What is the biblical evidence for the imputation of Adam’s Sin?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 in Featured, Sin

What is the biblical evidence for the imputation of Adam’s Sin?

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


sin-shorterThe doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin means that when Adam first sinned, that sin (and its blame) was rightly regarded by God to be our sin as well. John Piper writes:

The problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins—those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul is very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment. (John Piper, “Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 1″)

God ordains that that there be a union of some kind that makes Adam’s sin to be our sin so that our condemnation is just. (“Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 5″)

The biblical basis for this doctrine of imputed sin is discussed thoroughly in John Piper’s five sermons on Romans 5:12-21. Here we will simply seek, to summarize, some of the primary evidence from this text.

Sin Entered the World Through One Man
First, Paul states in 5:12 that all sinned in Adam: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Paul seems to be equating the “because all sinned” with “through one man sin entered into the world.”

Sin is Not Imputed Where There is no Law
Second, in verses 13-14 Paul adds a clarification which confirms that he does indeed have the imputation of Adam’s sin in view in the phrase “because all sinned” rather than our individual sins. He states: “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” In other words, Paul concedes that personal sin was prevalent in the world before Moses (“until the Law sin was in the world…”). But he adds that these personal sins were not the ultimate reason people died in that time period: “But sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses.” As Piper summarizes:

People died even though their own individual sins against the Mosaic law were not the reason for dying; they weren’t counted. Instead, the reason all died is because all sinned in Adam. Adam’s sin was imputed to them. (John Piper, “Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 2″)

Death Reigned Even Over Those Who Did Not Sin Like Adam
Third, Paul’s statement at the end of verse 14 further clarifies that he does not have personal sins in view as the reason for human death: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” Piper notes:

In other words, yes Paul concedes that there are other kinds of laws before the Mosaic Law, and yes people broke those laws, and yes, one could argue that these sins are the root cause of death and condemnation in the world. But, Paul says, there is a problem with that view, because death reigned “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” There are those who died without seeing a law and choosing to sin against it.

Who are they? I think the group of people begging for an explanation is infants. Infants died. They could not understand personal revelation. They could not read the law on their hearts and choose to obey or disobey it. Yet they died. Why? Paul answers: the sin of Adam and the imputation of that sin to the human race. In other words, death reigned over all humans, even over those who did not sin against a known and understood law. Therefore, the conclusion is, to use the words of verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men.” (Ibid)

So the purpose of verses 13 and 14 are to clarify verse 12 in this way:

At the end of verse 12 the words, “death spread to all men, because all sinned” mean that “death spread to all because all sinned in Adam.” Death is not first and most deeply because of our own individual sinning, but because of what happened in Adam. (Ibid)

Paul’s Emphasis Upon the One Transgression
Fourth, at least five times in the following verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:

Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died

Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one

Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam’s one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.

The Direct Statement of Verse 19
Fifth, verse 19 provides us with a direct statement of imputation:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take “made sinners” here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with “made righteous.” The phrase “made righteous” in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ–not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says “made righteous” here, he means “imputed with righteousness” not “infused with righteousness.” Since “made sinners” is paralleled with “made righteous,” it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam’s sin.

Further Resources

John Piper, “Adam, Christ, and Justification”

John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 5:12-21.

Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 5:12-21.

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Crucified with Christ: How the Cross Kills Sin

Posted by on Mar 26, 2015 in Featured, Sin

Crucified with Christ: How the Cross Kills Sin

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


Crucified with Christ: How the Cross Kills Sin

sin-shorterThe most graphic image that Scripture uses for the killing of sin is crucifixion. The cross has rightly stood at the center of Christian theology throughout church history.

Crucifixion was so painful that a word was invented to describe it: excruciating, which literally means “out of the cross.” The Jewish historian Josephus said that to be crucified was to die a thousand deaths. The Roman historian Cicero said, “There is no fitting word that
can possibly describe so horrible a deed” as crucifixion, and “the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, eyes, and his ears.”[1]

With this background, we can begin to understand why it was so scandalous for Christians to serve a crucified King. But despite the scandal, Paul actually boasted in the cross and represented the life of a Christian as a crucified life, employing this graphic image as a metaphor for the believer’s relationship with sin.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. . . .

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. . . . But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 2:19–20, 5:24, 6:14)

What was it about crucifixion that led Paul to write this way, and what does it mean for us today?

