The Christian Story – IV. What Sin Deserves

Because of sin, all mankind are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This means they come under God’s condemnation for what they’ve done. Romans 2:6 says that God “will render to each one according to his works.” This means that every person will be judged according to what they’ve done. “For those [people] who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury,” (Romans 2:8). One day every human being will appear before God and will have to answer for everything they’ve done, during their whole life. For those whose lives have been lived in rebellion toward God, living their lives as if he had nothing to say, as if he had no rights over them, they will face the fury of God on the day when he judges mankind.

God, since he is good and just, must punish all sin. There will be no pardons on the last day for people who have lived life on their own terms. And because their offense is so serious, they will never be able to finish paying the debt that they owe. Since God is infinitely good, sin is an offense that is infinitely serious. God will punish them forever, and there will be no appeals. They will go away into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).


The Christian Story – III. Sin

(continued from part II. – The Fall)

But sin didn’t stay as a simple breaking of a rule. It spread throughout the whole of man, and became a part of who he was. He didn’t just commit a sin; he was now a sinner, by nature and not just action. After this event in the garden happened, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5). Sin was so thoroughly now a part of man that it infected not just the way he acted, but the way he thought, all the way down to the deepest motivations of his heart.

Another way the Bible describes sin is as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). This is who man naturally is now. He is a lawless rebel, caring nothing for what God says, and who now lives his life in total defiance of God. He now tries to decide for himself what is right and wrong, what he should worship, and everything else about his life.

The one who was created by God, gets his life and breath from God, and should live his life to God, is now a “child of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The problem is not primarily wrongs committed against fellow human beings, but against God. The problem is not because man needs self-actualization, or because he lacks self-confidence, or that he is simply not living up to his full potential, or that he is isolated from other human beings and suffers broken relationships, or that he doesn’t have enough knowledge. The problem is that he is now an enemy of God. And we must remember that this problem is not just in what people do, but who they are. So because God is completely morally perfect, and because who he is and the way he acts as a person actually defines what “good” even means, and since sin is a breaking of his intent for our lives as expressed through his law, sin is also relational. It is the denial of the creator/creation relationship that makes us enemies of the God we’re created to love. Every way that people naturally relate to God is sinful.

In the religions that really recognize that something is drastically wrong, and even try to please some sort of god or supernatural force, the way it is said to accomplish this is by things that they do. Some people try to do this by denying themselves pleasure, fasting, inflicting pain on themselves, and other means of asceticism. Others do so in seeking to do good to their fellow man. They hope that God will look on these things and be pleased, or at the very least that these ‘good’ things that they do will outweigh all the bad that they’ve done. But like we’ve already seen, the main problem isn’t in what we do, but in who we are. Man’s thoughts and deeds are only evil, all the time, Genesis 6:5 says.

So even when men try to do good, they actually do evil, because their intent is to bribe God by the things they do, in order to avoid punishment, whatever that may be. Or, instead of bribing him, they try to obligate him to be merciful by showing what good people they really are. They actually show they have no idea just how bad the problem is, to think that by good deeds or harshness to their own bodies that they can make up for the evil they’ve done. They think the solution can be found in themselves, but really, that’s where the problem is. All human religion sees the problem as outside of them, and the solution inside of them. But the opposite is true: the problem is inside them, and the solution outside.

(next to come: What Does Sin Deserve?)

The Christian Story – II. The Fall

The book of Genesis explains the creation of man, that he is special among all created things, being made in God’s image, in his likeness (Genesis 1:26). Everything else that was created was created by God speaking, but man it says, was “formed” (Genesis 2:7). He was created, as we already saw, to know God and to be in a relationship with him from the very beginning. God gave the man only a few instructions, and one of those was to not eat from a certain tree in the garden that he was supposed to tend.

But the story, as most people will know, finds Eve eating fruit from the tree that was forbidden. But the beginning of her sin wasn’t eating. The beginning of her sin was violating what we saw earlier: when Satan comes to her and tells her she should eat, Eve decides to listen both to Satan and to God and what they claimed about what was right to do, and then from her own wisdom figure out which of them is right. She set her judgment up against God’s, and that was the beginning of her sin. She thought she could be her own standard, and so she and Adam ate.

It’s important to realize that real Christianity sees this story as actually happening. It’s not a story that’s treated as a mythical explanation of what’s wrong with the world; instead, we believe that the story happened in such a way that you could have recorded it all with a video camera – that you could have taken a bite of the same piece of fruit that Eve ate had you been there.

Now, God had given the command specifically to Adam, and so his drastic failure was in following Eve’s lead instead of himself remembering what God said. Because God had made Adam the head, the leader of that relationship, the responsibility for the sin fell on his shoulders. He should have protected Eve, but Genesis says that when Eve decided to eat, she “gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate,” (3:6). He abdicated the responsibility, and so the fault is really his.

