Posts Tagged ‘Sin


the obedient life of christ was not vicarious

I know we should not use the weakest expression of a position to criticise it.  I know it is easy to knock straw men.  The following example is both.  However, it is a view that I hear echoed regularly online; it may be a weak expression of a belief but it is certainly a prevalent one.  Here’s the quotation:

‘The believer is lukewarm, his/her Saviour was consumed by zeal. The believer is prayerless, but Christ continued all night in prayer to God. The believer is sluggish in obedience, but Christ delighted to do the will of the Father. All this and more – he is our peace, he is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption – when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’

This is a belief founded on the view that the life of Christ is vicariously ours.  We are told that Christ’s active obedience to the law is our righteousness before God.  His death is not enough to declare us righteous, we also need an ‘active’ righteousness, a life lived.  I have tackled some of the better expressions of this position elsewhere in detail, here I am simply observing the absurdity of a popular expression of ‘imputed active obedience’.

I hope the absurdity of the quotation is obvious to all.  A Christian woman fails to dress modestly but Jesus dressed modestly on her behalf!  Is the corollary true?  I am not a good father and as Christ was never married he cannot have kept the law for me in this area.   The whole line of reasoning is monstrously inappropriate.  Christ’s life does not cover every situation believers over the ages have found themselves in an provide a corresponding ‘law-keeping’ for our ‘law-breaking’.  Yes indeed, Christ has glorified God in a life lived entirely in obedience.  Yes this life was necessary for our justification for the justifying death of Christ required a perfect sacrifice; the value of the death is in the life.  But it is not his life that atones but his death.  In the law the sacrifices that atoned were blood sacrifices.  Scripture could not be clearer:

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  Substitution lay in a death died not a life lived.  Consequently, we are said to be justified by Christ’s blood but never by his life (other than his life in resurrection which is something different).  The Law demands death for the law-breaker.  No amount of law-keeping by another can make a guilty man righteous.  Christ is my substitute by taking that death upon himself.  He took the curse of a broken law and so redeemed me from the law.  If I live now, I live on the other side of death in a resurrected Christ.  I stand in his righteous position before the Father.  It is a position that is beyond law and not answerable to law.

The great tragedy of this emphasis on IAO is that it takes atonement away from the cross and places it at the incarnation.  Notice how the writer finds his peace in Christ’s life rather than his death: ‘when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’  The glory of the cross is occluded.  Yet in heaven the song of the redeemed is to the lamb, the one who has purchased men to God by his blood’.  It is at the cross that substitution takes place (Isa 53).  There redemption is accomplished (Roms 3).  It is Christ lifted up who draws all men to him.  The cross is the place of propitiation and where God’s righteousness in salvation is displayed (Roms 3).  It is in being justified by his blood we have peace with God (Roms 5:1).  We are reconciled to God through the death of his son (Roms 5:10; Col 1:10).  It is on the cross he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he may bring us to God.  In the words of an old hymn concerning the cross:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah, what a Saviour.

The lesson for us all is – let the Bible speak and not theological constructs.  When we adopt constructs and then extrapolate on them, we end up with positions that are risible.  Moreover, it seems to be a rule that the construct eventually supplants the truth.


the great sin

Humanity speaks as if crimes against humanity are its greatest crimes, but they aren’t.  Humanity’s greatest crimes are its crimes against God (the greater the offended, the greater the offence).

The great crime of society , its great sin, was not the fall – great though this sin was.  In the fall humanity rejected God as a good and faithful Creator.  Man rejected God who had given him everything to enjoy and made only one prohibition by way of a test.  Neither is the great sin of humanity its rejection (representatively through Israel) of God’s Law.  This rejection too, of course, was culpable and damning, yet it was not the worst rebellion.  In Law, God is rejected largely in his holiness and righteousness.  Rejection of the Law proved humanity’s inability to be righteous.  It proved his hostility to what was good and right and its hostility to God’s goodness revealed in his redemption from Egypt and provision for his people.

