Leading the Flock Astray

I have been attending a particular church in the area on a sort of “trial basis,” because the statement of faith showed some promise as well as a couple areas of concern, but I was not certain if the areas of concern fell in the nonnegotiable zone or if there was room for discussion about them. (See my older post about this for an example of what I look for.)

The pastor never gave a straight answer, which was cause enough for concern, but I dutifully collected more data to have a better understanding of just where the problem was and if it could be addressed. It was not until after visiting a small group and listening to the sermon on Sunday that I was able to fully comprehend the problem. All the fragments of concern joined together to form a clear demonstration of the problem.

Not wanting to reach an immature conclusion (although I already had a good idea), I emailed the pastor seeking clarification on something said during the sermon. He made an obvious blunder and I wanted to make sure I understood correctly. Why rail against something that was not in fact wrong, but was a simple misunderstanding?

The email exchange showed quite a lot. This pastor was immediately defensive, did not use the Scriptures, and chose instead to attack my character as well as those of others who have opposed him recently. Not once did he provide an explanation for his position, insisting only that the Bible was clear (it wasn’t), and ended dialogue by telling me that I missed the point of the illustration (it wasn’t an illustration) and that if I’d like to learn, they’d be glad to teach me.

In other words, I was to fall in line and preemptively agree to the correctness of his position before moving forward. He is the one with all the answers and cannot be wrong and should never be challenged, however gently.

This is a perversion of the attitude a pastor should have. Yes, they are the spiritual authority and yes, they should be able to help you find the answer if they do not know it themselves, but they are also fallible. They are not and cannot be the ultimate authority.

The proper attitude of a pastor should be one of a trusted leader and guide who encourages his flock to fact-check what he says. As the pastor at my old church said (and probably still says), “Always read and know the words for yourself, because someone someday may lie to you.”

Post-Christmas Thoughts

(This was scribbled in the back of my notebook while I was restless during church on Sunday. That will explain most of the discordant thoughts.)

It is a few days after Christmas when this is traditionally celebrated (at least by most Protestants) but I can appeal to the twelve days of Christmas tradition and say my notes are still timely.

It was long ago that the coming of the redeemer was announced. Some will tell you that God declared it in the garden shortly before evicting the first man and woman from it. He said there would be a descendant of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head. Ever since that day, the darkest in the history of mankind, the adversary had been at work trying to thwart God’s plans. He persuaded man to sin and polluted the human race (possibly physically as well as spiritually), and was inconvenienced by the Flood. He was soon back to work, first with the people at Babel before singling out one man’s descendants to harass for centuries to come, as he learned that from this family would come the one who could stop him. It was not for hundreds of years though that it finally happened.

And when it did, would it not have caught many by surprise? God humbled himself and took on the human flesh and entered his creation. He came into his own, but his own did not recognize him or receive him. They were looking for someone else, someone more impressive who could lead an army and bring deliverance. He did bring deliverance, but again, it was not the type they expected.

The next surprise was in how the deliverance was carried out. The devil figured out who the Messiah was (this was not kept secret by any means) and tried to make him fall, and of course he did not succeed. He then decided to kill him.

And he was playing right into God’s hands, because he’d planned this from the beginning. That set the stage for the next shock, when the Messiah rose from the dead.

God has not agreed to carry out his plans in the way we expect. How might he do it in the future?

Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling…

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,

How many of you have read this verse before? There’s something profound in it, yet so simple you may overlook it. Read it again.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling…”

This is a departure from the lifestyle of modern Christians in the West today. True, most will agree with this verse with their lips and in their minds, but so many qualifiers are hung from this phrase that you can no longer see the truth beneath the clown costume others have put on it.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… sometimes.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… into habitual sin.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling… even though you sin every day.

Present you faultless… after death removes our sinful flesh.

Present you faultless… because God sees the sacrifice of Jesus and not our sin.

I don’t really want to go on.

The modern Church has abandoned the truth of God and has substituted a man-pleasing, sin-accepting false gospel in its place. They can read the same words everyone else can, but because they love their sin more than God, and because they know in their hearts they do not meet the expectations of God and probably have a seared conscience, they have to add these qualifiers.