The Cross and the Nature of Mortification

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” writes Paul in Galatians 5:24. These words depict the nature of a believer’s break with sin in graphic but insightful terms. Sin’s death is like a crucifixion: slow, gradual, painful, and eventually final.

When a condemned criminal picked up his cross to carry it to the execution site, there was no turning back, no chance for reprieve, parole, or pardon. Crucifixion was a death sentence. But the death would be gradual, often taking not hours but days. When first nailed to the cross, the victim would struggle for survival, crying out in agony with all his might. But as he lost blood and strength, the struggle would lessen and his cries would grow faint.

Putting sin to death is a similar experience. There is a finality to the decisive break with sin to which our Lord calls us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Once we truly pick up our cross, having had our hearts changed by the grace of Christ to yield our lives to him, there is no turning back. The die has been cast, the future has been determined: sin must be killed. Taking up the cross to follow Jesus mean that sin has received a death sentence. But it doesn’t die all at once. No, putting sin to death is a slow process.

Mortification is also a painful process, and we must never allow ourselves to think that the pain associated with sanctification is a sign that something is wrong. Crucifixion is painful, and Scripture presents mortification as a kind of crucifixion. The pain cannot be separated from the process.

At first, our sinful flesh struggles against the Spirit, screaming in agony to be spared. But mortification gradually weakens the power of sinful desires in our hearts. In the words of Octavius Winslow, “Nail after nail must pierce our corruptions, until the entire body of sin, each member thus transfixed, is crucified and slain.”[2]

The Cross and the Power of Mortification

The image of crucifixion provides a second and even more important insight about mortification. This truth is found in its connection to Christ’s crucifixion for us. In Galatians 2, Paul points to our crucifixion with Christ:

“I have been crucified with Christ,” he writes. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the
life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It is significant that this precedes Paul’s later statements in this letter about crucifying the flesh and being crucified to the world (Galatians 5:24, 6:14).

The death of sin in the death of Christ. This connection reminds us that the power of mortification comes directly from Christ crucified for us. As John Owen said, “The death of Christ is the death of sin.”[3] Only by virtue of His death to sin as our representative do we receive the power to renounce sin in our lives.

This is also the teaching of Paul in Romans 6, where he says that “our old self was crucified with [Christ] . . . so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v 6). This is part of Paul’s argument for why it is morally incongruous for a believer to continue to live in sin. Christ was crucified for sin (not his, but ours). In his death, “he died to sin, once for all” (v 10), meaning that he died to the judicial power and authority of sin. Since we died with him, sin has lost its power over us. “So,” Paul says, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (vv 11–12).

This means that the power we need for crucifying sin comes from the cross, where Christ was crucified. It is only through virtue of Hhis death to sin that you and I can put sin to death in our lives. The only way you can kill sin is through the power of the Spirit applying the death of Christ to your heart and life.

“Let us slay sin, for Christ was slain.” Christ’s effectual sin-canceling work of the cross is therefore the only power that will enable us to kill sin in our own lives.

And this is one of the purposes for which He died. As Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

As the great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon, in one of his characteristically Christ-centered sermons, declared:

The best preaching is, “We preach Christ crucified.” The best living is, “We are crucified with Christ.” The best man is a crucified man…The more we
live beholding our Lord’s unutterable griefs, and understanding how he has fully put away our sin, the more holiness shall we produce. The more we dwell where the cries of Calvary can be heard, where we can view heaven, and earth, and hell, all moved by his wondrous passion—the more noble will our lives become. Nothing puts life into men like a dying Savior. Get you close to Christ, and carry the remembrance of him about you from day to day, and you will do right royal deeds. Come, let us slay sin, for Christ was slain. Come, let us bury all our pride, for Christ was buried. Come, let us rise to newness of life, for Christ has risen.[4]

The Cross and the Means of Mortification

We have been discussing the objective power of the cross of Christ to put our sins to death. This objective power is real and effectual, regardless of our feelings about it at any given point. But there is also a subjective element involved: we must exercise faith in Christ and his cross in order to enjoy the fruits of His victory over sin in our lives. As Paul goes on to say, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

The cross not only shows us 1) the nature of mortification (a slow, gradual, painful death), and 2) the power of mortification (crucifixion with Christ). It also shows us 3) the means of mortification. In order to kill sin, we must exercise both faith and love. We exercise these graces by fixing our minds on and filling our affections with the cross of Christ.

