“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Paradox of Sinful Man

…Fallen human beings in particular are a very paradoxical part of the world. We are God’s sons and daughters, made in his image to shine his light as “little gods,” but we have fallen into sin and are now corrupted and depraved to the core, prone to sin and dead in sin:

• “The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and…every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
• “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
• “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
• “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
• “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’” (John 8:34; cf. Matthew 7:11, where Jesus actually calls man “evil”).
• “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).
• “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).
• “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” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
• “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
This portrayal of fallen, sinful man is described perhaps most vividly in Romans 1:28-32. We are filth, repulsive vermin, “worms in the dust.” None of us is any less sinful than the worst of killers (see “While We Were Still Sinners”) – we are all criminals against God, all corrupted, all prone to evil. “A fountain of pollution is deep within [our] nature” (The Valley of Vision, p. 73). This may seem extreme, but only a brief glimpse of the outward manifestation of sin in human lives and events plainly reveals how corrupted and depraved we really are – look at the wars and genocides of the 20th century. We ought to be careful of distancing ourselves from the men who committed these crimes – they were children too, once. Rather, let us be humble enough to admit that the same potential for evil lies in all of us, just waiting for circumstances in our lives to develop it into a heartless thoughts and actions. It is our own sinfulness that we see in the cruelty of dictators and murderers.

Our position as criminals against God is sharply contrasted by the fact that we are also, at the same time, God’s sons and daughters, glorious and beautiful creatures who reflect the knowledge, wisdom, majesty, and love of the Creator. Although we are sinful, we are nevertheless God’s creatures, and everything God creates is originally wholly good (Genesis 1:31). Even though God detests the sin that corrupts us, he still loves us. And although we are not so inclined, we are still capable of knowing and loving him. Even in our fallen state we are still God’s children – we have not ceased to be created in his image.

God’s chosen people, his church, will make known throughout the created order the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10), judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), and join Christ as he reigns on his throne (Revelation 3:21). This people of God is described (metaphorically) as nothing less than the radiant bride of Christ, even as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; see Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12). What a stunning role for creatures who have raised their fists against God in rebellion and are, in this present world, depraved, wicked, and corrupted to the core by sin and deserving of hell! G. K. Chesterton describes the paradox this way:
“In one way man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners…Man was a statue of God walking about the garden. Man had pre-eminence over all the brutes; man was only sad because he was not a beast, but a broken god” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy ch. 6, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”).

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