Many in the Church – I would dare to say most in the Church – have never felt godly sorrow leading to repentance. Why do I say this? Because many of them would admit to sinning every day in word, thought, and deed. They are still in the “trying to overcome” stage where if they think they beat themselves up enough and make themselves miserable enough, the temptations they have will go away and they’ll stop falling for the same lies over and over again. A despicable few go so far as to glory in their sins and point to their sin as an example of their humility and right standing before God. (I have met someone like this.)

Allow me to make something clear: if you are still persisting in your sin, then you have not repented of your sin. You are still a slave to your sin, which means you are not a slave of righteousness, which means you have not been born again.

Which means you do not know God.

But rather than fall on their knees in fear of the God who will visit his wrath upon them, instead of repenting of their sin and pleading for pardon, instead of letting the blood of Jesus cleanse them of all unrighteousness, they come up with excuses. They implement regimens intended to prevent them from committing the sin, perhaps, but these are external acts leaving the root cause untreated. Their hearts are never changed. Rather than abandon their pride and place all their trust in the one who is able to keep them from falling, they try to improve their own lives little by little. Many of them will have the gall to accuse of pride all those who do place all their trust in God.

The solution is simple, although for those whose pride has been deeply implanted, difficult to implement. Believe in Jesus and the one who sent him. Repent of your sins. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. God has the power to save you from sin, and if you love God, you will keep his commandments anyway. You will no longer live day-to-day fretting about whether or not you will sin some way or another, no longer agonize about every decision you make, because you will know that you love God and seek to live for him in all you do.

Believe in the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and who will present you blameless before God.

New Podcast

If you have not noticed, we have scaled back our release of WagzTail episodes to once a week. The reason for this is twofold: First, we have no full-time editor, so we are currently limited to our spare time. Second, we have launched a new podcast, called ChristianPaws.

We had wanted to reduce the often quite religious nature of WagzTail, portraying it instead only as a family-friendly podcast, but we did not want to abandon deep theological talks, either. To do that, and to tie it in with the forum ChristianPaws (see the forum link at the top of the page), we have moved the religious-themed topics to their own dedicated show, with a slightly different format from the familiar WagzTail.

Today is Sunday, so a new episode will have been released on the forums by the time you see this. This week we are talking about faith. You ought to check it out!

Definition of Sin

The following is an essay I wrote for ChristianPaws, on a workable definition of sin. It is not quite complete, but its purpose was to write something as a starting point. As it turns out, there hasn’t been as much discussion as originally anticipated.

Purpose

One of the most foundational concepts to understand in Christianity is sin. All other doctrines: the fallen state and nature of man, the nature of Christ, the atonement, and regeneration are all affected by this singular concept, and to err in understanding what sin is will create confusion when trying to understand everything else. Thus, we have chosen to let our first post in the “What does the Bible say about…” series to be about sin.

While everyone reading this doubtless already has an idea of what sin is, including the author of this essay, I think it best to lay aside these presuppositions for the time being and focus only on what the Bible has to say about sin. We will use the Scriptures to develop a workable definition of sin, which we will be able to reference in all future discussions if this essay does as intended. By doing so, it is assumed that the Bible is authoritative and serves as the basis for all doctrine that we develop. (The forum leadership assumes the Bible is absolute, complete, and inerrant, and viewpoints contrary to this will not be entertained.) Once this definition is developed, it will then be possible to proceed to other topics, such as where sin comes from, what it does and how it separates man from God, and the consequence of sin.

Defining Sin

Sin is understood as having two different aspects: one of nature, and one of action. As to the first, there are multiple viewpoints as to whether mankind is born with a depraved, sinful nature; or if mankind makes his nature depraved on account of the choices he makes; or if it describes a state of being that the person possesses yet is not guilty of. As such, the exact form of this aspect of sin will not be examined, and we will simply agree with the Scriptures that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

The second aspect is what we will be more concerned about in this essay. In this aspect fall all acts of sin. The Bible ascribes characteristics such as unrighteousness, unbelief, and rebellion to this aspect of sin; in other words, it is what people think of when they hear phrases such as “This person has sinned.” This is the consideration of sin as a verb. We will now look at various passages of Scripture describing and defining sin.