How to do it. But how do we practically set our minds on and fill our affections with the cross? How do we exercise faith and love toward Christ crucified for us? It is not done with a crucifix or some other visual aid. This is not the method proposed in Scripture. No, Paul tells us how Christ is portrayed as crucified: “It was before your eyes [that is, through preaching] that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:1b–2).

The great object of our faith and love is Christ as portrayed in the gospel. Only as we gaze on the glory of the Lord in the gospel are we transformed by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We do this as we:

1. Consider the purpose of Christ’s death for us.

2. With an expectation of help from him.

Our Savior died to destroy the works of the Devil, to redeem us from lawlessness, and to cleanse and sanctify us through His blood.

• When you meditate on the mercy and compassion of Christ, the mighty Maker who died in your place.

• When you remember that your ransom was purchased at the price of His precious blood.

• When you consider the cost of the gifts you have received through the cross—wisdom, righteousness, holiness, sonship, redemption, and future resurrection to glory forever.

• When you reflect on the salvation and safety that your Brother, your Captain, and your King has secured for you.

• When you realize that God is more satisfied with Jesus’ obedience than He was grieved by your sins.

• When you ponder the pain and the shame of the scourging and scoffing, the spitting and mocking, the crown of thorns and the nails in His hands, and all the cruel wounds He received on your behalf.

• When you understand that you are not only acquitted but accepted as fully righteous in God’s sight, perfect in the eyes of the law, because the full measure of divine wrath was poured out on Jesus for you, and His obedience has been counted as yours.

• When your heart is filled with the glories of his triumph over Satan, sin, and death.

• When your affections are captured anew by the self-sacrificing love of the Lord and Lover of your soul…

…then you will discover that the stranglehold of sin on your heart has grown weaker, that sin is less alluring, and that your fallen desires have been displaced by desires for God, his glory, and his grace.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul![5]

When you are fighting sin, fill your mind with these truths. Say: “Lord Jesus, you died to free me from sin, to put my sinful passions and desires to death, to change me and restore me in your glorious image. Thank you for your dying love! Now, cleanse me with your blood. Strengthen me with your power. Uphold me by your grace. Help me, Lord!” This posture of dependent faith and zealous love toward the Savior who was slain for us is lethal to sin.

This post is adapted and edited from chapter 7 in Brian’s book Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin (Cruciform Press, 2011). Used with Permission.

End Notes

[1] Cicero, quoted in Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans, 1995), 217–218.

[2] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 151.

[3] John Owen, The Holy Spirit: Abridged and Made Easy to Read by R. J. K. Law (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 175.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “To Lovers of Jesus – An Example” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pilgrim Publications, 1977 reprint) Sermon #1834.

[5] Horatio Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul,” 1873.

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Why is the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin important?

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 in Featured, Sin

Why is the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin important?

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


sin-shorterAren’t our own individual sins enough to condemn us? Why, then, does it matter whether we believe that Adam’s sin is imputed to us as the ultimate basis of our condemnation? John Piper writes:

Now someone might say, why does this matter? Doesn’t Romans teach in 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” individually? And doesn’t Romans 6:23 teach that the “wages of sin is death”? And so if our judgment and condemnation are what the sins we do every day deserve, why does it matter if you can find a deeper cause of our guilt and death and condemnation—namely our union with Adam in his sinning at the beginning? (“Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part II“)

There are at least three reasons why this doctrine is very important.

Crucial for Grasping Justification in Romans 5:12-21
First, it is crucial to understanding Paul’s teaching on justification in Romans 5:12-21. Piper writes:

What’s at stake here is the whole comparison between Christ and Adam. If we don’t understand “because all sinned” in 5:12 as “because all sinned in Adam,” the entire comparison between Christ and Adam will be distorted and we won’t see the greatness of justification by grace through faith for what it really is.

Let me try to illustrate what’s at stake. If you say, “Through one man sin and death entered the world and death spread to everybody because all sinned individually,” then the comparison with the work of Jesus could be, “So also through one man, Jesus Christ, righteousness and life entered the world and life spread to all because all individually did acts of righteousness.” In other words, justification would not be God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to us, but our performing individual acts of righteousness with Christ’s help and then being counted righteous on that basis. When Paul saw that as a possible misunderstanding of what he said, he stopped to clarify.

