Romans 3:9 - Our Sin and God’s Love
Romans 3:9 - Our Sin and God’s Love
...for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin”Rom. 3: 9b.
“...all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and deserve eternal death.” It is the sobering opening sentence of the Canons of Dordt, echoing Romans 5:12.
Many people are of the opinion that those Canons of Dordt are clearly not evangelism material and at that time too little was known about psychology. How can you start off like this, with God’s curse and eternal death? This is no way to approach people; so heavy-handed and in such a negative way. If you want to make a connection or grab people’s interest you need to have a much more positive attitude. After all is not the gospel the “good news”? That is what needs to come across. You do not present a bogeyman to the children the first time, but a Father who accepts them, who loves and cares for them. And in evangelism you need to tell your audience that God loves them. After all, God loves all people, does he not? The message is: watch out that you do not spoil it or that you let it go. A positive image of God, that is what draws people in. And there is more to it. You are saying quite a lot when you say that all people are under God’s curse and earn eternal death because of their sin in Adam. But this Adam is someone who lived long ago. What do I have to do with him? Did I — since I belong to “all men” — sin “in him”? How? I know nothing about that! Does this mean I was there already in paradise, well before I was born? And is such a statement about a curse and eternal death “that all men deserve”’ not a judgment that we do not deserve at all? We do not even know all people. We do not know how much good they may have done. Are they not written off much too quickly? And is that even Christian?
The Canons of Dordt gives such a massive salvo about God’s curse and eternal death, but is it supported by God’s own Word? Does it not speak much more positively? Does it not deal with God’s grace and love for all people and does it not view God’s curse as a judgment upon the rejection of God’s grace? This could perhaps be justifiable: a punishment for ingratitude for so many good things! But punishment that you deserve because you have sinned in Adam...? How dare the Canons of Dordt even start this way?
Jew and Greek Under God’s Wrath⤒🔗
The author of the epistle to the Romans cannot be blamed for the fact that he did not write a happier letter, or that he might think too little of God’s mercy, or that he wants to bring us a negative and somber picture of God. It is true gospel that we find here! The gospel of acquittal and peace. Note well: even for wicked people and enemies of God. By pure grace they become children of God and may look forward to an unimaginable legacy!
When in the sixteenth century the reformers rejected the Roman Catholic yoke of self-righteousness and no longer accepted the medieval darkness, this letter meant much to them. For Luther and Calvin it was a letter that opened their eyes to the glory of God’s grace in Christ. We do not need to live in fear and trembling and we are not dependent on our own works, which are never satisfactory before God. No, we may build instead on God’s favour in Christ Jesus. We receive acquittal through Christ, without reverting to our own merit (Rom. 3:28). And being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). No longer do we have to fear condemnation when we are united with Christ and belong to him (Rom. 8:1). We are children and even heirs of the most high God. The apostle can write with delight about the work of God’s Son and the fruit of God’s Spirit in the new life of believers.
But now take a look at how this letter begins! God’s mercy and love are portrayed against the background of the sin in which all people have plunged themselves. Look around you, says Paul, in what kind of world the gospel is sounding. People have broken with God. Sin and injustice are rampant. And the bad thing is that often it is not condemned, but rather celebrated (Rom. 1: 32)! What hatred you see around you; how much pride, greed, debauchery, slander, lack of wisdom. And do not think now that this decay has happened accidentally or that it is an incident. No, it is it the result of people having rejected the Lord and bowing down before what accounts to no more than a creature. It is people’s own fault that they get this punishment from God. This is how things end up when you do not want to know God and when you replace the Creator with a creature. It is the punishment for your separation from God. Then you shut yourself off from God and in his anger he gives you over to an unclean and reprehensible mind, the opposite of the righteousness that God has taught his people. You are blocked off from the gospel.
