The Doctrine of Man (part 10)April 20, 2009 Time: 00:34:48
Today we want to continue our study of the doctrine of sin as part of our overall look at the doctrine of man. We looked at man as he is in the image of God, and now we are looking at man as he is fallen and in a state of sin. Last time we talked about the doctrine of the fall. Today we want to talk about the nature of sin.
We want to talk a little bit about the nature of sin. To do so, we want to first look at some biblical passages. If you have your Bible, I invite you to get it out. We are going to look at three passages this morning that have something to say about the nature of sin.
First we are going to look at Genesis 2:15-17. This is the account of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It says,
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Here God gives humanity and Adam a specific command that they must not transgress. We will see how this bears upon the nature of sin later on.
Let's turn over to the New Testament to Paul's letter to the Romans – Romans 7:7-12.
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Finally, 1 John 3:4 – way at the end of your New Testament: “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.”
I think these biblical passages give us already an intimation of the connection between law and sin. We will see how this is developed in understanding the nature of sin.
Let's talk a little bit about some attempts to systematize the biblical data.
First, traditionally, how has Christian theology understood the nature of sin? Traditionally, it is understood the nature of sin to be the transgression of God's moral law. We saw in Genesis that the first sin is the disobedience of the commandment that God has given to Adam. Then remember we saw in Romans how the law evoked in Paul this sinful nature – it was in response to law that sin became all the more intense. In 1 John 3:4 he says sin is lawlessness. So God, as the moral law-giver, has laid down a certain moral law, and sin is transgression of that moral law. It is disobedience to the moral law of God.
Traditionally, there were three characteristics that were thought to be associated with sin.
1. Pride. We see this, for example, in Genesis 3:5 where the serpent is tempting Eve and says to her, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There is appeal to this pride – to be like God. The desire of humanity to be in the place of God and arrogate to himself a position that does not belong to him. So pride would be one of the first characteristics of sin.
2. Concupiscence, or lustful desire. Romans 7:7, Paul says, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.'” Concupiscence, or this sort of sinful craving or lustful desiring, is one of the traditional earmarks of sin. In addition to pride, it is this sort of grasping evil desire.
Dr. Craig: Yes. Sexual lust or concupiscence would be just one example, but also, for example, greed, probably covetousness, jealousy. All of these would be examples of disordered desires.
Dr. Craig: I couldn't say. Sorry. I don't know.
Dr. Craig: The verse that I read was the notion that they would be like God. This would be a completely inordinate desire on the part of human beings.
Dr. Craig: All right. You say a person might have an inferiority complex and yet desire something. That wouldn't be pride. Obviously the sense of pride here that one is talking about is not pride in the sense in which we say, “You should take pride in your work” or “Don't be ashamed. You should deport yourself in a way where you have self-respect and don't be ashamed of yourself or feel inferior.” I am not talking about pride in that sense. Pride here is arrogating to oneself privileges, prerogatives, and position that one doesn't rightfully possess. The kind of arrogance that Bryant was talking about with respect to Herod this morning.
Dr. Craig: Audacity? Yeah, I suppose so. That would be audacious.
Dr. Craig: Yes. Satan's temptation to be your own god, in effect. Yeah.
Dr. Craig: Yes, to decide for yourself whether or not this is right or wrong rather than to heed God's commandment. It is basically, as I say, arrogating to yourself as a human being things that you don't rightly have ownership of or a right to whether these be prerogatives, privileges, or positions. It is the opposite of humility.
So pride and concupiscence were two of the traditional earmarks of sin.
3. Unbelief. Romans 14:23 would be a supporting verse for this. Paul is talking about eating food offered to idols. He says, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats [the food that is offered to idols], because his eating is not from faith; [and then here is the key part of the passage] and whatever is not from faith is sin.”
So unbelief would be one of the traditional earmarks of sin. Indeed, in Martin Luther's opinion, unbelief was the chief sin. If you were asked “where does the heart of sin lie” Luther would say in unbelief because all of the other sins will ultimately flow out of that – the absence of faith and trust in God. Luther characterized sin by saying it is as though man were curved in upon himself. Rather than being outwardly oriented toward God as he is properly to be oriented, he is bent, curved in upon himself – his own selfish interests, pleasures, and nature. I think that is a very apt characterization of the nature of sin – this inward self-curvature that belongs to fallen human nature.
Dr. Craig: I am amazed at this, too. Not just the New Age movement, but even modern advertising. How often do you see commercials on TV where it says, “I'm doing this for myself. I deserve it!” The appeal to pride and arrogance is just rampant in our culture, I think. Certainly the New Age movement epitomizes that where you are yourself God.
Dr. Craig: What I meant was that the will should be rightly oriented toward God. That is what I meant. Human beings should desire the ultimate good. We should be oriented toward the greatest good – and that is God himself. So we should love God and want to do his will. What we do is we substitute other finite goods in the place of God. That is idolatry. So sin would be an absence of a correctly ordered will oriented toward God. Often it will be, as Luther says, I think, rather than oriented toward God oriented toward ourselves which will result in pride and these other sins.
