A Christian View of Death

the-light-of-christ     Once, when I was working in jail ministry, I met a Christian man who told me about his older brother’s death. The incident, he said, had occurred several years earlier. He and his brother were drinking and arguing one afternoon when a fist fight erupted and the older brother fell backwards onto a metal pipe that pierced his heart. The man did all he could to save his brother, but the wound was fatal. His brother, whom he loved, was suddenly gone, and for years he carried the image of his brother’s lifeless body, held in his blood-soaked hands. Tears rolled down his face as he recalled the event. Over time he was able to resolve some of his grief, but while talking with me, he expressed a lingering concern about his brother’s eternal destiny. He was not sure if his brother would spend eternity in heaven or hell. Though his brother claimed to be a Christian, and family and friends spoke well of him at the funeral, the reality was that his brother’s life never reflected the virtues of Christ. Though I could not offer any assurance about his brother’s eternal destiny, I encouraged him to live his life in such a way that when he died, he would not leave his loved ones with any question about the place of Christ in his own life.

     As Christians, we will leave this world either by death or rapture. Excluding Enoch and Elijah (Gen 5:21-24; 2 Ki 2:11), human mortality is 100%. However, like Enoch and Elijah, we too may be spared the experience of death, if we are part of the generation of Christians that are caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18).

     Death is an uncomfortable subject, but for those who trust in the Lord, it need not be. God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). Leaving this world is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional. God loves us and sent His Son into the world that He would provide eternal life for us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

     Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God. Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7), and later, physical death (Gen 5:5). Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death means separation. Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture:

  1. Spiritual death, which is separation from God in time. Spiritually dead people continue to live until they die physically (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; 5:5; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14).
  2. Physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6). Though the body ceases to function, the soul moves to a new location, consciously awaiting the resurrection of the body.
  3. Eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

Christ-on-the-cross     All persons born into this world are physically alive, but spiritually dead, separated from God, because of Adam’s sin. The Bible reveals, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom 5:12), and “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Though we are all dead in Adam, God offers new life when we turn to Christ as Savior, reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son (Rom 5:1-2). Adam’s sin brought death, and Christ’s death brings life.  In Adam I am guilty, in Christ I am righteous. For the Christian, death is not the final victor in eternity. Every person, whether saved or unsaved, will receive a resurrection body that will live forever. Believers will enjoy eternal union with God, but unbelievers will suffer eternal separation from Him. Only those who are born again—by the Spirit of God—have eternal life and will spend forever in heaven (1 Pet 1:3, 23). Eternal life is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). It’s a free gift from God, paid in full by the Lord Jesus (John 19:30), who died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins, so that we don’t have to pay for them ourselves.

     Scripture reveals God is sovereign over all His creation, either causing or permitting whatsoever comes to pass. God is sovereign over all creation, which means there are no accidental people or events in history. God creates life (Gen 2:7; Job 1:21; Psa 100:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rev 11:11) and controls death (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 6:17; 2 Ki 5:7; Luke 12:20; Rev 1:18). The Lord declares, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal” (Deut 32:39). And, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6). God holds final control over our lives, from beginning to end, and preordains our days on the earth. David wrote, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). God’s sovereign control over life and death includes our choices and the choices of others. He desires that we think and act in conformity with His revealed will, but in many cases, He permits us to act, either good or bad, and to reap the consequences of our choices. At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time and opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43; cf. 2 Cor 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Meaning of Sin

     The MeaningThe word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek word ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.[3] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[4] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence.”[5]

     Divine laws are a reflection of the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God’s character is the basis upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.[6]

The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; James 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).[7]

     God permits sin, but is never the author of it. Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. Below are biblical examples of sin:

  1. Lucifer sought to place himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18).
  2. Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7).
  3. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Gen. 19:30-38)
  4. Aaron led the Israelites to worship an idol (Ex. 32:1-6).
  5. Moses struck the rock when the Lord told him only to speak to it (Num. 20:8-12).
  6. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  7. David had an affair with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  8. Solomon worshiped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
  9. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
  10. Peter publicly denied the Lord three times ( 26:34-35; 69-75).
  11. The Christians at Corinth engaged in quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  12. The Apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

     The above list is a just a sampling of sins in the Bible. Biblically, every person is a sinner in God’s sight. Jesus is the single exception.[8] We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:18-21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-3), and sinners by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-23). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to merit God’s approval. We are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. Sadly, many people buy into the lie that they can help save themselves by doing good works. The biblical teaching is that salvation is never based on good works or adherence to law, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31). Scripture states, we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20, 28), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The Good News of the Gospel

