Saturday, January 21, 2017

ARE WE BORN WITH A SIN NATURE?





This is the question of “original sin,” and it involves several questions. Are we born:

·       Guilty of Adam’s sin?
·       Under the wrath of God?
·       Without the ability to choose God?
·       Are we born with a sin nature?

Even though these questions divide Bible-believing Christians, we cannot ignore them. Too much is at stake:

·       It seems to undermine God’s righteousness if He condemns those who had no choice but to reject Him.
·       It also seems to undermine the Bible’s teaching about our culpability, if we were born sinners without a chance to come to God.

Because of the weightiness of the stakes, we have to carefully examine the Bible’s teachings about the impact of Adam’s sin and the Fall upon humanity. When we examine Genesis 3, we do not find any explicit evidence for the first four assertions. Instead, we observe the advent of sin and death and banishment from the perfectly sustaining environment, the Garden of Eden.

We don't find any explicit evidence from this account that humanity would now inherit a sin nature or that they are born guilty of Adam’s sin. Certainly, Adam and Eve did not need a sin nature in order to sin. Rather, they willingly sinned. 

Even after the Fall, God informed the sinner Cain that he is accountable for his sins, and that he must correct them:

  • "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:6-7 ESV)

According to God, Cain was fully responsible for his behavior. Nor did Cain respond:

  • God, you really can't blame because it was you who imposed on me a sin nature.

In fact, James warns us against using such an excuse to justify our sin:

  • Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his OWN desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13--15)



God didn’t instill us our evil desires. Instead, we have to take responsibility and flee from them. Nor were we born dead in sin. Instead, James claimed that death only occurs once our own desire gives birth to sin.

Therefore, we should not rationalize our sin, thinking "Adam or my upbringing made me do it." Instead, we have to fully confess our responsibility.

Is it possible that we are born incapable of choosing God and even doing what is right? It seems that Scripture also deprives us of this excuse:

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18--20)

We are without any excuse for rejecting God. Consequently, we cannot dismiss our guilt for rejecting God:

  • I was born with a sin nature. Consequently, it was not possible for me to choose God.

In fact, Israel had many excuses, but they never resorted to this excuse. It was even on their radar. Why not? It must have been unthinkable.

Even ignorance of the law is only a temporary excuse, at best. For one thing, the law is written on every heart (Romans 2:14-16). 

For another thing, the law had been recorded in the Mosaic Law. Consequently, after the Israelite had become aware that he had sinned unknowingly, he was not let off the hook. He was still required to sacrifice an animal and to make reparations.

In addition to this, God had often claimed that He had given us everything we needed for blessedness:

·       “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1-4 ESV)

God claimed that there was nothing more He could have done for Israel. Besides, Israel never complained that God had created them to be sinners and had withheld from them the freedom to choose God. 

According to Scripture, each one of us is at fault and not God. The consistent message of Scripture is that we deserve His condemnation:

·       Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. (Romans 2:1-2)

Lastly, we are without excuse because Jesus brought light into the world and confirmed it through His miracles:

·       “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin [of hating Jesus?]. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.'” (John 15:22-25)

Also, it seems that we were born free from His wrath and not spiritually dead:

  • And I was alive apart from the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died; and the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death: for sin, finding occasion, through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.” (Romans 7:9-11; 6:16)

Paul, speaking for all humanity, claimed that he had been spiritually “alive” at the time he was born – no indication that he had been born under God’s wrath. Only later did sin spiritually slay him.


The problem verses

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

It is impossible to understand this verse literally that David was blaming his mother. Instead, it should be understood hyperbolically. David is merely confessing that he had been sinning from the earliest.

Ephesians 2:3 Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

This verse does not say that we were born “by nature children of wrath.” In keeping with the context, it would seem that we had become “children of wrath.”

Romans 5:18-19 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (also, 1 Cor. 15:22)

These verses are not explicit about how Adam’s sin led to our condemnation and death. In keeping with the parallel Paul draws between Adam and Jesus, it seems best to apply the NT pattern:

Jesus’ Atonement à through our receiving this gift à Justification
====================
Adam’s sin à though our endorsing his sin through our own sin à Death, Condemnation

Paul seems to endorse this parallel between Adam and Jesus:

·       Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Romans 5:12)

Death came to us because we embraced Adam’s sin through our own sins.

I prefer this understanding because it doesn’t impugn God’s righteousness and places the entire blame on us, where it belongs.

Besides, the skeptic claims:

·       God has no right to judge me for rejecting Him. He had stacked the deck against me.

This challenge gives the skeptic a formidable excuse. I think that, in love, we must deprive him of this unbiblical excuse.

IF JESUS IS THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, DOESN'T THAT MEAN HE WAS CREATED AND NOT ETERNAL?





·       Psalm 2:5-8 (ESV) Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

These verses are troubling because they seem to say that, as the “begotten,” Jesus had been birthed or created and is not eternal and co-equal with the Father.

However, the context, as even the rabbis admit, will not allow us to interpret “begotten” as “given birth” as this term usually suggests. Why not? Because the Son is being addressed by God, when He says, “today I have begotten you.” He already exists!

Instead, in this context, “begotten” means “to be made God’s firstborn and consequently, His heir.” The next verse illuminates what it means to be God’s “firstborn.” God will make the “nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

This interpretation is further supported by John 3:16, Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.

CHRISTOPHANIES IN THE TORAH





There is a wealth of evidence for the appearances of a Messianic God person in the Five Books of Moses, the Torah.