1 John 3:4
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (NASB)
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (KJV)

James 4:17
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (NASB)
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (KJV)

I have quoted these two verses because these are among the two clearest examples in the New Testament of a definition for sin. These two verses also provide the two fundamental qualities that any definition of sin must possess for it to be considered both Scriptural and adequate. The first is that sin must include breaking a law of God: “sin is lawlessness” or “sin is the transgression of the law”. This should be too obvious to expound. The second comes from James.For something to be sin according to him requires knowledge of what is right to do, coupled with a decision not to do the right thing.

This allows the following definition of sin: a willful violation of a known law of God

The definition accounts for both qualities given in the quoted verses, and it adheres to the thought that sin is rebellion and requires a deliberate turning against what one knows to be right. For example, we can consider a situation with which we are all likely familiar: driving the speed limit on a road. Say someone was driving on a road with a posted speed limit of 55mph, and turns onto another similar road with a posted speed limit of 45mph. Say further that the speed limit sign on this new road has been knocked down, and that the driver has never been on this road before. Assuming the speed limit on the new road is the same as the one he was last on, the driver continues on this new road at 55mph, or 10mph in excess of the legal speed limit. A police officer pulls him over and tickets him for speeding.

Was this sin? It was not, according to the definition given above. The driver did not know the speed limit was now 45mph, and had no way of knowing that was the new speed limit. He was not willfully violating the posted speed limit, but made what was revealed to be a wrong assumption about what he was and was not allowed to do. Nevertheless, he broke the law, and when he found out, he was obligated to pay the fine for doing so.

This is not the same situation as if he had seen the 45mph speed limit sign, or if a friend had told him that the speed limit dropped, but he continued at the old speed anyway. In this situation, he not only knew the law, but he was willfully ignoring it. That would be sin. Also, if he thought the speed limit dropped to 45mph, but he continued at 55mph anyway, that would also be a sin because he intended to do what he knew to be wrong.

This simultaneously reveals two important distinctions to make. The first is that sin is not merely outward action, but is a decision of the will and of the heart. If someone wants to do something they think is wrong, and they do it even though according to the law it is not wrong, then it is still sin for them because they were still acting in rebellion.

The second is that there is an ethical distinction between “willful sin” and “mistake,” although there may not always be a legal one. In the first, a person knows what to do and deliberately does not do it, and he is rightly condemned for this act of rebellion. In the second, a person is presumably acting with good intent and is doing what he thinks is right, but due to ignorance of right and wrong ends up doing something wrong. In the speeding example given, the driver was not trying to speed, he thought he was doing the right thing by going the posted speed limit, but he found out he was wrong. This is a mistake.

Objections

At this point someone may be tempted to reply, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As this saying is not in the Scriptures, you are better served if you abandon that phrase, and you will not make much headway here.

I realize this definition will make some people unhappy. I will be accused of advocating a definition of sin that is too narrow, one that does not take into account all the facts. So I will now begin to address that. It is a common error in the Church to define sin as “missing the mark” (the literal definition of “hamartano”) and to extrapolate from Romans 3:23 that everything that falls short of God’s perfection is sin.

While the definition of sin as “missing the mark” is literal, it is not useful unless one also defines what the mark is, and by what sense the mark is missed. For this reason, attempting to define sin as “missing the mark” is inadequate. Nevertheless, I am obligated to comment that this definition of sin would benefit my definition, because one has to be able to know about a mark and see it before they can ever aim at it, and one must also have some ability to aim, although miss.

Attempting to define sin as anything that falls short of God’s absolute perfection is not merely inadequate, it is absurd because that renders mankind – both saved and condemned –  sinful every second of every day. This would mean that forgetting someone’s name, or not scoring 100% on a test, or tripping over a root would be sins, because they display imperfections. Because humans are limited by nature, that means everything they do falls short of what God would do, so everything they ever do is sin. This produces so many absurdities in Scripture that it would take pages to list them all, but it would especially render as nonsense such verses as

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:11 KJV)
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. (John 5:14 KJV)
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1 KJV)

We could continue. The command “go sin no more” and “write that you not sin” both imply that sin is something mankind is able to avoid, so sin cannot be suitably defined as anything departing from God’s absolute perfection. That would mean Jesus expects us to be God, or that John thought his readers could become like God, which is nowhere attested in Scripture and cannot be defended. While the definition is borne out of a desire to magnify God, it simply creates more problems than it solves, it does not work in practice, and it must be rejected.

