Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 3
by Jonathan Hamilton
I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:
Moving from guilt to depravity….let’s talk about the inner effects of sin:
The human moral makeup was altered at the Fall. Every aspect of our being has been changed. We can do nothing in ourselves that is pleasing to God. We are in some sense not free. We are naturally free but not morally free. We find ourselves completely hopeless in terms of escaping the penalty of what our sins have brought us. This is Total Depravity. Guilt is imputed, depravity is imparted. Depravity is a matter of what you inherit. We inherit a moral nature that has been corrupted and is in rebellion against God.
We get our best description of depravity in the early chapters of Romans. In Romans 1, Paul has been discussing the Gospel up until verse 17. Before he can go any further into the good news, he has to give us the bad news. This begins in 1:18.
Regarding the idolatry described in Romans 1, G.K. Chesterton’s words ring true: “those who won’t worship God will worship just about anything else.” Regarding God’s judgment in this passage, it is outlined by the Apostle Paul as occurring in stages: Stage one, God gives them over to sexual sin. Stage two, God gives them over to homosexuality. Stage three, God gives them over to a depraved mind. This is the lowest stage now. God corrupted the very thinking process. And next comes the list to which they will stoop (vv. 29-31). These are the things of which all human beings are now capable. The capacity is now part of every human heart. These stages were done by God in the past, very early in human history. These are not things being enacted now, it’s already been done.
You get the final description over in 3:9-20. Verse 20 says, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” In other words, humans have a total inability to please God. But we are also unrighteous in character verses 9b-18. All of us. Every one. If you could find a single righteous human being, it would overthrow Paul’s entire theological system. He is based here. How many people in their natural state can be found seeking God? Zero. Zip. None. Nada.
Not only is no one able to save himself, no one has any merit to commend him to God. No one is going to want to accept salvation on God’s terms. So…Ephesians 2:1-3.
Humans are not sick in trespasses and sins. Humans are dead in trespasses and sins, in which we walked in times past, according to the course of this world, the flesh, and the devil. Because of this we are under wrath. This is all part of what we mean by total depravity. See also: Jeremiah 17:9 (the heart, in Scripture, is not the seat of affections but the inner man, the control center); 2 Cor. 4:3-4
People are not restrained from being saved, except by their own moral will. And they are restrained by it. So how can anyone be saved? There are basically three very different ways that people have attempted to answer that question.
1. Human beings are capable in and of themselves, of doing all that God requires (a heresy known as Pelagianism)
Pelagius, a British monk, argues that the only effect of Adam’s sin was to set a bad example. (Well-known examples of this belief: perhaps the famous American heretic Charles Finney; theological liberalism)
2. God meets us halfway, or God helps those who help themselves. (a false teaching known as Synergism)
God meeting us halfway is grace. Grace is the divinely given ability to do what God wants, to measure up. (Roman Catholic theology + some nuances they would want to add)
3. God does it all. (Monergism)
Everything comes from God’s side. Humans can’t do anything or contribute anything, God does it all. (Karl Barth / Barthianism)
(Notice that whichever position you take you will probably be taking common ground with some who will be your enemies on other points of theology. That’s the point. No one out there agrees with you on everything, and sometimes it will be very uncomfortable when you have to agree with them on something. Get used to it. It happens all the time. This also lets you know that one of the least ethical ways of arguing theology is to blacklist a view because it’s held by this person or that group. Don’t get rattled if you find yourself agreeing with someone who you wouldn’t expect. Argue against views, not against associations.)
Monergism has to be the correct answer if total depravity is correct, which I believe it is. This brings us near the end of our discussion of hamartiology and puts us on the doorstep of soteriology, except for a final handful of ideas.
In Part 4, our final article on the doctrine of sin for this series, we will discuss these ideas starting with the problem of the sin nature.