I have been struggling with understanding how one can commit a so-called “actual sin”, when one has inherited the “original sin” from birth. What I mean is that, through Adam’s original sin, apart from being condemned to eternal spiritual death besides physical death, one has also inherited the “sin nature”.
This means that, according to Romans 8:7 “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor CAN IT DO SO”. I highlighted the last phrase to indicate that we don’t have the ability to obey God’s law, or do good in the eyes of God.
If this is the case, we are NOT ABLE to do anything in order NOT TO SIN!
Given this condition, isn’t it unjust for God to punish us, for committing the “actual sin”, which we are NOT ABLE to commit, according to Romans 8:7?
My other question would be, did Adam and Eve have any moral will before the fall, or they only have it after the fall? If not, shouldn’t they not be punished because they were not able to discern the right from wrong? If they have the moral will before the fall, what happened to it after the fall? Were they able to discern right from wrong, or that it was tarnished by sin, to the extent that they could only carry on sinning, as they have the “sinful nature”?
Sorry for this mouthful of questions. But, I have been struggling for a long time on this, and I have not been able to find any good answers from google or books.
Henry, these are great questions and ones that I have also found difficult. I am almost finished reading John Lennox’s book “Determined to Believe” which has really helped me to understand some of these questions.
First I will comment on the question of Romans 8:7. My understanding is that when Paul says. “ The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor CAN IT DO SO” he is speaking of the human will without the power of God and His Spirit to help us.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””
Matthew 19:23-26 NIV
Secondly, did Adam and Eve have moral will before they sinned? I am sure someone can give a more in depth answer to this one, but I believe that God did give them a moral will and the choice to obey him and that is why he planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil and said not to eat of it. To me that implies that they had moral will, maybe only a simple one, although not the knowledge of good and evil. I think a good question would be what did it mean for them to finally have knowledge of good and evil. They would have continued with an enhanced moral knowledge after they sinned but not with the inability to obey at all. We can all obey some of the time but we all inevitably sin in our weak human state without the help of the Holy Spirit. Those are my brief thoughts but I’d be very interested to read a more scholarly answer to this question.
I agree with what you said about what Paul meant what he said in Romans 8:7. Thank you for pointing me out. I probably have not chosen a better example. I also agree with you that without the power of God and His Spirit to draw us to Christ, nobody can be given an opportunity to accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
I guess my real issue is best laid out below to be clear :-
If Adam and Eve did have the moral will, however elementary, as you said, and hence they were culpable for making the wrong decision to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then my question is what happened to their morality level, after they had eaten the fruit from that tree? How was their morality standard differed from before they ate the fruit? (Carrie, I guess this is your question too?)
Can I assume that the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve had, allowed them to have similar moral standard as God has, if not perfect, such that they were able to tell what were those things that God desired to be good, and those that were not. And this trait passed down to the descendants of Adam and Eve, with their original sin?
If the answer to question 2 is Yes, then wouldn’t the human race as of now, have the basic moral standard and the ability to choose to sin or not to sin ?
If Yes, then why would the Bible suggests that we are all sinful in nature, and we are not able to choose not to sin, because our image (mind, emotion, will, heart, spirit, and soul) had all been corrupted by the original sin. Some theologians like John Calvin and John Wesley said that we are all totally depraved, and cannot even choose God, apart from Him? Have I missed something here?
1)Adam and Eve failed the same test we all fail. They had God available and willing to answer any question, especially regarding good and evil. Instead, they chose to be imbued with the ability to decide for themselves, to go over God’s head, so to speak.
We wrestle with the same thing since any free will being has this problem - a strong sense of self - autotheism.
2)Angels had this problem (a good chunk rebelled) and so do all humans, even before the fall, evidenced by their rebellious decision.
3)This is the purpose of “life” - a very challenging training ground where we learn the value of “obedience through suffering” like Christ did, such that the real life that’s coming (new heavens and new earth) will succeed. in fact, God will be able to expand our free will !
4)Christ solved all our problems - yes, in propitiation for our sin but also in giving us the power (grace) to repent of our autotheism which we would stubbornly cling to otherwise.