Dr. Craig: I think that it is interesting this command. It seems trivial - “don't eat from this tree but you can eat from all the other ones.” It seems trivial. Yet I think its very triviality is what exposes the nature of sin as sin; namely, it is disobedience to God. It isn't that this is a great consequence, like God commands, “You can do anything you want but don't kill another person” or something. It is the very triviality of the command that exposes the nature of sin. As you say, wanting to be your own god rather than obey God's command. Sin at its heart, it is lawlessness; it is disobedience to God's command. The very triviality of the command exposes the nature of sin as deliberate defiance of what God has laid down.
Dr. Craig: OK.
Dr. Craig: I think that you are expressing an attitude that I think probably most people who aren't Christians would accept. They would say “Unbelief? That is not so serious. These other sins could really be bad, but how is unbelief the worst of all sins? Is that worse than murder, rape, and adultery?” I think what Luther rightly saw is that unbelief is the fount of all other sins because the person who has faith in God and lives consistently with that will not go into all of those other sins. I think that man in his non-fallen state would have a kind of spontaneous nature belief in God. So this unbelief which seems so natural, I think, is evidence of our fallen humanity, our fallen nature. It really is serious, I think. It means that somehow we are disconnected with God. We are separated from him relationally in such a way that it takes a miraculous act of grace to produce faith in him. The whole notion of salvation is that it is not something we can do on our own. It has to be a gift of God. So unbelief, I think, really is a terribly, terribly serious sin even though it may seem natural. It's naturalness is because of, I think, our fallen condition. If we weren't sinful, if we weren't fallen, we wouldn't have an absence of faith in God. It would be natural and spontaneous just as it was for Adam and Eve.
Dr. Craig: I think that is very well said. James talks about the nature of faith and says, “Do you believe that God exists? You do well, but even the demons believe and shutter.” So when we talk about belief here, we are not talking just about this sort of intellectual ascent that, yes, God exists and this is true, but a belief that is a trusting, repose of the whole heart and soul in God that leads to action and believes his promises and so forth. I think you are absolutely right. When we get to the doctrine of salvation we will talk more about the nature of faith and see how intellectual ascent is just one part of what faith is.
Dr. Craig: That is right. I think in John as well Christ says that he who has not believed is condemned already because he hasn't believed in the name of the only Son of God. The absence of belief is a very serious thing.
Dr. Craig: OK. The question was: what is the best definition for faith? What I want to say is that this misunderstanding of faith that you express there is rooted in thinking of faith as an epistemological category. Epistemology comes from the Greek word pistis which means “belief.” The idea in epistemology is that this is a theory of knowledge – how do you know what you know? This thinks of faith as belonging to epistemology; faith is a way of knowing something. Basically it works like this. Faith is believing in something that you don't have any reason to believe. Or even worse – remember the old movie Miracle on 34th Street where the woman says to the little girl that faith is believing in something when your mind says it ain't so. That is what faith is. Well, the whole problem here is it is thinking of faith in terms of a way of knowing something, and I think that is completely wrong. Faith in the Bible is a way of trusting in something that you know. It is not a means of knowing that something is true, it is a means of trusting or putting the repose of the heart and the soul in something. You can have very good reasons for believing that it is true and still face the question of faith – am I going to put my faith or trust in this person?
A good illustration would be the following. Several years ago now I had to have corneal transplant surgery because I had a corneal disease that was causing me slowly to lose my eyesight. So Jan and I decided that I was going to have to get corneal transplants. In order to do this, she did research on the finest corneal transplant surgeons in the United States to find out who would be the absolutely best doctor to go to. She found out it was a gentleman named Perry Binder in LaHoya, California. We were living in Belgium at the time. We wrote to Dr. Binder. We made arrangements to meet with him to have him look at my eyes. Then, having fully convinced ourselves that this man was the best person qualified to do this, I then trusted him to cut on my eyes and to go under his knife. Now, there you see I trusted him. I put my faith in him, but it wasn't a blind, groundless faith. It was faith based on good evidence, references, reputation, and so forth. The whole project of apologetics, which is part of what we do in this class, is to show that there are good reasons to put your trust in God and in Christ. This is not a blind leap in the darkness, but rather it is a trusting in something which we have good grounds to believe. We shouldn't think of faith in the way that Sam Harris defines it. That is a misnomer and a red herring. It is sad that someone like Harris (and like Dawkins as well, frankly) are so out of touch with the revolution that has been going on over the last forty years in the field of Christian philosophy that they would be thinking in such simplistic terms.
Dr. Craig: Yes, it is attacking a straw man.
Let me just say a word about how modern theologians have construed sin. Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was the father of modern theology – he was a theologian who lived around 1800 in Germany and really is the father of modern theology, said that sin is just a weakness of God consciousness. We should have a constant consciousness of God and our dependence upon him, and sin is just a sort of having a weak God consciousness. That is all it is. Therefore people are just inhibited in their God consciousness. They are not fatally flawed. They are not morally guilty before God. They just have a weak God consciousness that needs to be strengthened and stirred up so that we will be conscious of God every waking moment of our lives. So I think you can see this is quite a different understanding of sin than was traditionally had.
