Jesus Creed

The 2d spiritual law of the classic Four Spiritual Laws is this: Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life. Here the law appeals to Romans 3:23 for “sinful” and to Romans 6:23 for the “separated” (=spiritual death).

The italicized explanation at the bottom of that website spells some of this out: God is holy and man is sinful. There is a great gulf, and man tries to get to God and find the “abundant life” through his own efforts, such as living a good life, following specific philosophies or religions.

This is a classical re-statement of the theory of salvation found in many Protestant Evangelical groups. It focuses on the implications of the Fall, narrowing it to the term “sin,” and the focus emerges from Romans 1-8.

Several comments are in order:

First, this is one but not the only way to speak of the gospel. If this is the gospel, then Jesus rarely spoke about the gospel. Jesus chose to express his vision of what God was doing in the world by using the term kingdom. It seems to me we need to be more comprehensive in our biblical sweep than just narrowed to the book of Romans — and today many would dispute even this about what Romans was intended to say.

Second, the chart at the bottom of the page leaves me ambivalent: I’m not sure that all humans are continually trying to reach God — and I doubt very much that any human being trying to reach God would find God not reciprocating. This whole notion of continually trying to reach God leans on something I find redemptive: if humans are trying to reach God, then that is a good thing and not a bad thing.

Third, I like the direction of the definition of “sinful” in the explanatory words:

Man was created to have fellowship with God; but, because of his stubborn self-will, he chose to go his own independent way and fellowship with God was broken. This self-will, characterized by an attitude of active rebellion or passive indifference, is evidence of what the Bible calls sin.

Here we find humans (“man” is generic) made to have fellowship with God (I call it “union with God”). But the original human condition involved two more “goods”: humans were also in communion with one another and at peace with the created order. The “choice” feature here focuses on Adam’s sin and it narrows it to “self-will” — and I like this because the Bible’s emphasis is on will and self and it is a will and self that strive for Individual Existence in spite of and contrary to God’s good order. There is more to sin than “self-will,” but many have narrowed it to that.

Fourth, the issue to be discussed here is the nature of “sin” in the Bible: one quick read of Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.’s book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, will show that what the 2d spiritual law relates is not complete enough to create the sense of what the gospel is designed to accomplish: in other words, the gospel resolves more than just the “sin” as “self-will” issue. Sin has at least three or four directions: Godward, Otherward, Worldward, and Selfward. That is, sin violates union with God, breaks down communion with others, jeopardizes peace with the rest of the created world, and in the end also begins to turn against itself.

Until we get “sin” figured out, the gospel can’t be figured out. Or, unless we figure out what “sin” is in Genesis 3 we won’t know why Jesus preached “kingdom.” Once again, this 2d spiritual law is like the first: it is entirely Individualistic in its sense of what life is all about: if sin is a violation of a person’s fellowship with God, then it is solely an Individual issue.

In light of some posts and some e-mails yesterday, let me say this: the Bible teaches personal accountability before God (we are individuals) but there is a huge difference between Individualism and a gospel that is designed to restore individuals in the context of a community to be Eikons of God.

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