Some good questions. My basic understanding is that our sin nature (original sin) is what is inherited from Adam. We do not inherit ‘original guilt’ - that is; God will not be judging a person for what Adam did; God will be judging a person for their own moral choices.
In Romans 8:7, that’s in the middle of Paul’s train of thought. My understanding is
Paul, even thought he was a Christian, himself struggled with his own sin nature and presented the problem we all struggle with (Romans 7:15-25 for full context)
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Then in Romans 8, Paul presents the solution;
Romans 8:1-2 - there is no longer any condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 8:5-8 - as far as I can tell; this is talking about the difference between Christians (who are governed by the Holy Spirit), and non-Christians (governed by the flesh/sin nature)
Romans 8:9 - Paul says ‘you’ (referring to the Romans Christian believers who have placed their faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross) are in the realm of the Spirit
Romans 8:12-14 - Christians have an obligation (not to mention the promise in verse 6 about having life and peace), but as version 13 says; it’s still possible to sin as a Christian to listen to the old nature, sin and make mistakes; but as 1 John 1:9 says “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousses”
Romans 8:15-17 - this is one of my favourite passages; because of Christ, we are adopted into God’s family; and the Holy Spirit testifies with our Spirit and we can (and do) know that God is our Heavenly Father; the Hebrew words ‘Abba’ I believe is like our English word ‘Daddy’; a very intimate word in the English language - pretty amazing to comprehend this.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba, [g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
The balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will has been discussed for a long time with many Christians. Somehow both are true I think. God is Sovereign over the events of history and nations; and yet man individually has free will.
I would disagree with Calvin who in my opinion swings too far towards God’s Sovereignty because;
• How could God in eternity past have fixed a persons’ destiny so that they are unable to believe?
• If the above is true, How could God rightly judge a person and send them to hell for not believing something that they were incapable of believing.
It then introduces other issues as a result
It turns man into an automaton, a pre-programmed being, and removes free will.
If taken to an extreme conclusion where RC Sproul took it, it makes God the only actor in all events.
It removes Love from the equation; both God’s real Love in reaching out in Grace to which we completely freely respond in faith/repentance. It also removes our genuine love in response to trust in God’s revealed character, shown through the incredible fact that it was God Himself (in the Person of Jesus) who entered into our suffering and died at the hands of His creation. This love shown at the cross in and of itself is too astonishing to comprehend.
Some of my thoughts are:
Is it possible that God who is Love and completely Sovereign and also completely Just, keeps the world in a state so that the most possible completely free willed humans have the highest amount of possible opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel?
I think that somehow God, in His Sovereignty, has created a ‘finite moral space’ inside which my free will sits. In the same way I occupy a finite space physically and am free to make physical movements, I occupy a finite moral space. God reaches into this moral space and I respond freely. Keeping in mind Hebrews 1:1-3 All things are upheld by Him and the Word of his Power
Also like Carrie said, the book “Determined to believe” by John Lennox is very good and answered a lot of questions for me. Lennox also starts the book discussing the atheist position; if atheism is true and there is only matter/energy then in fact free will is an illusion and we are actually just ‘dancing to our DNA’ as Dawkins says. Lennox approaches it very well and starts the book by saying he doesn’t have all the answers either.
regarding Adam and Eve’s decision to rebel against God, and not trust God;
God is completely just; therefore we can assume that the choice that Adam and Eve were judged for was a genuine free will choice. I’m not sure that they had a ‘different’ moral free will; before and after the fall? This article discusses the Tree of Good and Evil a little https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_700.cfm
According to what you said, given that we have a moral will - the ability to discern right from wrong, including the ability to freely choose to believe God or not, then why does the Bible says that in Romans 8:7, we CANNOT do so because of our “sinful nature” - the flesh ? So, the point is that we are NOT ABLE to make a free choice, not that we do not want to, by our own moral decision. Romans 8:7. “ The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor CAN IT DO SO”
Thanks Matt for your reply and very good comments and information.