It is not a prettier picture either among the people of God. The Jews may look down upon the Gentile nations, yet they too are corrupt and they are guilty of the same practices (Rom. 2:1). And with them as well it is their own fault that they are under God’s punishment. In their stubbornness and unrepentant attitude they too are heaping up evidence for their condemnation. God’s anger reveals itself to all outside of Israel who have not recognized and glorified him, but who have replaced the Creator with a creature. But his wrath turns no less against those who have received his law, but who do not want to live according to it. They too are on their way to the day when God will judge them according to what they have done (Rom. 2:5). Paul looks around him in a very practical way. In the pagan world, with “the Greek”, he sees the break with and the rejection of the Creator. He also sees disobedience to God by “the Jew”. Sin is everywhere. And nobody should think that sin, either outside of Israel or within Israel, is less bad because no one escapes God’s judgment. His wrath comes upon all who live in sin. The Jew does not escape it but neither will the Greek. God judges each according to his works. Tribulation and anxiety await every living person who acts in an evil way: first the Jew and also the Greek. While glory, honour and peace await everyone who does good: first the Jew and also the Greek (Rom. 2:6-10). For in God’s judgment there is no regard of persons or two kinds of justice . Whoever lives in sin lives under God’s wrath and judgment. He is doomed.
Jews are condemned when they violate God’s law: they could and should have known better! But Greeks should not think that they can escape because they do not know God’s law. Because in reality God is their Creator. They should and could have been able to know him (Rom. 1:20). They too suppress the truth by their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Do they not know the law? That may be so, but even among them respectable actions are still found. That only proves that they cannot say: we could not do otherwise. All who have sinned without the law will perish without that law. And all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law (Rom. 2:12).
This is the disconcerting reality that the apostle is describing. We sometimes have the tendency to soften the somber image of the apostle, and to say: but there are also pagans who do very good things! And look at what can be found in the church: a lot of good works! Paul does not deny this. He writes to those who are loved by God and called saints of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6f). And he knows about pagans who do what the law commands and who have the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14f). And yet for him this does not detract anything from the seriousness of sin. That is because he looks through the glasses of God’s revelation. When you look around you with enlightened eyes, the apostle says, then you will see the break between the natural man and God everywhere. That applies to all people, whatever respectable things they may do. It applies to Jew and Greek. At a most profound level we ourselves have rejected God and instead we have chosen for the devil and sin. And that is why we all deserve God’s punishment and why we are subject to God’s wrath. We are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Without Christ and without faith we are under the wrath of God (see. John 3:36). That applies not only to pagans but also to church people. Outside of Christ and outside of his gospel Jews as well as Greeks are all “under sin”. That is the indictment, the accusation, according to the apostle. Outside of Christ, death reigns!
All are Under Sin←⤒🔗
“All are under sin” (Rom. 3:9). Striking that the singular word is used: sin! Paul sees around him Jews and Greeks entangled in sins (plural). But from that experience, he moves on to “the sin” which lies behind it. And then he talks about the power sin represents, which came into the world with Adam (see Gen. 3) and there it shows its disastrous effect. The sin that manifests itself in all sins (plural) that are done in the world (see. C.E.B. Cranfield’s commentary on this). Both Jews and Greeks are subject to that power, outside of Christ. It is from this that all their sins originate.
Under sin. That is a chilling judgment! He who is under sin has lost his freedom. He is a slave to sin. You have been corrupted by sin and you never get out of it in your own strength. This sin drives you, and it takes away all perspective of a free and happy future. You deserve nothing but its wages: death. Your children too do not escape sin. It carries on from generation to generation. Sinners produce sinners. Elsewhere the apostle speaks about being dead in offenses and sins. A second “birth” is required. This applies to all people: Jews and Greeks. That is how we are of ourselves. Of ourselves we come completely empty-handed! And our minds are so obscured that we cannot accept the gospel on our own.
That position “under sin” needs to be compared to the position in which we were created as people; created “in the image of God”. The latter means: we were created such that we could live in the covenant that God made with us; created in righteousness and holiness, to know him, to love him and to praise him eternally (HC QA 6). But while we were created with the gifts that we received from God to serve him, instead we use his gifts and our abilities — which we have received from him! — in order to be free from him, and even to use them against him. And we put ourselves at the service of sin and the devil! The gospel rebounds off our hard hearts as long as God does not soften these with his power. This is the position in which we find ourselves.
