Tuesday, January 19, 2010

God So Loved the World: What Condition My Condition Is In

To start this series in earnest, in an effort to develop a complete (as far as is possible and has been revealed to us) grasp of what the gospel is, let's take a cue from Kenny Rogers and drop in to see what condition our condition is in. Before we look at what it is from which we need saving, let's look at why it is that we need saving from something to begin with. In other words, let's first look at the condition man is in, and later the consequences from which we are saved.

Many today, coming from a variety of world views, seem to think humans are, by and large, basically good. We struggle to a certain extent with our savage tendencies, but we all seek primarily to do good because we are good, more so than we are otherwise. As L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, put it:

"man is basically good. This means that the basic personality and the basic intentions of the individual, toward himself and others, are good...He is basically well-intentioned. He does not want to harm himself or others." ("Ethics, Justice, and the Dynamics," 1980)

Are Hubbard and many others today correct? Are humans basically good, having a lesser evil quality to them that tugs in opposition to their primary desire to do good? What does the Bible say about the condition our condition is in?


"So also it is written, 'The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly." (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

The first step in building a proper understanding of man's current condition is to recognize that all humans are the descendants of "the first man, Adam." Though it is not immediately apparent (arguably), this is fundamental and vital to the gospel itself. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul contrasts "the first man, Adam" with Jesus Christ. Adam, it is written, "became a living soul;" in contrast, Jesus "became a life-giving spirit." Whereas Adam was formed "from the earth" (Genesis 2:7), Jesus came "from heaven." And just as by virtue of being descended from Adam we bear "the image of the earthy," as a result of faith in Christ we "bear the image of the heavenly."

Thus, failing to recognize that there was a first man formed from the earth from whom the rest of mankind descended undermines the very nature of the gospel. If there was not a first Adam, there is no last Adam. If there was no first living soul, there is no last life-giving spirit. If there was not first a man formed from the earth, there is no man from heaven. And if we do not bear the image of the earthy, we cannot expect to bear the image of the heavenly. And it was not merely Paul who recognized that Adam was the first man:

"Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?' And He answered and said, 'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, "FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH"? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.'" (Matthew 19:3-6)

What basis does Jesus give for limiting freedom of divorce? My preferred translation, the NASB, capitalizes quotations from the Old Testament. In answering the Pharisees, Jesus quotes the book of Genesis saying that from the beginning, "male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27); and "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Like Paul, Jesus recognized that Adam was the first man.


"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

The second step in building a proper understanding of man's current condition is to recognize the condition in which man was originally created. Man was created in the "image" and "likeness" of God. Theologians of the past sometimes distinguish between the "image" and "likeness" of God, and while I might disagree (verse 26 uses both terms but verse 27 uses only "image," and it is unlikely that God said "Let Us make man...according to Our likeness" but then didn't do so), the point is unchanged: we were created, in certain respects, like God. Theologians often like to use the Latin imagio dei, though I prefer the Hebrew צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים‎, the tzelem elohim.

What does it mean that man was created in the image and likeness of God? It does not mean that we were created physically similar to a physical God (I won't refute that notion here, but will do so at some point in the series, "Ministering to Mormons"). It simply means we are similar to God in certain ways. One of the ways in which we were created similar to God is in our original moral condition. Consider Paul's words in his letter to the Ephesians: "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:24).

Man was created morally perfect, "in righteousness and holiness." Adam and Eve were predisposed toward doing good, rather than toward doing evil. The world was without sin, and thus "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). They were exposed to God and unashamed: "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). They had a close, personal relationship with God and were accustomed to Him "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8).


"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.'" (Genesis 2:16-17)

In this state of moral perfection, God had given Adam and Eve one command: "from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat." But the liar was quick to tempt Eve:

"the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Indeed, has God said, "You shall not eat from any tree of the garden"?'...The serpent said to the woman, 'You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" (Genesis 3:1,4-5)

This serpent was Satan, the devil (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2). God had said Adam and Eve were not to eat of the fruit, for they would die. Satan lied to Eve, saying that what God had said was not true. In fact, he told her, not only would she not die, but she would "be like God!" What was her response, and that of Adam?

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6)

Thus, Adam and Eve, despite having no predisposition toward doing evil, nevertheless broke the one commandment God had given them. Satan "deceived Eve by his craftiness" and their "minds [were] led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to [God]" (2 Corinthians 11:3).

The third step in building a proper understanding of man's current condition is to recognize the consequences Adam and Eve faced as a result of their having given into temptation. The Bible describes a variety of such consequences, but as pertain to the question of man's current condition, there are two.