Q1. I am not sure if I understand you correctly, What does it mean that we do not inherit the “original guilt” ? I don’t think I can find this in the Bible. Can you point me to it please?
Q2. You quoted: [quote=“matthew.western, post:5, topic:26227”]
God will not be judging a person for what Adam did; God will be judging a person for their own moral choices.
Firstly, I don’t agree with you that God will not judge a person for what Adam did. The bible clearly says that we are all sinners because of Adam’s original sin. And hence, we will be separated from God eternally, if we don’t come to Christ. Secondly, please see my question to Russell on how can we be judged on our own moral choices, if we are not able to make that choice to desire God according to Romans 8:7?
Great discussion, it’s good to think these things through together.
Can I ask a question?
For those who refuse Christ; they will stand before God. Do you think God will judge them for Adam’s sin, or for their own?
If I go before a judge on earth, and he says your great-grandfather killed someone; therefore you are going to jail for 20 years. Would you see that as justice?
I’d simply say that because of Adam, I inherited a sin nature; and a ‘default’ to sin as soon as I was born. Due to this sin nature; I do sin personally; and I am therefore guilty for my own personal sin - and without Christ I am destined for hell. Romans chapter 5 is the main passage I’m reading.
You’ve hit the nail on the head; and this is precisely why I don’t agree with 5 point Calvinism, as mentioned in the post above. Can God justly judge a person for not believing in Christ, when they are incapable of believing?
Regarding Romans 8:7, we’ve gotta read the whole passage to have context. Perhaps the New King James Version is a different perspective to look at it? verse 7 is part of a full statement encompassing verse 6-8. And the bigger question is: Is this passage about salvation (placing our faith in Christ), or is the passage about how Christians live? I’d say it’s about Christians, who, if they live carnally can’t please God. Christians who are not listening to the Holy Spirit can’t please God.
Free from Indwelling Sin
8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who[a] do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be [b]carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the [c]carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [d]through His Spirit who dwells in you.
as I said, I don’t have all the answers, just sharing where I’m at; for a complete look at the balance between man’s free will vs God’s Sovereignty and how they both exist together, I found Lennox’s book very helpful to think through. He covers a heap of difficult passages
Election of Israel and why they didn’t believe even though they were God’s elect people,
vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy,
the Romans 9-11 chapters,
Pharaoh’s case, when God hardened Pharoah’s heart
Jacob and Esau (Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated).
Hi Matt, many thanks again for following up with my questions with some reflective questions and comments.
I did some deep reflection reading Romans 8:5-15 again. And I think I have found the answers to my questions.
Correct me if I am wrong, but this is what I think …
The human race has the ability to choose to do right or wrong, as we have the image of God, to think and make decision, since Adam and Eve. Even to the extent that we can know there is a God and that we should obey Him. This is made evidence by the what the serpent said to Eve in Genesis 3:1, "Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”. And Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.
So, this means that we have no excuse of not knowing who God is and what He has done. Also, see Romans 1:18-20.
Given we have the ability to know who God is (supervisually), but we tend to ignore Him and do what is sinful, because of our sinful nature inherited from Adam’s sin. We would not and cannot submit to God’s law (the Ten Commandments) in our flesh, unless we are given the grace of God to desire more of Him and His Son Jesus Christ, for our salvation.
So, God has given each of us a Prevenient Grace (according to John Wesley), to allow us a starter ability to see the light of Christ, to understand His Word and to acknowledge our entrapped sinful nature enough to want to be saved. Given this opportunity, we can either choose to receive this offer of free gift of Grace or reject it.
If we accept this free gift of Grace of Christ through faith, we are saved. If not, we are condemned.
Agree totally. Very well put. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
to your point 3, agree totally; we cannot find God on our own.
We cannot just decide to be saved in our own timing (because salvation’s offer is actually God’s grace). It’s possible that if a person rejects the offer of salvation many times over their life, their heart will become harder and harder (as was the case in Pharoh during the plagues). The first 5 plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own hard, then the last 5 plagues Exodus says God hardened his heart. There may be a point of no return for those that reject the offer of salvation many times. Of course we are not God and don’t know when a person reaches a point of no return and the Holy Spirit may stop prompting for a person to turn to Christ.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is nice and clear too. God initiates (grace); and we respond to this (faith), and the result is salvation; and not of any works.