Under sin. By this Paul does not imply that we would no longer be human; that we would have no gifts and no more ability to do respectable things. But he does say that with all our abilities and all of our performances we are subject to the evil power of sin. We use what we received from God and that which we are capable of — thanks to him — no longer in order to know God, to love him and to honour him; we no longer use it in a spirit of righteousness and holiness; but instead we use it separate from God and even as a weapon of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13). Our focus is wrong. Our hearts are faulty. With our “almost divine” gifts and actions (see Ps. 8) we rise up against God. Our hands are soiled. And of ourselves we no longer have an antenna for the gospel.
This is the position where we as people have ended up, by our own fault. We have brought it on ourselves. Otherwise we would never be accused of it by the apostle and never be repaid and punished by the Lord. None of us has come under sin and under the wrath of God without personally committing sin. He who sins is a slave to sin, as our Saviour said (John 8:34). The fact that we are “‘under sin”, that from generation to generation we are born as sinners, that from the start we portray the image of the sinful Adam, and that we cannot come to our own rescue, this we cannot blame on the Lord. It is our own fault. That we are born outside of paradise and with our “disability”, the corruption of our enmity against God (Rom. 5:8-10) is not due to arbitrariness on God’s part. We deserve it. It is not a doom to which we are simply subjected. We have the hereditary evil that is our sin (Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; BC Article 15), to blame only on ourselves! It is our own fault. It is our guilt that brings us under the wrath of God.
The Sin of Adam: Our Sin←⤒🔗
For the origin of this guilt the apostle points in Romans chapter 5 to the sin of Adam. Not to all of his sins, but to one of them: the one act of violating the commandment God had given as a test. That commandment is found in Genesis 2:16-17: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden [the LORD God was certainly not skimpy], but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The LORD God did not put out a hidden snare, but proclaimed it openly — no strings attached. It is the transgression of this command that brought sin into the world. And it caused all of us to be conceived and born under God’s wrath.
This is not easily transparent to us: this connectedness and complicity on our part with Adam. As modern Westerners we often think very individualistically. We are quickly inclined to measure the LORD by our own strictly individualized legal standards. We want to be able to prove and understand in our own way how exactly there is a direct line from Adam to us. But then we subject the Lord to our standards, as if these contain a higher than divine wisdom. The Potter is measured against criteria made up by the clay! Over against this it is necessary that we listen to and bow to what the Scriptures teach. In doing so the following things stand out:
- The Bible calls attention to Adam’s special position. While the woman became the first person to sin (Gen. 3:6; 1 Tim. 2:14) not her sin, but the sin of Adam is mentioned as the sin that has consequences for all of us as human beings (Rom. 5: 12-21;see 1 Cor. 15:22). That is because he is the one single person from whom God made the entire human race (Acts 17:26) He is not only “Adam” but he is also “the man” in Genesis 1-3 in whom all of us were comprehended. Adam was the head of mankind under the law of God’s covenant.
This connection between him and us is reflected in the way the Belgic Confession speaks about “man” in Article 14. Man: i.e., Adam. But not as a private person: his actions have direct consequences for us. He is our head. We are comprehended in him. Because of him sin reigns everywhere. Everyone is subject to it. That is the uniqueness of Adam. We share in his sin, although we ourselves have not sinned in the same way as he has (Rom. 5:14).
- The biblical teaching next points to the special function of the test command. Earlier we already pointed out that in Romans 5 Paul refers very expressly to one single act of violation. Not all of Adam’s sins get passed on to us, but only this one has consequences for us all: the violation of the test command, wanting to be God. This has to do with the fact that the test command was not just any commandment. The test command was not a commandment for Adam alone. It was one that God commanded Adam yet which has consequences for thousands, yes, for all generations. This happens more often in the Bible: that one thing has consequences for “‘thousands of generations”. Think of the mother promise (Gen. 3:15); or of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:7;see Ps. 105: 8f); or of the work of Christ (Rom. 5:18; Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28). Adam’s handling of the test command would have an effect on all people. Such a thing can apparently exist in God's covenant! This is not a matter of any natural or logical circumstance but of a covenant decision by the LORD. If this was a matter of “ordinary heredity” all of Adam’s sins would have been imputed to us.