However, the real nadir of humanity, the real proof of the utter corruption and horror of Adamic humanity, is the death of Christ on the cross.  In Christ, God came revealing as never before a heart of love and grace.  He came not in judgement but salvation; he came not to accuse but to restore.  He came in saving grace not to good people but people who had continuously rejected his words and taken his protection for granted.  He came in meekness, grace, gentleness, healing and kindness and despite coming revealing the full vulnerability of his heart and love he was rejected in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Here is my son surely they will reverence him?  The greatest sin, and crime, is against God in his greatest display of grace and goodness.

And so the question raised in the garden, and explored in the law, is fully answered at the cross, the state of the human heart.  It is not the law that fully exposes the sin of the human heart, it is the cross.  Thus it is only after the cross that men are described as ‘dead in trespasses and sins’.  Thus too we read in John that the work of the Holy Spirit sent into the world after Christ’s death is to convict it of the sin of rejecting Christ.

John 16:7-9 (ESV)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me…

The world’s condemnation comes from a rejection of the Christ and is pronounced by God in that very rejection.

John 3:18 (ESV)
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 12:31 (ESV)
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

Rom 8:3 (ESV)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,


gospel and legal mortification of sin

Tullian Tchividjian has what is overall an excellent blog on the difference between legal and gospel putting to death of sin.  Here and there I am inclined to disagree (particularly on #4 and Roms 7) but there is so much that is good here that I recommend it to you.


where are you adam?

When God asked Adam in the garden where he was, it was not because he, God, did not know, but because Adam did not know?  It is the first question in the Torah, the shortest question in the Torah (in Hebrew apparently only one word),  and probably the most penetrating question in the Torah.  Adam answered with an evasion, and a pitiful evasion at that (I was naked… ).  God brushes it away like a gossamer thread.  But it is more than an Adam question.  It is an everyman question.  It is the existential question God asks each of us.

The question is, will our answer be honest – I’m lost – or as pathetically evasive as Adam’s?


excuses… excuses… excuses

Gen 3:11-13 (ESV)

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Anna Russell  (sixties songwriter)

I went to my psychiatrist
To be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat
And blacked my husband’s eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch
To see what he could find,
So this is what he dredge-ed up
From my subconscious mind:

Hey, libido,
Bats in the belfry,
Jolly Old Sigmund Freud.

When I was one, my mommy hid
My dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally
That I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father
Kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now
From kleptomania.

At three, I had the feeling of
Ambivilance towards my brothers,
And so it follows naturally
I poisoned all my lovers.
But I am happy; now I’ve learned
The lesson this has taught;
That everything I do that’s wrong -
Is someone else’s fault.


the tempter’s tactics… entrapment

Gen 3:1-6 (ESV)
Now the serpent was more crafty [subtle] than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” ​​​ And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

When we read the Genesis account of the original temptation one thing that strikes is that the serpent never suggests outright that Eve should eat the forbidden fruit.  What he does is plant suggestions in her mind.  He is, as the text says, subtle.  Temptations that are likely to trip us are not so much those which frame sin in terms of obvious disobedience but that instil different angles that seem plausible and  attractive.

I am reminded of  probably the most powerful drama I have seen on the theme of temptation.  Taylor Hackford’s compelling drama ‘The Devil’s Advocate‘ (a play on words at a number of levels) stars Keanu Reeves as an able young small town Defense Attorney, Kevin Lomax, whose skills bring him to the attention of a prestigious New York law firm called ‘Milton, Chadwick and Waters’ and he is offered a job.  Against his evangelical mother’s advice he decides to take it.

He soon comes to the attention of the head honcho of the firm, John Milton (a not too subtle allusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost).  Milton is brilliantly played by Al Pacino.  Unknown to Lomax (and the audience) at this point,  Pacino is in fact Satan.  Milton sets out to capture and debase Lomax.  Slowly but surely he orchestrates his downfall.  He does so by suggestions to Lomax’s mind.  He never instructs he simply paints scenarios.

