree with your statement, "God does not give us a new heart in the sense of a change in our nature; rather, God effects a change in our will, by the operation of His grace." I agree that regeneration does not eradicate our sin nature, or change it into something different. Rather God adds His holy nature to our already existing nature. I also agree that there is a changing of our wills. I do not believe, however, that regeneration is a mere changing of our wills. Calvinists are not alone in their belief that a new work is performed on our spirits when we are regenerated. When Jesus speaks of being born-again, it is a birth from above (John 3:3-5). Our old man is crucified and we put on a new man (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). Being filled with the Holy Ghost affects our spirits (I Cor 6:17; Rom 8:15-16).

In regeneration our spirits are changed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life (Eph 2:1-6). Whereas once it was dead, it is now alive. It is an impartation of new spiritual life. The new birth changes our spirit by giving us of God's holy nature (II Pet 1:4), but we still retain our sin nature.

The essence of sin is not just a perversion of our will, but of our whole being. If all that was needed for our salvation were a change of our will, then we would conclude that only our will is fallen. Paul seems to make it very clear that the law of the mind (the will) can never overcome the law of sin and death (Rom 7:21-25). Sin is not merely a mind issue, but it is a spirit issue. Our spirit needs to be transformed if we are going to be able to live for God.

 

Questioner

I appreciate your comments, brother, but I have concluded that since Original Sin is a Popish farce, that Calvin's "sin nature" must likewise be a farce, since it depends on the Original Sin theory for its validity.

If Adam's Sin is in fact a Sin, it must have been a commission of a crime (sin is transgression of the Law). A crime is a moral issue, not one of natural ability. A moral persuasion, or choice (as in Adam's case) cannot possibly be inheritable by genetics or any other transmission of the human nature. Therefore to suggest a "sin nature" implies several things - God punishes the wicked because of Adam's sin, not their own sin, and also that sinner's are not morally responsible for their sin, since sin (as the Calvinists maintain) consists in the possession of a nature, rather than (as God declares in his Word) a willful violation of the Law.

Salvation then must involve a change in the moral character of man, not a constitutional change in the sense Calvin and the Reformed folks believe. If a new physical essence is imparted at regeneration, then a person so regenerated CANNOT sin at all in any possible sense, and eternal security as taught by Calvinists is logically inescapable. However, the bible plainly declares that saints may in fact apostatize. thus, sin MUST consist in voluntary willful rebellion against God, and it cannot be determined or wholly caused by some supposed "sin nature."

As for the "moral change" being meant by regeneration, what is your definition of "spirit"? Is it some semi physical astral "stuff" of sorts? Or does it not properly mean something like Motivation, mentality, attitude, will, etc? I do not mean that "spirit" is wholly comprehend by one, or all of those terms, but I reject any notion of "spirit" as though it were some "Force" or "Stuff". If that were true, then the Baptism of the Spirit would be a Physical baptism, not a spiritual baptism, and the evidence would have to consist in semi physical sensations, rather than the voluntary declaration of the individual attesting to the Spiritual change (i.e. "speaking in tongues", or "speaking with the spirit"). The Bible nowhere assumes or teaches a constitutional change in man, but a MORAL and thus Spiritual change, that is powerful enough to counteract death itself, since physical death is upon us because of the consequences of Adam's moral behavior. this does not, however, mean that death is our penalty for Adam's sin.

We labor under the effects, but not the punishment of other people's sins, brother.

Our spirits are changed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life. But what is this death, and what is this life? Is it a characteristic of essence as though spirit was some "substance" of sorts? Or is it not this : death for the spirit is to be contrary to the will of God, whereas Life is to be conformed to His will. "This is life eternal - that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." This speaks not of some mystical Force, but of a MORAL power, and a MORAL change.

The Spirit of God - does He heal directly by virtue of being Spirit? "He that ministers the spirit, and worketh miracles among..." how does he do it? BY FAITH! Once again, these things are spoken of as though the actual FORCE was God's omnipotence, delivered or working by or in accordance with the Spirit, which happens by faith - a moral choice to believe and trust in the promises and character of God.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. But this substance is not a physical substance, but rather a moral (will related) "substance". Literally, the hypostasis, if I am not mistaken. the things hoped for are existing in our faith (our decision to trust God).