First, "the eyes of both of them were opened" (Genesis 3:7). "Then the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:22). Does this mean Satan had told the truth to Eve? An entire sermon could be preached on just what this means, but there seem to be two major possibilities. One traditional interpretation is that God is shaming them through irony or sarcasm. As Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary,

"How they were justly disgraced and shamed before God and the holy angels, by the ironical upbraiding of them with the issue of their enterprise: 'Behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil! A goodly god he makes! Does he not? See what he has got, what preferments, what advantages, by eating forbidden fruit!' This was said to awaken and humble them, and to bring them to a sense of their sin and folly, and to repentance for it, that, seeing themselves thus wretchedly deceived by following the devil’s counsel, they might henceforth pursue the happiness God should offer in the way he should prescribe. God thus fills their faces with shame, that they may seek his name, Ps. 83:16. He puts them to this confusion, in order to their conversion. True penitents will thus upbraid themselves: 'What fruit have I now by sin? Rom. 6:21. Have I gained what I foolishly promised myself in a sinful way? No, no, it never proved what it pretended to, but the contrary.'"

In other words, yes "the eyes of both them were opened," but they were opened to their own shame: "they knew that they were naked" (Genesis 3:7). And God mocks them, pointing out the absurdity of Satan's words, and the temptation into which they gave. Though we do not typically think of God as using sarcasm or mockery, it nevertheless is a possibility. Elijah appears to have used it in a righteous way in 1 Kings 18:25-27:

"So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, 'Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.' Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, 'O Baal, answer us.' But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.'"

Just as Elijah used mockery to illustrate the foolishness of Baal's prophets, so too might God have been using mockery to illustrate the foolishness of falling for Satan's deception. And their foolish sin has become their shame, to cover which God clothes them with garments made of animal skins (Genesis 3:21).

A second, arguably minority position is that most translations of verse 22 have rendered it incorrectly. According to this view, a more accurate translation might render the verse thusly: "And Jehovah God saith, 'Lo, the man was as one of Us, as to the knowledge of good and evil" (Young's Literal). Robert Jamieson wrote in his commentary on this passage,

"And God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us--not spoken in irony as is generally supposed, but in deep compassion. The words should be rendered, 'Behold, what has become [by sin] of the man who was as one of us'! Formed, at first, in our image to know good and evil--how sad his condition now."

In this view, God said man was already like God, knowing good and evil. Either way, what is clear is that whereas Adam and Eve had originally been created in the image and likeness of God, reflecting God's holiness perfectly, they were now scuffed and warped mirrors reflecting God's righteousness poorly. Satan had deceived Eve into thinking that she would become more like God as a result of disobeying Him. In reality she, and later Adam, became less like God, and they were ashamed for being so foolish.


The second consequence relevant to this discussion was that Adam and Eve lost access to everlasting life. They began to die. God had said that "in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17). There is no indication that this was a mere description of the natural consequence of eating the fruit. Instead, it was the penalty God had prescribed for the breaking of His command. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Following their sin, God sentences them to the prescribed penalty: "By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). The Judge, having sentenced Adam and Eve to death, ensures that the penalty is carried out: "'and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'--therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden..." (Genesis 3:22-23)

However, the death Adam and Eve experienced was not merely physical in nature. As we saw previously, they had originally been created morally perfect, gloriously reflecting the image and likeness of God. In sinning, they not only began to die physically, they immediately died spiritually. They had been spiritually alive and vibrant, so much so that they were naked and unashamed and accustomed to God "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8). Now they were ashamed, requiring a covering for their sinful flesh, exiled from the garden, no longer having the close, intimate relationship with God they once had: "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor" (Habakkuk 1:13). They were not merely dying physically, but they were "dead in [their] transgressions" (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13).

At this point one might ask, "What does this have to do with the rest of us?" We've seen that the first man, Adam, was created morally perfect, in the image and likeness of God. We've seen that he and his wife were deceived into breaking God's command and, as a result, no longer bore God's image to the extent they had before, and became spiritually dead in their transgressions. How does this translate to mankind's condition today?


The fourth step in building a proper understanding of man's current condition is to recognize that we, having all descended from the one man, Adam, have inherited his nature. When we look at the birth of Adam's first recorded son, we see something striking: "When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth" (Genesis 5:3). Whereas Adam originally bore God's image, Adam's descendants bear his image, which is a flawed and fallen reflection of God's. For this reason there is a need to "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:24).

But it is not merely Adam's likeness we inherit, but also his spiritual lifelessness. Paul wrote, "through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12), that "by the transgression of the one the many died" (Romans 5:15). Elsewhere he wrote, "by a man came death" (1 Corinthians 15:21) and "in Adam all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22). But it is evident that it is not merely physical death which we've inherited:

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins...But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him." (Ephesians 2:1-6)

"When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions." (Colossians 2:13)

In these passages believers are told they were dead, but of course they weren't physically dead. Nor were they physically raised up with Christ at that time. Rather, they had been spiritually dead, and were raised up unto newness of spiritual life. Therefore, man has inherited from Adam not merely physical mortality, but spiritual death.


