The great problem of mankind is sin, and we may either deny it, make excuses for it, make light of it, shift the blame for it, despair over it, or seek to find the answer to it. The one thing we cannot do is remove it — at least not without God. The fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) tells us this is a serious problem, worth our serious consideration.
That being true, let us first consider that we didn’t start out that way. The wise writer reminds us, “That God made man upright” (Eccl. 7:29), but we also know he did not remain upright for long. In the beginning of man’s existence, he walked with God in the Garden and it appears God had a very close relationship with man, but then sin entered into the world (see Genesis 3), and man was separated from God ever since. When God told man to not eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17), He did not mean literal, physical death, but spiritual death — a separation from God and all spiritual blessings man could have enjoyed with that ongoing relationship with God. Every man since Adam has, at some point in his or her life, become separated from God by the sins committed against Him. Paul reminds us, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Remember, that “death” that spread to all men was a spiritual separation from God.
Note also that all men were, at some point in their lives, spiritually separated from God “because all sinned” — not because they inherited it from their father and mother. The Calvinist doctrine of “inherited depravity” is completely baseless and, in fact, goes against the very word of God. Sin, by God’s definition, “is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4); since “lawlessness” is, by definition “the state of being unrestrained by law,” we must acknowledge that this is an act of choice, not inheritance. God Himself said plainly, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son” (Ezek. 18:20) — no sin and no punishment for sin is “inherited” by our descendants.
This would make sense to any honest reader of the Scriptures, for Jesus Himself would say, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Now, is Jesus saying we should become “totally depraved” and have a nature that is “corrupt, perverse, and sinful throughout”? [As quoted from The Five Points of Calvinism, David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas.] I believe anyone with an honest heart and even a smidgen of common sense could see that is not what Jesus meant! Now, some may argue that Jesus was speaking of the humility of children, rather than the spiritual innocence, but is His meaning limited to just that? Consider another admonition that speaks to the need for disciples to be like children:
The apostle Paul admonished the brethren at Corinth, “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). If we accept that “malice” is, by definition, “evil intent on the part of a person who commits a wrongful act,” and we acknowledge Paul uses “babes” [the littlest of children] to illustrate the need for disciples to be completely devoid of any evil intent, we would have to conclude that children [including babes] are completely devoid of evil intent! I would argue that common sense would also tell us babes are incapable of any intent [evil or good], for they do not have the mental capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong or good and evil.
Consider, also, the words of Moses when he recounted their rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea: To the adults, who had claimed their children would be victims of the Canaanites if they dared to go into the land, he said that they [the parents] would not go into the land, but their children, “who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there” (Deut. 1:39). Now, we also know that only those under the age of 20 years old would go in (Num. 14:29), so it would not even be a stretch to say this innocence because of the inability to distinguish between good and evil would, for some, extend into at least the teen years. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however; there is nothing implied in the text that it was the official and universal “cut off” age of innocence. But the point should not be lost in this that children are innocent of the guilt of sin simply because they cannot even comprehend the difference between right and wrong.
With that said, when and how does one lose that innocence and become guilty if sin, which is itself an act of the will? There is no simple answer that would apply to all, for each individual differs from all others in understanding and comprehension, and only they and God know when they know the difference between right and wrong, or good and evil. We sometimes call this “the age of accountability,” but there is no specific age or time when this happens. But we know it happens for, as Paul said, “all have sinned.”
And since sin is a spiritual separation from God, and man has no ability within himself to remove the stain and guilt of that sin, this almost sounds like a hopeless condition! And it is! The relationship with God that man had in the beginning was broken because of sin, and since all have sinned, this sounds like this sin-free existence is irretrievable; that is, it is “impossible to regain or recover.” And it is exactly that! Without God, that is. Without the sacrifice for sins, made by Jesus Christ, that is.
You see, God knew even before man was created that all would sin, and he had conceived a plan that would make it possible for that relationship to be made whole again and for man to be reconciled to God. God, in His infinite wisdom, “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9). Jesus Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20) to be the world’s only Savior. This was not an afterthought or a ‘Plan B’ because Jesus was rejected!
But because this was always God’s plan, when Jesus died, He “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9), even though it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Let us not overlook the fact that “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). Reconciled! No longer separated from God because of our sins [because they were forgiven], the relationship with God can be restored and man reconciled to God! This seemingly irretrievable relationship has been restored!
Friends and brethren, the grace of God is truly amazing! That He would love us — who have all sinned — and send His Son to die for us is truly amazing, and the greatest act based on the greatest love for those who were unquestionably undeserving. But that is what “grace” is all about, isn’t it?
“Your brother…was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). — Steven Harper