Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Using the "S" word

A particular well-known TV evangelist was being interviewed by Larry King in 2005 when King asked this evangelist about the fact that he does not use the word "sinner" in his church.  The reply was, "I don't use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don't. But most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don't go down the road of condemning."  (  Really?  No mention of the word "sinner"?  People know what they are doing wrong?  Calvin would go ballistic if he heard this guy preach.  Calvin was not afraid to use the word "sinner" or "sin".  He recognized that the only way to appreciate our salvation is to recognize our need for it.  With no sin, there is no need for grace.  Our nature has been so corrupted by sin, that the only hope we have is God's grace.

The term "original sin" is defined yet again by Calvin, "Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls 'works of the flesh' [Gal. 5:19]."  Here he is talking about the total depravity of man.  We are so radically changed by sin that it doesn't just affect part of our being, but the entire being - soul included.  This change causes us to carry out works of the flesh, also known as "sin".  Calvin continues later, "...we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity.  And this is not liability for another's transgressions."  Every part of our nature has been corrupted.  That is what we mean by the phrase "total depravity."  It does not mean that we are as evil as we can possibly be, but that we have been so radically changed by sin that it infects every cell of our being.  Calvin makes another point about our corruption, "...that this perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits - the works of the flesh that we have already described - just as a burning furnace gives forth flame and sparks, or water ceaselessly bubbles up from a spring."  Our sin never stops in this life.

The next section is a continuation of the idea of total depravity.  "Paul removes all doubt when he teaches that corruption subsists not in one part only, but that none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease.  For in his discussion of a corrupt nature Paul not only condemns the inordinate impulses of the appetites that are seen, but especially contends the mind is given over to blindness and the heart to depravity."  Mind, heart, and soul are all infected with and affected by sin.  In one of Calvin's many similes, he writes, "Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed - as by a deluge - from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin."

We often speak of the sinful nature of man.  Calvin spends a couple of sections writing about the word "nature".  It was not our original nature to be sinful.  Our nature was corrupted by original sin.  "Our destruction, therefore, comes from the guilt of our flesh, not from God, inasmuch as we have perished solely because we have degenerated from our original condition."  He later writes that we have been corrupted through "natural vitiation (corruption)" but this vitiation did not come to us through nature.  "Yet we call it 'natural' in order that no man may think that anyone obtains it through bad conduct, since it holds all men fast by hereditary right."  We are all subject to this corruption.  We cannot escape it.

Calvin was not scared to use the term sinner.  Neither was Paul.  Calvin pointed out that Romans 3:1-20 is "nothing but a description of original sin."  I encourage you to read that chapter today.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.2.1-2.2.3

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