Some years back I met with a gentleman with an interesting dilemma. On looking back I can see that his Calvinism had made shipwreck of his life, and faith. At the time it was clear to me that he man had some serious issues with his perspective, but didn’t have the full understanding to see the root of his problem.
At the time we met, he was living in sin with a woman whom my (now wife, then:) girlfriend worked with, and had been witnessing to. This gentleman had previously been married, but struggled with a lust problem. He didn’t go into the full details, but essentially he was put into a situation where he knew he would have the opportunity to have an affair. Further, he had known in advance that he was going to be put into that situation, and desperately yearned NOT to be, fully realizing that he would not have the personal fortitude to resist the temptation; he knew it would ruin his marriage, and his life. So he prayed, he begged, he pleaded, he desperately sought for God to give him the strength to resist temptation. Tragically, the crucial momment came, and he sinned. Not only was his life now destroyed because of his affair, but so too was his faith because – as he testified to me that day – “there was no power in Christ for him;” when he sought for God to deliver him from temptation (and that is a right prayer: “Lead us not into temptation…”), that God did not deliver him from his sinful inclinations.
You see in his mind, he was a slave to an inherited sinful nature. It was sin IN HIM that had the power over his life, and God and Christianity had failed him, because in the momment of temptatikn that he had sought God to deliver him from, Christ gave him not the power to overcome that sin. What an horrible situation for a Calvinist to be in! Now not only is his life destroyed, and marriage ruined, his very election, and salvation are in question for God’s regenerative grace had not empowered him to overcome sin! Believing that continuing to act like a Christian would make him an hypocrite, yet now fully grieved in himself and certain he was reprobate, his best recourse was to die inside and live life as it came, waiting his judgment (for he knew he could not deny the Truth of Christ).
O wretched man that I am! Who will save me from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24)
Unfortunately, at the time I was less well versed in these matters, and did not fully percieve that his entire problem was Calvinism. He believed that he had no control of himself. He was, indeed, utterly convinced that he inheritted a nature of sin that he had no control over. He was a full-blown Calvinist; he believed that only God’s grace could overcome his sinful nature, and he truly believed that the only way the destruction of his life and marriage could have been prevented was if the Holy Spirit MADE him regenerate beyond temptation.
There wasn’t even a consideration that his philosophy may have been mistaken; and I can’t see any way around his situation if his philosophy is correct; it would appear, by this reasoning, that God really did fail him.
It never seemed to occur to this gentleman that HE was solely responsible for his sin. He doesn’t have an illness that puts him out of control over his actions. Sin is a choice that we make. In a round about (…no a pretty direct) way this philosophy of the sinful nature blames God. We are born without a choice! God’s sovereignty has already predetermined us to sin, and judgment. Then in order to overcome sin, we have to wait and hope that God’s grace will deliver us from temptation. God is ultimately sovereign over it all, and if we can’t overcome sin… well that’s just our nature. But who created us? From this perspective, there’s really no way of getting around the fact that its God’s fault. Ever notice that this philosophy is right in line with Adam’s excuse for sin?
In my prequel quote, we looked at our inheritance of guilt, and shame from Adam, but let’s look a little more closely at the original sin. When god confronted Adam with his sin (which it was his choice to commit: he was not forced, and he had no sinful nature), what was Adam’s response?
“The woman YOU gave me…” (Gen 3:12) As if he hadn’t made his own CHOICE. In fact, Adam turns the blame for his own sin back around to God. God gave the woman to Adam, the woman enticed him to sin. Surely, God had known that the woman would entice Adam to sin, but he gave her to Adam, anyway. God’s fault. Right?
What’s the probelm here? Adam is not willing to take responsibility for THE SOVEREIGNTY OF HIS OWN ACTIONS.
Our Calvinist philosophy does exactly the same thing. The sinful NATURE I was born with… we make sin sovereign in our life (as Adam’s excuse made the woman sovereign over his actions: “The woman…” as if he had no control over his OWN sin because of her); we also put the blame back on God, as he did – if we are born with a sinful nature, and God made us, and predestined humanity to sin, whose fault is it? Ah, you see, we know we SHOULDN’T blame God so we try to avoid that, but this philosophy does blame God.
