Sunday, January 13, 2013

What is 'Original Sin'? (Augsburg Confession, Part 2)

Last week, we began a series of sermons that will seek to answer the question, “What is a Lutheran Christian?”

You’ll remember that we said that this is an important question to answer not because of some desire to continue a human tradition. Lutherans have always believed that if our understanding of Biblical Christian faith can be shown to be wrong through the Bible or plain reason based on the Bible, we will admit our errors and bring an end to the Lutheran movement.

So, what does it mean to be a Lutheran?

To help us answer this question, we’re going to The Augsburg Confession, one of the basic confessional statements of Lutheranism. Written in 1530, it was the first place in which Lutheran Christians systematically explained their beliefs about Biblical Christianity to the greater world.

Today, we’re going to look at Article 2 of the confession, which deals with the subject of Original Sin.

You may be thinking, “Sin? Don’t we talk about sin all the time?” If you feel that way, you must not be alone. When I do the morning crossword puzzles in the newspaper, one of their gimme clues is, “Topic of sermon, three letters”: S-I-N.

But before your eyes glaze over, let me share three things that the doctrine of original sin is not.

First, the term original sin is not a reference to the first time human beings sinned. We inherit original sin from Adam and Eve, but their biting into the fruit that God told them not to touch is not what we’re talking about when we say, “original sin.”

Second, original sin does not refer to a specific sin like giving the importance of God to people or things rather than to God Himself, or craving blessings that other people have, or gossiping, or speaking falsely or uncharitably of others, or using God’s Name for other than prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, or committing murder. Original sin is the condition that makes these sinful acts attractive, enticing, sometimes irresistible. Those are all sins we commit because of original sin.

Third, the doctrine of original sin is not disposable. That's because we cannot understand the depths of God’s love, not just for the world or for the human race, but also for each of us as individuals, unless we understand original sin. This is probably why Philipp Melanchthon, the Wittenberg University colleague of Martin Luther’s who was charged with writing The Augsburg Confession,  made an explanation of original sin article #2, right after article #1, about God!

Do you remember last week when I pointed out that the term trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible, that it’s only a bag believers created to hold a single truth revealed about God in a bunch of different places in the Bible?

The same can be said of the term original sin. It never appears in the Bible. But the Bible reveals the existence of what we call original sin in many places.

So, what do we Lutherans mean when we talk about original sin?

Please pull out the editions of The Augsburg Confession from the pew racks and turn to page 12, where you’ll find Article II, Original Sin. The first paragraph says:
Our [Lutheran] churches teach that since the fall of Adam..., all who are naturally born are born with sin..., that is without the fear of God, without trust in God, and the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Original sin is an inborn condition we inherit from our parents. We are born without fear (or respect or awe) of God and without a capacity for trusting in God. And we are born with an inclination to sin, something that the confession describes as concupiscence.

Original sin is why seemingly nice, mature, thoughtful people (like you and me) commit acts of sin.

Original sin drives us to have our own ways, to be our own gods, to be answerable only to ourselves.

Original sin is our inability to trust God or to trust that God’s will is superior to what we might will for ourselves.

Now, I want to show you a couple of passages of Scripture.

Turn please to Genesis 6:5. This verse comes as God, disgusted with the sin of the human race, is about to destroy all of humanity except for eight people--Noah, his wife, their three sons, and the three sons’ wives--in a great flood. It says: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of [humanity] was great in the earth, and that every intent of his heart was only evil continually.”

Now, we might read that verse and think, “Wow! People had become pretty sinful before the flood. It’s a good thing God saved eight people who believed in Him, so He could start all over with them. A fresh start with good people!” But take a look at another verse, Genesis 8:21.

This passage comes after the flood. Noah has just made a sacrificial offering to God and we’re told: “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for [humanity’s] sake, although the imagination of [humanity’s] heart is evil from his youth...”

Despite the flood that had destroyed all but eight believing members of the human race, the eight survivors were still afflicted with original sin. Nothing had changed!

