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
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.
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.
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
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)