This is the first sin in the Bible. God gave a direct command, and that command was broken. Adam was made by God to be a representative of humankind in the garden, and when he fell, the whole of humanity fell with him. The Bible says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,” (Romans 5:12) showing that the origin of death is sin. The rest of the verse says that “death spread to all men because all sinned,” (5:12). So God was very gracious in giving us Adam as a representative: he was free of sin, he didn’t have anything in him (like we do) that naturally pushed him towards sin or evil, and he was given very simple rules. But he sinned anyway, and so all men, as God sees it, sinned with him (5:12 again).

* * *

This is the Christian understanding of everything that’s wrong with the world. Moral evil is sin in action, and natural evil is God’s curse on his creation as a judgment for sin. If we don’t accept the fall, Christianity is completely incoherent.

The Christian Story – I. Creation

Christianity is the only religion in the world that is about a person. Religions the world over have moral codes, doctrines about man, perspectives on what good and evil are, and speculation as to what the afterlife will be like. But Christianity is different, unique among them all. Christianity is a teaching about something that has happened in history, and this history revolves around the life of a person.

The teaching about the life of this person is called gospel, or “good news”. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is good news, but it doesn’t merely begin with the life of a man in first century Palestine. To really understand this news, and why we should call it “good”, we have to start our story a lot earlier.


For some people, the doctrine of creation might be a confusing place to start in something that’s supposed to be about the gospel. A survey of most of the Christian literature explaining what the gospel is usually has almost no chronological dimension to it—it simply begins with certain truths, which are told without much of a sense of history to them. When most people think about the Bible explaining creation, they think of Genesis 1:1. But one of the more clear statements about the fact of creation is found in the Gospel according to John. John explains in chapter one, verse three something incredibly foundational for our understanding of the gospel:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

We learn from this that nothing that has been brought into existence has existed for any other reason than God wanted it to. From this we can understand that God, as the creator, has complete ownership of everything he’s made. This is also testified to in Romans 9:21, using the analogy of God as a potter and his creation as clay: “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” The answer is an understood yes. When something is made, it’s completely at the disposal of its maker.

But we don’t only learn about God’s ownership and rights from the doctrine of creation. We also learn that God has a purpose for everything that he’s made. The analogy of the potter and clay is helpful here: potters create for a purpose. It can be for a functional purpose, like something to keep water in, or it can be artistic, intended to be something beautiful, and a display of craftsmanship.

All that being said, we can understand that man is both 1) not his own, but God’s, and 2) God created man with a purpose. The Bible says God created man so that man would seek him (Acts 17:27), and their responsibility is to serve him in everything they do, whether they eat, or drink, or laugh, or speak, or anything (1 Corinthians 10:31). Man is created to know God, to seek him, and to serve him. The apostle Paul puts it like this: “From him and through him and to him are all things,” (Romans 11:36). God is the source of all things, and through (because of) him they continue to exist, and they exist to him, toward him, for his sake. For the moment, we bring this truth to bear on what this has to do with man. Man does not exist for his own sake. He exists for God.

Therefore, man is not self-determining or self-governing. He can’t decide for himself what is good, what is evil, what he should worship, anything. He can’t be his own standard. God is his standard.

coming next: The Fall

The Christian Story – introductory

As part of the Apprentice program at my church, I was given the assignment of writing a gospel tract for us to use in our church. The intention is to have something on-hand, produced in-house, that can be useful both for non-believers who are totally unfamiliar with the gospel, and edifying for Christians who could benefit from a more thorough understanding of it.

In planning for it, we wanted to show that the facts of the Christian gospel are not simply a theological system – they’re instead history that has been given an interpretation; real events that happened in real time in a real place that have significance for us. This was the perspective we started from, and I’ve decided to post the different sections periodically.

Facing Judgment Resurrected

For about the last month I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the nature of justification by faith alone (JFA) for a paper that I’ll (God-willing) be finishing by the end of this semester. Most of it will be devoted to explaining what the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is and comparing it with historical definitions of JFA and how those definitions have been derived from the Bible.

Toward that end, the first book I read was John Piper’s The Future of Justification, which is a response to the NPP as expounded by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. Wright is a popular New Testament scholar and has made some significant contributions to the defense of historic orthodox Christian doctrine over the years, especially in response to the liberal Jesus Seminar. However, his work over the past several years has been to attempt in redefining JFA in a way incompatible with that which the church has long held. Hopefully (for my own sake as much as anyone else’s) I’ll be trying to offer some concise statements of what I’ve learned that Wright says and some responses to it.

