The power of sin is so deeply rooted in the hearts and souls of mortal people that it is impossible for us to not sin. We are so sinful by nature that we cannot expect ever to find a person who lives their entire lives without sinning. The only person who ever accomplished a sinless life was Christ. And this inability to not sin in theology we call the moral inability of human beings. You may be familiar with the Apostle Paul's description of humanity in Romans when he says, All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But that raises a question. You may have someone in your life that when you think of them they're very sweet and kind.
Do they fall into that category? Are they a sinner? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham and thank you for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Today we're continuing Dr. Sproul's series Foundations and he's going to take us back to the Garden of Eden and answer the question, What really happened in the fall? And how do we respond to people who deny the universality of sin? Whenever we talk of the fall of the human race and the nature and origin of sin, we are immediately pushed to contemplate the extent and scope of that sin and its impact upon us as human beings. And that introduces us immediately to the whole question of the doctrine of original sin. Now the doctrine of original sin has a lot of misunderstanding that attends it and also quite a bit of controversy surrounding it with respect to people who do understand what it refers to. But so often a popular misunderstanding of the concept of original sin is that original sin refers to the first sin that Adam and Eve committed. But that's not what original sin means. Original sin does not refer actually to the first sin, but it refers to the consequences or the results of that first sin. Original sin in fact in and of itself is not an actual sin. In fact we make a distinction between original sin and actual sin. Original sin describes our fallen sinful condition out of which actual sins progress. And as I've said many times, the Scriptures tell us that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners. That is, we have a fallen corrupt nature out of which flows the actual sins that we commit. And so original sin then describes the fallen condition of the present human race. And virtually every church in church history has developed some doctrine of original sin because the Scriptures are so clear that indeed there is something inherently now innately wrong with our character. And as Jonathan Edwards remarked in his Treatise on Original Sin, if the Bible didn't tell us that there is a problem with our moral disposition by nature, which the Bible clearly does, we would have to affirm it just on the basis of rational observation because of the pervasive presence of evil in the world of human beings. The universality of sin screams for an explanation. I mean even in the pagan world there is a tacit acknowledgment that no one is perfect.
But the immediate question that that begs is the question, why not? If we are by nature good or if we are by nature even neutral, we would expect a certain percentage of people to maintain their natural goodness or even their neutrality and be able to live their lives without succumbing to this problem that we call sin. Some respond to that and say, well, that's pretty hard to do given that we live in sinful surrounding and that we have a sinful climate in which we live because culture is fallen and civilization is fallen and society is corrupt. And of course that begs the question, why is society corrupt and why is culture and civilization sinful?
Because those things are made up of human beings. And again, if we were naturally good and unblemished, if we came into this world even morally neutral with no prior disposition to sin whatsoever, you would expect at least 50% of the civilizations to be absent from corruption. And so we have this problem that is manifest. We are fallen, and society is fallen, and we have met the enemy, and they are us.
We are society. And so again we raise the question, how is it that human beings are born in a state of moral defection? And again the Scriptures teach us that this original sin is itself a judgment of a righteous God upon a good creature that He made and which creature fell from obedience to Him. And as a penalty upon Adam and Eve for their sin, God gave them over to those wicked inclinations and not only did God give Adam and Eve over to their sinful impulses, but all of their progeny as well.
Now how we are related to Adam and Eve's sin and how that guilt and wickedness is transferred to us in future generations is the subject of our next lecture, and we won't spend any more time on it right now. But rather I want to look at the classic study of this business of original sin that was undertaken by St. Augustine and was at the center of the so-called Pelagian controversy in the early church. We see that Augustine, in analyzing the human situation of sinfulness, said that when Adam and Eve were first created that God made them with what Augustine called the posse peccare, which simply is Latin for the possibility or the ability to sin. The word peccare means to sin.
If we say that something is pure, we say it's impeccable, or if we want to describe a little insignificant sin, we call it a peccadillo, both words coming from the Latin peccare, which means to sin. Now Augustine said that Adam and Eve in creation were made with the ability to sin. They weren't made as sinners, but they had the power or the possibility of sinning. We know that because they sinned, and in sinning they didn't do the impossible.
They did what they obviously had the power to do. But, said Augustine, that Adam and Eve were created also with the posse non peccare, which was the ability to not sin. God gave them the command not to touch or to eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree, and they had the moral ability to obey God. So, they had both the ability to sin and the ability to not sin. Now, what happened in the fall, according to Augustine, is that the human race lost the posse non peccare, and in its place got what was expressed with the double negative, the non posse non peccare, which being translated means the inability to not sin. Now, what Augustine is saying here is that the power of sin is so deeply rooted in the hearts and souls of mortal people that it is impossible for us to not sin. We are so sinful by nature that we cannot expect ever to find a person who lives their entire lives without sinning. The only person who ever accomplished a sinless life was Christ. And this inability to not sin in theology we call the moral inability of human beings. Now, that doesn't mean that we can't do anything that outwardly conforms to the law of God.
We can, for example, out of mixed motives, or for a felicitous accident, we can accidentally keep the law outwardly. For example, my favorite analogy of this is the person who enjoys driving an automobile at 55 miles an hour. That's what he prefers to do. He likes that speed. His car performs well, and he feels safe and comfortable. And so he's driving down the highway at 55 miles an hour, and the speed limit sign out there says 55 miles per hour. Everybody else is doing 65 or 70, and the policeman sees this man happily driving down the highway at 55 miles an hour, and the policeman pulls him over and doesn't give him a ticket but gives him a citation for being a good and safe driver, gives him an award for his obedience because he's obeying the law.
And then the trooper goes on his way, and the fellow gets back on the highway, pretty soon comes into a school zone that says 15 miles an hour, and he keeps driving 55 miles an hour right through the school zone because the motive for his driving 55 is that's what he likes to do. He has no desire to obey the law or the civil magistrate. It was just a fortuitous circumstance that had him obeying it at a certain time. And that's what the theologians call civic virtue. Sometimes for our own best interests, we find ourselves actually obeying the law of God.
We may not steal because maybe in our environment we find that crime doesn't pay, or we may do noble gestures for the applause of men, or because we're running for office, or we have some other motivation. But the one motivation that is singularly lacking in a fallen person is the motivation to obey the law out of a pristine love for the God of the law. We remember that the great commandment is the commandment, thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your mind and with all of your strength and to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Now, the way Luther would look at something like that, what he would say is that the great transgression would be a violation of the great commandment.
But we don't think in those terms. We realize that nobody that we know loves God perfectly with all of their heart. We know that nobody loves God with the totality of their mind. I mean, why do we make mistakes about understanding the Bible? Why do we make errors in theology?
I tell my students in the seminary, I said, you know, when we make an error in theology, it's basically because of sin. We want to say, well, it's because the Bible's too hard to interpret, or the Bible's confusing, or the Bible's ambiguous, and we just can't find the right interpretation. I say, wait a minute, this is God's Word, and God is not the author of confusion.
And God has revealed Himself for our edification clearly. But when we come to the text, we come with our distorted biases interfering with the light of God's Word. There are many things that this book teaches that we just don't want to hear, and so we'll find ways to twist it and distort it so that we can escape the judgment and criticism that it brings to us. Not only that, sometimes we make a so-called innocent mistake where we didn't realize that the translation we were reading from was defective at a certain point, or that we didn't master the structure of Greek grammar or Hebrew grammar or the Greek language or the Hebrew language and vocabulary.
And how could we help but that we didn't know those things? Well, if we love God with all of our mind, what kind of mastery of His Word would we have? But we spend so much time filling our minds with other things than a knowledge of His Word.
And so we're lazy, we're not diligent in our pursuit of His truth, and all of these things enter in to the distortions that we have. Now, when the Bible speaks about being good and doing what is right, Jesus says nobody does good except God. Paul says there's none righteous, no, not one.
There's none who even does good. That seems extreme because we see people around us all the time, relatively speaking, doing good things. And that's what the theologians mean when they talk about civic or civil virtue. Mothers can sacrifice for their children, and we see people returning wallets that they found without keeping the money.
We see all kinds of good deeds that people do. But for an act to be truly good, to really hit the mark, that standard or the norm of the law of God, not only must the deed correspond outwardly or externally to what the law requires, but it also must be motivated by a heart that loves God fully. And yet even in my most devout moments, there's a pound of flesh mixed in there, isn't there? Even in redeemed humanity, we still have less than perfect obedience that we offer to God.
And while we're living in a state of estrangement or alienation from Him, that's aggravated all the more. So what the theologians mean when they speak about moral inability is that original sin, while we are in this fallen condition, while we are in the state of non poce, non peccare, we are not morally able to do the things of God, to do the good that God requires. Now Jesus put it this way when He described the condition of man. He said, no man can come to Me unless it is given to him by the Father. Now that unless points to an exception, and Jesus starts with a universal negative that describes human ability. He's not saying that no man is allowed to come to Me unless he's invited by the Father.