Now, by sin nature, some people erroneously mean "temptation" or flesh nature. The Calvinists held that since sin is a characteristic of nature (rather the Scriptural definition of a crime against God), therefore temptation and desire must also be sin. Many of us today hold to similar views. We somehow have concluded that temptation and the desires of the flesh are themselves sin, and reflect a "sin nature". Thus, many conclude they cannot live without sinning.

The good news is, however, that the light of the Bible sets us free from such bondage. The Bible says "every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lusts." Notice, "tempted", "drawn away". These are words that relate to will and volition. they do not speak of irresistible compelling of a person by their nature. After all, you cannot be anything BUT your nature. "And lust WHEN IT HAS CONCEIVED brings forth sin..." Sin is the product of desire WHEN IT HAS CONCEIVED. How does it "conceive"? When it is married to the will, and produces ACTION (in this case, sin). Sin is here positively declared to be a case where the will succumbs willingly to a person's desires.

To say that a sin nature produces these desires is ridiculous, for the Bible no where speaks of a "sin nature", but rather a flesh nature - that is, a nature of the self. This nature does not however exercise absolute control over the will. Otherwise, God giving a law is pointless in the extreme. Shall God forbid a nature? Who made this nature? God wishes and commands our will to dominate our actions. Our flesh nature must be "abolished" (literally - "disemployed"). the old man (or self - minded will, as opposed to God minded will) is to put away. The old "me" has been crucified with Christ. Therefore, the old lifestyle of self-indulgence is DEAD. Or at least ought to be.

 

 Jason

While there is much that I do agree with you on, there is much that I disagree with you on also.

I do not believe that the concept of "original sin" is a doctrine of the Pope, or of Calvin. Virtually every church theologian throughout the entire church age has held to this concept, with the exception of Pelagius in the fifth-century (which view you also hold in essence). The post-apostolic fathers taught this concept, and I would argue that the apostles did likewise. I will be honest with you and admit that you have brought up some good points, and that there are problems in our understanding of this issue, but I believe it is a Biblical concept nonetheless.

Adam did transgress the law, but when so doing he then came to know good and evil. This knowledge, which leads everyone to do evil, was passed on to all of humanity. Adamís disobedience to the law had far-reaching consequences.

You then said, "Therefore to suggest a "sin nature" implies several things - God punishes the wicked because of Adam's sin, not their own sin, and also that sinner's are not morally responsible for their sin, since sin (as the Calvinists maintain) consists in the possession of a nature, rather than (as God declares in his Word) a willful violation of the Law." I believe that Romans 5:12-21 makes it very clear that we in some way are connected with Adamís sin. Let us examine this passage.

Paul taught that sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and as a result of this one manís sin, all have sinned and experience spiritual death (v. 12). How can it be said that all have sinned through one manís sin? There are two prevailing viewpoints on this, but this is not our focus here. The fact of the matter is that Paul says that all sinned through Adam. No matter how we explain this, we cannot escape the conclusion that our sinfulness is the direct result of Adamís sin. His sin affected us so that it can be said that all sinned in Adam. This does not demand that we are held responsible for Adamís sin, but it does explain the origin of our sinfulness. Sin is something we are born with by virtue of being in Adam, not just something we do. Paul said that death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even though they did not sin like Adam had sinned (v. 14). That Adamís one sin effected all of humanity is evident when Paul said, "For if through the offence of one many be deadÖ" (v. 15), and again, "For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (v. 17-19).

In fact, if we deny that we are connected with Adamís sin on the grounds that we cannot be affected by Adamís sin, then we are also denying the grounds of our justification and salvation. Jesusí righteousness and obedience is not ours, yet God imputes it to us as though it was truly ours (vs. 15-19, 21). If we cannot be punished or suffer from Adamís sin in any way, then neither can we be blessed from Christís righteousness in any way. This argument takes away the whole basis for our salvation. If itís not fair that we suffer in condemnation and death because of our connection with Adam, then neither is if fair that we be blessed with Christís righteousness and life.