Testing the Definition

It is good to test definitions as well. Different definitions can be discussed endlessly, but how do they fare when put into practice? A few examples will be provided.

Genesis 18:20
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their [willful violation of a known law of God] is very grievous;
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their [deviation from God’s absolute perfection] is very grievous;

Both work here, but the second is odd.

Genesis 20:9
Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great [willful violation of a known law of God]? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done
Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great [deviation from God’s absolute perfection]? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done

The first definition does not fit here, and the second is also a poor fit. Probably this would fit under the idea of a sin of ignorance or a mistake and identifies a weakness in both definitions.

1 Samuel 12:23
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should [willfully violate a known law of God] against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:

The first definition fits, the second is very awkward.

1 Samuel 15:25
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my [willful violation of a known law of God], and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my [deviation from God’s absolute perfection], and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

The first definition fits, the second does not make sense.

John 9:2
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did [willfully violate a known law of God], this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did [deviate from God’s absolute perfection], this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

The first fits, the second makes no sense in context.

Romans 2:12
For as many as have [willfully violated a known law of God] without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have [willfully violated a known law of God] in the law shall be judged by the law;
For as many as have [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] in the law shall be judged by the law;

Both work here, but the second is odd. Why tell us about something we could never avoid?

Romans 5:14
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not [willfully violated a known law of God] after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not [deviated from God’s absolute perfection] after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come

Again, while both could work, the second is awkward. Deviated from God’s perfection differently?

Luke 17:3
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother [willfully violate a known law of God] against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him

The second definition fails, it does not fit the context.

John 5:14
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: [willfully violate a known law of God] no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

The second definition render’s Jesus’ command impossible. It must be rejected.

John 8:11
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and [willfully violate a known law of God] no more.
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] no more.

See above. The second definition is impossible.

Romans 6:15
What then? shall we [willfully violate a known law of God], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
What then? shall we [deviate  from God’s absolute perfection], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Only the first definition makes sense in context. Clearly, sins are avoidable.

1 Timothy 5:20
Them that [willfully violate a known law of God] rebuke before all, that others also may fear
Them that [deviate from God’s absolute perfection] rebuke before all, that others also may fear

Rebuke people for not being God? Absurd.

It is not the intent of this essay to provide other examples, although they can be examined in one’s own time when suitable for the reader.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sin is treated by the Scriptures as something that can be avoided, implied from all the commands to do right and not evil, and the simple fact that people are held accountable for the sins they commit. This means any definition of sin must acknowledge that it is an act of the will, and prefers that they have some knowledge of what is right and wrong. Any definition of sin that makes sin a malady, and something mankind has no control over or no choice but to commit, must be rejected. A “sin of ignorance,” or a “mistake,” while wrong is not treated as the same as a willful act, and so the definition of sin must also reflect this. The definition given at the outset does have its weaknesses and requires some qualification to correct these weaknesses, but it is faithful to the Scriptures and meets the ethical requirement for sin while acknowledging the legal requirement as well.

Regarding Unintentional Sins

One other important definition regarding sin is that of unintentional sins, or sins of ignorance. These are terms often mentioned, and they do appear in translations of the Scriptures, so they ought to be accounted for. I provide here two instances of sin, one unintentional and one deliberate, from the book of Numbers.

And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. (Numbers 15:27-31)

When presenting His Law to the children of Israel, God made a distinction between sins of ignorance and sins of presumption, or what would be called a willful sin. Sins of ignorance could be atoned for, but a willful sin could not be atoned for; the penalty was being cut off, or death. Furthermore, there are only these two categories of sin that we are given. While this same distinction is not to be pressed too strongly today, because the only unforgivable sin is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this does serve to establish that God does view certain sins differently from others.

