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This Weeks Reading
Manual of Salvationism
The doctrine of humanity
We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.
Christians believe that the arrival of human beings on the earth did not happen accidentally, but according to the deliberate purpose of God. Human life is sacred because we have been created as the crown of God’s creative activity, to love, worship, serve and enjoy him forever. However, to speak of the nobility of our creation is also to be made aware of the shameful reality of our sinfulness. From the Bible we learn that human beings were created by God in his own image (Genesis 1:26, 27). God’s intention was that we would live in a state of love and harmony with him, with one another, and with the rest of creation. He also made us free, wanting us to love him voluntarily, not as puppets. That freedom was, and is, misused, which accounts for the pain and paradox of our condition (Genesis 2, 3). The universal experience of human sin has brought estrangement from God (Isaiah 59:2) and disharmony within God’s created world. We therefore live in a state of confusion and distress and are unable to fulfil the high purpose for which God created us, a situation which the Bible describes as a bondage to sin, resulting in spiritual death (Romans 3:23; 6:16-23; Ephesians 2:1).
Creation and Fall: the biblical witness
This revelation, that we are both specially created and willfully fallen, is discerned throughout Scripture. However, the first four chapters of Genesis are a key to understanding our human situation and God’s provision for salvation which subsequently unfolds. Much of what follows will be a commentary on these chapters. In these chapters, we find the following truths which are reflected throughout the Bible.
- Humanity is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27).
- God’s intention is the harmony of humanity with himself and all creation (Genesis 1, 2).
- We have been terribly scarred by sin arising from human disobedience (Genesis 3, 4; Jeremiah 2:20, 21; John 3:19-21).
- The consequence of sin is separation from God (Genesis 3:23;
- Isaiah 43:27, 28; Matthew 15:8; cf Isaiah 29:13).
- This is our universal human condition (Romans 5:12-14; 1 John 1:8).
Created in the image of God
This phrase summarizes all that Christians believe about humanity’s significant resemblance nd relationship to the Creator. Male and female, we are made in God’s image, and can therefore enter into full fellowship with him and with one another.
God is free, personal spirit and this is mirrored in the gift of human personality. We are living beings with individuality, autonomy and reason. At the same time we long for deep spiritual communion with God (Psalm 42:1; John 4:24).
Our capacity for human relationships reflects the nature of the Trinity and the steadfast love of God. This capacity finds an important expression in the family, and in the Church, when loving and responsible relationships are based on the making and keeping of covenants.
God has also gifted us with the potential for creativity and the ability to appreciate beauty. The image of God is reflected in the working of conscience (Romans 2:14, 15), and is expressed in the possibility of holiness of character through God’s sanctifying work in our lives (Matthew 5:48; Thessalonians 5:23).
God’s intention for all who are created in his image has been realized in Jesus Christ. In him we see the full human expression of God’s holiness and love. He is the one true image of God, the one through whom we find our hope of fulfilling God’s intention (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). We were created to live in harmony with God and the rest of creation and ‘in the beginning’ did enjoy this innocence and purity. We were created to love, serve and enjoy God; to stand in a unique position within creation and before God as his stewards, responsible to him. We were created to mold, develop and care for all that God has made on earth (Genesis 1:26-31).
Humanity has fallen very far from God’s intention. Though made in God’s image, we are marred and flawed by sin (Psalm 14:1-3). This has caused disharmony throughout the whole created order. Not only are we ill at ease throughout the whole of our human personality, but we are also out of harmony with the created universe. We are at war with ourselves and with each other, and among races and cultures. Aware of inner strife and fearful of judgment, we turn away from God. This evil that troubles us is found not only in individual lives but is also built into the very structure of society (Romans1:18-32). We are caught in its trap.
The origin of sin
Sin is an intrusion into human life. It was not originally present in human nature. Our slavery to sin originated in human disobedience to God’s command (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-7; Romans 1:18-20). In consequence, because sin had been committed, evil was known; and because the good had been lost it was recognized and longed for. Adam and Eve were tempted to usurp God’s Lordship. Their sin resulted from their willful choice to disobey God and submit to temptation. The role of Satan indicates the pervasiveness and power of evil in our world, but does not absolve us from our responsibility for sin.
The nature of sin
Sin is failure to believe and trust in God, and to desire to be independent of him. God gives commands and establishes moral laws for our good. In the Genesis account, the serpent at first undermined belief in God’s commands, so preparing Adam and Eve for disobedience (Genesis 3:4, 5). It is sin to act, as they did, in unbelief and to fail to trust God’s goodness. To do so is to base our lives on a lie.
Sin is idolatry. The serpent assured Adam and Eve that rebellion would elevate them to a position of equality with God. Such rebellion represents a presumptuous attempt to place ourselves and our own will in the place of God. It is an attempt to attain abundant life by following the path of self-will. The result is that, far from rising into a state of godlike independence, we decline into a condition of spiritual slavery and moral destitution (Genesis 6:5; Deuteronomy 4:25-31).
Sin is failure to live according to the high standard of love for God and one another that true humanity demands. Because our desires are corrupted by self-centeredness, we miss the mark. We grieve God, a truth made starkly evident in the Cross of Christ. We fail one another not only by breaking rules but also by violating the wholeness of persons and communities (Mark 7:21-23; Isaiah 59:2-15).
The definition of sin as anything contrary to the known will of God can serve as a practical guide. Sin impairs our sense of what is right and our ability to discern God’s will, though it rarely destroys it completely (Romans 8:15-25). Repeated acts of disobedience, together with the influence of a godless society and the blind acceptance of peer-group norms, may drastically deaden the conscience. This can result in a moral insensitivity that the New Testament describes as being ‘dead in your transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1 see also James 1:13-15). Only by the renewing power of the gospel can we hope to recover an awareness of God’s will and the desire to do it (Romans 8:13). Guilt feelings make us conscious of having sinned. Sometimes these feelings are excessive, brought about by pressure from others or problems of background or temperament. Genuine guilt is the result of conscious transgression and consequent blame: it arises from what we do (Psalm 32:5; 38:1-4).
However, sin relates to more than what we do. It arises from what we are. The doctrines of original sin and depravity address this truth.
The term ‘original sin’ emphasizes the origin and radical consequences of the Fall. It reminds us that, although originally an intrusion, sin is inborn. Our tendency is to sin. In that sense, we are ‘born in sin’ (Psalm 51:5). This does not refer to the physical aspects of procreation. Human instincts are morally neutral and can be used either creatively or destructively. The phrase ‘born in sin’ rather refers to our condition under the power of sin.
The terms ‘original sin’ and ‘depravity’ are often used to mean the same thing, but the latter refers more specifically to the moral condition of fallen humanity, rather than to the beginnings of sin. In statements of doctrine, depravity is often called total depravity. This does not mean that every person is as bad as he or she can be, but rather that the depravity which sin has produced in human nature extends to the total personality. It is not concerned with the depth of sin but rather about the breadth of the influence of sin in human life. No area of human nature remains unaffected. We are sinful in disposition so that even attempts at righteousness are tainted with sin. Human freedom to respond to God and to make moral choices is therefore impaired (Romans 7:14-25).
The consequence of sin
Separation from God
The universal consequence of sin is separation from God and loss of fellowship with him (Genesis 3:23, 24; Isaiah 59:2). In the story of the Fall, Adam and Eve disobey the command of God and give in to the temptation to sin. They seek to evade the Lord’s presence, hiding from him among the trees of the garden. He calls out to them but their response to his seeking is fear (Genesis 3:8-13).
Though God seeks us, and we are sometimes aware of his presence, there remains a separation caused by our disobedience, with resulting guilt and fear. Separated from God, the source of community, our relationships are threatened. Isolation and fragmentation destroy the fragile communion we have with one another and with the created world. This profound sense of isolation may stimulate a search for truth about the meaning of life. But only a desire to turn to him will result in an encounter with the living God (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Jeremiah 29:13, 14; Hebrews 11:6).
For God’s part, the consequence of sin is the punishment of the disobedient. In the Genesis narrative, Adam and Eve are banished from the garden where they have enjoyed God’s presence and companionship. They experience the reality of the wrath of God (Genesis 3:14-24).
The wrath of God
Divine wrath is evidence of the faithfulness of God, who is righteous and true to himself. It is not a way of describing extreme or uncontrolled anger in God, but is a powerful expression of his love and holiness. In his wrath, God judges, condemns and is unable to tolerate sin, while in his love he seeks to bring us to repentance (Isaiah 48:9-11; John 3:36). In the book of Revelation, for example, it is the Lamb, embodying the saving love of God in Christ, who also expresses God’s enduring wrath towards the impenitent (Revelation 5:6-10; 6:15-17). It is our own sin that brings the wrath of God upon us (Romans 2:5-11).
The wrath of God is purposeful and disciplinary at present, designed to lead us toward repentance. But although restrained now, in the final consummation that wrath will be complete when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed to the ultimately unrepentant (John 5: 28, 29).
The Bible links our sinful state, our separation from God, and the wrath of God, with the sting or anguish of death. It also warns of the dreadful possibility of spiritual death resulting in final separation from God. To reject God’s mercy is to risk becoming unable to respond to divine love. The consequence is that we die in sin (John 8:24; Ephesians 2:1-3).
Salvation through the grace of God
Scriptural revelation and our personal experience confirm the powerlessness of human nature to achieve moral reformation. Our only hope is in the grace of God which issues from God’s will to overcome the separation caused by sin (Jeremiah 29:12, 13; 31:31-33; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Because the divine image has been marred through sin, because humanity now lives under the compulsion of sin, and because sin has caused separation from God, unaided human nature has been rendered powerless to achieve righteousness on its own. A saving relationship with God is not earned by good works. But what we cannot do for ourselves God has done for us as a work of divine grace (Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19; Ephesians 2:1-10).
‘At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6).
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8).
Humanity is not only disfigured by sin but is also ready for hope. The gospel story is infused with hope. It moves from the despair of sin to the triumph of grace. In mission, we are called to invite people to experience hope, receive grace and rejoice in a renewed relationship with God.
We were created in the image of God to live in harmony with God and creation, a state which was broken by disobedience and sin and, as a result, we live under the compulsion of sin, separated from God and unable to save ourselves.