     It does no good to talk about sin if we don’t also address God’s solution. God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Biblically, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5), “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9), for “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[4] Other Hebrew and Greek words related to sin include: evil (רָע ra – Gen. 3:5), wicked (רָשָׁע rasha – Prov. 15:9), rebellion (פָּשַׁע pasha – Isa. 1:2), iniquity (עָוֹן avon – Isa. 53:6), error (שָׁגָה shagah – Lev. 4:13), guilt (אָשַׁם asham – Lev. 4:22), go astray (תָּעָה taah – Ps. 58:3), bad (κακός kakos – Rom. 12:17), evil (πονηρός poneros – Matt. 7:11), ungodly (ἀσεβής asebes – Rom. 4:5), guilty (ἔνοχος enochos – 1 Cor. 11:27), sin (ἁμαρτία hamartia – 1 Cor. 15:3), unrighteousness (ἀδικία adikia – Rom. 1:18), lawless (ἄνομος anomos – 1 Tim. 1:9), transgression (παράβασις parabasis – Gal. 3:19), ignorance (ἀγνοέω agnoeo – Acts 17:23), go astray (πλανάω planao – 1 Pet. 2:25), trespass (παράπτωμα paraptoma – Rom. 5:15), and hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις hupokrisis – 1 Tim. 4:2). 

[5] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

[6] If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard for right and wrong and we are left with arbitrary laws based on manufactured values.

[7] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[8] Jesus, because of His divine nature (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9), and the virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), is the only person ever born without sin and who committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His perfect humanity and sinless life qualified Him to go to the cross and die in our place. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The Noetic Effects of Sin

     The NoeticThe noetic effects of sin refers to the affect sin has on the mind of every person. Sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, Who has made Himself known through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).[1] God’s revelation disrupts the mind of man, confronting wrong thoughts and inviting conformity to the mind of God. Though God’s revelation is clear, rebellious people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), and their foolish heart is “darkened” (Rom. 1:21). When confronted with God’s revelation, the person who is negative to God either denies His existence (Ps. 14:1), or reduces Him to the status of a creature (Rom. 1:22-25).

     The biblical record of mankind is dark. It reveals that the majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Moses wrote of Noah’s contemporaries, saying, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl. 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light. However, the Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1:4-5). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19).

     Sin permeates every aspect of our being, corrupting the mind and will, so that the natural tendency of our heart is to think according to the ways of the world. A hostile heart may search the Scriptures to know God’s Word and yet be completely closed to accepting its message. This was the case with the religious Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day (John 5:39-40). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

God Has a Solution

     Sin infects us all. We can’t control it and within ourselves we don’t have the cure. Without God, we are helpless. But God has a solution for a mind damaged by sin. First, one must be born again as a Christian and given a new heart (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) before the mind can be renewed to think as God intends (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). The new heart means we have the ability to accept what God says and the power to obey (Rom. 6:8-14). Second, is having a heart that fears the Lord. Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). There is both a healthy and unhealthy fear. To fear the Lord means we reverence and obey Him, turning away from evil (Prov. 8:13; 16:6), and fear His loving discipline when we sin (Heb. 12:5-11). Third, there must be a desire to do God’s will. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). God’s revelation is understandable to the willing heart. Fourth, there must be a humble submission to the Lord (Jam. 4:7). Submission means we surrender our lives to God “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). This is a commitment to the Lord that lasts for a lifetime. At times, the Christian may fail; but relapse does not have to mean collapse, as the Christian can confess his sin and be restored to fellowship with God (1 John 1:9) and resume a life of obedience (Rom. 6:16-18; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). Fifth, the Christian must embark on a lifetime of learning God’s Word. This is a daily choice to study Scripture (2 Tim. 2:16) and to apply God’s Word in order to advance spiritually (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Sixth, one must endure trials throughout life, seeing them as opportunities to apply God’s Word by faith to each and every situation (Heb. 11:6; Jam. 1:2-4).

     Lastly, there is a warning to Christians, for we are all born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout our lives we will face opposition to the work of God.  The enemy will use pleasure and pain, success and failure, friends and enemies, to pull us away from God in order to stifle our walk.  We will experience opposition from out sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world-system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jam. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). These three can work together or by themselves to stunt our spiritual walk and we must always be on guard against attack. Our spiritual success depends on a surrendered life to God, as we bring our thoughts and actions into conformity to the Word and character of God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Original Sin  
  2. When God’s People Sin  
  3. When a Believer Perpetually Sins  
  4. When Believers Hide  
  5. The Doctrine of Simultaneity  
  6. The Sin that Leads to Death  
  7. The Sin of Idolatry  
  8. The Worthless Person  
  9. The Sin Nature Within the Christian
  10. Our Enemy the Devil 
  11. Satan’s World System  
  12. The Gospel  
  13. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  14. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] At times God spoke directly to people (Ex. 19:9; 1 Sam. 3:1-14; Isa. 6:9-10), and at other times He revealed Himself through dreams (Gen. 28:12; 31:11; Dan. 7:1; 12:8-9), visions (Isa. 6:1; 1 Ki. 22:19), and angels (Dan. 10:10-21; Acts 27:23-24). Most specifically and clearly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; 14:7; Heb. 1:1-3), and in the written Word (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:14-16).  Jesus Christ is now in heaven and therefore not subject to observation such as when He was on the earth. Though God continues to reveal Himself through nature and acts of providence, it is Scripture alone that informs and guides the Christian concerning faith and conduct.

