The last dialectic pair of theological keys in KMKG focuses on ethical issues, in the category of acting. This is more than just the question of what is morally right or wrong: it is about who we human beings now are: sinners before a holy and righteous God. In this chapter/study, we focus on the ‘bad news’ that sets us up for the ‘good news’ revealed in the gospel, with the theological key Our sin separates us from God.
There are significant differences between human and divine acts. But there are some similarities. For example, like God we act freely, in the sense that we do what our ‘hearts’ desire. This grounds our moral responsibility: our acts are our own. As creatures, we owe God full obedience. We were created to act for his glory. But we fail to do so. God, on the other hand, can be described as ‘pure act’. He has no ‘potential’ in his essence to be what he is not. His will never changes. In perfect knowledge and power, he does the good that he pleases.
Adam, the first man, is significant for us all because of the covenant that God established with him and his descendants. We are included in this covenant. The covenant defines our ‘natural’ ethical status since Adam’s fall into sin: we are covenant-breakers, under a curse.
We are now constituted sinners. Our sin takes many forms, but in its many manifestations it always serves to confirm our ethical separation from God, who maintains his justice by ‘cutting off’ sinners. This is a solemn problem. In addition, we are ‘cut off’ or separated from one another. The depth of our brokenness is profound, and no-one is truly ‘neutral’ in their stance towards God. This ought to drive us to our knees to seek mercy at the cross of Jesus, who experienced the full consequences of being ‘cut off’ from God in the place of his people.
What do you make of this suggestion? Where do you agree / disagree with Pelagius?
Some of the best books on sin – from a pastoral as well as a theological perspective – have come from the seventeenth-century Puritans, not least from the pen of John Owen. Owen’s works on sin and temptation have been brought together in a modern, updated edition with a foreword by John Piper, in Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006).
Another classic, from a slightly later period, is Thomas Boston’s Human Nature In Its Fourfold State (1720). There are various free versions of this available online, or there is a printed edition published by the Banner of Truth in 1964. Boston’s account of human nature in the state of ‘entire depravity’ elaborates on many of the themes in this study.