by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.

Sin and Salvation

It follows that what is said about sin is what we are saying about salvation; ‘saving’ implies saving from something. That is to say, if salvation is 1) an immediate salvation (justification, adoption, etc…), 2) an ongoing salvation (sanctification), 3) a salvation yet to be fully realized for us in eternity, then what we say about sin and all it entails is what we are saying about salvation in each of these stages. Salvation is of course an act of legal rebellion against God which is immediately resolved through the application of Christ’s sacrifice (justification). Beyond this, we are also immediately given access to God through our brother and High Priest, Christ, to God as our Father (adoption). However, sin also reaches into the depths of our hearts in such a way that the Christian is still encouraged to be holy and to purge herself from the caves of self-admiration until she dies (sanctification). Eternally, sin can also be thought of as a severance of relationship, a continual state of enmity which is reversed as we sit beneath the throne of God and worship him (Rev 22:1-5).

The short definitions just stated aren’t half bad…but what about ‘missing the mark.’ Does salvation include the reversal of this? Do we make the mark now? What is the mark? Who is the subject of this rather ambiguous phrase and what are they doing differently? The problems are evident.

Two explanations of what is at the root of sin are idolatry and shalom (peace/harmony) breaking. Simply put, every act of sin is personally culpable and disrupts the harmony that God named as “good” in his creation (disruption of shalom). The means of ruining this peace is not just the flirtation, but the consummation of something meant for good and making it supreme authority, obeying it instead of God (usually manifested in self definition and authority – idolatry).

The Fall

While the Trinity is toward the top of the list of mysteries we accept, the event of the Fall should not be underestimated. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden in a perfect, harmonious relationship with one another and with him. They trusted in him for everything and knew his good character vividly. Adam enjoyed glorifying God through obedience and by enjoying every part of creation set before his eyes. He knew that God was loving, caring, a God of harmony and peace. He trusted God… And like the flip of a switch it all changed. And this is the mystery: Adam who only knew God as loving Father of all and the God of peace fled. Why didn’t he run to the grace of this loving Father and confess? Why was he all of a sudden so terrified of this God that he did all he could to pass the responsibility off?

“A profound blindness has taken over Adam’s mind. His inner vision is now so terribly alienated – so fallen – that he no longer has a clear perception of the Father’s heart at all. He cannot see the Father’s face. And worse, in place of the Father’s heart, his fallen mind invented a new god, a nightmarish mythological deity… From this moment, the Father’s face will be forever tarred with an alien brush, and his heart, his beauty, his goodness, will be misunderstood. Our darkened imagination will recreate the Father’s character in its own image. Our shame will disfigure the Father’s heart. The projections of our fear will rewrite the rules of his care” (Kruger, C. Baxter. The Hermeneutical Nightmare and the Reconciling Work of Jesus Christ, An Introduction to Torrence Theology).

Universal

We are each of us deeply damaged by the Fall in every part of our being. There is no part of our person that hasn’t been tainted by sin. This is the theological definition of ‘total depravity,’ yet sin is not an amoeba of stuff out there to be examined apart from us. Sin is always related to us. Genesis 3 is not just a story about Adam and Eve, it is our biography. We too suffer the same loss and turmoil that Adam did. In fact we often spend a lot of time and money putting on a masquerade for others to see. We are often (Christian or otherwise) filled with shame, assume self-sufficiency, and flee God’s comfort. We waltz around essentially saying, “Nothing to see here!” This elevates the place of confession both in our interpersonal relationships and in our ecclesiastic environments. We ought to confess to one another, but we ought also to confess together to God in the Sunday liturgy. For alongside the assurance of pardon, we are given complete assurance of our ongoing mediation. In the church, Christ assuages our guilt and brings his life and death to bear on us.

Select Bibliography

Plantinga – Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (highly recommended)

Beale – We Become What We Worship

Augustine – Confessions

Calvin’s Institutes – Book 2 Ch 1-3