He says no man can. No one is able to come to Me unless God does something. That's why He goes on to say that we are born in the flesh, and that word flesh generally refers to this fallen condition whereby we are in bondage to sin, dead in sin, and another phrase that the Bible uses is under sin. We're not on top of sin, but sin is on top of us. And so the Bible tells us that the desires of our hearts and our natural state are only wicked continually. And for us to embrace Christ, to come to God, and to do the things of God, the holy things of God, requires that we somehow be liberated from this prison of original sin, which is accomplished for us, as we will see later, by the sovereign, supernatural work of God the Holy Spirit.
That's why Jesus said that to a person to even see the kingdom of God, not alone enter the kingdom of God, they have to be born again, because that which is born of the flesh is that flesh. And in our flesh, Jesus says, we can do nothing, and that's not a little something. And so we, because of our fallenness, are in such a morally impotent position that it takes nothing less than a supernatural work of God that Paul calls the quickening of the Holy Spirit to bring us to spiritual life out of a state of spiritual death. Now not everyone in Christian history agrees with this Augustinian concept of moral inability. But many theories abound in the church today that say, yes, there's something wrong, we are not perfect, we are fallen, and the fall is even serious, but we still have an island of righteousness left in our souls by which we can take the first step towards our reparation, and we can begin with a righteous inclination to reach out to God, where the Augustinian view says that we are so corrupt, we are so dead, not just sick, we're dead, not just temporarily detained, but we are in bondage, we are imprisoned to sin, that we can do nothing apart from God's rescuing grace that initiates the process of our redemption.
All right, so you have that debate that goes on in the Christian community between the scope or the extent of the fall, and the Augustinian tradition, which I represent, says that the fall extends to the whole person in every degree and every part of us, into our minds, into our hearts, into our bodies. Our bodies fail us, our eyesight becomes dim, our hair becomes gray, our strength dissipates, we become ill, we die. And the Bible said all of that is a result of the influence of sin upon our bodies. But the power of sin affects our bodies, it affects our hearts, it affects our wills, it affects our minds. We can still think, we still have brains, we still have minds, but our thinking gets distorted, we make logical errors, we allow bias to cloud our judgment, we still have a will, we haven't lost the faculty or the ability to make choices, we are still creatures made in the image of God.
When I talked about the imago, I said that we have to distinguish between the image in the narrow sense and the image in the wider sense. And with the fall, we lost the image of God in the narrow sense. We lost the ability to be perfectly righteous. But in that loss of the narrow image, we are still in the image of God in the wider sense, in the sense that we're still humans.
We still have wills, we still have minds, we still have hearts, we still have bodies. As corrupt as they may be, our humanity has not been erased by the fall. It is the power of our humanity that has been so radically affected by and through the fall that leaves us in this state that Paul summarizes for us in the third chapter where he says this, there is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside, and they have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.
If I got on national television today and I said, let me give you my personal assessment of the moral condition of people in America, and I said, let me tell you what I think. I don't think there's anybody in this country who's righteous, not a single one. There's nobody here who understands, and there's nobody who by nature seeks after God.
Well this business about seekers that we hear about, who's that describing? Because the Bible says there's no one in their natural state who seeks after God. All become unprofitable.
All have gone out of the way, and there's none even who does good, no, not one. If I said that on American television today, I would be laughed to scorn for giving a lunatic assessment of the moral character of the human race, but that is the assessment of God as He judges us according to His norm and according to His standard and according to what He means by goodness and according to what He means by righteousness and according to what He means by understanding. He looks at us, and He sees that in our natural state we have none of these things. Well such a humbling truth that we just heard there from Dr. R.C. Sproul, but it is against that backdrop of the bad news that the good news of the gospel shines even more brightly, which really should be one of the outcomes of studying theology, which we've been doing today, that as we learn more about God and who He is, it should turn into doxology, praise for Him and giving Him thanks for what He's accomplished for us in Christ. Well we're glad you're joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.
I'm Nathan W. Bingham. We've been listening today to a message from Dr. Sproul's series Foundations, an overview of systematic theology. And for your donation of any amount, we'd be happy to send this to you. It is 60 messages in total across eight DVDs. And not only will we send you that DVD set, you'll get digital access to the audio and video messages of this series, as well as a digital study guide.
You can give your donation today at renewingyourmind.org, or if you're listening in the free Ligonier app, simply tap Today's Offer. Well with all of this discussion of the sinfulness of mankind, you might be wondering, how can anyone get to heaven? Well next Saturday, Dr. Sproul is going to help us understand how a sinner can be declared righteous before a holy God. That's next week, here on Renewing Your Mind.
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