But Paul expressly speaks about this one sin of Adam: his transgression of the test command (Rom. 5:16-18). This has — according to God’s righteous disposition! — consequences for us. According to the justice of God’s covenant, the test command was such that Adam’s stand toward it directly affected us: it meant either blessing or judgment.
- We as Westerners at the beginning of the 21st century are extensively individualized. But in the Bible we find a strong connection with ancestry and posterity. As far as the ancestry is concerned Israel can sing, many centuries after the passage through the Red Sea and the Jordan: there we rejoiced in the LORD (Ps. 66:6). Daniel knows himself connected in his debt to previous generations (see Dan. 9). And David can sing of his own sin in his conception and birth (Ps. 51:5). And as to the offspring, God establishes a covenant with Abraham and his offspring in their generations. He initiates it with the believers and their children. And he can apply his curse on children and children's children.
In Hebrew 7 we find an expression which can help us to see this. There is mention of Levi who was “in the loins of his father” and in that capacity he bowed together with his father Abraham before King Melchizedek (v. 10): well before his birth. You can also say that we were present in paradise in the loins of Adam. At that time we were not alive ourselves and our birth would have to wait a long time. Romans 5 also makes clear distinctions between Adam and us, between Adam and those who did not sin in the same way as he did (v. 14). It was his one sin that brought sin and death into the world (v. 12). We were only “in Adam’s loins”, but for God we cannot therefore blame our guilt on Adam, and pretend that we have nothing to do with it, because in those loins we were already present. This is how it is in God’s covenant with man, in the ways of God’s justice!
- When we are “‘accused” or “indicted” in Romans 3 that we are under sin, then it is a legal term which indicates that we are not simply the victim of Adam’s sin. God’s law implies that he does not punish children for the sin of their parents. This is not just the message of the prophets (Ezek. 18), which goes back to the Law of Moses (Deut. 24:16; see 2 Kings 14:6). God sees us as complicit in Adam’s sin. We are like him, from our very first beginning (Ps. 51:5). In no way and at no time can we pretend that we are better than him or as if we have a clean sheet before God. We are not the victim but we share in his guilt, according to God’s disposal, by rights of his covenant.
- This debt of ours in Adam is not foreign to us in other respects either. As corrupted people we increase our guilt every day. For since Adam’s violation and as a result of it, we are true children of Adam and we exhibit his image: insurgents against God, people who want to be like God and who of themselves want to decide what is right and wrong. As was man, so too became his children: corrupted man produced corrupt children (CoD III/IV, 2).
We have nothing with which to blame Adam! We are showered with the same suds and are not any better than him. Let no one distance himself from Adam or exalt himself above him. Anyone who sees what horrors humans and human institutions are capable of, knows enough.
- The sin in Genesis 3 is not just a one-time unauthorized failure but it represents us wanting to decide what is good and what is bad. The desire to be like God. It is rebellion against him, and listening to his great opponent, the devil! It is not recognizing your place in God’s covenant, and violating God’s law. No wonder this sin has death as its wages (Rom. 6:15-23), that it spoils our humanity and disrupts creation, and that it leads to horrible misery and catastrophe in the world (Rom. 8:18-22).
This sin is a hereditary evil since Adam: we are all “under sin”. This is not just Paul’s opinion. It is what Scripture teaches. With quotations from the Psalms and the prophets, Paul shows how the power of sin is complete, and how radical it is in us. Everywhere sin prevails; no one is righteous before God, no one seeks God by himself. A lot of people are closing themselves to the word of the gospel. “You cannot just believe that with your common sense”. Because our mind has been corrupted and sin is total, even among God’s people, heart and hands and life are being used against God. And we can therefore impossibly free ourselves from it; not from sin, nor from the wrath of God. Not with a dose of good will and not even with a mighty, global human effort. As soon as we want to orient ourselves to God’s law, it only reveals to us the seriousness of our sin. For redemption, more is needed: God’s own intervention in his Son! And for faith nothing less is needed than the work of God’s Spirit.
“Under sin”. This was true not of the Greek only, but also of the Jew. In a way they were more privileged than non-Jews. The words of God had been entrusted to them. They were circumcised and knew God’s law. But that privilege was not absolute. Outside of Christ they were just as much “under sin” as all the other nations.
So judgment also applied to God’s people of the old dispensation. It does not apply any less to God’s people in the new dispensation: all of us are outside of Christ and “under sin”. Every baptismal service in the church reminds us of this. A child, even as small as it is, must already be washed from his impurity. To come into God’s kingdom is not a matter of improving ourselves or to “grow up”, but we need to be born again and to be cleansed by the blood and the Spirit of Christ. In regard to the Lord we are not entitled to anything, except only God’s punishment. We do not simply and automatically start to believe by our own power. We are absolutely not able to do so ourselves. We possess nothing good except what we have truly received from the Lord and from him alone, out of pure grace.
You can see our source in sin, which during our life — also our Christian life — constantly rears its head. Also when you are “in Christ” and you are freed from the power of sin, you are not yet done with your sinful life. You continue to be called to fight against sin. And you notice how every time you suffer defeat in this and how you are unable to do what you would like to do (Rom. 7:14-26). Often you sin without being aware of it (Ps. 19:13). Even if you live according to God’s covenant you have to pray for mercy (Ps. 26:1, 11). And it will remain like this until your death (HC QA 42). The power of sin is real! There can often be so little evidence, also in the environment in which we live, that we are Christians!
We must constantly remain well aware of this in the church. Christ came to call and save sinners, to redeem the godless and the enemies of God. That describes who we are by nature. Of ourselves we are as guilty as all people. On account of our guilt the creation is also subject to futility. The world sighs and groans because of our sin and guilt. The wrath of God, which reveals itself against all kinds of debauchery in the world, exists also because of our sin.
Our children too are of themselves “under sin”. We cannot assume that they will “automatically” start to believe. Or even that they were born as believers. Yes, they are heirs of God’s promise. It is their wonderful privilege, which they receive undeservedly! Yet God’s grace is not a matter of heritage! However wonderful their position is in the covenant and however reliable God’s promises are to them, it is not the most ordinary matter in the world that they grow up to be professing members of the church. It is then also a poor indication (a proof of covenant automatism?) when we do not count that “growth from within” (as we call it) as real growth of the church! When in our statistics we “balance” the drop-outs only with growth from the outside, and do not include all those who made public confession of faith. As if it would be a self-evident matter...!
Nor should we idealize our reformed education. It is beautiful when you realize the fruits of an education that builds on the solid basis of God’s promises and covenants. But even there sin is at work. We need the let go of the notion that our children have nothing to fear and that we have only wealth to offer them. Our children are not model children. They too are rude in their language and will kick back. The Holy Spirit also has to work faith and repentance in them. Also for them protection and shelter are certainly not an unnecessary luxury. The Scriptures teach us to take sin seriously, and this also includes the need for being born again.
Not only the Jew, but also the Greek is “under sin”. In Romans chapter 1 Paul has pointed out the sins that are responsible for God’s wrath to be revealed. Those sins also come forth from ‘the sin’ that made its appearance with Adam. Gentiles, as long as they have not heard the gospel, are not in an innocent or neutral state with the Lord, but they are guilty, along with Adam, and for their own sins. They are not simply unfamiliar with the truth or foreigners to it, but they suppress the truth in unrighteousness and they have exchanged God’s truth for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. While they live in God’s world, note that they are serving other gods! They have no excuse for this. They do not notice God’s power and divinity and the fact that they do not acknowledge it, is due to the darkening of their reason which is on account of their own attitude, having invited it themselves and for which they are deserving of God’s wrath, as Paul says of the “pre-Christian” world of his day (Rom. 1:18-25). They lie under God’s curse and they do not easily get out of that. It is not as if they can simply come to faith. For this it is necessary that they are delivered by Christ from the grasp of sin. For this the power and the illumination of God’s Spirit are needed as well. For them to enter God’s kingdom they need to be born again no less than the children of believers!
This does not mean that there are no beautiful and respectable things to be found with the Gentiles. The Bible knows about giftedness and insights in science by unbelievers, of wisdom and righteousness outside of Israel, of secular governments that are obviously rewarding what is right and punishing and curbing evil, of Gentiles who are kind and very caring toward other people. After all, sinners remain human, created by God in his image and endowed with his gifts. They use those gifts incorrectly and imperfectly; they do not focus on God’s honour and glory. And with it they also cannot work themselves up toward faith and preservation. But that does not alter the fact that they regularly put God’s children to shame. In his goodness, God tempers evil and allows many good things to be found in the world. In this way life in the world remains possible and there is room for the progress of his work and kingdom.
But the Scriptures do not know of innocent Gentiles. Even with all their gifts they are corrupted by sin. They lack the holiness which is focused on God. They do not live according to God’s justice. They do not know him but they ignore him and resist him. They live their lives without God and without hope, under sin and under God’s wrath. Their eyes only open up to this when they accept the gospel that is brought to them. This does not happen without repentance from their sins and confession of their guilt. They experience it as being saved from death — and that is what it is!
Nowadays there are theologians who speak of all kinds of religions as a wonderful preparation for the Christian faith, or even of an “anonymous Christianity”. But in the Scripture the emphasis is precisely the break that occurs when people repent from their idols to the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Then they come out of darkness into the light (1 Peter 2:9). From being dead they become alive. Rebellion and resistance against God make room for peace with God (Romans 5:1; Eph. 2:17). They have found reconciliation while they were still enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10).
Such is the status of people before they hear the gospel and are sanctified in Christ. Even though they gracefully worship the “unknown god” (Acts 17:23), they (and we!) receive the riches of being children of God by way of repentance (Acts 17:30), forgiveness of guilt (1 Peter 1:18), faith (John 1:12), rebirth (John 3:3): only in Christ who gave himself for us, who paid for our sin and who gave us his Spirit.
Scripture does not know of “innocent heathens” but speaks about the righteousness of God. If Gentiles did not hear the gospel it is not their bad luck but God’s own good pleasure. He leaves them in the destruction in which they have entangled themselves. It is his righteous judgment when he makes his words known to Jacob as the unique people (see Ps. 147:19f) and allows other nations to go their own ways (Acts 14:16). As it is still his Spirit who determines the continuation of the course of his gospel (see Acts 16: 6-10). He decides whom he wants to save, and sends messengers of his gospel to whom he wills and when he wills (CoD I, 3). He, the Righteous One, who truly does justice in honouring the knowledge of his gospel (Matt. 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, 48).
The Gospel For Sinners←⤒🔗
All people are creatures of God. They are all created in order to know him, to love him and to eternally praise and glorify him (HC QA 6). God is not cold or indifferent to the sinner; he does not want his death, but his conversion so that he may live. When God comes with his promises to all nations and people, those promises are serious and reliable. The Bible says that God is “good” and “long-suffering” and “beneficent” toward all people.
It is better not to use the words “love” and “grace” here (J. van Genderen) because in the Bible they are always connected to Christ. Other than “goodness”, “long-suffering” and “beneficent”, “love” and “grace” are not directed to all people in general, to both the good and the evil ones, to both the righteous and the wicked, but concretely to people who are “in Christ”. Without a bond with him, love and grace are inconceivable.