You then said, "Salvation then must involve a change in the moral character of man, not a constitutional change in the sense Calvin and the Reformed folks believe. If a new physical essence is imparted at regeneration, then a person so regenerated CANNOT sin at all in any possible sense, and eternal security as taught by Calvinists is logically inescapable." I agree that salvation involves a change in the moral character of man. I believe this happens in regeneration and sanctification. As far as Calvinism, they do not believe that a person cannot sin, and such a concept has no logical connection to their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The change that man goes through is that we are "made alive" by the Spirit (Rom 8; Eph 2:1-5). This does not mean that we lose our tendency toward sin, or that we are made righteous. It is just that we have new life in our spirit because of the indwelling of Christís Spirit that allows us to live for God.

I agree with you that we can apostatize, and that to do so it has to be an act of the will. This does not mean that it is a matter of the will alone. That is another issue. That sin is not just a matter of the will is evident from an abundance of passages. Note the following:

There are many Scriptures which teach the universal nature of sin. If sin were only a matter of the will, with no natural inherent tendency toward sin, why would there not be at least one person in the billions of people who have lived on the earth who never sinned (besides Christ of course)? Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Why is the heart dirty with sin? The best of all texts is Romans 3:9-23. In the previous chapters Paul was showing how both Gentiles and Jews fall short of Godís glory. He culminates his argument by pointing out that all have sinned, there is none righteous, none that seeks after God, none profitable. Our mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. We are quick to do evil.. Truly all have sinned and fall short of Godís glory. Romans 5:12-21 is very clear as to the universal nature of sin. (See also Psalm 130:3).

The Scripture is also very clear that we have a natural tendency toward evil. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Why is the heart desperately wicked if sin is just a matter of the will? Ezekiel seems to see a need for a changing of manís heart and spirit in order for them to serve God (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:24-28; See also Jer 31:31-34). David said that he was shaped in iniquity from his conception (Psalm 51:5). Paul said, "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (Rom 6:17). How can we be the servants of sin if sin does not have the mastery over us? How can sin have the mastery over us if sin is only a matter of the will? We would not be the servant of sin, but sin would be the servant of our will. Only when our will allowed sin to take told of us could we be considered sinners. 

No passage is clearer in this regard than is Romans 7:12-25. Here Paul said that the Law of God is holy (v. 12), but it actually irritated the sin problem that he already struggled with, making his sin increasingly sinful (vs. 13). Then Paul said, "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin (v. 14). In what way can it be said that we are sold under sin if sin is not a principle in us that exerts great influence over our will? Paul went on to speak of the internal struggle he faced.. Things that he wanted to do (the will), he did not find the ability to do (v. 15) If sin was only a matter of the will, then Paul should have been able to do what he willed. It is obvious, however, that there is an internal struggle that did not always permit him to do what he knew was right. Paul explained this phenomenon by saying, "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (v. 17). Paul seems to teach that sin is something that is in him, and not necessarily some particular violation of the law. It is a principle, not an act of sin. Paul pointedly said, "For I know 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" (v. 18). Here again we find a conflict between the will and being able to perform that will. Verses 19-20 further explain the conflict between what Paul wanted to do, and what he really did. Again his reason for this is because of the sin that dwells in him. Finally Paul said, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members [The mind can never overcome the desires of the flesh. Paul goes on to say later that the only way we can live holy is through Christís Spirit]. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin" [This law of sin is not just particular occasions of sin, but a continual law that we are bound under] (Rom 7:22-25). You may object to this whole chapter saying that this only describes Paulís past life before conversion. That this cannot be so is evident from the verbs that Paul utilizes to explain his predicament. The verbs are in the present tense, not the aorist, imperfect, or perfect. This describes a present reality in Paul, not a past reality. Paulís point in this chapter in the context of Rom 6-8, is that when he fails to rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome his sinfulness, he is doomed to failure.

