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R.C. SPROUL ON MAN’S MORAL ABILITY TO BE SAVED

Radical Corruption

Sin separates us from God

In God’s work of creation, the crowning act, the pinnacle of that divine work, was the creation of human beings. It was to humans that God assigned and stamped His divine image. That we are created in the image of God gives to us the highest place among earthly beings. That image provides human beings with a unique ability to mirror and reflect the very character of God.

However, since the tragic fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, that image has been subject to serious change and corruption. As a result, we speak of the “shattering of the image.” The term shatter may go too far, however, because it could suggest the idea that the image is now destroyed and that no vestige of it is left in our humanity. Such is not the case. Though the image has been radically blurred and corrupted, there remains some aspect of that image left in our humanity, which remaining vestige is the basis for human dignity. Human dignity is not inherent, it is derived. It is not intrinsic, it is extrinsic. Human beings have dignity because God, who has dignity inherently and intrinsically, has assigned such dignity to us.

When we speak of the fall and of original sin, we are not speaking of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, we are speaking of the radical consequences of that sin, which followed to all future generations of mankind. In Reformed circles, the doctrine of original sin has often been described by the phrase “total depravity.” That it’s called “total depravity” is explained in one sense because the letter “T” fits so neatly into the historic acrostic TULIP, which defines the so-called “five points of Calvinism.”

Nevertheless, the word total with respect to our depravity may seriously mislead. It could suggest that our fallen natures are as corrupt and depraved as possible. But that would be a state of utter depravity. I prefer to use the phrase “radical corruption,” perhaps because the first initial of each word suits my own name and nature, R.C., but more so because it avoids the misunderstanding that results from the phrase “total depravity.” Radical corruption means that the fall from our original state has affected us not simply at the periphery of our existence. It is not something that merely taints an otherwise good personality; rather, it is that the corruption goes to the radix, to the root or core of our humanity, and it affects every part of our character and being. The effect of this corruption reaches our minds, our hearts, our souls, our bodies — indeed, the whole person. This is what lies behind the word total in “total depravity.”

What is most significant about the consequences of the fall is what it has done to our ability to obey God. The issue of our moral capability after the fall is one of the most persistently debated issues within the Christian community. Virtually every branch of Christendom has articulated some doctrine of original sin because the Bible is absolutely clear that we are fallen from our created condition.

However, the degree of that fall and corruption remains hotly disputed among Christians. Historically, that dispute was given fuel by the debate between the British monk Pelagius and the greatest theologian of the first millennium, Saint Augustine of Hippo. In defining the state of corruption into which mankind has fallen, Augustine set up some parallels and contrasts between man’s estate before the fall and his condition after the fall. Before the fall, Augustine said that man was posse peccare and posse non peccare, that is, man had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. Not sinning was a possibility that Adam had in the Garden.

In addition to this, Augustine distinguished between our original estate, which involved both the posse mori and the posse non mori. This distinction refers to our mortality. Adam was made in such a way that it was possible for him to die. At the same time, he had the possibility before him of living forever had he not fallen into sin. So both the possibility of sinning and not sinning and the possibility of dying or not dying existed as options for Adam before the fall, according to Augustine.

He further argued that the consequence of the fall upon the human race can be defined this way: since the fall, man no longer has the posse non peccare or the posse non mori. All human beings now have lost the natural ability to keep from sinning and thus to keep from dying. We are all born in the state of sin and as mortal creatures, destined to death. After the fall, Augustine defines our condition as having the posse peccare. We retain the ability to sin, but now we have the dreadful condition of the non posse non peccare. This double negative means that we no longer have the ability to not sin. Likewise, we have now the non posse non mori. It is not possible for us not to die. It is appointed to all of us once to die and then the judgment. The only exceptions to this would be those who remain alive at the coming of Christ.

When we get to heaven, things will change again. There we will no longer have the posse peccare and the non posse non peccare. There we will only have non posse peccare. We will no longer be able to sin or to die. It all comes down to this, to the issue of moral ability. Augustine was saying that apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that God performs in the souls of the elect, no person in His own power is able to choose godliness, to choose Christ, or to choose the things of God. That ability to come to Christ, as our Lord Himself declared in John chapter 6, is an ability that can only be the result of the regenerating power of God the Holy Spirit. That position spelled out by Augustine remains the orthodox position of historic Reformed theology.

© Tabletalk magazine http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/radical-corruption/

 

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Book Review – Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad At You by Steve Brown

Why It’s Bad Trying So Hard To Be Good

I’m pretty sure I’ve read every book that Steve Brown has written and I love them all. So I was anxiously anticipating this new book with the “scandalous” title. Steve Brown is NOT a proponent of “cheap grace,” he understands justification by faith alone as well, or perhaps better than most theologians do. Steve Brown writes with his characteristic blend of humor and authentic seriousness about living the abundant life that Jesus came to bring us by helping the reader understand and apply two important truths related to the gospel stated by the late Jack Miller as follows:

“(1) Cheer up…you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and

(2) cheer up…God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.”

These two truths are developed eloquently and cogently throughout the book. In typical Brown-like fashion this book is full of biblical principles, powerful illustrations, and practical examples that will help you become less of a self-righteous Pharisee, and more like Jesus – full of joy, freedom, laughter, and basking in grace and truth.

Some of the specific issues Brown addresses in this book are as follows: perfectionism, self-righteousness, legalism, anger, repentance, unity in the body of Christ, pride and humility, religiosity, honesty, freedom, grace, and truth.

