The Roots of Sin

What is the root of all sin? Is there a root, a foundational sin that led to all others? What was the driving force in Adam and Eve’s choice to make that first fateful choice? This is a question that has been wrestled with throughout church history. Theologians have landed in different places on the question.

Augustine, the early church father (350-434) wrote a book called “Faith, Hope and Love.” In his book, he argues that the tree of sin does not consist of a singular root. He suggests that sin has an entire root system. We are talking about roots rather than a root according to Augustine. Check out what he says.

Still, even in that one sin–which “entered into the world by one man and so spread to all men,”…one can recognize a plurality of sins, if that single sin is divided, so to say, into its separate elements. For there is pride in it, since man preferred to be under his own rule rather than the rule of God; and sacrilege too, for man did not acknowledge God; and murder, since he cast himself down to death; and spiritual fornication, for the integrity of the human mind was corrupted by the seduction of the serpent; and theft, since the forbidden fruit was snatched; and avarice, since he hungered for more than should have sufficed for him–and whatever other sins that could be discovered in the diligent analysis of that one sin.

Augustine identifies no less than six “separate elements” to the Adam and Eve’s first sin. He calls the first sin a “plurality of sins.” When you look closely, he suggests you can discern various roots or underlying factors that marked that first act of rebellion. He identifies these elements.

  • Pride- man preferred to be his own ruler
  • Sacrilege- man failed to acknowledge God
  • Murder- man cast himself down to death
  • Spiritual fornication- man’s mind was corrupted by the serpent’s seduction
  • Theft- man snatched the forbidden fruit
  • Avarice- man hungered for more than should have sufficed

He leaves the list open-ended as he suggests that further analysis would yield even more results. It is not surprising then to find that Martin Luther suggested another “element” when he drew attention to the first sin as an act of unbelief and trust in God’s word. John Calvin argued that unfaithfulness was the root of that first act. Elsewhere, Augustine suggests that disobedience was at the heart of Adam’s sin.

Meditating on this question is helpful for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the interlocking nature of sin and rebellion. In one act, we may well be motivated by pride, fear, theft and unbelief. Meditating on this reality drives us to a deeper appreciation of depravity, which in turn leads us toward intelligent repentance. Second, the movement toward owning our depravity and embracing repentance pushes us toward Jesus. The greatness and diversity of sins roots points us to the glory of God our Savior. If sin is made up each of those components—salvation is the remedy for each and everyone of those failures. Such great sin leads us to such a great Savior.

God’s Surprising Help in our Vocations

When you think about the work of the Holy Spirit, what comes to mind? We rightly connect his work to our faith in Jesus, our transformation, sanctification and spiritual gifting. These are prominent themes in the Scriptures. There is another dimension to his work: equipping us vocationally.

The Spirit is deeply interested in giving us the abilities, capacity, skills and understanding of our various vocations for the purpose of doing what we do with excellence that God might be magnified through us. Here are two wonderful examples of this

Oholiab and Bezalel

Oholiab and Bezalel The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: (Exodus 31:1-6 ESV)

Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.” And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. (Exodus 36:1-2 ESV)

Notice the language of this passage of Scripture. God called these men to a particular work—the work of fashioning the tabernacle for the nomadic journey of Israel to the promised land. He takes these craftsmen and readies them for the tasks ahead. He fills them with four distinct things: ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship. This is incredible. The Holy Spirit is providing intellectual capacity, wisdom and practical skill. The end result of this is that they would devise and produce beautiful art, skill working with all sorts of materials and capability in many skills.

Two more times in the narrative flow we see God “putting” skill and intelligence into men to fulfill their particular vocation. He also stirred their heart to the work he called them to. God is in the business of equipping us for our vocations—this much is clear!

King Solomon

And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. (1 Kings 3:7-12 ESV)

The story of King Solomon reveals this same pattern. He is stepping into a new vocation, he is about to take the mantle of a King in the context of this passage. He seeks God’s help and God’s response is instructive. He gave him a “wise and discerning mind” that will be unmatched by any before or after him. God equipped him with the capacity of mind, the discerning judgment and the skillful wisdom necessary to govern his people. This teaches us that we will run up against the boundaries of our own wisdom and ability in our vocations, but God has the ability to increase those boundaries. He can provide us what we simply do not possess. He does this in the context of vocation in both of these passages.