But what does it say about the work of Christ, if we take the words, “because all sinned” to mean “because all sinned in Adam”? Then it would go like this: “Just as through one man sin and death entered the world and death spread to everybody because all sinned in Adam and his sin was imputed to them, so also through one man Jesus Christ, righteousness entered the world and life through righteousness, and life spread to all who are in Christ because his righteousness is imputed to them.” That is the glory of justification by grace through faith. The basis of our vindication and acceptance before God is not our righteous deeds, but Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. But this would be all distorted if the words “because all sinned” at the end of verse 12 meant “because all sinned individually,” and not because all sinned in Adam and his sin was imputed to us.

The parallel Paul wants us to see and rejoice in is that

just as Adam’s sin is imputed to us because we were in him,
so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us because we are in him.

One of the best reasons for thinking this is what Paul meant is to look at verse 18 where he really does complete the comparison he started here. “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” In Adam we all were condemned; in Christ we all are justified. Adam’s transgression was imputed to us; and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (see 1 Corinthians 15:22).

But all that would be lost if at the end of verse 12 the words “because all sinned” referred to individual sins and not to our sinning in Adam. (“Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part II“)

Highlights the Global Significance of Christ
Second, the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin highlights the global significance and universality of Christ. Piper writes:

If Adam is the father of all human beings, and if the fundamental problem with all human beings is found in how we are related to Adam and what happened to us when Adam sinned, then everybody in the world, no matter when or where or who—whatever tribe or language or culture or ethnic identity—everybody has the same fundamental problem. And this means that if Jesus Christ is not just a Jew who died as a Jewish sacrifice for sins, but is also the “last Adam” or the “second man” (as Paul calls him in 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47), who provides a righteousness better than what we lost in Adam, then Jesus is no tribal God, or limited, local Savior. He is the one and only remedy for the divine judgment of condemnation that rests on every human soul. Which means he is a great Savior able to save persons from all times and all places and all peoples. (Ibid)

Highlights the Global Significance of the Doctrine of Justification
Third, the connection between justification and the imputation of Adam’s sin means that the doctrine of justification is not simply a Western doctrine. Piper writes:

Now let’s drive this home for our missionaries and for all our evangelism here at home. Do not think that the doctrine of justification by grace, based on the imputation of the obedience of Christ through faith apart from works, is a mere concoction of a western European worldview that got off the ground with the guilty conscience of a monk named Martin Luther. That’s not true. It can’t be true, because it is the historical remedy in the person of Jesus Christ for the historical damage in the person of everybody’s first ancestor.

The doctrine of justification by grace through faith cannot be replaced by a redemptive analogy. If Paul had merely said for example, “Sin is like drowning in the ocean, and salvation is like being pulled out of the water into a boat by a strong man,” then you might go to a people group somewhere far from oceans and boats and say, “Sin is like sinking in quicksand and salvation is like being pulled onto a firm rock by a strong man.” That’s fine. But you can’t do that with this doctrine of justification – not now, not after Romans 5:12-21.

Why not? Because now Paul has connected it with Adam. And Adam is the historical ancestor of every people group on the face of the earth. This is not a myth; it’s not an analogy; it’s not an illustration. It is historical fact. Adam, the first human being, sinned and in him all human beings sinned, and all died and all are condemned. And the remedy for that is another historical Person – the God-man, Jesus Christ, who came in space and time to undo what Adam did. He trusted and obeyed God perfectly, so that all who are in him by faith have that obedience imputed to them and become right with God forever. (“Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part I“)

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No More Consciousness of Sin?

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Featured, Sin

No More Consciousness of Sin?

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


sin-shorterThere is a very wonderful verse in the book of Hebrews that I have been thinking about for years now. After the writer sets out the theology of Christ as the better Priest and the better sacrifice of a better Covenant, he contrasts the Old Covenant sacrifices (which were continually offered) with the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Then he draws this conclusion: “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins” (Heb. 10:1-2). No more consciousness of sin? What does this mean? Does this mean that I am without sin now that I am in Christ? Does it mean that there is no more conviction of sin? Of course, anyone who has read the Scriptures knows that there is both indwelling sin and ongoing conviction of sin in the life of every true believer. We also know that Christ uses the condemnation of sin to bring believers to Himself. Gerard Wisse, in his unique little book–Christ’s Ministry in the Christianexplains how Christ employs the knowledge of the condemnation in His work of bringing about the conversion of His people:

