Monday, August 06, 2007

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 4, Part 1)

This is a new Sunday School series which will be largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

§4.1 Adam's Sin and Ours

Redemption is necessary as a result of the Fall. Everyone who agrees that Adam's sin led to the fall, meaning that all men except the incarnated Christ are born in corruption, acknowledge that in some sense we are held accountable for Adam's sin. Exactly how we are held accountable is tricky. We'll look at three views held by Christians.

View 1: The Myth View
This view is that the story of the fall is a myth or an allegory. Instead, it is argued, that we all have our own "personal fall." There is another name for this view: it’s our old friend Pelagianism from the previous class. It is nothing more than Pelagius' claim that men are born in a state of neutrality. As we discussed last time, Pelagianism wields great influence in the modern church, from liberals to fundamentalists. So it is not so surprising that this view is not rare. It has the appeal that men have some innate good that is good enough to please God, and it sidesteps the nasty business of our being held accountable because of Adam's sin. However, it is simply not consistent with the bible:

  • The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". (Gen. 6:5)
  • Our "righteous" deeds like filthy garments to God. (Isa. 64.6)
  • We are like a leopard who cannot change his spots. (Jer. 13:23).
  • Nothing clean can come from an unclean birth. (Job 14)
  • We are born in sin. (Ps. 51:5)
  • Nobody is good. (Luke 18:19)
  • We cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
  • We cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
  • We must be compelled to come to Christ. (John 6:44)
  • We are not righteous. (Rom. 3:10)
  • We do not understand; we do not seek God. (Rom. 3:11)
  • We have turned aside; we are useless. (Rom. 3:12)
  • None of us does good. (Rom. 3:12)
  • We do not fear God. (Rom. 3:18)
  • We are hostile to God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We cannot please God. (Rom 8:8)
  • We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins. (Eph 2:1)
  • We walked according to Satan. (Eph 2:2)
  • We lived in the lusts of our flesh. (Eph 2:3)
  • We were children of wrath. (Eph 2:3)
View 2: Realism
(Note: for the next two views, Sproul essentially lectures from his book Chosen By God. Below I have used slightly modified versions of his essays from that wonderful book. )

None of us is old enough to carry memory images of the fall of Adam. Or are we? The realist view of the Fall contends that we should be able to remember the Fall, because we were really there.

Don't laugh. Realism is a serious attempt by serious people (Jonathan Edwards was a kind of realist) to answer the problem of the Fall. The idea is certainly appealing: We cannot morally be held accountable for a sin committed by someone else. To be accountable we must have been actively involved somehow in the sin itself. Somehow we must have actually been present at the Fall. We really were there.

The realist view of the Fall demands some kind of concept of the preexistence of the human soul. That is, before we were born, our souls must have already existed. They were present with Adam at the Fall. They fell along with Adam. Adam’s sin was not merely an act for us; it was an act with us. We were there.

Realism is not (at all) like the myth view—which is really the Pelagian heresy. Realism is an honest attempt to address the question: how is it fair that are we charged with Adam's sin? It's answer: we aren't, we were there too. This view does not deny that man is born in a state of corruption predisposed to evil. Furthermore, its criticism of the imputation explanation (that will see in the next view) is legitimate: the analogy that likens Adam's guilt imputed to us to our guilt imputed to Christ is imperfect: Christ volunteered to receive our imputed guilt; we did not agree to accepts Adam's.

Realists point to several passages to support their view.
"What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: " 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:2-4)

"Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezekiel 18:19, 20).
Here the realist argues that God clearly declares that the son is not held guilty for the sins of his father. This precludes, they argue, whole idea of people falling “in Adam.” More pivotal text for realism is found in the book of Hebrews: (Heb 7:9,10)
One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
This text is part of the treatise given in Hebrews regarding the role of Christ as our High Priest. Scripture declares that Jesus is both our king and our priest. At first glance this is a bit of a problem, because the promise to the Jews is that their king will be of the tribe of Judah, while all priests are of the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the line of Judah, so the kingship part is fine—but he was not a Levite. SO how could he be a priest?

This problem was a big deal to early Jewish Christians. Hebrews argues that there was another priesthood mentioned in the Old Testament, the priesthood of the mysterious Melchizedek. Jesus is said to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews then goes way beyond merely noting that there was another priesthood besides the Levitical priesthood. Instead the author labors to point out that the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the priesthood of Levi. He reminds us that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, not Melchizedek to Abraham. Melchizedek blessed Abraham; Abraham did not bless Melchizedek. The point is this: In the relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek it was Melchizedek who served as the priest, not Abraham.

The key thought to the Jew is cited in verse 7: And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. The author of Hebrews argues that, in effect, the father is superior to the son. That means that Abraham is ahead of Isaac in the patriarchal pecking order. In turn, Isaac is ahead of Jacob, and Jacob ahead of his sons, including his son Levi. If we carry this out, it means that Abraham is greater than his great-grandson Levi.

Now if Abraham is greater than Levi and Abraham subordinated himself to Melchizedek, then it means that the priest Melchizedek is greater than Levi and the entire line of Levi. The conclusion is clear. The priesthood of Melchizedek is a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical priesthood. This gives supreme dignity to the priestly office of Christ.

It was not the chief concern of the author of Hebrews to explain the mystery of the fall of Adam with all this. Yet he says something along the way that the realists use to support their theory. He writes that "Levi paid tithes through Abraham." Levi did this while he was "still in the body of his father."

The realists see this reference to Levi doing something before he was even born as biblical proof for the concept of the preexistence of the human soul. If Levi could pay tithes while he was still in the body of his father, that must mean that Levi in some sense already existed. He was "really" there.

That seems a bit of a stretch. The passage does not explicitly teach that Levi really preexisted in the body of his father. The text itself uses the qualifier "One might even say" or "in a manner of speaking." The text does not demand that we leap to the conclusion that Levi actually preexisted. The realists come to this text armed with a theory they did not find from the text and then read the theory into the text.

And the text from Ezekiel also seems to be misapplied by the realists. Ezekiel was not teaching on the fall, he is addressing the common excuse that men use for their sins. They try to blame someone else for their own misdeeds. In Eden, Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed both God and Eve. He said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Gen. 3:12). Ever since, men have tried to pass the buck of their own guilt. Still, the realists argue, a principle is set forth in Ezekiel 18 that has bearing on the matter. The principle is that men are not held accountable for other people’s sins.

To be sure, that general principle is set forth in Ezekiel. Yet we cannot make it an absolute principle. If we do, then the text of Ezekiel would prove too much. It would undo the atonement of Christ. If it is never possible for one person to be punished for the sins of another, then we have no Savior. Jesus was punished for our sins. That is the very essence of the gospel. Not only was Jesus punished for our sins, but his righteousness is the basis for our justification. We are justified by an alien righteousness, a righteousness that is not our own. If we press Ezekiel's statement to the absolute limit when we read, "The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him" then we all are doomed.

Next: View 3, The Federalism: Adam as our representative

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