And yes I’d agree with Wesley regarding Prevenient grace; as I think the grace offered by God is resistible (from https://www.gotquestions.org/prevenient-grace.html). The good news is, as Christians we don’t have to choose a particular position (Arminianism, Calvinism, and there is a ‘middle ground’ position called Molinism which is the one I prefer). We can study and learn more, but at the end of the day nobody really knows exactly how it works. Personally this has bothered me for many years; but now after struggling with it and reaching the end of my own mental capacity; I now just rest in the knowledge that in the end, as Abraham said in Genesis 18:25 after praying for Sodom and Gomorrah said: “will not the Judge of all the Earth do right”. Yes, He will. Praise His Holy Name.
Henry, When I read your question, I think of the common phrase, “Nobody is perfect.” I think most people - believers, non-believers, Christians and non-Christians - would agree with this saying. When we say it, we’re speaking in general terms. We’re referring to a state of being - a human condition. So, I would figure that a Bible verse stating the flesh cannot submit to God’s law, would be speaking to our overall nature, rather than a total inability to obey. In other words, it may be saying we are born into this condition, and as a result we are not able to keep from falling short of God’s perfect moral standard.
So, I guess the question remains. Is it unjust for God to punish us for something we are unable to help? I think that very question, puts original sin on display. Is God being unjust? Isn’t that exactly what the serpent suggested? The serpent is trying to convince Eve that God is denying her the ability to choose, and is using God’s own word with which to do it. God is denying you this, because He knows that when you do it, you’ll be like Him, able to judge good and evil. This is what has been passed down to us, to this very discussion. We are using God’s word on which to judge Him. But, if we find God to be unjust, by who’s standard do we do this? I think this is the temptation we cannot seem to overcome as human beings. But, I think once we recognize this, as Romans 8:7 helps us to do, we can ask to be reborn with a spirit that fights against this temptation. Our flesh may still have a bent toward sin, but we have a new spirit with which sin does not sit well.
I’m finally able to jump back in. I’m a very busy mom with 9 of my 12 kids still living at home. Whew! I am so thankful for @matthew.western and @ridthekid for your insightful replies. I am fairly new to understanding the Calvinist doctrine as growing up we were only taught that it was false and nothing more. I’ve recently began studying Calvinist beliefs as someone close to me has come to accept them as true and it made me want to know what it’s all about. It has been a great learning experience and I’ve learned so much about these issues. Sin nature has always confused me just a bit too because I was always taught that we didn’t have a sin nature but I don’t believe that is true either. Anyway, this has been a wonderful discussion that has helped me even more understand some of these things as I’ve been force to contemplate them further. I really love this forum and the honest discussions that we have.
Thanks Carrie for your candid sharings! I am learning everyday from others like yourself, as I may have a blind side to my perspective. Through your sharing, I can see things from a different lens, which may help grow my faith deeper. May God give you strength to manage your daily chores, taking care of 9 children! Wow, you are truly blessed
The idea of “flesh” is not native to Paul. It is also in the OT as most of what he wrote is found in the OT.
The flesh is our earthly, bodily nature. It can kind of be stated like this: We all have to eat. When we don’t eat, we get hungry, however, when we fast and pray, we often have a Spiritual breakthrough of some sort. This is what the flesh is. It’s not as complicated as Paul makes it sound, though he would be far more knowledgeable about what the flesh is than myself. As I understand it, it is what our body needs to sustain itself and that’s really all it is. It is not inherently evil, but in a way, it is like a handicap for us that makes us make mistakes. It is our temptation because it influences us to listen to our bodies more than we listen to God. BUT! Adam and Eve presumably still ate even before the fall. This tells us that it is possible to remain sinless and still follow what our bodies tell us. But now, our bodies act as temptations to us, just like the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a temptation for Adam.