When God, the Holy One, uncovers a sinner to Himself, the priestly ministry of Christ also functions–yes, already from the outset. How does this occur? This occurs when God, who is Judge, engages Himself to glorify His subjective work in the sinner, that is, when God brings the sinner to the place where, as a result of self-loathing, he learns to cry out, “Woe is me!” In short, this occurs when, in the way of justification, God brings the elect sinner face to face with the totality of his condemnableness before God. When this takes place, however, all is not condemnatory in nature, but rather is of a redemptive and salvific nature. Therefore, such discovery, however deep and humbling it may be, is nevertheless a gracious discovery. In other words, it is not a discovery that leads to actually condemnation; it is saving, rather than condemning in nature. In a word, it is indeed a discovery in full harmony with justice; however, it procedes from the love of God. The fact that the love of God functions in this uncovering work–yes, that is procedes from love–is a fruit of the priestly work of Christ. Therefore, such an uncovered sinner is kept from dispair, and is driven out to this Surety.

This is, of course, substantiated by the experience of both Isaiah and Simon Peter. As Wisse noted above, when a sinner is brought to a place of conviction of sin he will cry out with Isaiah the prophet, “Woe is me, for I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5). When Simon Peter first realized who Jesus was–and who he was in light of Christ’s holiness–he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). This seems to be the common experience of those who come under the work of Christ in uncovering the sinner. Any who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation have, to one degree or another, experience something of this same conviction of sin and consciousness of the just punishment that they deserve.

Wisse rightly noted that “such discovery, however, deep and humbling it may be, is nevertheless a gracious discovery…it is not a discovery that leads to actually condemnation.” Every true believer who experiences something of the converting sense of deserved condemnation will always be brought from it to a sense of acceptance and peace with Christ by faith. This movement is found in Jesus’ “Do not be afraid” statements (Luke 5:10: Matt. 14:27; Matt. 28:5; Luke 8:50; Rev. 1:17).

John Owen, commenting on Hebrews 10:2, Explained how the once-for-all expiatory sacrifice of Christ takes away the consciousness of sin’s condemning power in the conscience of the believer when he wrote:

[Believers] have not the least sense of fear concerning any insufficiency or imperfection in the sacrifice [i.e. of Christ] whereby sin is expiated. God has ordered all things concerning it so as to  satisfy the consciences of all men in the perfect expiation of sin by it.

Owen proceded to explain how the finished work of Christ at the cross should create in the mind of the believer a peace from the knowledge that sin’s guilt and condemnation has been removed:

“They should have no conscience agitating, tossing, disquieting, perplexing for sins;” No conscience judging and condemning their persons for the guilt of sin, so depriving them of solid peace with God. It is conscience with respect unto the guilt of sin, as it binds over the sinner unto punishment in the judgment of God. Now this is not to be measured by the apprehension of the sinner, but by the true causes and grounds of it. Now these lie herein alone, that sin was not perfectly expiated; for where this is not, there must be a consciousness of sin–that is, disquieting, judging, condemning for sin.”

This is clearly the intent of what our Lord Jesus taught when he said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). It is the central focus of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-11, culminating in that glorious statement of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It is what the Apostle John wrote when he declared, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:17-19). The sacrifice of Jesus ought to produce in the minds of all believers a sense of peace since the wrath of God has been satisfied in His death on the cross. Unlike the sacrifices that were repeatedly offered in the Old Covenant, the once-for-allness of Jesus’ sacrifice assures us that there is now “no condemnation for those in Christ.”

While this glorious truth of Gospel privilege is set out everywhere in the pages of Scripture, the reality is that most believers have their assurance shaken at many times and in many ways–and often have a deep sense of condemnation (i.e.  terror of conscience). So, how do we reconcile this common experience of believers with the truth of Hebrews 10:2? Owen explained:

The way and means of our interest in the sacrifice of Christ are by faith only. In this state it often falls out that true believers have a conscience judging and condemning them for sin, no less than they had under the Law; but this trouble and power of conscience does not arise from hence–that sin is not perfectly expiated by the sacrifice of Christ–but only from an apprehension that they have not a due interest in that sacrifice and the benefits of it…God hath ordered all things concerning [the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ] so as to satisfy the consciences of all men in the perfect expiation of sin by it; only they who are really purged by it may be in the dark sometimes as unto their personal interest in it.

