By David K. Bernard
Paul stated the human dilemma in Romans 7:14: “I am carnal; sold under sin.” What does this statement mean, and what is the remedy for our sinful nature?
The Human Dilemma
God wasn’t responsible for the origin of sin. God created Adam and Eve in innocence. He created them to love Him.
Love requires free will and choice, and thus there was the potential for wrong choice, which is sin.
Love requires free will and choice, and thus there was the potential for wrong choice, which is sin. They were created in the image of God and were enough like Him that they could and did create a new condition in their lives, namely, sin. They weren’t foreordained to sin, however.
Every human after them has been born with a nature of sin. (See Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:9–12; 5:12, 18; 6:6, 17; 7:14–25; Galatians 3:22.) This doesn’t mean we are guilty of their sin or will suffer eternal punishment for their sin. Rather, we have inherited the law of sin, which is the principle of sin, the propensity to sin, the dominion of sin. Not only is everyone capable of sin, but everyone is enslaved by sin and has in fact sinned. We aren’t forced to commit specific sins; however; we remain accountable for our actions.
Inheriting the Law of Sin
In the biblical world people were seen in solidarity with their family, community, and nation. Entire families, tribes, and nations suffered judgment collectively, such as the families of Korah and Achan. Hebrews 7 imputes Abraham’s paying of tithes to his descendant Levi. If it seems unfair that everyone has been born in sin because of one man, Adam, it is also “unfair” (merciful and gracious) that we have redemption through one man, Jesus. In fact, our salvation is much greater than our sin; we receive “much more” in Christ than we lost in Adam (Romans 5).
Both by heredity and environment, children participate in and are greatly affected by the nature, circumstances, and choices of their parents and their society. Because of sin’s dominion, every human has sinned, except Jesus. (See I Kings 8:46; Psalm 14:1–3; 53:1–3; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23.) As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, this is the one Christian doctrine that can be empirically proven. Those who have a moral code have sinned against it, and even those who haven’t been taught God’s law have sinned against their own conscience. (See Romans 2:12–16.) If humans didn’t have the nature or dominion of sin but only an ability to sin, then some of the billions of people wouldn’t have sinned, but the Bible testifies that all have sinned.
The Bible testifies that all have sinned.
Even before children have a conscious understanding of sin and can be held accountable for sinful actions, they have a nature of selfish desires, stubbornness, greed, jealousy, envy, and dishonesty. They don’t have to be taught to disobey, rebel, steal, lie, and fight. These behaviors come “naturally.” But they must be taught self-discipline, obedience, gratitude, kindness, and other qualities we associate with righteousness.
God’s Grace Extends to Everyone
God holds people accountable only for their own choices. (See Ezekiel 18.) Even though people are bound by sin in general, they bear personal responsibility for any particular choice and are held accountable by God and by society for specific acts. Based on our understanding of God’s justice, we believe there is some age of accountability for each person and some divine plan for aborted babies, infants, small children, and others with little or no ability to understand and respond to the gospel. (See II Samuel 12:22–23; Isaiah 7:16; Romans 1:18–21; 2:14–15; 5:13.) Moreover, God’s grace extends to everyone to enable them to respond to Him in faith (Titus 2:11).
Eve sinned because the devil deceived her into thinking she could enjoy additional pleasure and become wise like God. She was convinced that sin was good for her (Genesis 3:4–6). Adam wasn’t deceived (I Timothy 2:14). He knew it was bad, but he wanted to experience the pleasure and he was influenced by his wife. Perhaps he didn’t want to break fellowship with her. In any case, neither of them was required to sin.
The motivations for their sin help explain our sins today, but we don’t start from the same position as they had. We start with the reality that the human race is already under sin.
The Remedy: Jesus and His Plan of Redemption
Without Jesus Christ, we don’t have a completely free will, but one benefit of the Atonement is to restore our free will. By God’s grace, we can respond to God’s call to repent and believe. The answer to life’s unfairness is ultimately found in God’s grace as revealed through Jesus Christ.
By God’s grace, we can respond to God’s call to repent and believe.
The Holy Spirit gives us power over the “old man” or old way of life (Romans 6), power over the law of sin and death (Romans 8).
We must be born again. By the new birth, we receive forgiveness from past sin, deliverance from present sin, and the grace to live a holy life. As Romans 7:25–8:4 explains, through Jesus Christ we have victory over the sinful nature as we walk after the Spirit. Whatever your personal situation, repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the biblical model of responding to the gospel message. It empowers us: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Daily as we seek to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, God gives us strength. Paul warned to leave the old way of life and embrace life in the Spirit. He wrote to the Ephesians, “But be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The abundant life Jesus promised is filled with joy and liberty as we walk in the Spirit (John 10:10).
Resources and Links
A version of this content originally appeared in Pentecostal Life. To see more content or subscribe, visit https://www.pentecostallife.com/.