Sin: chained or dead?

In conversations with people over the past 30+ years, I have found a profound lack of knowing and fully grasping how deeply sin is embedded in us. For some, sin is a superficial problem that can be overcome with effort. With more knowledge. With more “10 steps to live the victorious life.” For others, “sin is serious, but I still have some capability to come to God.” Sometimes the imagery such as this one gives that impression:

But is that Biblically accurate? Sin is more than a ball and chain slavery. It is spiritual deadness that also encompasses slavery. The following quote from The Genius of Luther’s Theology addresses this in one paragraph. Here is the first part.

The implications of Luther’s thought were far reaching. First, he did not consider sin primarily in terms of actions that we chose to carry out as a result of an informed decision. First and foremost, sin was the lack of faith. So deep and pervasive is the corruption that human beings cannot discover it or perceive by any native ability. People may experience the effects of sin through pressures and trials of life. They can recognize sins but cannot see the root sin. One must acknowledge it on the basis of God’s revelation. Second, apart from the Holy Spirit, the human will could only flee God, hate God, and fight God. We cannot by our own reason or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. Third, what is needed is rebirth, not information. The only way for the sinner to stop struggling against God is for the sinner to be struck down and killed (to become dead to sin). The only way for the sinner to believe in Jesus Christ is to be raised again from the dead. God must accomplish both events in the life of a person.

The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church, Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, Baker Academic, 2008, p 96.

What Does Scripture Say?

Dead in sin

Romans 8:6-8

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 3:19-20

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Ephesians 2:1-3

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of bthis world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Alive in Christ

Ephesians 2:4-5

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God

2 Corinthians 5:21

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

(All Scripture texts are from NAS 95)


Update and good reads

I am traveling again this week. Seems like I have been on the road since mid June…, well, I have been. This week: Seminary Summer Intensive focused on Pastoral Counseling. This will be the first we offer through ALTS. Very excited about this: the Rev. Dr. Craig Loving will be the primary presenter; he has his own counseling practice in the greater Denver area.

This week I have come across several excellent reads:

What’s so uncool about cool churches

Damaging Effects of Shame-based sex education

HS Wrestler, survivor of botched abortion

The Art of Praise by Tindell Baldwin

Free eBooks

My goal is to be back blogging regularly sometime next week. I finish preparations to teach the seminary course: Prolegomena: Intro to Lutheran Thinking, which begins the week after Labor Day week.

And in the congregation I begin teaching a series on ER: End Times and Revelation. We will look at principles of interpretation, assumptions behind interpretation, end times from a Biblical and historic Church perspective. Then we will look at Revelation in an old, yet fresh way. The series will be offered on Thursday evening (6:30 PM) and Saturday morning (9:30 AM). Given past studies, this may only take 3-5 years.

And a little bluegrass listening: Kathy Kallick, AJ Lee, and Tuttles

Prayer for a friend

I have known Debbie for 18 months, and meeting with her once. She had battled depression and alcoholism for years. 3 1/2 years ago God found her and graced her with new life.

She has grown in her faith and God is using her in recovery ministry. But she has also found that the path can be difficult. I have written to her about this being the process of her becoming a “theologian of the cross,” which refers to any Christian, not a pastor or theologian. It is painful. There will be doubts. Fears. Challenges. Worry.

Debbie is facing some of that now. Am I really battling suicidal thoughts again? How can that be after all God has done for me?

But, that is not the end of the story for her—or for us. The big BUT is the end: God’s grace! Free. Unconditional. Never-ending. Unearned. Transforming.


Lord God, Your servant, Debbie, is experiencing difficult days. But nothing is beyond Your grasp and care. Grant her a special measure of Your Mercy in the days ahead. Strengthen and comfort her. May she remain always in Your care, even as the Psalmist wrote:

Because he is lovingly devoted to Me,
I will deliver him;
I will protect him because he knows My name.
When he calls out to Me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor.
I will satisfy him with a long life
and show him My salvation. (Psalm 91:14-16 HCSB)

We entrust Debbie to Your infinite care and love through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen