Last evening the church Life group which my wife and I attend studied “6. Sin” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. The five regulars attended. My wife, Leonora, opened with singing and prayer; we considered the sheet on “6. Sin” that I’d given out in a previous meeting; Ray Noble took prayer requests and led us in prayer; and we closed with lunch.
The sheet contained “6. Sin” from the PAONL statement and an overview of the doctrine of sin drawn from a study of it that my family made a few years ago guided by Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). I presented them in reverse order and shall do so here.
[MATERIAL ON SHEET]
What is sin?
Sin is breaking the law of God. It includes not only performing acts but also having attitudes that displease God, this being shown by the Ten Commandments’ including “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 2:17) among its prohibitions. Grudem views “sin” as including failure to conform to God’s law in moral nature as well as failure to conform to it in acts and attitudes. What do you think?
The group agreed that “sin” includes failure to conform to God’s law in moral nature as well as failure to conform to it in acts and attitudes. I then read my answer to the question: “When I studied the doctrine of sin with my family, I told them, ‘I can’t find any Bible passages that designate <sinner> someone who hasn’t committed actual sins and so I disagree with Grudem’s view.’ However I now think that one of the two passages cited by Grudem, ‘we…were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’ (Ephesians 2:3), validates his view.”
Where did sin come from?
Isaiah 14:12-15 and other Biblical passages suggest that sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion of angels against God, bringing sin into the universe. Later, as described in Genesis 3:1-7, he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and they did so, bringing sin into the world. Thus sin resulted from choices freely made by angels and humans. Being sovereign God could have prevented both angels and humans from sinning, but He allowed sin to enter the universe and the world despite His personal hatred of it. Why do you think He did?
The group agreed that God allowed man to sin because He wanted to allow him free will. I then read my answer to the question: “When I studied the doctrine of sin with my family, I told them that God’s reasons for allowing sin to enter the world were ‘known only to him.’ Later I came across a list of seven reasons given by Lewis Sperry Chafer: (1) the divine recognition of the creature’s free choice, (2) the special value of redeemed beings, (3) the acquisition of divine knowledge, (4) the instruction of angels, (5) the demonstration of the divine hatred of evil, (6) the righteous judgment of all evil, and (7) the manifestation and exercise of divine grace (cited and explained in Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, Los Angeles: Foursquare Media, 1983, pages 156-57). Although all are possible reasons, I still think that God’s actual reasons are known only to Him.” I noted that the first reason given by Chafer was the same as the reason suggested by the group.
How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?
According to Grudem, we inherit the sin of Adam in two ways, our being counted guilty and our having a corrupted nature because of it. This inherited sin is usually called “original sin,” but Grudem calls it “inherited sin” and its two aspects “inherited guilt” and “inherited corruption.”
Grudem claims that “all sinned” in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” refers to our sinning in Adam rather than to our committing actual sins. He argues that all members of the human race were represented by Adam when he was tested in the Garden of Eden and so God counted us as well as Adam as guilty when he sinned. However others argue that the whole human race was actually in Adam rather than that it was just represented by him; again God would view us as well as Adam guilty when he sinned. And still others don’t agree that we are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin, their thinking that it would be unfair of God and not believing that Romans 5:12-21 teaches it. Which of the three views do you prefer?
Note that all three views agree that we inherit a sinful disposition from Adam. This is clearly affirmed in Psalms 51:5, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This doesn’t mean that we are totally depraved. By God’s “common grace,” people do much that is good. But according to Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” they can’t do anything on their own that will satisfy God.
The group agreed on the second view, that the whole human race was in Adam. I then read my answer to the question: “I can’t decide between the first two views. Grudem argues well for the first view. Two other contemporary systematic theology textbooks owned by me favour the second view.” Grudem argues for the first view on pages 494-98 of his Systematic Theology. The two who favour the second view are Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013, pages 579-83, and J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, volume one, pages 267-73.
Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?
Grudem answers that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins but that God normally saves the children of believers before they are old enough to understand and believe the Gospel. He affirms that they are guilty (1) because he believes that everyone sinned in Adam and (2) because he believes that everyone is born with a sinful nature and that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner. He affirms that God saves at least some children on the basis of such passages as Psalm 22:10, “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God,” and 1 Corinthians 7:14, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” What do you think?
The group agreed that even if infants are “sinners” God treats them as if they aren’t until they reach an age of accountability. I then read this part of my answer to the question: “Although I now accept Grudem’s view that people are born sinners, I view God’s attitude towards infants and children to be the same as that expressed by Jesus in this familiar incident: ‘Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, <Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God>.’ (Luke 18:15-16). How can the two views be reconciled? Perhaps, as suggested by Deuteronomy 1:37-39 (’You also shall not go in there [but] your little ones…and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there’), God doesn’t consider infants and children morally responsible and thus liable to condemnation until they reach what we call ‘the age of accountability.’”
Are there degrees of sin?
Moses told the people of Israel, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deuteronomy 27:28), indicating that breaking any of the laws that God had given them would make them guilty before God and liable to punishment by Him. James told his readers the same thing, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10-11). Thus, in one sense all sins are equally bad because our committing any of them makes us guilty before God.
However some sins are worse than others because they bring more dishonour to God or because they cause more harm to ourselves or others. When God showed Ezekiel in a vision four scenes of idolatry in the Temple, He referred to them as “great abominations…still greater abominations…still greater abominations [and] still greater abominations” (Ezekiel 6:6, 6, 12, 15). In pronouncing woes on the scribes and Pharisees, he recognized that they had tithed scrupulously but said that they had “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
Moreover those sins that are done deliberately are more displeasing to God than those that are done unintentionally. Thus under the Law provision was made for unintentional sin’s being atoned for but deliberate sin was to be punished: “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person . . . and he shall be forgiven. . . . But the person who does anything with a high hand . . . that person shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:27-30).
What happens when a Christian sins?
The New Testament speaks often of the harmful effects of a Christian’s sinning. For example, Paul warns that it will enslave him to sin, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to death” (Romans 6:16). Thus God disciplines the Christian who sins, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) and threatens him with the loss of heavenly reward, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives [when it is tested by fire], he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). These passages raise the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation.
Originally I planned on asking, “Do you think that he can?” after making the above presentation. However knowing that one of the group’s members holds the “once saved, always saved” eternal security view which the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador disapproves of in its General Constitution and By-Laws (By-Laws, Article XVIII, Section 1), I decided not to ask the question. The Assemblies of God also disapproves of the view. For an explanation of why it does, see The Security of the Believer.
“6. Sin” in the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Sin is not simply the following of Adam, but is the corruption of the nature of every man through the sin of our parents passed down from generation to generation, thus perpetuating this evil principle so that man is wholly gone from original righteousness and is of his own nature inclined to evil. Yes, all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and are under condemnation and unable to please God without His grace.