DO I HAVE TO SIN?
T. PIERCE BROWN
For almost half a century I have had questions asked about the problem of sin as related to man’s nature. Some of the questions I asked as a little child are still asked by profound Bible scholars. Why do we sin? Did not Christ have our nature? They why did he not sin? If Christ had help that was not available to us, what was it, and if so, how could we follow his example? If Christ did not have help that is not available to us because of his unique connection with God, then is it possible for us to live without sin, as he did? If so, why has not someone done it? Or is there any exception to the universal rule that “All have sinned (Rom.3:23)”? Here are some insights that may be helpful in answering, at least partially, some of the questions that may be raised in this connection.
First, let me say that although I was taught by the dearest Bible teacher I ever had atAbileneChristianCollegethat we inherit our “fallen nature” from Adam, and this “fallen nature” is the basic cause of our sin, I reject that as erroneous and unscriptural. I contend that I was born with the same nature with which Adam was created — perfect, pure, and in the image of God. If I could inherit a “fallen nature” which makes it impossible for me to live without sinning, why could I not inherit a “divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) from one who had been born again, making it impossible for me to sin?
I do not want at this time to go into an exegesis of “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) nor to show all the reasons why the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is wrong. But I will remark in passing that I believe the doctrine was conceived in order to try to “patch up” the theory of hereditary depravity and its consequences.
As we develop these thought, let us go back to Adam’s original state. Was there anything in his nature as created that made it necessary for him to sin? The answer must be an unequivocal, “NO,” else he is not to blame, but God is. This fits very well, of course, with the modern practice of blaming everything and everybody for our sins except ourselves. It is heredity, environment, training, society, government, poverty, parents, and even “the Devil made me do it,” but seldom, “I have sinned!” In my judgment, this is part of the fruit of the tree of the “sinful nature” we presumably inherited from Adam. I challenged my beloved Bible teacher some 45 years ago with the question (which he did not answer) and with which I now challenge you: “What tendency to sin do you have today that Adam did not have when he was created, and how do you know?” Can you be tempted in any other way than the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life — and could he?
I believe one of the keys to a difficult problem is partly a failure to make a distinction between probability and possibility, and the failure to make a distinction between a generic statement, “All have sinned” and a specific application of that to “I have sinned.” If the statement that “through one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” includes the idea that “through Adam’s sin we all have a tendency to sin,” then “through the obedience of the one shall many be made righteous” means that through Christ’s obedience that tendency was removed and replaced by the tendency to be righteous! We may have the time and space to dwell on that in more detail, but now let us look at an illustration which may help us to see the difference between probability and possibility.
Suppose you flip a nickel into the air. Is it possible that you could do it one million times and it come up “heads” every time? I think most of us could say, “No, it is not possible, provided it was and ordinary nickel and you were not just playing tricks with it.” Our experience and knowledge of facts have both indicated that if we gave 120,000,000 persons a nickel and they all started flipping, not one would flip very long without the nickel coming up tails instead of heads. Yet, if one asked the question, “Is there anything about the nature of the nickel that makes it necessary for it to come up tails when I flip it on any given occasion?” the answer is “No.” Then as far as the nature of the nickel is concerned, it is possible that we could flip it one million times and it would come up heads each time!
If you want to check that philosophically, you may imagine yourself standing by a person about to flip a nickel, and ask, “Is it possible that it will come up heads this time?” And of course the answer is “Yes.” There is really no causal or philosophic connection between how it comes up the first flip, the second, or any subsequent flip. And there is absolutely nothing in the nature of the nickel that makes it more likely to come up tails on the first than on the second, or any subsequent flip.
That may explain nothing, and illustrate little. But as you examine your own experience and the Bible, ask yourself if you do not find something similar in the matter of sinning. First, as yourself, “Is it possible to live a whole life without sinning?” and 999 out of 1000 Bible believers will probably answer, “No.” Then ask, “Is it possible to live one year without sinning? One month? One week? One day? One hour? One minute?” Now, if you answered “No” all the way, you are saying that you really believe from your experience and from what the Bible says that you are sinning and must be sinning every minute of your life!! If your answer shifted from “No” on the first question about the whole lifetime to “Yes” about some smaller time span, why did it? What is there in your nature that made it necessary for you to sin by the end of one month that did not make it necessary for you to sin by the end of the week? If you conclude that there is something in your nature that makes it necessary for you to sin, then God is at fault (logically), not you!
Is this not rather the real truth of the matter? There is nothing in your nature that makes it necessary that you sin by the end of a year of life any more than by the end of a minute of life! The thing that makes you sin is the fact that you choose to sin, just exactly as Adam did! The probabilities of your doing that are so great that we can say with certainty (even if the Bible did not so reveal) that all have sinned. But is that not a general truth, like “All nickels, when flipped, with come up eventually both heads and tails”? When I see a baby, umbilical cord yet uncut, should I say about it, “You have sinned, for all have sinned”? Surely most of my readers would say, “No.” The newborn infant is not included in that “All.” Suppose we say about him on each subsequent day of his life, “On this day I find it necessary to conclude from God’s revealed truth that this child has sinned. It is impossible for him to have lived thus far without sin.” On what day will that statement be true? Do you not see that we are likely to be confusing the idea of “impossible” because of the nature of the person with “improbable” because of the nature of the total situation?
So here are some facts — indicated by experience and revelation. 1. Some persons may have a greater tendency to sin, or greater weakness in some areas than other persons. 2. Some persons will have a greater tendency or temptation to sin at a given moment than he will at another moment. 3. For a Christian, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is always true. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” 4. 1 John 1:8-10 is also true, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” But those statements have to do only with general and universal truths, and do not refer to specific situations. For example, when Saul obeyed Ananias as recorded in Acts 22:16, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins,” he could have said, “I have no sin” without deceiving himself or being a liar! And one minute later, he could say, “I have not sinned in this last minute” without making God a liar. 5. Romans6:23is also a general universal truth, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It does not deal with various specific situations, such as a little child, or whether we have such a weak and sinful nature that we must sin on any specific occasion.
So, we must conclude that although the revelation of God coincides with the universal experience of mankind that all sin, there is no specific occasion on which we do sin that we can properly say, “My nature is such that I found it necessary to commit that sin.” If we could do so, we could properly blame the one who gave us that nature.