I have a terminal disease.
Before you gather your thoughts and respond with appropriate sympathy let me remind you—so do you!
All human philosophers know that we humans have a problem—alienation, anxiety, a sickness unto death, a selfish gene. Evil within and without is a reality. The stark truth is that we humans are born to die. It is what the Bible calls “sin”.
We don’t like to dwell on sin. However, a good doctrine of sin is needed if we are to fully appreciate God’s solution to it.
The book of Romans is the quintessential gospel. The gospel becomes clear because the apostle Paul’s teaching on sin is comprehensive. The most common word for sin in Romans is the Greek word harmartia, which means missing the mark. According to Andrews University scholar Martin Hanna there are three aspects to Paul’s doctrine of sin in Romans—involuntary corruption, voluntary carnality and legal condemnation.1
Every human born since Adam has been involuntarily corrupted because of Adam’s choice against God. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12,15,17). Sin corrupts our nature (Romans 8:10). Even the natural world is corrupted (verse 21). We had no choice in it—but Adam’s original sin predicts our state and destiny. [pullquote]
At the same time every human also chooses to sin—we are voluntarily carnal. We can obey sin and its passions within and choose to use our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness (Romans 6:12,13). Romans 8, using the word “flesh” or “carnality”, says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh . . .” and this “is death . . .” (verses 5,6). We have a choice to follow the carnality within or not.
Sin also legally condemns humans. When we do wrong we are guilty, worthy of punishment, accountable—legally condemned. That is Paul’s major point from Romans 1-3. In chapter 3 he summaries: “. . . both Jew and Greeks are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one . . . (verses 9,10) ‘Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law . . . and the whole world may be held accountable to God’” (verse 19). Romans 5 is just as clear: “. . . For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation . . .” (verses 16,18). We are condemned to suffer our punishment of death.
God has a solution to every aspect of sin based on the free gift of Jesus’ life and death. Humans are no longer condemned but are “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24, see also 5:16). We cannot earn this declaration of being righteous, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We appear before God just as if we had never sinned!
Sin may remain but it does not have to reign (Romans 6:12). Because Jesus conquered sin for us we present ourselves “to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (verse 13). We have a choice, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (verse 19). We choose by faith to be made holy or “sanctified” every day because of the grace of Jesus.
Finally, sin will be eradicated from our lives at glorification—when Jesus returns. We will struggle with sin until then (see Romans 8:18,21). When Jesus comes we are completely changed—sin is gone!
In summary, our justification in Jesus covers our legal condemnation. Sanctification by faith in Jesus deals with our voluntary carnality and the glorification we receive when Jesus returns will expel our involuntary corruption forever. We receive every aspect of the grace package by faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.