We cannot stop here, however. This passage in Numbers allows us to conclude that sins resulting in being cut off were what God called presumptuous or willful sins, and sins resulting in atonement were what God called ignorant sins.

This leads to some interesting results. According to the Old Testament, sins such as lying, theft, even rape were not punishable by death, so they would fall under what Numbers calls “unintentional” sins. If you do not believe me about that last one, examine Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
The punishment is not being cut off, so it cannot fit in the defiant sin category. But are they unintentional in the sense the word is understood today? Taking into account the above, I do not see how the case could ever be made that they are. Rather, the sinner knew that what he did was wrong, but he did not sin for the purpose of spiting God; he sinned because he wanted the pleasure resulting from that sin.

Here is another example from Exodus:

If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:28,29)

Here, the owner of the ox is not blamed unless the owner knew the ox had a history of violent behavior. It was his responsibility to know what he needed to do to keep the ox restrained, yet did not do it, so it was sin. If he did not know, then it was not sin and he did not even have to offer a means of atonement (although restitution was necessary).

Yet another, this time from Leviticus:

And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty; Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned. (Leviticus 4:27-28)

In this passage, the person is clearly guilty of sin, because a sin offering is required and the passage states unequivocally that he sinned. This is also a scenario of sinning through ignorance, so that may allow for the possibility of sinning without meaning to. However, that understanding of the verse is not without problem. Remember that people are responsible for knowing right and wrong, and they should take the initiative to know what is permitted and forbidden. Failure to do this is itself sin. What is possible here is someone forgot a portion of the law, or even did something without checking their knowledge of the law to make sure they were not in violation of it. Then in retrospect he realized he did wrong, or was made aware of the wrongness of his action by someone else, and then he was required to present a sin offering. It is unlikely that genuine ignorance is being spoken of here, because of the example in Exodus where genuine ignorance is not deemed sin. To be consistent, one must apply the same standard both times.

Therefore, I would propose that the terminology “sins in ignorance” or “sins unintentionally” is not a good understanding of the term. Rather, it should be contrasted with deliberately defiant sins and not be thought of as truly accidental in the modern sense of the word. As these are not legitimate mistakes either, the term “mistake” does not apply. It is better to not try to come up with a novel category for the term and simply use the term “sin” for this type of sin.

What I Seek in a Church

This is a brief list of what I look for in a church. Many of these are mandatory, others have room for negotiation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a start. If you know a congregation in the area that meets all these criteria, let me know.

  • Cannot be Calvinist. It must reject the false teaching of inherited total depravity and the sinful nature, and teach the Scriptural view that people are born morally innocent and spiritually alive.
  • Must teach holiness. Perfection in love and consistent obedience are to be taught as the normal Christian experience. There is no room for the “sinning Christian” idea.
  • Additionally, there should be no mention of a second work of grace, which is absent from the Scriptures.
  • Must take a hard stance against sin and sinners in the congregation. Must be willing to engage in church discipline up to and including the point of expelling a sinning member from the congregation.
  • Divorce is not tolerated. It must recognize that God hates divorce and considers remarriage after divorce to be the same as adultery. Thus, it does not recognize second (or third, or so on) marriages.
  • Teaches a Scriptural perspective on offerings. Teachings such as storehouse tithing are rejected as false.
  • Favors expository sermons over topical.
  • The congregation is not segregated and families stay together.

Don’t Forget…

In the weekly Bible study we hold over IRC, we have begun going over Psalm 119 as a study of some of the basics of the Christian faith. This is sort of a spoiler of tomorrow, but almost no one who attends reads my blog, so it’s not like they’ll try to steal any talking points.

If they do, then maybe there will be more opportunity for discussion.

Anyway, I was reading the section again and have been thinking on verse 16.

I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word (NASB)

There are many things I have heard or learned in my life, which I have already forgotten. I cannot even give an accurate estimate of what all these things may be, because I do not remember what all I have forgotten. Names of classmates whose faces I recall but names I do not serve as examples. So do lessons from my school days, and odds and ends at work. There is so much information out there that it is impossible to retain all of it.

Why is it forgotten? It is forgotten because it is not used. It is pushed aside to make room for other bits of information that my current situation calls for, or after years of disuse it becomes mixed up with other old pieces of information.