In the very last chapter he specifically answers some of the questions he gets due to his many books, sermons, and speaking on freedom and grace through justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ:

(1) Are you crazy?

(2) Why do you persist in irritating everybody? Free sins? That’s outrageous! Why don’t you write and teach in a normal way?

(3) There are a lot of examples in the Bible that show God’s wrath, and yet you say that God isn’t angry at his people. Are you sure you haven’t gotten it wrong?

(4) What’s hermeneutics? (Brown relates this to question 3 above)

(5) Okay, but what about obedience?

(6) Is holiness and sanctification irrelevant?

(7) What about discipline? You very conveniently avoid Hebrews 12:7. It says in case you don’t know, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

(8) You don’t seem to care much for excellence nor do you have a very high view of human nature. Don’t you think you’ve gone a bit too far?

(9) Okay, but where do you draw the line?

(10) What about right and wrong? You don’t seem to care about that.

(11) What about being missional? If Christians buy into what you’ve taught, won’t people stop going on the mission field, feeding the poor, and caring for those in need?

(12) Aren’t you a bit pessimistic about human beings?

(13) Doesn’t that lead to “wormology” and a bad self-image?

(14) What if you’re wrong?

As usual (when reading a Brown offering), I read this book and felt the full gamut of emotions – I laughed, and cried, got mad (not at Steve Brown) – but at myself and other Christians – for our self-righteous stupidity, and most of all praised God for His amazing grace and patience with the world, and especially with me! There is solid theological and practical food for the head, heart, and hands all over the place in this book. Once again, I was struck by God’s amazing grace to save a wretch like me. And once again I’m glad for all of humanity that I’m NOT God – and that Jesus is – and that He is my Savior – His righteousness in exchange for all of my many sins – covered by the Blood of the Lamb for all eternity by the sheer grace of God.

 

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Book Review: Perspectives On Our Struggle With Sin: 3 Views Of Romans 7 edited by Terry L. Wilder (contributors: Stephen J. Chester, Grant R. Osborne, Mark A. Seifrid, and Chad O. Brand)

Intense Exegesis For Serious Students of The Bible

One of the most difficult passages to interpret in the New Testament is found in Romans chapter 7. Was Paul writing about the experience of all Jews and Gentiles in their struggle with sin? Was it descriptive of his battle of sin in the past as an unbelieving Jew from his current perspective as a Christian looking backward? Or was he simply describing his own current struggle with sin? The answer to these questions and many others are addressed in this helpful book.

D. S. Dockery has stated the importance of a correct interpretation of this passage of Scripture in this manner, “Since the passage is located at the heart of Paul’s explanation of the outworking of one’s salvation, the view which is adopted will have a tremendous impact upon one’s theology of the Christian life.” In other words, what this book grapples with is not just at the periphery of the Christian life, but at the center. A proper understanding of our struggle with sin entails our views of justification (the doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls – according to Martin Luther) and sanctification – which cannot be properly understood and applied without understanding our justification rightly. Therefore, what the writers of this book tackle involve “high stakes.”

The strength of this book lies in the fact that it allows the reader to consider the various views that have been carefully articulated by the biblical scholars exegesis of the passage, and from these views evaluate which argument entails the most strengths/pros and least weaknesses/cons. Scholars who have each done advanced studies on the book of Romans present the three views.

Grant R. Osborne teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He argues the point that in verses 7 to 13 Paul is describing himself as an unregenerate Jew and then in verses 14 to 25 as a regenerate follower of Christ. He holds that the believer in Christ wants to do what is right, but often fails due to the ongoing battle with the flesh in its war against sin.

Stephen J. Chester is a professor at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. His view – seemed to me the most complicated of the three – is that Paul is writing in Romans 7 of his pre-conversion experiences with sin in retrospect now as a follower of Christ. He points out that Paul’s references in the passage are historical presents, which point to past experiences with sin.

Mark A. Seifrid is a professor at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Mark expresses the view that Paul refers in the passage to both regenerate and the unregenerate and vacillates between these two as human beings that are being confronted with the reality of the law. Mark articulates the reality that Paul is focusing on how our failure to obey the law confronts us with our need of Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to us by faith in His fulfilling the just requirements of the law on our behalf.

In the final analysis I agree with Osborne who states in the introduction to his essay, “A general consensus never has been and never will be reached on its meaning, for simply too many viable options seem to fit the context of Romans 5-8. All of the options presented in this work fit the data, and it would be arrogant to try to claim that only my view can be correct. This text is another of the many biblical passages where we simply have to admit that we will not know the true meaning until we get to heaven—and then Paul can tell us what he meant!”

Of all the views/perspective books I’ve read – so far, this was the most challenging. The discussions are very technical (especially in their usage of the Greek language – and theological depth). All the scholars have definitely done their homework and have given much food for thought. In my opinion I thought Seifrid’s argument was the most persuasive, followed by Osborne, and then Chester. I must say that I learned a lot from each of the contributors and they all did an excellent job on the passage. I will definitely be consulting this book again if I ever teach through Romans again (I preached through Romans for two years about a decade ago).

No matter which view you currently have on this passage, or even if you don’t have a view – you will learn much from this book and it will be well worth your effort. I highly recommend this book for serious students of the Bible, teaching and preaching pastors, and scholars who desire to have a better understanding of this difficult passage. It can’t help but equip you more in your understanding of the law, sin, justification, sanctification, and in elevating your view of what Christ has done for you in His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. Chad Brand’s concluding chapter was excellent tying in the practical ramifications of this passage and the contributions in the book for practically dealing with sin, salvation, and sanctification in the new covenant community.

 

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