Or take the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich, a very influential theologian in the last century. Tillich understood sin as alienation from our ground of being. For him, God is the ground of our being, not really a personal being that is transcendent from the world, but he is sort of the ground of all being, this impersonal basis or ground of existence. Man is sinful insofar as he is alienated from the ground of his being. He analyzed the traditional earmarks of sin in light of this. Unbelief, for example, would be simply a failure to perceive your unity with God. In fact, we are all one with the ground of being, and unbelief is the failure of finite persons to perceive their unity with the ground of being.
Pride would be self-exaltation – that is to say, the refusal to recognize one's self as finite. In Tillich's view there is no afterlife, there is no immortality, and so you need to just reckon and accept the finitude of your existence. Pride would be the failure to accept and live with the finitude of your own existence.
Concupiscence, he analyzed as self-seeking, being out for number one, being out for yourself, rather than seeking the good of all. That, again, you can see is quite a different understanding of sin than you have in the traditional model.
That would just be a couple of examples of ways in which prominent modern theologians have interpreted the doctrine of sin.
What might we say by way of evaluation about this doctrine? I think that we will want to affirm with the Scripture that sin is transgression of God's moral law. The essence of sin, I think, consists in breaking or failure to obey God's moral law. God's commandments constitute our moral duties. It is in virtue of being under his commands that we have moral obligations and moral prohibitions. The way in which the Christian understands moral duty is on the basis of God's law – the moral law that he has laid down for us. We have moral obligations to do what he has commanded. There are moral prohibitions of things that we should not do in light of that.
But I think there is an additional element to sin that perhaps the traditional understanding didn't capture fully, and that is this. Sin is not just the breaking of some sort of impersonal moral law. Rather, sin is a personal affront to God. It is the creature spitting in the face of his Creator and turning his back and going the other way. It is important to understand that when we sin, it is not just that we are breaking some impersonal law like when you speed you break a traffic law. Here there is a personal dimension to sin where you are defying God himself. There is this personal defiance that is involved in sin that ruptures our fellowship with God and our relationship with him. It makes it so much worse, I think, when you think of it in those personal categories – the way in which it grieves and offends God.
Certainly sin is more than just a weakness in man, as Schleiermacher thought. Rather, man is objectively morally guilty before God for the things that we have done. It is not just that we have bad feelings about ourselves, that we have guilt feelings that need to be dealt with. It is objective moral guilt that we have. Even somebody whose conscience was hardened and didn't have guilt feelings, still he is guilty before God because he is a moral law breaker. That is why I think so many of these pop psychologists err or lead people astray when they try to deal with guilt feelings rather than with guilt. A few years ago I read Dr. Phil's book about getting in touch with your authentic self. The presupposition of his whole approach was that your authentic self – who you really are – is good and it is the part of you that is unalloyed by all the bad things that have happened in your life that have caused you to become bitter, angry, inferior feeling, and all the guilt feelings you have. Get away from those things that have encrusted and overlaid your authentic self. Get back to the real you – the authentic self. As I read this I thought what if my authentic self is really rotten? What if my authentic self is selfish and curved in upon itself in the way that Luther described? You don't want to get back to your authentic self. You need to be saved! That is what you need. It is not just guilt feelings and psychological problems we have to deal with, it is objective moral guilt before God that needs to be forgiven and absolved, and of course only God can do that. You cannot do that for ourselves, nor can any psychologist.
That was what I wanted to share about the nature of sin.
Dr. Craig: I couldn't agree more with that. Anybody who has had teenagers knows how hurtful it is when they defy you and treat you awful. It is not just that they don't do what you've asked them to do, but it is that personal dimension that is so injurious and so hard to bear, so disrespectful. I think you are absolutely right that that is a living illustration that we can all identify with when it comes to how God feels when we choose to go our own way rather than his way.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, we didn't deal with that here, though we talked about Satan and his work and how he does tempt believers to unbelief and to sin. So certainly that is true.
Dr. Craig: The late Scott Peck came to see this. In his work, for example, People of the Lie and some of his later works, Scott Peck came to see that people are really evil, and that it is not just that they need psychoanalysis. He said some people are just evil people and need moral reform. I think he thought that some people were perhaps even beyond hope. He would be an example of someone who kind of came out of this “I'm OK, you're OK” mode to understand that there is a real moral evil at the heart of man that needs to be dealt with.
Dr. Craig: I think you are right. The Road Less Traveled, I think, would have been Scott Peck before this realization that I talked about that comes to expression in his book The People of the Lie where he begins to see real indelible evil in the heart of people.
Dr. Craig: Good. That means you are thinking critically.
I think we can bring it to a close.
 Total Running Time: 34:48 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)