Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Original Sin/Human Depravity and Moral Accountability

Well I have been meaning to get this post up for a little while now it has been about a week since I promised it (sorry Edgar). The issue which was raised which I want to try to explain is how if we are born with a nature bent toward sin how are we responsible before God for acting on what we "naturally" desire? This is a great question and one we should have an adequate response to. Whether or not we are born with a fallen nature isn't even at issue in this post, it is assumed so the Pelagian error isn't on the radar screen. Rather, the issue at hand is: given the fact that through Adam's sin all his progeny inherit a fallen nature how are we responsible to God given the fact that we are born with a corrupt nature?

I will again lean on A.W. Pink because I find his writings to have great theological depth yet to be accessible to most readers. Before I turn it over to Pink I would like to give my own reply to this issue. I think that we are responsible to God for acting on our inherited sin nature the same way a man who was born into a family with a long history of alcoholism is responsible to the local law for driving his vehicle through multiple red lights injuring dozens of pedestrians and in the end plunging into the front of a convenient store while completely inebriated behind the wheel. The same way that this lecherous drunk driver will find no loopholes in the human court of law by saying: "How can you blame me for what happened? It is just part of my genetic makeup to act this way, I didn't ask to be born into a family with a history of alcoholism." in like manner no sinner will be able to excuse himself before the heavenly tribunal by saying: "Hey I was just acting on my fallen desires, I really couldn't help it, I after all didn't ask to be born a sinner." In neither case will the offender be excused.

This is fairly obvious because the alcoholic in our analogy knew he had a problem and knew he should probably stay clear of the local tavern. He knew this and acted contrary to his better judgement. Likewise the fallen sinner knows that those who practice a life style of sin deserve death (Rom 1:32) yet the fallen sinner acts contrary to this better judgement and lives in sin.

I also think our thinking on human responsibility changes as our perspective shifts. We are prone to look at these issues from a man centered vantage point and bring accusations against God, I say we are prone to this because it isn't new to bring charges of unfairness before a sovereign God (Rom 9:14). When we see this issue as best we can from God's vantage point the question isn't how is it fair for God to punish people for sinning when they were born with a sinful nature predisposing them to sin. The issue for God is how can God let people who were born in sin and hating Him into a reconciled fellowship with Him and still be holy? It would seem the most upright thing for a holy God to do to a race of beings that hate Him and are polluted with sin's effects from birth is to wipe out the whole race. Yet God does not do this, He is merciful and longsuffering. The issue for Him is how can He do that and NOT compromise His holiness? The answer of course is the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world.

Moving on to what AW Pink has to say on this issue, these excerpts come from Pink's excellent book "The Sovereignty of God". I highly recommend its reading to all Christians who would like a deep yet succinct exposition of the sovereignty of God. The question Pink is responding to in this portion of the book is: "2. How can the sinner be held responsible FOR the doing of what he is UNABLE to do? And how can he be justly condemned for NOT DOING what he COULD NOT do?" [emphasis his] He writes:

As a creature the natural man is responsible to love, obey, and serve God; as a sinner he is responsible to repent and believe the Gospel. But at the outset we are confronted with the fact that natural man is unable to love and serve God, and that the sinner, of himself, cannot repent and believe. First, let us prove what we have just said. We begin by quoting and considering John 6:44, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him." The heart of the natural man (every man) is so "desperately wicked" that if he is left to himself he will never 'come to Christ.' This statement would not be questioned if the full force of the words "coming to Christ" were properly apprehended." (p.149)


Now let it be clearly understood that when we speak of the sinner's inability, we do not mean that if men desired to come to Christ they lack the necessary power to carry out their desire. No; the fact is that the sinner's inability or absence of power is itself due to lack of willingness to come to Christ, and this lack of willingness is the fruit of a depraved heart. It is of first importance that we distinguish between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability. For example, we read, "But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age" (1 Kings 14:4); and again, "The men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them" (Jonah 1:13).

In both of these passages the words "could not" refer to natural inability. But when we read, "And when his brethren saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him" (Gen. 37:4), it is clearly moral inability that is in view. They did not lack the natural ability to "speak peaceably unto him" for they were not dumb. Why then was it that they "could not speak peaceably unto him"? The answer is given in the same verse: it was because "they hated him." Again; in 2 Peter 2:14 we read of a certain class of wicked men "having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin." Here again it is moral inability that is in view. Why is it that these men "cannot cease from sin"? The answer is, Because their eyes were full of adultery.

