"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: Man and Sin

(These are talking notes. I tend to elaborate more extemporaneously. However, I thought I would post them for those interested in the flow of the material in the Reformed Spirituality class)

To speak of Spirituality, we must speak of man, and of God. As we saw, Calvin said he didn’t know exactly where to begin:

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” - John Calvin. Institutes, Chapter 1.

We start with man, because there is a problem in on our side in Spirituality. For some reason, we are not able to encounter God rightly. He is hid from our perception, and what we do pick up about God from the natural world leaves us fighting over the nature of Who God is.

So, the problem that must be dealt with before proceeding further in Spirituality is the problem of the condition of man. The Christian Scriptures teach that this alienation from God, this separation from God is the result of sin. One might have come to mind the familiar verses from Sunday School:

Rom 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Eph 2:12 - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world.

The condition of man, as we are taught in Scripture is in separation from God. The effects of sin, however, are not always taught in their two aspects, which we will look at here:

1) Relational Effects of Sin

Most Evangelicals will understand and teach this aspect of the effect of sin. If God is pure and holy, holiness cannot touch what is unholy. Sin represents a great offense to a Righteous God and must be addressed in order to restore a relationship.

2) Personal (Bodily and Spiritual) Effects of Sin

We have been taught about the offense of sin and how it separates us relationally from God. However, we may not have fully contemplated how sin effects man’s ability to relate to God.

First, let’s look at what makes up a human being:

There are 2 parts of a human: Body and Soul. Of the two, the soul is the part of a human that perceives and processes reality. Thereby, asking how a human might know God is asking the question: what faculties does a human soul possess?

The Parts of a human soul may be identified in Scripture and observation as corresponding to these three parts:

• Understanding, Faculty of Knowing
• Affections, Faculty of emotion, affections
• Volition, faculty of choosing

The parts of the soul are inter-related to a degree to which it may be hard to say what influences what. This illustration might be helpful:

It is important to understand the faculties of humanity in order to understand the effect sin has on them. First we are told that sin effects the Body. Physical death and sickness are a result of sin. (Romans 5:12, Genesis 3)

Many may not go on to ask what effect is made on the soul. Scripture speaks to each faculty in this question:

• Mind (1 Cor 2:14, Titus 1:15)

1Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Man as he is found now in his nature is “not able to understand.” As Paul explains in Titus 1:15, people left in a natural state have: “both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

This is sometimes called the Noetic effects of Sin: The effect of sin to cloud the understanding.

• Heart (Jer 17:9)

Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah laments that what men value is “deceitful” leading men away from what they should value, to that which they should not. The Heart too is effected by sin

• Will (Jer 13:23)

Jer 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Functionally, we see Jeremiah compare the ability of to do good (from the act of the will) just as in line with man’s nature as changing one’s skin color or a leopard, by shear will power changing his spot arrangement. The nature of man is in such a place as to be unable to go what is right by its own power.

We might look at Romans 3:10-12 to see all of these in use:

Rom 3:10-12 - as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;

(Here we see the understanding of man effected.)

no one seeks for God.

(The heart of man has no inclination to seek after God)

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

(The Will of no one does what is good)

Mind, Heart, Will. These are the parts of the soul by which man perceives and reacts to the world and reacts to God. These three parts all are fallen and sinful. “Dead” as Paul describes it. (Ephesians 2:1)

So, before we can properly talk about “Spirituality” as encountering, or communing with God or having fellowship with God, the problem of sin must be answered and solved, and by one not sharing man’s sinful nature.


steve martin said...

The 'spirituality' project begins...and ends at the foot of the cross.

It is all Him. He starts it...He gives...He keeps it going.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Great stuff Jared! I like where your headed and how your getting there.

Great insight into Romans 3. I'd never seen the mind, heart, will distinction there, but it is there, just as you have shown. Nice work!

Toshiba Laptop Parts said...

this is by far one of the most interesting thigns i have ever read. I do have a few questions and
comments though --

Is the good of nature diminished by sin? It seems as though its not, for man is no better than the devil

Also, from what i understood he who sins, does not, by his sin, diminish the good of his nature.. then what does happen?

"Although nature precedes the voluntary action, it has an inclination to a certain voluntary action. Wherefore nature is not changed in itself, through a change in the voluntary action: it is the inclination that is changed in so far as it is directed to its term."

Can the entire good of human nature can be destroyed by sin?

Great insight, i really enjoyed reading this.


Jared Nelson said...

"Is the good of nature diminished by sin?"

In God creating the world, He often pronounced "it was good." To talk about the post-Fall world is to talk of a Good Creation marred by sin. All Creation does suffer due to the Fall as Romans 8:20-22 state: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."

Yet, I also believe that God does not despise what He has Created. It would be wrong to speak of creation as completely or purely evil. Evil does not have a "substance" that can be equaled by a good substance. I think Augustine was right to talk about evil as a privation. Evil only has its existence as a privation of good and so nothing, not even Satan, can be pure evil.

But Humanity is where my attention was directed. Men are thoroughly corrupted by sin, though they be not completely, utterly, and purely evil. Mankind was created good, and is now deprived in his depravity of all that makes man complete and good. Man, in some sense, is less than himself in sin and by regeneration is begun to be restored to himself in what he was originally meant to be as the Imago Dei, the image of God, in like manner that Christ is the perfect image. So the next section I wrote on this is the natural and necessary answer to the problem of sin.