July 2021 Credo
The Covid-19 pandemic is still raging around the world, causing loss of life and livelihood. Since the infectious disease appeared and threatened almost every country in the world, measures were taken to limit its spread by introducing social distancing, face masks, frequent handwashing, and quarantining.
Thankfully, these measures have helped to contain the pandemic in several places, but the threat remains. And there is fear that the infection may re-appear in a big way.
As we think of pandemics of highly infectious diseases, something the world has seen repeatedly in human history, we may want to think of another kind of pandemic – of a spiritual nature.
The Fall and Its Effects
The Bible does describe the Fall of humankind when Adam and Eve, our fore parents, decided to sin against God when tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). God had warned them not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While they were free to eat from all the other trees, this was forbidden fruit.
Satan, in the form of a serpent, hoodwinked them by raising doubts about what God actually said to them and claiming that if they ate the fruit, they would become like God. He was selling his sinful pride and rebellion against God, and the first humans literally bit into his lie. They became sinners and passed on their sinfulness to their progeny – to all of us.
Thus the apostle Paul would declare that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), echoing what we read in the Old Testament – “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3).
The human race has become infected by a deadly disease called sinfulness. This is passed on from generation to generation. The church father, Augustine, described this spiritual infection as original sin.
Augustine strongly opposed the views of Pelagius, a British monk and contemporary of Augustine. Pelagius taught that human beings are born with a free will that was able to choose the good and do good, without the intervention of divine grace. Augustine challenged this by insisting that we are all born sinful, with a propensity to sin. We all need divine grace to turn to God and be saved. The church rejected Pelagian views of human nature, accepting what Augustine taught as the biblical position.
The reformers in 16th century Europe held to Augustine and his teachings on original sin. Thus, Martin Luther wrote:
“It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ.”
In short, the original sin that has infected all humankind means that we are all guilty before God and have been tainted with a “bent to sinning” as the words of a Charles Wesley hymn put it.
This spiritual condition is fatal, for God did warn Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate the forbidden fruit they would surely die. Paul echoes that truth by writing that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The two deadly aspects of the human condition are that we are plagued by sin and the prognosis is fatal (a 100% death rate). There is no herd immunity, though we are all infected.
What then is the solution? Both Augustine and the reformers such as Luther taught that the antidote to original sin is baptism. We should not stop at the sacrament but ask what it represents. Luther wrote that placing our faith in Christ as our Saviour unites us with Him. This follows what Paul writes about our baptism in Romans 6. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (v. 5).
The solution, therefore, has to do with Christ. He is the true antidote to our spiritual infection. It is His blood shed on the cross that brings forgiveness and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
In this regard, not only is the penalty of sin (our guilt and accompanying condemnation) removed but also the power of sin (that holds us in bondage). Justification deals with the former while sanctification, a lifelong process, will take care of the latter.
Many Christians simply (and simplistically) concentrate on conversion and justification. They think that if they walk to the altar or raise their hands to declare their repentance and acceptance of Christ, that the business of salvation is completed. They attend a spiritual court to be acquitted. But they do not realise that they also need to be admitted to a spiritual hospital where their spiritual infection can be dealt with effectively.
We all know that after conversion, sin still remains in our hearts. That is because we still suffer from the effects of original sin. But the process of sanctification in Christ, as the Holy Spirit purifies us from within, acts to bring us freedom from sin. It is a lifelong process that requires continuing consecration and obedience to Christ.
As we do so, we will find that the symptoms of our spiritual infection will lessen. The more we bond with Christ, the less our bondage to sin. That is why the apostle John insisted that “no one who lives in him [Christ] keeps on sinning” (1 John 3:6). This does not mean that one will be able to stop sinning altogether. But one will gain victory over the power of sin as he or she progresses in following Christ.
In the end, we will have the joy of ultimately being freed from the presence of sin, when we gather at the throne of our Lord, “a place where sin cannot molest” as C. B. McAfee’s hymn states. The infection would be no more.
When New Zealand declared itself to be Covid-19-free, there was great celebration. The Prime Minister shared that she did a little dance. But we know that physical infections can return in new waves or new forms. Our celebrations are only temporary. But the celebration in heaven when it will be declared that our sinful condition and its effect, death, will be no more – it will be a great and incomparable moment (Revelation 21:4).
Can We Afford to Ignore the Original Infection?
Why then do we pay scant attention to our spiritual infection – the original infection that all of us suffer from? Why is it that border customs have stringent checks on what is coming in, and resolutely keep out harmful and prohibited stuff such as drugs, certain foodstuff, taxable goods, and the like. They seek to protect their agriculture, society, and workforce.
But why do they not check for things that are being brought in that are harmful to the spiritual wellbeing of the people? Why is there tight security on one side, and relaxed open doors on the other side that welcome values and mores that will damage the community?
Similar challenges remain with churches and their members. While we take care to practice good hygiene and social distancing, and make every effort to prevent ourselves from getting infected with unwanted germs, do we, with the same diligence, guard our inner spiritual lives?
The Lord Jesus declared that it is not the stuff that comes into us that pollute us but the stuff that comes from within (Matthew 7:15). The evidence is that the stuff that comes out from within shows that our hearts are already polluted, that we are already contaminated with the original infection.
The only solution is to turn to Christ, the true Antidote and Vaccine that can heal and save us.