So of Romans 8:8-"They that are in the flesh cannot please God": here is spiritual inability. Why is it that the natural man "cannot please God"? Because he is "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). No man can choose that from which his heart is averse-"O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?" (Matt. 12:34). "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). Here again it is moral and spiritual inability which is before us. Why is it the sinner cannot come to Christ unless he is "drawn"? The answer is, Because his wicked heart loves sin and hates Christ. (p.152-153)

Should some sinner here object, I cannot help being born into this world with a depraved heart and therefore I am not responsible for my moral and spiritual inability which accrue from it, the reply would be, Responsibility and Culpability He in the indulgence of the depraved propensities, the free indulgence, for God does not force any to sin. Men might pity me but they certainly would not excuse me if I gave vent to a fiery temper and then sought to extenuate myself on the ground of having inherited that temper from my parents. Their own common sense is sufficient to guide their judgment in such a case as this. They would argue I was responsible to restrain my temper.

Why then cavil against this same principle in the case supposed above? "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee thou wicked servant" surely applies here! What would the reader say to a man who had robbed him and who later argued in defense, "I cannot help being a thief, that is my nature"? Surely the reply would be, Then the penitentiary is the proper place for that man. What then shall be said to the one who argues that he cannot help following the bent of his sinful heart? Surely, that the Lake of Fire is where such an one must go. Did ever a murderer plead that he hated his victim so much that he could not go near him without slaying him. Would not that only magnify the enormity of his crime! Then what of the one who loves sin so much that he is at "enmity against God"! (p.153)


Suppose a man owed me $100 and could find plenty of money for his own pleasures but none for me, yet pleaded that he was unable to pay me. What would I say? I would say that the only ability that was lacking was an honest heart. But would it not be an unfair construction of my words if a friend of my dishonest debtor should say I had stated that an honest heart was that which constituted the ability to pay the debt? No; I would reply: the ability of my debtor lies in the power of his hand to write me a check, and this he has, but what is lacking is an honest principle. It is his power to write me a check which makes him responsible to do so, and the fact that he lacks an honest heart does not destroy his accountability.

Now, in like manner, the sinner while altogether lacking in moral and spiritual ability does, nevertheless, possess natural ability, and this it is which renders him accountable unto God. Men have the same natural faculties to love God with as they have to hate Him with, the same hearts to believe with as to disbelieve, and it is their failure to love and believe which constitutes their guilt. An idiot or an infant is not personally responsible to God, because lacking in natural ability. But the normal man who is endowed with rationality, who is gifted with a conscience that is capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, who is able to weigh eternal issues IS a responsible being, and it is because he does possess these very faculties that he will yet have to "give an account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12)." (p.153-154)

That is a lot to chew on and truly thought provoking. For myself I think Pink's distinction between natural ability and moral/spiritual ability is VERY helpful in understanding responsibility. What I also find interesting (and this pertains to a different avenue of debate in the same arena) is the death of infants. As you can see I put in bold Pink's view which he mentions in passing that infants are not accountable due to a lack of ability to discern and thus choose the wrong over the good. Oh and by the way "idiots" in older parlance referred to the mentally disabled, sorry people weren't as PC then as they are now (then again "idiots" probably didn't have the negative connotation then as it does now...kind of like how kids call one another retards). I am not sure I fully agree (I am agnostic on that matter right now), but I think that it is a logical outcome given the argument he just put forward.


Ben Osborne said...

Bob, I like that explanation. Would you say that for every sin that we commit, we could have not committed it? It's inevitable that at some point in our life we will sin, but if we isolate any particular sin that we perpetrated, we can look back and say, "I didn't have to do that." Would you agree?

Bob said...

Hey Ben good to hear from you in the blog world as to what you said:
Yes, I think if Pink is correct then every sin we commit is a sin we could have potentially NOT commited by our natural ability. However because of our moral corruption we at the same time can not not sin.

I like how he pointed to the attitude of Joseph's brothers where it says they "could not speak peaceably to him". Now of course it was in their physical natural ability to say nice words however their corruption and bitterness was so deep that they couldn't do anything but speak maliciously of Joseph. said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the post on this topic. It definitely adds to my current understanding. I see the two inabilities: natural vs. spiritual.

The more I think of my life, the more I see Paul's "no one seeks God. No one understands him."

I also agree that we're not excused because Adam & Eve passed us the "human nature" to sin. I just want to have a good explanation of how "the sinful nature" was passed on to us (e.g. imputation).

I've been reading some John Piper. He's definitely helped me a lot.

Bob said...

Hey Edgar,
I am glad this was somewhat helpful, it helped me out for sure because until you making me do my homework I didn't think of 2 inabilities myself. So yeah keep digging into scripture and faithful expositors like John Piper, he is probably my favorite living preacher.

BTW thanks for pointing me to the program. I don't have photoshop but this is a step up from munking around with the reagular paint program. said...

Yeah, the Paint.Net program is pretty cool. Takes a bit to get familiar with it.

I'm still re-reading James White's "The Potter's Freedom". Though White is really sharp, he left this particular question unanswered. I sent him an email with my "question" but he hasn't replied. I think he owes it to me :-). He should've had an appendix on this topic itself. We'll see.