Weakness and the Divine Resume

Resumes are a catalogue of our strengths. We put our best foot forward. Weakness is nowhere to be found on one of these. God’s resume looks very different…when we look at how he works, weakness is not avoided—it is chosen.

Weakness is his prevalent mode of operation, it is his strategy. One author says, “The biblical storyline is one not of God being frustrated by human weakness but attracted to it.” The three greatest characters in the Old Testament are point in fact.

Promises through Idolater Abraham and Infertile Sarah

  • Abraham was a moon worshipper (Josh 24:2) and his wife Sarah was barren. God chose this couple to create a nation that would bless the world. His choice had weakness front and center. Deuteronomy 7:7 calls God’s choice of this great people a choice of  “the fewest of Peoples.”

Deliverance through Insecure Moses

  • The Israelites were enslaved for 400 years and they cried to God for help. He chose the most unlikely deliverer. Moses himself knew he was weak. Twice he says to God, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” Yet, God persists. He did not make a mistake in the choice of Moses, he is not surprised by his weaknesses. God used Moses to accomplish the decisive Old Testament rescue of God’s people, which became the very template for all God’s saving action.

Kingship through Shepherd Boy David

  • The choice of the greatest King of Israel was not unlike the choice of Moses. Samuel the prophet was told that he would come from the family of a man named Jesse. He went to his home to find the King. Jesse brought seven of his sons before him, when Samuel saw the tallest and strongest he thought, “this must be the one.” God responded with a reminder that he does not look on the outward appearance but inward to the heart. After they had all paraded through, Samuel knew that none of them were the chosen King. “Are these all your sons?” Jesse told him there was one more, the youngest who is out taking care of the sheep. Sure enough, the unexpected, unnoticed, smallest, youngest—this was God’s King.

Hebrews 11 and the Hall of Weakness

  • Hebrews 11 has often been called the hall of faith, it may be more fitting to call it the hall of weakness. Abraham, Moses and David dominate this chapter of the Bible and their stories highlight their great weakness as much as their great faith. If you read this chapter, most characters in  the great hall are explicitly described as weak in the Old Testament. In fact, in one of the summary statements these people of faith were said to be made strong out of weakness” (Hebrews 11:34).

I love Scripture’s real portrayal of human beings—all the biblical models of faith are normal, broken people. Like us they all struggled to believe and be faithful. I find this greatly comforting.

Weakness is God’s design. It is his strategy. As Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27). Weakness is God’s choice, not strength. Hudson Taylor was right, “All God’s giants have been weak people.” 

Rethinking Weakness

self madeStrength is the American ideal. The statue on the right is called the “Self Made Man.” He is chiseling himself out of stone, making himself—with his own hands and strength. The self-made man embodies what our culture values. The ability of an individual to go from strength to strength, overcoming all adversity and chiseling out a successful life for themselves.

Hard work and strength—these are cornerstones of the American value system. Weakness has no place in this ideal. We despise it. We don’t have Weak Man Contests, we don’t celebrate the slowest or take pride in last place. The Rocky theme song “getting strong now” is our theme song. “Getting weak now…” just doesn’t have the same punch.

Weakness—we avoid it, shun it, hide it—no one will see us weak. That’s a strong commitment we all have. Weakness only has one purpose in our culture, it is an ingredient for becoming stronger, it definitely has no purpose or use outside of that.

We are rocks. Our physique has to reflect that, anything else and we feel ashamed and weak. Our emotions must reflect it, tears are weak—rocks don’t cry. Our mental wellness is no different—the mentally strong are not susceptible to mental illness— they don’t need help, that’s weak. It bleeds into our spirituality and faith—God doesn’t want tears, pain and frailty. I can only come with joy and gratitude.

Rocks are steady, not unstable. We are rocks at work—no room for failure or mistakes, no need for help. The rock is solid, unmovable, self-sufficient—I got this! I am strong. There is no room for weakness. The culture of ancient Corinth was very similar to ours. They also had a love affair with strength. Into this perspective of strength comes a divine wrecking ball. Check out 2 Corinthians 12:5-10.

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The language of weakness permeates this entire section. In fact, it permeates the entire letter of 2 Corinthians. Paul has rightly been deemed the “theologian of weakness.” Outside of Paul the term for weakness occurs 39 times in the entirety of the New Testament. Paul uses the term weakness 44 times in his letters. It is a crucial piece of his theology.