Owen’s point is that a true believer’s “conscience judging and condemning them for sin” arises from a lack of faith in the once-for-all expiating sacrifice of Jesus. This lack of faith is often a direct result of the presence of some sinful practice(s) in the life of the Christian. When a believer continues in a sinful practice his or her conscience is wounded. In several places, the Westminster Confession of Faith refers to “a wounded conscience” in regard to a believers loss of the peace that is his by virtue of the finished work of Christ:

[A true believer] may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (WCF 17.3).

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair (WCF 18.4).

This post first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with his permission.

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Mortification: Seven Phases Along the Sin-Killing Continuum

Posted by on Mar 23, 2015 in Featured, Sin

Mortification: Seven Phases Along the Sin-Killing Continuum

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


sin-shorterMortification (noun): The Spirit-powered process of killing all of our propensities for sinful, self-destructive pleasures that compete for superior pleasure in the all-satisfying God.

If we care about living then sin-killing (or the old school word “mortification”) is something we cannot afford to ignore: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 cf. Gal. 5:16-25). Sin-killing in the believer’s life may be thought of along a 7-phase continuum that looks something like this (try to figure out where you sit along this continuum):

Phase 1—My sin is no big deal. I’m not at war against the sarx (Paul’s word for our “flesh” or “sin nature”). Life by the flesh doesn’t lead to death or rob me of superior pleasure in God.

Phase 2—The “flesh” (sarx) does lead to death, enjoying God really is superior to sin’s short-lived pleasures, and I need to do something about it. But the “flesh” is a general faceless problem. I’m not sure what specific shapes it takes in my own life.

Phase 3—Oh, those are specific outward manifestations of sarx in my life. I’ll focus on those behaviors—the gossip, the pornography addiction, the lying to paint myself in a better light, or whatever. All I need is a few me-powered self-help measures to kill those specific sinful behaviors.

Phase 4—Wait, there is something way deeper going on here. My behavior-correcting tactics are not actually killing my sin. These bad fruits must have bad roots. I can’t change the bad fruits—the behaviors—I need to get to the root of those behaviors, which is my messed up heart. I’ll try that on my own (rather than letting others see the gnarly sin skeletons living in my heart’s closet).

Phase 5—Ok, so my isolated, solo, self-help efforts aren’t getting me anywhere. I’ll take the sin in my heart’s closet out into the light of community. I’ll enlist trusted fellow Christians as allies in this battle, maybe join an accountability group. That should guarantee victory.

Phase 6—Knowing I’m at war against forces that destroy my joy in God, knowing what the specific tanks are in my life, knowing those tanks are not outward behaviors as much as they are in my heart, knowing my spit-shooter self-help techniques are no match for this internal enemy, inviting others to help me wage war—Check, check, check, and check. But I still haven’t made my sin die. I need supernatural sin-killing power here! I will pray persistently, calling in the divine air support of the Holy Spirit, like a supernatural F-16, to blast these internal evils to smitherines (and get my fellow Christian allies to pray the same).

Phase 7—I have been prayerfully relying on God’s power, the power of Christ’s cross, the power of the omnipotent Spirit as I strive to kill sin, and sin is actually being killed! Not ‘yay me!’ but all praise and thanks to the sovereign God who changed my heart!

At which phase of this continuum do you find yourself?

Wherever you are MOVE AHEAD! Why? Because as John Owen reminds us in his classic work, The Mortification of Sin, “Kill sin, or sin will be killing you!” Don’t let your sin drop bombs on your joy in God without relentlessly blasting back in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, “The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh…All other ways of mortification are vain… it must be done by the Spirit… Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world… A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”

Death to sin!

Joy to You!

Glory to God!

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Cured from the Contagion of Sin

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Featured, Sin

Cured from the Contagion of Sin

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.


 A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to see the disturbingly interesting film Contagion, which has been described as a “medical thriller disaster” movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film is about the rapid spread of a virus that results in a pandemic, until a team of researchers are finally able to produce a vaccine.