Original Sin

     Original SinSin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner (1 Ki. 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-23; 7:18-21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8-10). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to save ourselves (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). When the subject of sin is studied, it results in a basic threefold classification that we are sinners in Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and by choice (Jas. 1:14-15). The focus of this article is the original sin of Adam and its impact upon humanity. 

     Original sin refers to Adam’s sin in the garden in which he disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-24). Adam is the head of the human race. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. His fallen position is our fallen position. His guilt is our guilt. The pure image of God (imago Dei) that belonged to the first couple was marred when they sinned and all Adam’s children are born with a distorted image and a proclivity toward rebellion against God (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:1-3). Adam’s sin is imputed to all his offspring (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:9-23), excluding Jesus, who was neither born with sin, nor committed sin. Scripture reveals Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him to die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

     Related to the subject of original sin is the biblical concept of total depravity, which means that sin permeates every aspect of our being. Our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh are all submerged in sin. We often think of total depravity as meaning that people are as bad as they can be; however, this is wrong. The truth is there are many moral unbelievers in the world who rely on their good works to gain them entrance into heaven. The fact of Scripture is that God declares everyone under sin, and this includes the most moral persons who have ever lived. Is there any person who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” (Pro 20:9). The answer is an emphatic NO! The human heart is corrupt, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20), and “There is none righteous; not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; cf. 8:8). Some might argue, “What about unbelievers who live moral lives and do good? Certainly they exist. Doesn’t their morality provide something worthy in the eyes of God?” The biblical answer is NO! Even the most moral unbelievers are unacceptable to God. Scripture states:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

     By human estimation, even the worst person can do some good. But human estimation is lower than God’s estimation and it is God’s standards that define what is truly good. “Total depravity must always be measured against God’s holiness. Relative goodness exists in people. They can do good works, which are appreciated by others. But nothing that anyone can do will gain salvational merit or favor in the sight of a holy God.”[1]

The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.[2]

     Only the work of Christ on the cross satisfies God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and only by faith in Jesus can we accept God’s gift of salvation (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). To be saved, we must turn from all other considerations of merit, and trust in Christ alone as Savior. At the moment of faith in Jesus, God gives us the gift of His righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), which is imputed to us, ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5), solely because of His goodness and not because of any worth in us (Eph. 2:3-9). The gift of God’s righteousness means that we are declared as perfect as He is perfect. Won’t you accept God’s free gift of righteousness by turning to Jesus as Savior and trusting that what He accomplished on the cross is sufficient to save? It’s simple; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 253.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

The Doctrine of Simultaneity

     The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, coined the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator, which translates as, simultaneously righteous and a sinner.  Luther correctly understood the biblical teaching that we are righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at salvation and at the same time we continue to possess a sin nature and practice sin.  This is based on four biblical truths:

We are all born sinners with a sin nature

     Every person born into this world—with the exception of Jesus—is a sinner.  We are sinners because Adam’s original sin is imputed to us (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are born with a sinful nature which urges us to sin (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we choose to sin when we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).  Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God.  Sin permeates every aspect of our being and renders us separated from God and helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3). 

God has provided for our salvation

     The good news of the gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon Himself and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  This is substitutionary atonement, in which Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Mark 10:45), and calls us into fellowship with Him (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  Salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God is completely satisfied with the death of Christ, who “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires and provides us salvation as His love desires. 

We receive a new nature at the moment of salvation

     At the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and we acquire a new nature that desires to do God’s will (Rom. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9-10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9).  In addition, our identification with Adam is cancelled and we are immediately united with Christ (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14), forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), bestowed with God’s own righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Christians continue to possess a sin nature after salvation

     Though we have our new nature in Christ at the moment of salvation, we continue to possess our sinful nature, and this produces internal conflict throughout our Christian life (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17).  This reality explains why Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), and to the Christians at Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Though we struggle with sin, we are assured that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), for we are “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  Both are true.  We are perfectly righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and we continue to possess a sin nature and commit sin.

Dr. Martin LutherThe person who has thus received the gift of faith Luther described as “at once righteous and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Formerly he had understood this term in the Augustinian sense of “partly” a sinner and “partly” righteous. …Now, however, while retaining the paradox of simultaneity, he sharpened each of the clashing concepts into a sovereign, total realm. Luther continued to use simul iustus et peccator after 1518-19, but he did so in the sense of semper (always) iustus et peccator. The believer is not only both righteous and sinful at the same time but is also always or completely both righteous and sinful at the same time [emphasis added]. What does this mean? With respect to our fallen human condition, we are, and always will be in this life, sinners. However for believers life in this world is no longer a period of doubtful candidacy for God’s acceptance. In a sense we have already been before God’s judgment seat and have been acquitted on account of Christ. Hence we are also always righteous.[1]

Summary

     So then, as Christians, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us as a free gift (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  And, we continue to possess a sin nature that continually causes internal temptation and conflict (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17, 19).  Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom. 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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  2. I am a Saint  
  3. The Gospel Message  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  5. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

[1] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, Tenn., Broadman and Holman publishers, 2013), 72.