In the immediate context Paul is recalling a vision or experience of getting caught up into heaven and seeing things he could not speak. In the larger context, Paul is defending his apostleship. The Corinthians were questioning his legitimacy, because he appeared weak and insignificant, he did not have the charismatic qualities that the culture of the day held in high esteem—-he did not seem strong.

His point is striking: weakness does not disprove my apostleship, it proves it. Weakness does not challenge my authenticity, it demonstrates it! As one commentator said, “The only impressive thing about Paul, according to him, was his weakness.”

But how in the world does Paul get here? Weakness as an asset? What? Weakness as an occasion for God’s strength? Where does this come from? Paul is saying that weakness is something to be embraced not shunned, something to be content not discontent with, something to boast about?!

Paul is not introducing something new here—God has always worked this way. In the next couple posts, we will explore the theme of weakness. My aim, that you and I would grow weaker as a result.

God, the author of pleasure

Pleasure is not a human idea or invention. Paul tells us that it is God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). That is all-encompassing—God designed the world and all that is within it for human enjoyment. Relationships, food, trees, oceans, sunsets, beaches, coffee…all for our enjoyment. C.S. Lewis in his book ScrewTape Letters imagines the mentoring relationship of a senior demon with his junior on how to best tempt his Christian patient. He speaks to the issue of pleasure.

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. all the same, it is his invention, not ours. he made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. all we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden. hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.

What is a Man?

Templates are important. New experiences are often stressful and tiring, mainly because we are doing the hard work of creating a template. Once the template is created and we run it through a few times we relax. This is true for a new job, for marriage, for parenting, for a new hobby, for traveling to another country, experiencing a loss, etc. Templates are blueprints or frameworks for how to navigate a given situation.

Some templates are more important than others. The journey to manhood is one such example. What is your blueprint? How do you frame the masculine journey? Do you have a template? What does it look like? How would you answer the question: what is a man?

My sense is that most men would use a shotgun to answer this question not a laser. We throw out a bunch of character qualities, traits or actions that have no coherent connection. It is not well thought out, it is not organized. It is not a template. It is random puzzle pieces, often missing the corners—rarely ever put together into a completed image.

Robert Hicks in his book The Masculine Journey suggests that the answer to this question is a moving target. Men are on a journey. Each juncture looks different and is marked by different things. Certain masculine attributes are at the forefront in different developmental stages.

Proverbs 20:29 captures this: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” We don’t expect gray haired men to be warriors and we don’t expect young warriors to be filled with wisdom and life experience. This biblical distinction points to a dynamic understanding of manhood.

A template for manhood looks at the commonalities, well-worn paths and critical junctures of the masculine journey. Hicks suggests six stages: 1) the created man 2) the sexual man 3) the warrior 4) the wounded man 5) the mature man 6) the sage. One may not agree with his categories, but the idea of common signposts along the masculine journey is instructive.

I appreciate this author’s approach to developing a template for the journey of a man—whether one agrees completely with his framework—the project of a masculine template is important to pursue.

Creation Apart from Works

We are dust. We must never forget our origins. Our existence is marvelous. We started from a clump of mud. God’s creative, forming, breathing energy was infused into the dirt as he fashioned a creature to bear his image—simply phenomenal. This is a cornerstone of our reality. Life and death, joy and sorrow are located at the intersection of the Creator-creature distinction.

It is no mistake that the first line of the Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” In this simple affirmation we confess our creatureliness and our Maker’s sovereignty. Martin Luther is wonderful in his comments from his small catechism on this phrase. He asks the question: what does this mean? He answers.

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them; that He richly and daily provides me with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life; that He protects me from all danger, guards and keeps me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I am in duty bound to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

I love the way he frames God’s creative work as an act of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.” Our existence is without “any merit or worthiness in me.” I did not earn my existence. Creation is apart from works, it has nothing to do with me whatsoever—it is based purely on his good pleasure. Luther provocatively utilizes the language he often uses of justification to speak of creation. His point: creation and justification operate on the same principle, grace alone.

The posture of the creature is hands open to receive. The posture of the sinner is arms outstretched grasping at what is not ours. A posture we know all too well since the transgression of our first parents. Justification is about making us human again…it returns us to this receiving posture. God graces us with salvation apart from any merit of our own.