Could we blame the devil? Sure! But wait, who made him? Who put him in the garden, knowing he would tempt us? See, even if we blame the devil for OUR sin, we’re still blaming God. Its intrinsic in the phiosophy. Why? Because the philosophy pins our own wickedness on something other than ourselves. If we blame anyone, in the end we are blaming God, and guess what? That’s the nature of sin; that’s why when we sin we become God’s enemy.
Riddled with guilt, and shame for what he had done, Adam sought to justify himself. Yet the reality of the situation was that there was no way to justify himself without the responsibility for his actions belonging to someone else. Adam had only two options:
1) Take full responsibility, and die for his sin, or
2) Blame God.
Of course, he knew he shouldn’t blame God, so he put up the woman first: ‘She really is the cause… but I mean… YOU gave her to me…’
Any philosophy which blames anyone, or anything besides exclusively ME, and ME ALONE for MY sin will, in the end indict God. Further, just like the gentleman I described above, we will have convinced ourselves that we don’t have the power to resist sin because, afterall: “Its the woman! Its the devil! Its the sin at work in my members!
If we seek to justify ourselves, we find ourselves blaming God; not only so, but if we justify ourselves, we have scorned the justification that comes from God. How can we recieve mercy if our foremost principle is to justify ourselves? What if adam had repented when confronted with his guilt – not attempted to justify himself, but declared his transgression that he might rather be justified by God? But justifying ourselves, we elevate us above need for forgiveness – this is how a heart is hardened against the mercy of God.
No, I am a sinner; I chose to transgress of my own volition, and cannot blame anyone else. God, forgive me; only You are righteous, only You have never done wrong. Only the perfect sinless blood of Jesus can cleanse me of the guilt for what I’ve done. Forgive me, also, for inclining my heart to blame anything but myself, which thus blames you: the innocent One. I am dead in my sins, and worthy of hell, and its all my own fault. Have mercy!
I want God’s justification, the perfect blood sacrifice, I don’t want the fig leaf of self-justification anymore.
But now the die-hard calvinist will ask me, how do I reconcile with Romans 7?
‘Now then, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.’ (v. 17)
But Romans 7 is about man’s attempt to be justified by the Law; we generally interpret it right out of its context, but in it, Paul is not describing a Christian with a ‘sinful nature,’ he is describing the man who lives under the Law for righteousness, rather than the justification of Christ. (7:1, 6, 8, 11, etc.)
But sin, taking occasion BY THE COMMANDMENT, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. (Rom 7:8)
Romans 7 is about how man can only be justified by faith apart from the law (which interpretation fits right into the context of Romans 1-8 (see specifically 3:21 & 22, 28; 8:4; 10:4, etc.)). In it, Paul explains that man, being APPOINTED to sin (see prequel post) who seeks to justify himself (see preceeding thoughts in this post) through the works of the law, actually causes sin to thrive because he has not submitted himself to the righteousness of God by faith. Living by the law, rather than by faith, he finds his attempts at righteousness by the law, rather to stir up sinful desires in him (v. 8) so that he is unable to do he righteous works of the law. Our carnal flesh cannot of itself work righteousness. As another prophet put it: ‘…all our righteousness are as filthy rags…’ (Is 64:6).
What is the premise of Romans 7?
Romans 3:20 – Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Romans 7:5 – For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, WHICH WERE BY THE LAW, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
When we grasp that Paul is talking about justification through faith, rather than legalism, we can clearly see that he personifies sin (as in verse 17) on the basis of a man who is using works to be justified, not on the basis of an inherited sinful nature. Really, its the whole point that Paul is trying to get accross about the law through the entire book (especially chapter 7): the law is good (7:12), but it causes sin to arise in our flesh (7:8-11). But doesn’t that make the law bad (7:13)? No, the law is spiritual, and man is carnal (7:14), and on and on it goes. The law is good, but using it to be righteous actually stirs up evil within us. Righteousness comes through faith, not by the law.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t really sure what to tell the calvinist gentleman at the time; he was truly a broken man, and evidently was fully convinced that he had no power of self-control against his sinful nature. The best I had for him was still True: he must now rely on the grace of God regardless of the destruction of his life, and marriage. But it strikes me in his situation, that re-organizing his perspective to realize he is fully responsible for his own actions, and is not being controlled by his ‘sinful nature’ would not only have helped him return to God’s grace in repentance, but would also have not left him in an utter sense of victimhood regarding sin, repentance and salvation.