What is remembered? It is either the things I keep at the forefront of my mind all the time, or those things I value enough to recall from time to time and, because they interest me, I do not forget.

Enough of that. The psalmist declared that he delighted in God’s law and made a decision not to forget God’s word. Is this not a noble goal? Not only is it noble, it’s within the reach of anyone who wishes to attain it.

All it takes is the decision that God’s word is important enough to read and know, and to refresh your memory of it often.

Original Sin Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote an essay against the doctrine of original sin. Since then, my position has been refined a little, or at the very least I can describe my objections to the doctrine better. What follows is a revision of the original post.

One of the most common beliefs in the church today is that people are born sinners. Popularized by Augustine, it quickly became the dominant position of the church, a trend which continues today largely thanks to the efforts of John Calvin. His fingerprints remain on the teaching today in the form of the T in the TULIP acronym, “Total Depravity.”

The problem with this teaching’s popularity is that it is very wrong.

First, let us begin with some of the passages used to support the original sin doctrine. You will discover that these are “mystery passages” that only support original sin if original sin is assumed from the outset and read into the verse. I want to get one of the easier ones out of the way first. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is one of the verses advocates of this doctrine use. This is one of their weaker passages, as a plain reading of the verse says simply, “Everyone has sinned.” It makes no comment how often they sin or when they began to sin. The weakness here is in the “plain reading” I gave above. Who is “everyone”? Is it all without exception, or are there some exceptions to “all”? At least one exception comes to mind, as it well should. Jesus is part of all, yet He did not sin (see Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus was made in all things like His people. He was born with the same flesh anyone else has, with the same desires and weaknesses that come with it.

But if there is one exception, might there be others? I answer this question later.

Another popular passage is in Psalm 51, verse 5 to be exact. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The psalmist is the passive subject in this verse. He was shapen in iniquity, it was not a choice he made. He was conceived in sin; he did not conceive himself. There is a sinner in this passage, but it is the mother. Context matters. In Psalm 51, David is confessing his sin to God. He traces history of sin all the way back to his conception, saying that even from that instant he has been in a world saturated by sin, and this has always been true.

A third passage is Romans 5:12 (and 18): “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:” and “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.” This is another of those “mystery passages” because the concept of being born a sinner or born with a sinful nature is nowhere in these verses. Sin entered the world because one person sinned. Because he sinned, he died. Furthermore, those who follow his example in sin also die. “death passed to all men because all have sinned.” Now, it is possible to take your understanding of this verse too far. Everything on this earth dies, whether or not it has a moral character. Animals die, plants die, insects die. Things run down. So physical death cannot be seen as immediate evidence of individual sin. As for the second verse, Calvinists and other original sin proponents ALWAYS take this verse ONLY as far as it suits their purposes and NEVER take the verse as a whole to the conclusion their logic demands. Paul gives two options for men:

  •  By the offense of one, judgment comes to all men
  • By the righteousness of one, the free gift comes to all men

Note that both judgment to condemnation and the free gift come to all men. Unless one wishes to hold to both inherited sin and universal salvation, there is a problem. Let us therefore approach the answer from reverse. We know from the Scriptures that not all will receive the free gift (there are some who will be cast into hell). Whether or not they receive the gift ends up being their choice (I’m not going to go far into free will versus determinism here.) The gift is offered to all, but not all will take it. Likewise, whether or not a person receives judgment depends on the choices they make, not the circumstances they are born into or whatever they happen to inherit.

Let us proceed to examine some passages of Scripture that do not support the original sin doctrine. The first comes from Romans 7:7-9. “What shall we say then? Isthe law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”

This passage is fascinating because it unequivocally states that the speaker was alive before sin came into his life, and when sin came to life in him, he died. This must be a spiritual understanding of life and death because very rarely has someone come back to life from physical death, and the life-and-death illustration would not work if taken physically.

The passage does not say, “I thought I was alive even though I was sinning” or anything of the sort. To conclude this, as some do, is to read into the verse. There was no sin at the time (there was no law), so he was spiritually alive. This is in direct contradiction to what the original sin proponents would have us believe.

