A Christian worldview and human sinfulness
by Stan Norman
Provost and Executive Vice President for Campus Life, Oklahoma Baptist University
A Christian worldview typically and historically takes into account that something has gone horrifically wrong with God’s created order. Any worldview that does not account in some way for the presence of sin is terribly misleading and grossly deficient. Only in the Christian worldview do we find a revelatory perspective of what the problem is with God’s creation and what He has done to overcome that problem.
With the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, sin “came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:13). A Christian worldview must adequately engage the enormity of human sinfulness. Our sin problem must be assessed with the utmost seriousness, understanding that eternal destinies are at stake. A Christian worldview must never regard the sinfulness of humanity lightly or glibly.
The Bible presents a horrific picture of the manifestation and devastation of sin. Sin is idolatry, rebellion, missing the mark, straying from the path, treachery, lust, ungodliness and wickedness. Sin disregards, commits willful error, brings guilt and lacks integrity. Sin lusts, perverts and breaks the law. Sin is overstepping a boundary and a failure to reach it, a transgression and a shortcoming. Sin is like a beast “crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7). Sinners are not merely sick or morally weak; we are fallen, dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:5).
The magnitude of the sin problem must be considered against the backdrop of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel itself is a message that God is not indifferent or indulgent to sin. God will execute His judgment upon sin and the sinner. The severity and depth of sin is nowhere more fully revealed, and its judgment nowhere more strongly depicted, than in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The sinless One took upon Himself the curse of sin in order to liberate us from it (Gal. 3:13). By taking our guilt upon Himself, Christ destroyed sin in His own body (Rom. 8:3). Through His death, sin is judged, and its power destroyed. The death of Jesus provides a sacrificial payment for sin’s guilt and brings liberation from sin’s penalty and power.
Numerous social, political, theological and philosophical theories contend that sin did not originate with human beings or that humanity is not ultimately responsible for sin. Many have attempted to understand and explain sin independent from a belief in an actual historical Fall and the corruption of human nature. For example, Unitarians assert that human beings are morally neutral. Human conduct is sinful when it acts contrary to accepted social customs or cultural mores. Thus sin is defined as antisocial behavior, according to H. Shelton Smith in Changing Conceptions of Original Sin. Corliss Lamont contended in The Philosophy of Humanism that human nature is morally neutral, believing that propaganda and cultural conditioning result in selfish and violent impulses. According to Lamont, education would bring the transformation of antisocial passions, motives, ambitions and habits. Karl Marx located human evil in the dialectical conflict of social classes in his Capital and Manifesto of the Communist Party. He believed that a socialist re-distribution of resources and power would inevitably lead to utopia. Jose Miranda identified the root of all human evil in the economic oppression of the poor by unjust social structures. Transformation of social structures would ultimately lead to real justice for all people, thereby eliminating human wickedness.
Although contemporary culture belittles the problem of sin and makes light of its devastating effects, the Bible underscores the plight of the lost and the need for the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save us from our sin. For those who have an overly optimistic opinion of the human condition, the Bible provides a realistic assessment of our sinful predicament and magnifies the necessity of the salvation of God. The seriousness of our sin problem is revealed when we contemplate the majesty and wonder of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is the revelation of the profound measures that God undertook to bring salvation from sin. To ignore or denigrate the plight of fallen humanity is to belittle the sacrifice of the Son of God.
A Christian worldview grounded upon the written revelation of the Bible requires that we assess human nature in light of the Fall and its effects. The disobedience of Adam and the judgment pronounced by God radically altered humanity. Opinions that regard human beings as morally neutral are at best naïve and superficial or at worst defective and delusional; all such assessments are unbiblical. Jesus Himself assumed the sinfulness of all people, and He insisted that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). In a post-Fall world, sinfulness is part of the “warp and woof” of our existence. Sin is a corrupting presence in each human being, infesting and enslaving all persons. Contemporary understandings of human nature must take into account humanity’s fallenness and the inherited corruption that issue forth in sinfulness.
Only God can extricate us from the quagmire of our sin. The reality of our sinfulness should foster a desperation for God to intervene graciously in the midst of our polluted existence. We cannot transform our own hearts, and we cannot save ourselves. Our sinfulness highlights the supreme necessity of God’s merciful redemption to pay the price for our sin and to liberate us from our horrible plight. Our sinful condition graphically depicts our spiritual standing before God. Because of our sinful state, all sinners stand justly condemned before the bar of God’s righteous judgment. This truth should remind us of our absolute need for God and His salvation.
A Christian worldview also asserts that the redemptive mission of God to save us from our sins occurs in and through the Church. In light of the Great Commission, the Church must always employ ministry strategies that proclaim the Good News both in word and deed. Redemption from the devastating effects of sin occurs in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People find liberation from and forgiveness for their sin as the Holy Spirit brings transformation through the gospel ministries of the Church. Although strategies and methods may change, the message that Christ has conquered sin does not. This perspective about sin must be at the core of a biblically-grounded Christian worldview.
Excerpted from R. Stanton Norman, “Human Sinfulness,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007).