Lomax follows the suggestions and destroys himself and all he loves in the process.  In the dénouement, when Lomax confronts  Milton he finally discovers who Milton is .  He blames Milton for the decisions he has made but Pacino (Milton and the devil) sets him right; he, but suggests, Lomax chooses, Lomax decides.

Kevin Lomax: You made me do it!

John Milton: No, I don’t work that way, Kevin.


John Milton: You were right about one thing. I have been watching. Couldn’t help myself. Watching, waiting, holding my breath. But I’m no puppeteer Kevin, I don’t make things happen. Doesn’t work like that.

John Milton
: Free will, It’s like butterfly wings. One touch and it never gets off the ground. I only set the stage. You pull your own strings.

Milton  (Pacino and Satan) goes on to demonstrate that all Lomax’s decisions were ultimately his own.  Milton may corrupt but Lomax is only too willing to be corrupted.

The film is raw and so not one to readily recommend.  Like many other American movies it does not trust the intelligence of the viewer and so spells out in the dénouement more than it need.  However, that being said, as morality tales go, it is on the money.

Below are some further interesting quotations from the film.

Kevin Lomax: Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven. Is that it?

John Milton: Why not? I’m here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I’ve nurtured every sensation man has been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted, and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him in spite of all his imperfections…I’m a humanist. Maybe the last humanist. Who, in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny the 20th century was entirely mine? All of it, Kevin. All of it. Mine. I’m peaking, Kevin. It’s my time now.

John Milton: Vanity – definitely my favorite sin.

John Milton: Don’t get too cocky my boy. No matter how good you are don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy…

John Milton: Underestimated from day one. You’d never think I was a master of the universe, now would ya?

John Milton: Freedom, baby… is never having to say you’re sorry.

Don’t be a Lomax…avoid entrapment.


the first lie…

Gen 3:2-4 (ESV)
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.

Interesting to note that the first lie was a denial of judgement.  It has been the primary and prevailing lie ever since.  Received wisdom says, if you are going to lie, then lie big; the bigger the lie, the greater its panache, the more likely it is to be swallowed.  Well this one was a whopper.  Perhaps that contributed to its success.

More importantly, it succeeded because it suited Eve to believe it; she liked the look of the forbidden fruit.  The most successful lies are those people want to believe.  Who does not wish to believe that there are no evil consequences of doing what one wants to do?  That there is no day of accountability, of reckoning, is a lie many still want to believe, and do (2 Pet 3).  But it doesn’t stop it from being a lie.

Believing it ain’t so, don’t make it so.

Gen 5:1-5 (ESV)
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.


when evil is ‘cool’

Os Guinness in his book ‘Unspeakable: facing up to the challenge of evil’, notes how evil grows exponentially in our modern culture because of our ‘unbridled passion to transgress, the drive to destroy traditions, flout standards, and defy conventions’. It has been fuelled by our fascination with people of excess who make evil ‘cool’ and incite the ‘passion to transgress’.

He writes,

‘… the excesses of the great ones and the fascination of the general public come together in an unholy package.  The ‘splendidly wicked ones’ whether presidents,, sports heroes, or rock stars are unstoppable, and we are unable to avoid admiring, envying, and excusing them.  So they range free in the higher altitudes of our society, while our ethics are disarmed, evil as transgression is made heroic, and the siren lure of real evil grows ever more irresistible.

Thus, radical idea by radical idea, violent film by violent film, explicit song by explicit song, brutal video game by brutal video game, edgy cable show by edgy cable show, and shameless scandal by shameless scandal, the momentum grows and the binding forces concentrate.  What was once unimaginable becomes thinkable and then fashionable.  What used to be abnormal is now normal.  Where we were shocked, we are now indifferent.  What started as soft-core ends as hard-core.  Where before the definition of deviancy slowly became more limited, now in a mad scramble for ratings and market share, there is and all-out race for the bottom in the name of ‘daring’ and the ‘edgy’ – which always turns out to be the violent, the vulgar, the explicit, and the tasteless.