Often, the Christophany (or Theophany) is labelled as the “Angel of the Lord.” Interestingly, in each one of His appearances, there is evidence that He is God. Take the first one:

·       The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:7-13; ESV)

Here, the Angel of the Lord is identified as the “LORD,” “Yahweh” in Hebrew. After this:

·       The LORD [“Yahweh”] appeared to him [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. (Genesis 18:1)

Please note that Yahweh the Father appears to no one (Exodus 33:20). Therefore, this is a Christophany, Yahweh the Son.  After “Yahweh’s” two accompanying angels went down to Sodom, Abraham petitioned Him. After this:

·       And the LORD [“Yahweh”] went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:33)

Jacob later wrestled with a man, whom he later understood was God:

·       So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30)

Later, Jacob identified God as the “Angel” with whom he had wrestled:

·       And he [Jacob] blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16)

Then the Angel appeared to Moses in the midst of the burning bush in the middle of the desert:

·       And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:2-4)

Notice that this Angel is also called “LORD” [“Yahweh”] and “God.” All of these appearances provide us with evidence that God or “Yahweh” is not as the present-day rabbi’s claim. Instead, these appearances of a Messianic figure provide us with evidence of the Trinity.

The Angel continually appears. He was the One who brought Israel out of Egypt:

·       When we cried out to the Lord, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt. (Numbers 20:16)

However, other verses claim that it was God who brought Israel out of Egypt. Again, it seems that the Angel Himself is God, but as another Person.

Likewise, God is often identified as the “redeemer of Israel.” However, at closer examination, it seems that the “Angel of His Presence” had “saved” and “redeemed” Israel:

·       In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)

Is this a contradiction? Not unless this Angel is God Himself! Here is further evidence. God the Father claimed that He could never be seen:  

·       But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16)

Nevertheless, God was seen:

  • So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:11)

·       And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8)

This sounds like a contradiction, unless Moses had seen God the Angel, the second Person of the Trinity.

Elsewhere, God says:

·       "Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him… For My Angel will go before you… and I will cut them off.” (Exodus 23:20-23)

If God’s “name” is in Him, this is the same as saying that “My essence or nature is in Him.” God the Father also makes a sharp distinction between Himself and His Angel (or “Messenger” – an alternate meaning of the same word, “malach”):

·       “And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 33:2-3)

God, the Father, could not be in the presence of Israel. Therefore, He sent His Angel, the second Person of the Trinity to be with Israel.

Elsewhere, the Angel is mentioned interchangeably with God, suggesting that the Angel is also God:

·       And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. (Exodus 14:19)

·       Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the Lord looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. (Exodus 14:24)

·       And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. (Exodus 13:21)

Therefore again, the Angel seems to be God Himself but in the form of another Person.

The rabbis and the various cults do not seem to want to engage this evidence. It simply will not accord with their worldview. However, these verses provide for us another glimpse of the Trinity in the Torah.

Friday, January 20, 2017

OUR BELIEFS CAN KILL US



One extreme example of this is ISIS. Many join, and many will not escape alive. However, our beliefs can kill more subtly. What we think about ourselves can kill us.

Many years ago, after taking LSD, I lost the awareness that I was a human who could die. I could easily have jumped out of a window, thinking I could fly.

However, we can lose awareness of who we are, with deadly consequences, without taking LSD. 

In a vain attempt to dismiss the existence of God, many have opted for materialism - the belief that only a physical reality exists. However this belief entails other beliefs - that everything is determined by the laws of science. Consequently, everything is predetermined by these laws. As a result, they are convinced that freewill is only an illusion.

Some even relish this belief. If they do not have freewill, then they couldn't have acted otherwise, and they cannot be held accountable for their behavior.

Although this might serve to mitigate feelings of shame an guilt, it also carries unintended lethal baggage. For one thing, they have also relinquished their right to hold others accountable. Along with this, they have sacrificed vital concepts like justice, retribution, honor, dignity, courage, meaning, and any purpose for their lives.

But do these sacrifices kill? They will definitely kill relationships. What are you going to tell your wife, when she accuses you for pushing her? Are you going to apologize? You cannot honestly apologize, if you believe that you couldn't have done otherwise. But how then can there be reconciliation with your wife?

Nor can you require your children to apologize. After all, they too couldn't have behaved otherwise.

You can instead decide:

  • I will apologize and will require my children to apologize even though we couldn't have done otherwise.

However, to apologize contradicts your worldview. It admits that your worldview fails to address the needs of your life. It is therefore dysfunctional and should be exchanged for a worldview that reflects reality and serves as a guide for life.

The denial of freewill and accountability kills in other ways. It tells criminals that they are not responsible for their rapes and murders. It even tells them that they lack the freewill to improve. 

Perhaps, even worse, it teaches them cynicism. It tells them that they do not deserve punishment, because their crimes had been pre-programmed into them.

If so, they will wonder why they are being punished if they couldn't have acted otherwise. They will see that your system of justice is just hypocrisy. Such an awareness will not inspire change and personal responsibility.

Instead, we need to be nourished with a coherent rationale for responsible living. Without this, I fear that our society cannot long endure. And why should we even care if we cannot do otherwise?

Should we deprive such people of the vote, a vote that is no more than a chemical-electrical reaction! And when deprived, should we take their complaint seriously?

This is not a flippant remark but a reality. To deny freewill is to deny that we are responsible and moral agents. It is also to seriously degrade humanity. If this human machine fails to respond in socially acceptable ways, why not simply deposit us in the city dump with the rest of the garbage!