One of my friends who did his graduate work in infectious diseases said the film did a good job with the science, except the discovery of the vaccine was unrealistically fast. That’s pretty scary and enough to turn any normal person into a germaphobe.
Maybe that movie wasn’t the best choice for a date night, after all. 
The Contagion of Sin
As scary as infectious diseases are, there’s a more deadly virus that you and I already have – the sin virus. As the 16th Century Reformer John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion,“all of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin.”[i]
The disease is hereditary, of course, passed down to us from our earthly father, Adam. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV). To put it simply, we aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners – fallen from our created perfection in our earthly father, Adam. To quote Calvin again, “not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment.”[ii]
The symptoms of this disease are apparent to all. Just read check your morning news feed. Politicians are caught lying to their constituents and cheating on their spouses. Yet another Hollywood star has had an affair and is getting a divorce. Violence and war tear apart third-world countries. The streets of our major cities are haunted by the dark specters of crime: drugs, rape, robbery, murder and assault.
But evil isn’t just out there, disturbing our already troubled world. It’s in here, in my heart, my soul.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the famous 20th century Russian writer and activist, was right: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” That’s what Jesus repeatedly taught, as He relentlessly probed the deepest motives of the human heart. Just try reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1) and see if you don’t get nailed.
Sin also infects the entire human personality. It is pervasive. To quote Calvin once more, “corruption subsists not in one part only…none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease.”[iii] This means that sin touches us in mind, heart, and will. Our minds are darkened by sin (Ephesians 4:18), leaving us with an innate propensity towards self-deception and denial. But our hearts and wills are also infected, as our slavery to disordered passions and fundamentally self-centered pleasures continually show (Titus 3:3).  
But more than that, the disease of sin is both chronic and terminal. It gets worse and worse and it ends in death. “The wages of sin is death,” writes Paul (Romans 6:23, ESV). And the balance of Scripture shows that this death isn’t just physical death, but eternal separation from God – what the book of Revelation describes as the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8).
Perhaps the worse thing about the disease of sin is that it so deadens our moral and spiritual sensibilities that we don’t even see what’s happening to us. Like Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, sin so damages our moral nervous system that we persist in devastating, dehumanizing behavior, tragically unaware of the self-destruction we’re causing. That’s why Scripture warns us again and again about the dangers of a hard, or calloused, heart (Psalms 17:10; Hebrews 3:14).
The prognosis, then, isn’t good. We’ve all got this infection and left unchecked it will lead us all, both as individuals and as a society, to destruction.
The Great Physician
The good news is that there is a physician who can cure this deadly disease. When Jesus came, much to the chagrin of the uptight moralists and religious do-gooders, He hobnobbed with social outcasts like prostitutes and tax collectors who were guilty of the worst forms of extortion. When questioned about His poor choice of friends, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, ESV).
The most amazing thing is that our Great Physician heals us, not by prescribing us with an astringent new moral medicine (though, of course, following Jesus always starts us on a path towards genuine moral health) but by becoming a donor who fully gives Himself up for our sake, exchanging His own health and righteousness for the fatal guilt of our sins. As Peter says, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 1:24, NIV).
One of the best descriptions of the healing of sin that I’ve seen, comes from john newton, the vile slave-trader who became a tender pastor and gave us the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” In one of his lesser-known hymns, Newton wrote:
How lost was my condition
Till Jesus made me whole!
There is but one physician
Can cure a sin-sick soul
Next door to death he found me,
And snatched me from the grave,
To tell all around me
His wond’rous pow’r to save.
The worst of all diseases
Is light compared with sin;
On ev’ry part it seizes,
But rages most within;
‘Tis palsy, plague, and fever,
And madness–all combined;
And none, but a believer,
The least relief can find.
From men, great skill professing,
I sought a cure to gain;
But this proved more distressing,
And added to my pain;
Some said that nothing ailed me,
Some gave me up for lost;
Thus ev’ry refuge failed me,
And all my hopes were crossed.
At length this great Physician,
How matchless is His grace!
Accepted my petition,
And undertook my case;
First, gave me sight to view him,
For sin my eyes had sealed–
Then bit me look unto Him;
I looked, and I was healed.
A dying, risen Jesus,
Seen by the eye of faith,
At once from danger frees us,
And saves the soul from death;
Come, then, to this Physician,
His help he’ll freely give,
He makes no hard condition–
To Jesus look and live![iv]
 Newton’s experience of God’s healing grace, revealed in Jesus and applied by the Spirit, changed his life. It can change yours, too. “To Jesus look and live!”
This post first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
[i]Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed., John T. McNeil, Trans., Ford L. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960. Bk II, chap 1, sect 5; p. 248.
[ii]Ibid., II.1.8, p. 251.
[iii]Ibid., II.1.9, p. 253.
[iv]Newton, John, “How Lost was My Condition,” from Olney Hymns inThe Works of John Newton, vol. 3. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988 reprint of original 1820 edition, pp. 375-376. 

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