Another passage comes from Ecclesiastes. Now, this book is dangerous to use (as are Job, Psalms, and Proverbs) because of the “genre” they are in, but this passage is hard to get around. It is chapter 7, verse 29. “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”

See that? God has made man upright. God does not create sinners, but they make themselves that way. Even though just a few verses prior the author said there was not a just one on earth who did not sin, he still acknowledged the truth that God makes man upright. He is not responsible for their sinning; it is their choice.

Another reason not to believe in original sin is because it slanders God.

The Psalmist said God formed him in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139: 13). And since there is nothing that makes him special from any other man, it can be reasonably concluded that all people are created by God—this miracle begins at conception. If people are born sinners, what other choice do we have than to say that God created us sinners? It was God who made the decision for us to be that way. This means God creates people to be sinners because of something their ancestors did, and then blames them for being sinners. More on that in a moment.

Also, Genesis says we were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). God does not sin. He can be tempted (Deut. 6:16), but He cannot sin, as it goes against His nature. The original sin advocate is therefore forced to accept these two beliefs: “God created man in His image” and “Man is born a sinner.” These do not go together. For if man is created in God’s image, and man is created a sinner, then God is a sinner. As stated, this is unbiblical. The more correct belief is this: “Man is born with the capacity to be tempted, and it is man’s choice whether or not he will sin.”

The doctrine of original sin also makes God a tyrant. If people are born sinners, and they are naturally inclined to sin, what right does God have to condemn them for the way He created them? He has none. So advocates of original sin have to come up with a way to decorate their cruel god with acts of love, saying that God, in His sovereignty, can act however He wishes. This is true, but as God is also just, and condemnation of one who cannot help his actions is unjust, that claim falls flat.

Original sin advocates also say that Adam was a figurehead for the entire human race, and since he sinned, we are all born sinners because of that and depending on whom you ask also share in his guilt. (There are competing theories all saying more or less the same thing.) What does the Bible say, though? It certainly never says Adam was the federal head or moral representative for all his descendants. Ezekiel 18: 20 says, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” In other words, we are all responsible for our own sin. Adam’s sin was Adam’s sin, not his descendants’. What Adam did, however, was open up the way for all to be tempted.

Before I go, I will include this last argument. If all are born sinners, then what of the babies who are stillborn, aborted, or die in infancy? The original sin advocate has no choice but to say that these must go to hell. They’re dishonest enough to come up with an excuse (age of accountability), but it is unsatisfactory. Sinners, if they are not redeemed, must go to hell. God never provided an alternate solution. The original sin position must include infants in this.

But infants do not sin. Those who have no knowledge of right or wrong cannot sin. They must be taught right and wrong, and before that time, they are innocent. It is when they are able to make a moral choice (“This is right and I will do it” or “This is wrong but I will do it”) that they are held accountable.

See, moral agents have never needed any “help” to sin. Satan and his followers sinned just fine without one. Adam and Eve also pulled it off. So why invent a concept explaining sin when the Bible is clear enough about it? According to the Scriptures, sin comes into being because people follow after their own desires and want to sin, not because of circumstances beyond their control. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14,15) People are deceived by sin because it is so appealing at first, and soon they desire to sin. (Proverbs 21:10, Psalm 52:3).

Keep to the Scriptures instead of coming up with an excuse that belongs in a fairy tale.

Be perfect

Do you know why I insist so strongly on preaching the message of holiness? It is because this is one of those doctrines that is not a pet subject. No, it is one of those teachings that is very important to get right. So important, in fact, that to deliberately reject it is to heap destruction upon yourself in the end. To miss out on this is to miss out on a key element of the faith.

Invariably people are going to ask, “Levi, why is it you always talk about this? Why, of the hundreds of messages you could give, do you always return to this one?”

The reason is simple. It is vitally important and few are giving it.

It is my discovery that many people don’t know what to think when they first hear about holiness or perfection. A lot of this is because it has never been adequately explained, as most denominations don’t really emphasize it (and even those who do are error-prone). How can one understand what one has never heard of before? It’s senseless to expect understanding in this case.

