The August Theologian: Total Depravity and Original Sin

“At Rome my arrival was marked by the scourge of physical sickness, and I was on the way to the underworld, bearing all the evils I had committed against you, against myself, and against others—sins both numerous and serious, in addition to the chain of original sin by which ‘in Adam we die’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). You had not yet forgiven me in Christ for any of them, nor had he by his cross delivered me from the hostile disposition towards you which I  had contracted by my sins. How could he deliver me from them if his cross was, as I had believed, a phantom? Insofar as the death of his flesh was in my opinion unreal, the death of my soul was real. And insofar as the death of his flesh was authentic, to that extent the life of my soul, which disbelieved that, was inauthentic.” —Augustine, Confessions

Who Are We? (1 Peter 2:4–10)

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“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” —1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)

Who are you?

How did you answer that question? With your name? Your vocation? Your heritage? Your ethnicity? Your nationality? Your alma mater?

There are multiple ways this question could be rightly answered. Context will determine much. In the workplace you won’t answer by explaining who your great uncle is. At the family reunion you will not reply with your job title. But in a vague context, where your​ mind goes first can be revealing. When you think about who you are, do you ever think “saint” or “child of God?” Beyond this, do you find yourself only thinking in individualistic rather than corporate categories?

Ours is an age that emphasizes the individual at the expense of any corporate identities. Yet we wonder why we’re so lonely, detached, and isolated and we continue to gasp at rampant consumerism and selfishness. Church, Peter’s aim in these verses is clear. He wants us to know who we are. Being a Christian has implications for each of us individually, but you cannot think of who you are as​ a saint independently, apart from the body of Christ.

While it is clear that Peter wants us to know who we are, what is less clear is why? Why does Peter want us to know who? Peter doesn’t spell this out, but I think we all realize something of why as we look at who, and it is that who speaks to why. Who determines purpose. When your identity consists​ of being “elect exiles” (1:1) this has radical implications for why and how you live.

How many of the church’s problems stem from a failure to understand who she is? She is full of people acting like individuals, approaching church and spirituality as consumers looking to fill their personal needs. The church corporately responds to this by marketing herself to this individualism. How often do you get the sense that what really makes a church tick is the desire to express her individualism? It is not enough to simply be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be a unique one.

Jesus has adorned the church. She doesn’t need to doll herself up. Any such effort won’t be an improvement. The church’s make-up identity skills suck. She hamfistedly globs on the mascara​ trying to attract the wrong kind of guy. What the church needs is to realize who she is in Christ and act accordingly. Instead of behaving as a prostitute whoring after the world, let us strive to be faithful to the one who has loved us into beauty. In Him we are a temple, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a treasured possession. If we realized this, we’d quit trying to tout our uniqueness and start offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable in Christ. We’d start declaring the glories of Him who called us out of darkness and into His light.

Who’s the Fool? (Psalm 14)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” —Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

A renown Cambridge mathematician is placed beside a Cajun swamp boat operator; which is wiser? A smart answer would be to ask “Where are they?” What is the setting? What is the test? If it is an academic setting, I’d wager the Cambridge professor; if the bayou, the Cajun. If it is the supermarket, we don’t have enough information.

What the fool fails to take into consideration is his setting. The fool fails to recognize ultimate reality. Where are we? In God’s creation. The fool says there is no God. The fool goes wrong at the foundational level.

“Fool” then is not so much an intellectual category as a moral one. It doesn’t take in less than the mind, but more. The fool says this in his heart. The heart here embraces more than the emotions. Biblically the heart is the core of man involving his intellect, emotions, and volition. This means that to determine if someone is a fool, you cannot just ask if they believe in God. You must analyze their life. What a person really says with their heart will be betrayed by their hands.

Professing atheists may be rare, but practical atheist are not an endangered species. It matters not if one says there is a god. If a person knows his addiction is unhealthy but persists in it he is foolish. Those who profess a god but live as though he were not are more foolish than those who try to delude themselves that God is not.

Some may consistently live as though a god were, but not the God. False religion, however sincere, is folly. Fools will find themselves to have been studying for the wrong test under the wrong instructor. They have wasted time studying Klingon for a Latin exam. They study Buddah, but Jesus is the answer. Folly is living in reference to an imaginary god. Wisdom is living unto the true God.

Perhaps it might be the Cajun who is the wise man and the professor who is the fool. Such are often the ways of God (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). This is true even when it comes to math. The simpleton who uses basic addition and subtraction to steward his money well for the kingdom of God is better with numbers than the professor who uses differential calculus for his own glory.

Functional Atheist (Psalm 10)

“In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’ ” —Psalm 10:4

There is not in my judgement, a Psalm which describes the mind, the manners, the works, the words, the feelings, and the fate of the ungodly with so much propriety, fullness, and light as this Psalm. So that, if in any respect there has not been enough said heretofore, or if there shall be anything wanting in the Psalms that shall follow, we may here find a perfect image and representation of iniquity.” —Martin Luther

All sin is atheistic. It matters not what your creed may be, sin is functional atheism. Sin behaves as though God were not.

Sin seeks to de-god God and to deify man. As in the garden, sin disbelieves God’s threat, and trusts the promise of God-likeness.

The puritan Ralph Venning, writing at a time when plagues were dreaded, in a book originally titled The Plague of Plagues, captured this well. “In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love, as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3:3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29:16). And as is said of the Man of Sin (i.e. who is made up of sin) it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2. 4).”

Sin is atheistic. Yea, it is more. It is anti-theistic, anti-God, anti-Christ. Who is anti-Christ? The whole of fallen humanity.