But, in the mean time, I wanted to share something I’ve learned from some of the other reading I’ve been doing, namely from Justified in Christ, edited by Scott Oliphint of WTS. It’s a collection of essays partly in response to the NPP, and partially just to provide a biblical and historical defense of JFA. Of the near half of the book that I’ve read so far, two essays have been the most striking: Union With Christ and Justication (Lane Tipton) and Justification and Eschatology (Richard Gaffin). Originally I avoided Gaffin’s article because the concept of eschatology intimidates me, but eventually I realized the subject wasn’t a particular eschatological viewpoint, but instead how we will be justified in the last judgment. Part of the reason this is so important is because of the new definition given to JFA by the NPPers, which, among other things, has justification occurring finally at the great final judgment on the basis of the whole life lived. If I read that correctly, it sounds as if the outcome of that final judgment cannot be known until the end of one’s earthly life, which to me seems to empty the gospel of good news.

Much of this idea of the NPP is based on Romans 2:13, which states that it is not the hearers of the law, but the doer of it that will be justified. Both Piper and Gaffin give great explanations of what this means in the context of the historico-orthodox teaching, but Gaffin, after doing so, goes on to give several reasons why believers can face judgment with confidence. And one of these is the doctrine of the resurrection.

I’ve typically thought of facing the judgment as I myself currently am – a frail, sinful human who, though he has much to answer for, will be acquitted because of Jesus. This picture, though is only partially accurate. Jesus tells us in John 5:28-29 that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” So the resurrection will have drastically different significance for these two groups. Part of the promise to those resurrected to life is that “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body,” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). So for all those who “belong to Christ” (15:23), the resurrection will find us already with new, spiritual, glorified bodies.

This means that already as resurrected children of God, we are considered in Christ. For us, Romans 8:29-30 will be in the past tense. I will be conformed to the image of the Son. We will be like him, because we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). So when we are judged, we are judged as those in the image of Jesus, with his spotless record and as those loved of God like he is. As Gaffin puts it,

In other words, believers, in union with Christ, will appear at the final judgment as already resurrected bodily. That is, they will appear there in their “spiritual bodies”, that is, bodies that are enlivened and transformed by the Holy Spirit and so are as imperishable as they are glorified and powerful (1 Cor. 15:42-44). Christians will appear for final judgment as fully conformed, by bodily resurrection, to the image of their brother, the exalted Christ…

If believers appear at the judgment as already resurrected bodily, they will appear there as already openly justified…This means, further, we may say, that, for believers, the final judgment, as it is to be according to works, will have for them a reality that is reflective of and further attests their justification already openly manifested in their bodily resurrection…It would be perverse to an extreme, then, to read Paul’s teaching on the final judgment…as leaving Christians in this life, in the face of death, uncertain of the future. […] To the contrary, everything at stake here, including their assurance, depends [not on their good works, but] on Christ, specifically his finished righteousness imputed [or reckoned, credited] to them, in union with him, and received by faith alone. (“Justification and Eschatology”, in Justified in Christ, ed. Oliphint, 21. bold emphasis added)

So at my resurrection, I will not appear before God as I am now. In fact, through my then-present status as “belonging to Christ” by my resurrection in glorified body, and what that consequently implies through imputation, it will be, for all intents and purposes, Jesus whom God is judging, and not me.

Hypostasis made easy

One of the most perplexing doctrines that Christianity teaches is the way that Jesus can be both man and God. This often can result in imbalance (and consequently, heresy) in how we view the union between Jesus’ divinity and humanity. At the Desiring God Blog today, David Mathis explains this teaching, referred to by theologians as the hypostatic union, in a way much simpler than I’ve ever seen it. Here’s what he says:

“Hypostatic union” may sound fancy in English, but it’s a pretty simple term. Hypostatic means personal. The hypostatic union is the personal union of Jesus’ two natures. Jesus has two complete natures—one fully human and one fully divine. What the doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches is that these two natures are united in one person in the God-man. Jesus is not two persons. He is one person.

This may sound remote and abstract, but without it, Christianity does not exist. If Jesus is not fully God, then he cannot atone for our sins. If he is anything less than God, he would suffer for sin as anything less than God does: eternally. And because he would suffer eternally, he would never finish suffering for me, and I am not saved.

And if he is not fully man, he can never be the new head of the human race. If he isn’t sent in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he can never suffer the condemnation of sin in the flesh for me; he cannot be a faithful and merciful high priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses; he cannot destroy the one who has the power of death. I cannot receive the perfect record of Jesus as a law-keeper if he is not fully man. Unless he dies for me a fully human man, I am not saved.

That’s why the teaching of hypostasis is so important. And that’s why this simple definition is so helpful.