In this fifth article in the “We Believe” series on the Nazarene Articles of Faith, we look at the bondage of and freedom from sin.
Nobody has to teach us to preference ourselves and our desires. We come into this world with self clearly in first place. Children on the playground illustrate this phenomenon well. Original sin speaks to the sinful human condition. William Greathouse, former general superintendent, scholar, and theologian in the Church of the Nazarene, explained this condition by comparing it to a disease.1
This disease is a moral and spiritual depravation. The human heart is crooked toward self and inevitably disobeys God. We do not say an individual is guilty before God due to original sin. This type of sin can only tempt us to disobey God and prefer our way to His ways. However, when we yield to have these temptations, we become responsible for personal sin. Sin as a disease, nevertheless, is fatal if not cured.
Although the language of a disease is helpful, we need to say more. There are genetic and hereditary diseases. Those who have them are innocent victims with some sort of incurable deficiency. Other diseases can be cured and no longer affect individuals. Some diseases just go away and nothing needs to be done about them. But sin differs from these. Perhaps some further light can come with another look at Scripture.
In the biblical story, human history begins without sin; it enters the picture as the consequence of breaking away from God’s grace in Genesis 3. So, sinfulness is not the natural state of humanity, created to live in ongoing relationship with God the Creator.
Naturally, we needed God and He never stopped searching to restore the relationship with us. We observe this in God calling Adam and his descendants, in Abraham’s covenantal relationship with Israel, and ultimately in reconciliation through Christ.
Sin, therefore, is primarily a relational category.
Both Genesis and Romans depict the human sinful condition as alienation from a relationship with God. It starts as a marred relationship with God but leads to even greater iniquity (Romans 6:19) and has greater consequences.
The Bible draws a picture of sin on a global scale as an uncontrolled power that affects the whole universe. It makes its way through the human rebellion to the world, enslaving everyone. As people yield to their temptations, minds, and intentions in life become clouded. Sin affects and twists our humanity so that we inevitably become sinners. God’s law, God’s people, and the whole creation become diverted from His original intentions. Spiritual death and fear of physical death result. Sin becomes a slave master resulting in total bondage from which people cannot free themselves (Romans 6:16, 20).
On the one hand, sin becomes personal. It is our self-centered direction away from God.
The Bible is clear in stating that:
All have sinned (Romans 3:23).
Death came through sin but it spread to all because all have sinned (Romans 5:12).
No one escapes the power of sin (Psalm 51).
Paul speaks of our solidarity in Adam (Romans 5:12).
In a way, each of us re-enacts the fall, and we are personally responsible for our sinful actions (Ezekiel 18; 1 John 3:4).
On the other hand, sin has all-encompassing and corporate consequences. When the relationship with God is distorted, all relationships become twisted and all the spheres of life are affected. Sin corrupts the human race, not only individuals, but also families, societies, politics, economics, and culture.2
All people share solidarity in their accumulated sinfulness because we all are members of one another. We all are born into an environment where sin is already present and where it is easier to do evil than to be guided by good. Creation, too, shares in the consequences of the human sinful condition and groans in anticipation of its redemption from its current futility (Romans 8:19-20).
So, what is sin’s cure?
What brings freedom?
What is the biblical view on the solution to the problem of sin?
As a disease, sin requires intervention.
The cure involves God’s forgiving and healing grace and our commitment to Christ’s restoration.
To release us from the power of sin and the spirit of slavery, Christ took on our human condition and defeated sin by His obedient life and death on the cross (Hebrews 4:15). Christ came into solidarity with humanity, yet He remained faithful and obedient in relationship with the Father so that in Christ we may be restored. We may participate in a new solidarity with Christ and His obedience. Through Him, we may remain in the divine domain and be equipped to resist sin.
Since sin affects all of us, personally, we all need to be crucified with Christ in order to be pardoned and restored in our relationship to God (Galatians 2:19-20). Moreover, since we still live in the fallen world, we continuously need to “learn” Christ (Ephesians 4:20ff.) and be guided by His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
The solution to sin is based on corporate salvation in Christ. Paul, in particular, argues that corporate solidarity in the obedience of Christ is much more than a match for the corporate solidarity that flows from Adam (Romans 5:17-21).3 God’s inconceivable offer in Christ is to reconcile all to himself. God in Christ wants to deliver humanity from sin in all its aspects, including personal, social, political, economic, and environmental.
The communal language sets the stage for those in Christ to have corporate influence among themselves (as the body of Christ) and in the world. Those in Christ are corporately engaged and may influence one another, their societies, and the rest of the world in the loving and transformative ways of Christ until the final conquest of sin at Christ’s coming again.
That conquest presumes dying and rising with Christ (Romans 6:11). Dying to sin and rising with Christ is a powerful concept that invites us to empty ourselves and let the Holy Spirit fill us completely. In Christ, sin will not be our master (Romans 6:14). With our mind set on Christ and filled with the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:10), we need ongoing transformation.
Having committed ourselves to God in Christ by the Spirit, we must continue to fight sin and resist the power of evil in the world (Ephesians 6:10-18). We need Christ and His Spirit living and reigning within us through and through!
1. William Greathouse, “Article 5: Sin, Original and Personal,” Holiness Today, March (2004): 16-17.
2. T. A. Noble, “Original Sin and the Fall: Definitions and a Proposal in Darwin, Creation and the Fall” (ed. R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble; Apollos [an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press]: Nottingham, 2009), 126.
3. Kent E. Brower, “The Human Condition in Romans,” European Explorations in Christian Holiness (vol 2; Manchester: NTC, 2001), 227.
Svetlana Khobnya is lecturer in biblical studies at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester.