Accepting the Diagnosis
Robert Wurtz II
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:3)
As Germany was near to falling during WWII, POW Lieutenant general Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben was compelled to watch a video documentary of Nazi war crimes. General Eisenhower was filmed seeing with his own eyes the atrocities at Nazi Germany prison camps after they were captured by the allied forces. Eisenhower ordered German civilians to come and view the shocking evidence for themselves. Among the civilians was a Nazi officer who was a commander of one of the death camps. Having witnessed this officer being forced to look over the ghastly sight of death and distress, Schlieben made this comment, “That’s the only thing about the ‘thousand year Reich’ which will last for a thousand years.” Fellow POW VonFelbert added to the statement, “Yes, we are disgraced for all time.”
Born Into Sin
One of the fundamental elements of the subject of man’s sin and salvation (soteriology) biblically is what came to be known as “Original Sin.” There are various ways this doctrine is described, but typically it is understood to mean that men and women are born into this life as sinners’ with a sinful nature. People are not sinners because they sin — they sin because they are constitutionally sinful as a consequence of Adam’s fall. When we speak of Original Sin we are dealing with what is sometimes known as original guilt and original pollution. As David said, “…in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) Some more radical ideas suggest that the will of man is in complete bondage to the sinful nature. Simply put this is known as Total Depravity. This essentially means that man in his fallen state cannot rightly obey God. Some suggest that men and women are dead in trespasses and sins in such a way that they cannot respond to God without God’s direct intervention. These subjects have been the cause of much debate in the churches over the centuries. The sad thing is that folks that discuss these topics typically straw-man the other sides views until there is little fruit in the conversation. I hope to help change that in this entry.
I affirm that though man is born constituted a sinner (because of the choice of Adam), this by no means relieves man of his free choice. (Joshua 24:15) Sin reigns in the heart of a sinner, but not in such a way that he or she cannot do otherwise. In a matter of saying, men are not “sin possessed.” They are bent towards sinning, but not in such a way that Sin is in complete control. Moreover, God is just in condemning man for his sin because man could have chosen not to sin. (Romans 2:1) This is the essential message of Romans chapters 1-3.
However, we must bear in mind that Romans goes on to tell us that man has been constituted a sinner in Adam. (Romans 5:19 YLT) The KJV uses the phrase “were made sinners.” Notice we were not created sinners, we were “made” sinners as a consequence of Adam’s transgression. Paul goes on to say that by the obedience of one many will be made righteous. That “one” is Jesus Christ, the last Adam. Keep your eye on the word “made.” As an aside, Finney and neo-Finney-ites balk at the notion of imputed righteousness; nevertheless, there is only one other way to see this passage. It has to mean that we are made righteous in Christ, positionally or actually (or both). If we say actually then it proves the need for genuine regeneration.
God made man good and upright; however, by the one man Adam the Sin (the dynamic) entered the world and the Death (the dynamic) by the Sin. This is not sin the fruit (deeds) this is Sin (the root or the dynamic). It should go without saying that all people everywhere have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that seeks after God and there is none that does good- no not one, etc. People generally know they are sinners; albeit, the have to be reminded of it. We were all born into this world constituted sinners. Only God can heal this problem. However, getting people to understand and to accept the diagnosis is the hardest thing of all.
Jesus told Nicodemas that he must be born from above. He mildly chided him for being a teacher in Israel and not knowing this basic fact. Why did he not believe it or teach it? Because the diagnosis is far beyond the realm of most peoples’ ability to accept it. Consider what John says about man’s condition.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:8-10)
This is the diagnosis. A person who lives in sin is a child of the Devil. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil. This simply means that Jesus came to provide a new birth for those who receive Him. understand that a person cannot become a child of God simply by turning over a new leaf or getting rid of a few lousy habits (as L. Ravenhill would say). A person must be born of God. This is the John 3:3 reality that Nicodemas, the teacher in Israel, had no clue about. It is a supernatural transformation of the person that takes place when they are Baptized into Jesus Christ by the Holy spirit.
Look around in the world. What is the pattern of most peoples’ lives? Do you see people sinning and hating one another? Or do you see people living righteously and loving one another? Some would dismiss these passages or explain them away and say, “It is their choice,” etc. and this is true. It is their choice, but it is also their nature. It’s what they do in the same sense that producing thorns is what a thorn bush does. Notice John did not call the sinners “disciples of the Devil.” He did not call them “followers of the Devil.” He called them children of the Devil. Why? Because the Devil is their father. A father does not make followers and disciples; a father makes sons and daughters. This is one of the oldest truths in the Bible — living things bring forth fruit after their own kind. Look at the fruit and you will know the parent.
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. (James 3)
The answer to James’ question is a resounding no, it cannot. If you are going to change the fruit of something you have to change its essential nature. Moreover, we have this Old Testament question; Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. (Jeremiah 13:23) This motif continues to play out when we read in Hebrews:
For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
Notice there is no such thing in this passage as a fruitless or thornless tree — a tree is one or the other. Trees are used figuratively in scripture for men. God is pouring out grace by His Spirit; nevertheless, many people continue to yield thorns and briars. The axe is laid to the root of the trees and those that do not bring forth good fruit are cast into the fire. However, a thorn tree cannot arbitrarily decide one day it will bring forth fruit. People try it all the time. Many try (as it were) to cut the thorns off of their limbs and hang the fruit of the Spirit on like Christmas ornaments. When the trial comes the real nature of the tree comes out again. In other words, give it time and you will know if the person is really changed. A thorn tree will always be a thorn tree until God changes it’s essential nature. This is the finger of God effecting regeneration (palengenesis). What did Jesus say?
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
If there is no fruit, then the person is not In Christ. It doesn’t matter how many times they said the sinners prayer or signed a card. The test is in the fruit.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:16-21)
If a person is not bearing fruit — they are not partaking of the Holy Spirit. This is because they are not grafted into the vine. This is what Paul was talking about when he told the Gentiles not to boast against the branches. They had been “grafted in” to the olive tree (Christ). Let’s turn this around. What is a person ‘grafted in to’ that bears thorns, briers, thistles, etc.? Why do they have to be burned? Because they are bringing forth from their essential nature that is drawing from a totally different spirit. Nobody on earth lives without drawing from some well — either of Satan or of God. This is not a casual dropping by to get some advice from the Devil; it is a drawing forth of the very life (death) of Satan himself. Jesus told them, “You are of your father the devil.” The fruit of the life demonstrates the source of their strength. Paul said it plainly in Ephesians:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved; (Ephesians 2:1-5)
So we were dead towards God and alive (quickened) towards the Prince of the Power of the Air — walking in the Spirit of Disobedience — and were by nature children of wrath. This is almost parallel to walking in the Holy Spirit (born of the Spirit) except it is the spirit of the Devil himself. As surely as a thorn tree is naturally such, a sinner is a sinner by nature. I know it sounds simple, but this is why John had to keep coming back to the subject over and over again. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:8-10)
There is no middle ground where people are just neutral. Some live their whole lives in denial that this is their true condition. This is a horrific truth given the fact that God has the power to regenerate us. No need to fear the Dr. report when yours is the Great Physician. He can heal our sin problem.
One is either a child of God or a child of the devil. They are either in Adam or in Christ. They are either grafted into Christ bearing the fruit of His vine — or they are grafted into the Prince of the Power of the Air and moving in the spirit of disobedience yielding thorns and briers. If a person wants to switch from being a thorn yielding child of the Devil, they have to agree with God in what He has said about them and their condition. You must be born from Above. (John 3:3) It is a simple statement of fact. We must be transformed into new creatures. We must have God as our Father.