And according to the Bible and the Lutheran confessions, we human beings are helpless to overcome original sin. We can't resolve to fear God, trust in God, or resist temptation. As we say in our confession of sin, "We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves."

The genetic defect of original sin isn’t a little ill like a speeding ticket for which we can pay a fine and be in God’s good graces. That’s why the confession says that original sin is “truly sin,” something that blocks God’s forgiving grace from our lives, something that will prevent us from enjoying peace with God or ourselves, now and in eternity.

Apart from the intervention of God, original sin ensures that we will be forever sinful, forever incapable of being right with God, the world, or even ourselves, and forever enemies of God.

Original sin is what David was talking about in Psalm 51:5, when he said, “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

It’s what the apostle Paul was wrestling with when, appalled by his orientation to sin instead of trust in God, wrote in Romans 7:15-18: “...what I will to do [the good thing I resolve to do], that I do not practice; but what I hate, I do...[verse 17] is no longer I who do it, but sin dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”

Now, some people read or hear the honest professions of innate sinfulness coming from people like David and Paul and say, “Sheesh! That’s an awfully pessimistic view of human beings. It makes us seem like monsters. Surely, human beings do some good on their own steam, apart from God.”

It’s true that we human beings can be trained or may see it in our best interests to engage in what others of the Lutheran confessions call, “civic righteousness,” the righteousness that might help us get along with our neighbors or the people we come into into contact with every day.

But civic righteousness, the righteousness of going along to get along is unimpressive to God! And it doesn't get us any closer to reconciliation with the only One Who can set us free from sin and death.

Jesus, God in human flesh, you know, gave the great commandment to love God completely and to love other human beings with the same passion and consideration with which we love ourselves, But elsewhere, Jesus says that civic righteousness won’t do. He says that even unbelieving people who daily sin and ignore the will of God can perform the deeds that cause others to say, “What a nice guy! What a good woman!”

He says, “...if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors [well known extortionists who spent their time with prostitutes] do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles [non-Jews who didn’t know God] do the same. Be perfect [meaning whole, complete, at peace with the world], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How many of you here this morning, even after confessing your sins, can say that you’re perfect, whole, complete, at peace with the world this morning? Me neither.

How many of you can say that after hearing the words of absolution today--”the entire forgiveness of all your sins”--that you have finally and completely jettisoned your desire to trust your own judgment or desires instead of the will of God? I haven't either.

As long as we live on this earth, our inheritance from Adam and Eve, original sin--our unwillingness to respect or trust God and our desire to ignore the ten commandments and do things our own ways--will nag us, dog us, tempt us.

We might well ask with the apostle Paul as he considered the reality of original sin in his own soul, “Wretched man [or woman] that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Now, I’ve painted a bleak picture this morning. But then original sin is a bleak reality. And it won’t do to sugar coat things. The stakes are too high. Let me try to illustrate what I mean.

You’re the passenger in a car driving through a rainstorm on a two lane road. The driver is about to switch into the opposite lane to pass the car ahead of you. You realize that he doesn’t see that ahead, about 1000 feet away, barreling down the hill, charging your way, in the opposite lane, the lane into which the driver is about to go, is a semi.

What would you do as the passenger in that car?

Would you tell yourself, “I won’t say anything. The driver is a good guy. He’ll figure things out”?

Would you think, “I’ve always lived a pretty good life. Even if I die, I’m sure I’ll be OK”?

Or would you, at the top of your lungs, yell at the driver, “Stop! Stay in this lane or that truck will kill us?”

Folks, original sin is a truck freighted with eternal separation from God for anyone who chooses to listen to their own ideas, rather than to those of God. It's barreling toward us from the moment we're conceived. The Bible tells us about original sin and I'm telling you about original sin again today because God doesn't want you to be ever separated from Him. God doesn't want any of us to die in our sin.

Though this has been a bleak topic, we are not without hope. Turn to Romans 5:8. It says: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners [still imprisoned by the sin into which we were born], Christ died for us.”

Jesus, the Son of God, is the lane, the way, we can follow to avoid the condemnation our sinfulness deserves.

And that’s what (and Who) we’ll talk about next Sunday. 

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

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