Our last step in building a proper understanding of man's current condition is to recognize what is meant when we are said to be spiritually dead from birth. We know now that we are all descended from the one man, Adam. We know now that Adam was created morally perfect, perfectly reflecting the image and likeness of God, inclined to do good. We know now that in disobeying God he became a marred reflection of God's image and died spiritually. And we know now that we have inherited Adam's image and spiritual deadness. What does that mean?

"Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.'" (John 8:42-44)

Being spiritually dead from birth is no light matter. It means that our father is Satan, and it is our nature to want to do that which our father, the devil, desires. It means we are unable, if left to our own devices, to understand what Jesus says, to hear His word. And it's not as though some have the devil as their father and others have God as their father:

"He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become chlidren of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:11-12)

Believers are not born children of God, they are made children of God through adoption: "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). We "have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15.) But before we believed, when we were born we "were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:3).

So humans are, by nature, of the devil. And like our father, our inclination is to do the will of our father, Satan. Being "by nature children of wrath" we live "in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3). "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Therefore, we all sin. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "God has shut up all in disobedience" (Romans 11:32). "The Scripture has shut up everyone under sin" (Galatians 3:22).


This condition of man has been called "Original Sin" by theologians. As the Catholic Encyclopedia online defines it, it is "the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam." But as we've seen, this "stain" which we inherit is not merely a slight blemish on an otherwise very good record. Man is not, as many today believe, basically good, struggling against a mild temptation to do evil. Quite the opposite; men are by nature children of the devil, predisposed toward doing their father's will, inclined toward evil continually.

Some theologians have thus called this condition "Total Depravity." It is not to suggest that there is no good in man. We do good because we do still bear, albeit poorly, the image of God. A man "is the image and glory of God" (1 Corinthians 11:7), and with our mouth "we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God" (James 3:9). Furthermore, God's Law is written on the tablet of our hearts. "Gentiles...show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them" (Romans 2:14-15).

But even those good things we do are stained by "Original Sin." How often do we donate to worthy causes because we know we can deduct them from our earnings when it is time to file taxes? How often do we massage our spouses' feet in the hopes of getting something in return? (Yes, honey, that's me.) How often do we give our employer our best only because we want a raise or avoid termination? How often do we congratulate our friends' successes while hiding our jealousy? And on and on the list could go.

I've heard many say that children have to be taught how to be evil. I suspect that most of them do not have children. I have three boys, two of whom are four or older, and speaking from experience, they have to be taught how to be good. Like me, their nature is to do evil. Their nature is to disobey their parents, to deceive them, to misbehave at school, to pick at each other, to horde toys, and so on and so forth. And like me, as adults they will likewise be predisposed to lust after women to whom they are not married, to envy the wealth of others, to lie in an attempt to avoid consequences, to pridefully consider themselves superior to others, to waste their money on stuff with little value, and so on and so forth.

So, why is it we need saving from something? Is it because we sin? No. We need saving because we are sinners; it is our nature to sin. Our condition is that of depravity, and every good we do is tainted by the stink of sin. Men are not basically good with a slight tendency toward evil. Men are basically evil with a slight tendency toward good. Do you see, Kenny, what condition your condition is in?

1 comment:

  1. Chris said, "we sin because we are sinners".... that is absolutely incorrect.

    You misinterpret Rom 5:19 - if through Adams sin we ALL were automatically made sinners than likewise through Christs obedience we are ALL automatically made righteous, which of course is not the case.
    What it really is saying is that because Adam fell, we now all die and because we die we choose to sin which separates us from God; so likewise with Jesus, because of his sacrifice, eternal life is now available, and if we "choose" to follow him we will live.

    Romans 5:12 Adam sinned and "death" spread to all men, not sin or guilt. The reason we sin is because of our fear of death. The idea of original sin or original guilt was unknown until the time of Augustine.
    In the original Greek Romans 5:12 literally says: "because Adam sinned, death spread to all men, and on account of death, all men sin"

    Satan brought "corruption" into the garden and man(Adam & Eve) chose to participate in that, bringing about death. Adam chose to participate in corruption instead of pariticpating in God.

    And now, because of death we sin. Hebrews 2:14-15 He(Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery(slaves to sin) by their "fear of death."

    Romans 5:14 Nevertheless, "death" reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. It says death reigned, not sin or guilt reigned.

    1 Cor 15:56 "The sting of death is sin" not the sting of sin is death.