God’s love is not a quality that is directed in an impersonal and uncritical way to all people. It is a gift, a wonderful gift, which particular people/sinners receive out of pure grace and which never becomes ours outside of Christ. God’s love is always love in Christ. In this is the love of God revealed toward us that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world so that we would live through him (1 John 4:9). He who believes in the Son shares in God love; but he who rejects the Son remains under God’s wrath (see John 3:36).
The Scriptures do not teach that after the Fall all people, without distinction and automatically, share in God’s love. His love is not that vague and cheap. We hear of the wrath of God which we have earned as people and have brought upon us. We can only be saved from this by our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why he came into the world. And to this end he sent his servants into the world; to proclaim him, who did not come to condemn the world, but to save whoever believes in him (John 3:16, 17; see also ch. 4). That is what is at stake here. This also makes mission so important!
And that is why his gospel is also good-spell (the ev-angel): the good news, the happy tiding. It speaks of deliverance from the horrible power of sin under which we all must bow. For Jew and Greek our only and our complete Saviour is Christ. No one needs to doubt that gospel. It comes earnestly to the hearers (CoD III/IV, 8). It is reliable. But it is not without obligation. It comes with the command to repent and to believe (CoD II, 5). When someone rejects the Son, the love of the Father is not in him. He remains in the destruction in which he has plunged himself and is even more guilty than those who have never heard the gospel (Matt. 11:22; Luke 12:47, 48). But whoever accepts it may rejoice in the love of God. A love that only becomes visible when man sees how heavy the debt is from which God has rescued him (see Luke 7:42, 43). But it is also a love which allows itself to be experienced richly and intensely; the holy God who accepts sinners as his own children and who wants to live with them day by day. God does not look at them in their guilt, but takes care of them with everything they need. He is with them on the way to the great wedding of the Lamb.
“All men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and deserve eternal death.” This is after all not such a crazy opening sentence to the Canons of Dordt! It is indeed an important indication of what the church has to say. It is a genuine “canon” or teaching principle! The church needs to proclaim Christ. But how can it do so without ever speaking about sin that we had brought on ourselves and from which he came to redeem us?!
- When it comes to the ground for the attribution of Adam’s sin to us, in reformed theology often two lines of thought are mentioned: that of realism (we too were in paradise) and that of federalism (Adams acting has consequences for us). Both lines suggest questions that cannot be solved. For example: How were we in Paradise according to realism; does Paul in Romans 5 not point to the distinction between Adam’s sin and ours? But on the other hand from a federal point of view, is it not a case where the sin of another is imputed to us, so that we become more of a “victim” rather than being an accomplice? People have indeed seized upon the sociological model of the “corporative personality”. But this does not work either (see J. Kamphuis, The church — a “corporative personality”? in: J. Kamphuis, Always with good accord; Essays from 1959 to 1969, Amsterdam 1973, p. 138-167).
We cannot go beyond what the Scriptures reveal to us. Let alone that we can fit it into a system. Certainly we, strongly individualistic thinkers of the West, cannot resolve this. We have to bow before God’s revelation that far exceeds our understanding.
- There is no reason to speak romantically or in a general way about the sin of the Gentiles. Look how Paul writes about it in Romans 1, in Ephesians 2 and in Ephesians 4:17-32, and note his reaction to the idolatry in Athens which provoked him (Acts 17:16). Peter speaks of the futile ways of the Gentiles (1 Peter 1:18; 4:1-6). Do we recognize this horror of sin, and does it stimulate us to spread the gospel?
- Do you deem the doctrine of original sin to be important? Does it belong to the heart of the gospel (see Matt. 3:1-12; Heb. 6: 1, 2)?
- How does the Bible speak about the salvation of unbelievers? Is there something to be said about the preservation of unbelieving children who die at a young age? Which motives play a role here?
- You cannot say to unbelievers: God loves you. But what can you say to them?
- What does it mean that we share in the common human guilt for our attitude toward the world?
- What does the doctrine of original sin mean for reformed education and for our dealings with young people in the church?
- A chapter like this shows how great a miracle it is to come to faith. Do you also experience it as such?
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