Hamartiology: Sinners by Nature and by Choice

October 20, 2018

When I was thirteen or fourteen years old we lived on the La Contenta Golf Course in Valley Springs, California. I loved it because I loved golf and I could walk to the golf course and play anytime that I wanted. At that time I was being home-schooled which meant I could do my schoolwork in the morning, then go golf all afternoon.

One day in the kitchen of our home my mom gave me the news: we were moving from the “city” house on the golf course out to the country area about fifteen minutes away. I couldn’t believe it! How could we move? How was I going to golf? I did not want to move and told me mom that I didn’t want to move. But, her response was, “Dad and I have already decided to move and we are moving.” I didn’t have a say in the matter.

Hamartiology - Sinners by Nature and by Choice

Photo Credit: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872)

I’m sure that you’ve had if not one but many examples were you were merely a bystander to a situation or circumstance and didn’t have a say in the matter. When it comes to the sin nature that we as humans have, we don’t have a choice in the matter. We are sinners by nature, and we even sin by choice as well. As the theologian John Walvoord once said, “The testimony of the Scriptures is clear that men are sinners by imputation, by nature, and by choice.” 1 Let’s look at the human nature.

I. THE HUMAN CONDITION

What’s the state of humans? Where are we in this “fallen” nature? Let’s take a look at how each and every single person is blind to God’s Truth, deaf to his Word, and spiritually dead in his sins.

A. Blind to God’s Truth

The book of Isaiah primarily describes the future judgment of the nation of Israel (according to Isaiah’s time, not “future” as in future to us now), but in Isaiah 35 there is a hope for future restoration. Isaiah writes,

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf. (Isa 35:5, NLT) 2

Fulfillment of this verse is seen in Jesus’s words, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Matt 11:5). The message seems clear: without Christ we are blind to God’s Truth.  Humans naturally follow the world’s desires and listen to what the world tell us instead of following God and listening to him. The human condition is one that is fallen and lost and blind to God’s truth until Christ arrives and opens our eyes. Also see Luke 24:25-31; John 9:39; 2 Cor 4:4; Rev 3:17.

B. Deaf to His Word

Ready for another quote from the prophet Isaiah? God tells Isaiah about Israel’s regular failure to listen to His Word.

Who is blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as deaf as my messenger? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the LORD? (Isa 42:19, emphasis added)

The “messenger” here is the nation of Israel. God chose the nation of Israel to be the people who would share God’s message to others about himself. One chapter later Isaiah says, “Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf” (Isa 43:8, emphasis added). As humans that are fallen and lost, we are deaf to God’s Word.

C. Spiritually Dead in Our Sins

Humans are also spiritually dead in their sins because they are lost and separated from God. To the believers in Ephesus Paul wrote

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins” (Eph 2:1, NLT).

The last part of this verse could be translated as “παράπτωμα καὶ ἁμαρτία / transgressions and sins.” A scholar on the book of Ephesians, Harold Hoenher writes, “These are synonyms, depicting humanity’s deliberate acts against God and his righteousness–with resultant failure to live holy lives” (Hoenher, “Ephesians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 16, p. 47). In our fallen nature we were dead in our sins. 3 “Death is spiritual, not physical, for unsaved people are very much alive physically. Death signifies absence of communication with the living. One who is dead spiritually has no communication with God; he is separated from God” (Harold Hoehner, “Ephesians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentaryvol. 2, p. 622). Also see Eph 2:5.

II. FREE CHOICE

While every human being is separated from God as the general “human condition” that they are born in. There is free-choice that God gave to us and provided to us.

A. Everything Is Bad Apart from Christ

You might be familiar with the Flood described in the book of Genesis. This is an example of what humans decide when not dedicated to God.

The beginning of Genesis 6 describes how the human race was corrupt and the people were doing evil things.

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” (Gen 6:5-7) 4“Man’s wickedness was great, every imagination of all his thoughts was only evil continually, so it was not surprise that God chose to send judgment” (Wiersbe, Be Basicp. 100).

I like how the New Living Translation states verse five, “he [God] saw that everything they [humans] thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” Allen Ross writes, “One could hardly express the depravity of the people in stronger terms” (Ross, “Genesis” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 69). So God in effect judges the earth with a flood. God decided to “destroy all living creatures” because they had “filled the earth with violence” (Gen 6:13). The the flood had covered the entire earth and wiped out all the living creatures except for Noah’s family and the animals he brought with him on his boat. God said,

I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. (Gen 8:21)

I think this verse in Genesis 8 makes it clear: everything that humans think or imagine is slanted to be evil. We are fallen and that is seen in what we think or imagine.

B. Born a Sinner

In the new believers group that I facilitate at church there are often people in the group that have incorrect beliefs about God and the Bible that need to be corrected. For example, one woman in our group was convinced that “babies are born with the Holy Spirit inside of them.” That caused me to have to spend some time with the group describing to them that humans are born sinful and separated from God. We are all born sinners, but with Christ we can overcome the requirement to sin and become free (Rom 6:1-14).

After David had sex with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan approached David and confronted him about his sin. In response to Nathan David wrote the 51st psalm,

For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. (Pss 51:3-5)

One commentary writes that, “Psalm 51 grips our hearts as it exposes our need that results from our moral failures in life. Our moral failures are not simply a matter of what we do. They are a matter of what we do because of who we are. Our need is for something outside of ourselves to make a radical difference within ourselves. Our need is for God–but not for just any god. Our need is for the God who will speak in truth about our desperate condition and who will act in love for our salvation” (Mark Futato, “Psalms” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 7, p. 184).

And a little later David shared in the 58th psalm,

These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way. (Pss 58:3)

While babies are super cute and adorable, it is important to remember that babies are born sinful just like adults are sinful. It’s in our nature to be sinful and we are lost and separate from God.

C. No One Chooses the Right Path Alone

As we are talking about free choice in this section, it becomes clear that no one chooses the right path separate from God.

David writes about this in the 14th psalm saying that God looks down from heaven on the human racing to see if anyone seeks God,

But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one!
Will those who do evil never learn?
They eat up my people like bread
and wouldn’t think of praying to the Lord. (Pss 14:2-3, NLT)

The human race, if left on their own, turns away from God, becomes corrupt, does no good, and they don’t even think of praying to the Lord. “All people, individually or all together, cannot do anything at all that is good enough to merit heaven–no one, no, not one” (Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, pp. 62-63). For Paul’s explanation of this Psalm see Romans 3:10-18.

David’s son Solomon also writes something similar. 

For there is not one truly righteous person on the earth who continually does good and never sins. (Ecc 7:20, NET)

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.

Isaiah makes it even more clear using sheep as an analogy,

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own. (Isa 53:6, NLT)

The simile here about sheep makes it clear that without a shepherd, people wonder away. Without a shepherd to guide them and lead them, they fall away. Warren Wiersbe comments, “We are sinneres by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that promps us to go astray and like sheep we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and by choice we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1-18) (Wiersbe, Be Comforted, p. 161). For further evidence that humans do not chose what is right apart from God, see Isaiah 65:12; Romans 8:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; and Ephsians 2:1-3.

III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. When I sin, forgive myself.

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. And when you do wrong and make a mistake and sin, be sure to forgive yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Life is tough and difficult. We won’t walk the Christian life perfectly, but we can do our best to follow God. With that said, there will be times when we fail, when we sin, and when we do the wrong things. The first thing to do is to forgive ourselves when this happens.

B. When others sin, forgive others.

If there is one thing that is guaranteed in our Christian walk on earth, it is that other people are going to sin and hurt us. They will say things and do things that cause us heartache, discouragement, pain, and sorrow. When others sin, we need to forgive others just like we forgive ourselves when we sin.

Suggested Reading

 

Notes:

  1. John Walvoord, “Is Moral Progress Possible?” an article in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1944, republished in BibSac 175 (July-September 2018), p. 261
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the New Living Translation
  3. Of course, this means spiritually dead; that is, he is unable to understand and appreciate spiritual things. He possess no spiritual life, and he can do nothing of himself to please God. Just as a person physically dead does not respond to physical stimuli, so a person spiritually dead is unable to respond to spiritual things. A corpse does not hear the conversation going on in the funeral parlor. He has no appetite for food or drink, he feels no pain; he is dead. Just so with the inner man of the unsaved person. His spiritual faculties are not functioning, and they cannot function until God gives him life.” (Wiersbe, Be Richp. 52)

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington and is the host of The Daily Sermon Podcast. Learn more at www.lakeviewmissionarychurch.com/

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