Each transgression builds on the last one and binds us to the next one.  To break off at any point is to cast everything up to that point in a bad light, so each transgression serves as the permission and the dare to press to the next.  The result is an entire society following the addict’s piecemeal slide into bondage and a civilization’s descent into decay.’

A choreographer of Madonna’s reveals, ‘Madonna told me to break every rule I could think of and then when I was done to make up some new ones and break them.’  This is secular celebrity liberal wisdom naked and unashamed.  It is also the ancient ‘wisdom’ of the serpent intensified and made irresistible.  The lust for forbidden knowledge and forbidden fruit incites society  to overthrow its boundaries.  We have refused to accept limits and so evil arises from its long sleep malevolently intent on crushing all who have carelessly summoned it.


lurking evil

The Daily Mail (yes I know) has an article discussing, in the wake of the Cumbria massacre, human evil.  It is a good article and so far as it goes more or less expresses biblical thinking.  Below is an extract.

The deep, primitive horror of what occurred in Whitehaven is rendered even more sinister by its stubborn resistance to explanation…

Friends and neighbours have so far said that Bird was an ordinary chap, capable of casual greeting. He was friendly and co-operative, in no way threatening or dangerous. But that can only be because they did not know him.

Apparently nobody did. Perhaps the only man who did know what was going on inside his head was Derrick Bird himself.

But it is doubtful, even then, that he would have had the ability to analyse and work through the storm that was developing inside him. Indeed, it is precisely because he could not do this that his personality finally disintegrated into violent, arbitrary anger…

At last he crumbled. What makes this kind of terrible event even more terrifying is its unpredictability. It might never have happened at all.

Bird could have gone on through the rest of his life with a damaged understanding of his world happily hidden behind an untroubled exterior. Thousands of us do.

Indeed, many of us can take our secret anxieties to the grave. The human mind is often capable of self-repair to some extent, of keeping the monster of disintegration at a distance, of covering it up and finding temporary safety-valves to hold the lid in place.

But not always. For the uncomfortable truth is that there is the potential for a Derrick Bird explosion within all of us. We must be thankful that it happens so extremely rarely. But it would be foolish to pretend that it is impossible for you, for me, or for my neighbour to explode in such a catastrophic way.

We are all of us mysterious.

We may, as Christians wish to say that Cumbria is not resistant to explanation  and say the explanation is found in the Garden of Eden – its roots lie in a humanity defiant of its Maker.  We may wish to say a better conclusion may have been ‘we are all of us sinners’.  That being said, the writer does not try to shirk the evil in the human heart.   He does not try to place Derrick Bird in a separate humanity different from the rest of us.  He does not try to distance the everyday person from Bird.  In fact, Bird was an ‘everyday person’.  He realises that Bird is one of us and the same potential lies in us all. Here he is in line with biblical thinking.  We are not ‘born good’ we are born dysfunctional.  We are born with a heart inclined to evil.  Evil spills out of us in a thousand different ways day by day.  That it does not spew in a murderous rampage is not due to some innate goodness but to a myriad of restraints that prevent our worst inclinations from taking their head.  Sometimes a confluence of circumstances (internal and external) conspire to break down these restraints and allow us to give vent to our murderous tendencies.  What we sometimes feel and think we actually do.

Of course, it is only possible to say what Bird did was evil if we believe there is a God.  Otherwise categories of right and wrong are only socially engineered and pragmatic.  When we speak of ‘evil’ we are maintaining that something is absolutely, unequivocally and undeniably wrong.   Such an assertion demands a Creator.


spotting idolatry of self

D A Carson in ‘Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus‘ has a couple of amusing but telling examples of how we betray our idolatry of self.

When we look at a class graduation photo (or for that matter an old school class photo or church group photo) whose face do we look at first, whose image do we linger over?

Or better still, if we have been involved in an argument, a real rooster of a debate, and we go away seething inside, mentally rehearsing all that we said, and especially what we should have said, when we play the revised version over in our heads – who wins?

Carson wryly confesses, ‘I have lost a lot of arguments in my time, but I have never lost a mental rerun.’

Ditto.  Mea culpa.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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