The fact that people have a weird view of both “holiness” and “perfection” does not help. So, a couple definitions. “Holiness” means “the quality of being set apart for God’s use.” By this alone, all Christians are holy, as God has done a work in their life for His benefit and has instructed them to do His will and equipped them to be able to do so. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

The other difficult word is “perfection” or “perfect.” (It is important to know what these mean because God expects us to be perfect.) “Perfect” does not mean “totally flawless in every way, unable to make any mistakes.” God created us human, He created us to be limited beings who will never know everything and will never be like God in every way. He doesn’t want us to be that. God wants us to love Him without competition with the world. God wants us to love our neighbor and enemy without partiality. That is what it means to be perfect.

Now, there is another sense of “perfect” that the Scriptures speak of. This is a perfection none living have obtained, because it involves knowing Christ fully, which Paul said could not be without also knowing His death and resurrection personally, not just vicariously. So we are never completely mature in the sense of knowing Christ while on this earth. This is something we always work toward. Do keep in mind, though, that the same Paul who said, “not that I am already perfect” referred to himself and the others at Philippi as perfect just a few verses later in the exact same chapter, because he was talking then about the perfection in love that is expected of us and that we are able to do.

You have noticed by now, if you read my other journals, that I assume Christians are able to love God without wavering. Others who call themselves by Christ make a similar claim, but they do not go far enough. They have a tendency to immediately follow up these exhortations with a reminder that they are bound to waver at some point or another because they are still in the flesh and they still have a “sinful nature.” I do not waffle in this manner. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to sin and fall away, but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that has to happen, so I do not teach it as inevitable.

The thing is, this is not a doctrinal difference that is secondary. It cannot be brushed aside under the category of “Non-essential to the faith.” The difference is in fact so strong that the holiness-minded gospel is not the same as the you-will-sin gospel. One says the victory is certain, and experienced day by day through the grace of God, who gives us the strength to honor Him and love Him at all times. The other teaches a gradual victory peppered with defeat, where God is dishonored by His children and, what is worse, does not see the sins His people commit.

Now it is absolutely true that growing in the faith is a gradual process. I mentioned this earlier, but I will mention it again because it’s important. In Philippians 3, Paul talks about this. He said he was not already perfect, or not already mature, because he had not experienced death and the future resurrection himself, as Christ had experienced death and His resurrection. So far, we only know it vicariously, but some day in the future we will know Christ fully. So we know in that regard we still have a long way to go, and every day we should learn more about who God is. No one expects us to know everything right away, and God certainly does not demand it of us.

This does not mean, of course, that one need know what the holiness doctrine is in order to be saved. For that matter, the very name “holiness doctrine” makes a simple element of the gospel sound like something extra, something secret. That is not how it should be. What matters is that the Christian live out his faith.

As a side note, don’t be misled by an ill-approached “faith alone” version of justification. We are justified by faith apart from works of the Law, but we also see that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) The Law itself is unable to save, so works of the Law do not lead to salvation, but we cannot have a useful faith that does not also have works accompanying it. Saving faith always leads to works. If the works are absent, then so is the saving faith. You CANNOT dedicate your life to God once and then go back to the way things used to be, and assume all is well. It will not be.

So the consequences are severe. If you do not abide in God, then you will not see the kingdom of God. Do not let that be you.

By this we know that we know Him

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

This is such a simple passage. John gave his readers (and us) a test to see if we know God, and to know if others know God. The criteria? Do you keep God’s commandments or not? Those who are God’s will keep His commandments, and those who do not keep His commandments are not His.

Our salvation is more than saying a prayer and having your eternal destiny worked out for you because of it. Our salvation is from death, from our sins, and from the wrath of God. Should we not live accordingly?

Or, because grace abounds with sin, should we continue in sin knowing that by God’s grace we remain saved, and that by our sin God’s grace can increase even more?

“Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

I recognize that was a nonsense question. Of course those who are God’s should live a life fitting of their profession and calling. There are very few who would contest it.

So why do not more live it out? Those who do not keep God’s commandments can have no assurance of salvation, after all. If they say they are His, yet their lives do not reflect it (they hold on to their wrath, their lies, their sexual immorality, just to name three), then they do not truly know God. Rather, they deceive themselves and their danger is the greater, because they do not know that they do not know God.