Concerning my definition of spirit, I cannot give you an adequate definition, because our knowledge of what our spirit is like is very minimal. I do know that it is not a physical substance like our body, and that it performs certain functions in relationship to God and man, but I will not attempt to identify what all it does, and what exactly it is. I will only take at face value how the Scripture speaks of our spirit, and that there is a dichotomy between our fleshly body and our inner-man, and yet we are a unified being.

You said, "Öphysical death is upon us because of the consequences of Adam's moral behavior. This does not, however, mean that death is our penalty for Adam's sin." I agree that we are not held responsible for Adamís particular sin, but that all of humanity has been adversely affected by it. You do see, however, a connection between Adamís sin, and the consequences that fell upon all humanity because of it. This is important. Not only do we receive physical death because of Adam, but also, and primarily spiritual death. This point is well attested in Scripture. When it speaks of the wages of sin being death (Rom 6:23), it is referring to this spiritual death, and is contrasted to the eternal life we have in Christ.

You said, "death for the spirit is to be contrary to the will of God, whereas Life is to be conformed to His will. ĎThis is life eternal - that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.í This speaks not of some mystical Force, but of a MORAL power, and a MORAL change." I agree that salvation does incur a moral change in us, but not moral perfection, and not a perfection of the will. The biggest problem with this view is that it bases salvation on the will of man in conforming to the law of God, and not in the grace of God and our union with Christ. The Scripture is very clear that our salvation comes as a result of our union with Christ, whereby we receive His righteousness and life. Salvation is not based off of works, although good works will necessarily flow from salvation. If salvation is a matter of our will always doing the moral thing, then none of us are saved. This is the problem of Pelagianism. It teaches that salvation is only a matter of the will. The Scripture teaches that all of humanity is lost in sin and could not find a way of escape. If all we had to do was change our will, what was the purpose of Calvary? All God would had to have done was give us the proper motivation and we would have been saved. This is not true. Thatís why Paul said that Godís law was weak because of the flesh (Rom 8:3). It gave the right requirements, but mankind did not have the ability to keep it (Rom 7). They had the right desire to do so, but could not do so apart from the Spirit (Romans 7:18-8:17). So the human will can never accomplish our salvation. Only by the incarnation could sin be condemned, and we could be given power over it (Rom 8:3).

Regarding the Calvinist conception of "sin nature," I have not read John Calvinís commentaries or Institutes, so I cannot speak for his views. However, I have read other Calvinists, and have sat under teachers in the Reformed position, and they do not believe that temptation or the desires of the flesh are the same thing as sin. These only become sin if conceived (James 1:13-15). When it is said that we all sin, the focus is on the underlying sins of the heart and attitude that all of commit but tend to overlook. Most people who believe that they live without sin tend to forget the sins of pride, jealousy, unjustified anger, contempt, or sins of omission that we often commit. Romans 3:23 teaches not only that all have sinned, but that all (including saints) fall short of Godís glory. "Fall short," or "come short" is in the present tense in the Greek. Its syntactical force is that we all continually fall short of Godís glory. If the essence of sin is missing the mark, then all of us come short of this on a continual basis. This does not mean that we continually sin, but that none of us ever match up to Godís standards. The only way we can is by being in Christ, and possessing His righteousness.

There is no doubt that sin is connected to the will, as James 1:13-15 points out. This is not disputed by anyone, not even Calvinists. You either misunderstand Calvinism, or are referring to a particular sect of Calvinism that you have encountered. Mainstream Calvinism only says that the will of the unregenerate man only wills to do what pleases the self, not God. It is still their will that causes their sin. A person cannot blame their sin on a nature, but apart from this nature our will would be as Adamís will originally wasóonly willing the good, and only knowing the good.

The sin nature is not something apart from man, as though it is some parasite attached to him, but should be understood more as a perversion of his spirit/will. So it is not a matter of the sin nature being made, but only a perversion of our spirit which we already possessed. Of course God does not forbid a nature that is separate from us. Our nature is us. I agree with you that our sin nature cannot exert absolute control over our will, or else it takes away all moral responsibility of man.


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