Original sin

Romans 8:1

Are you a sinner? I think most people if not all people would answer yes to that question. I think the better question is, are you evil? Now most people would answer no to that question. How you answer that question will manifest your anthropology (study of man). There is a big difference between the two questions. The former see sin in terms of action, where as the latter see sin as something that is innate in humanity. Is sin some wrong actions or is sin something innate in humanity? According to Augustine sin is something innate and the wrong actions are simply the fruit of the “innateness” of sin in man. In other words this is the doctrine of original sin. How did original sin come to affect the whole human race from an Augustinian perspective?

Augustine understood the transmission of original sin from Adam to the whole human race from a Latin reading of Romans 5:12 instead of the Greek version.[1] His exegesis of that verse from the Latin version is incorrect because the Greek version does not support an “in whom” reading. [2] His understanding of the exegesis of the text was deprived from Ambrosiaster who exegete the words in quo as a reference to Adam.[3] Augustine never doubted that interpretation because his understanding of how original sin was transmitted was confirmed in the writings of Cyprian and St. Ambrose.[4]

Augustine’s exegesis of the text is incorrect but it does not affect his development of the doctrine of original sin. [5] As Weaver states, “Augustine was convinced that his own doctrine of original sin was in continuity with the tradition of the church. Not only the Creed, but scripture and fathers also bore witness to it.”[6] Others have argued that because Augustine’s interpretation of Romans 5:12 is incorrect therefore he was wrong in his understanding of how original sin was transmitted.[7] Azkoul writes, “Quite simply, then, Augustine strayed from the truth, the Apostolic Tradition, and any attempt to justify his innovations by an appeal to some questionable principle of historical interpretation – doctrinal development- will not help.”[8] This is too harsh a statement by Azkoul because Augustine’s conclusion on the transmission of original sin was the truth, was in line with tradition, and has correct hermeneutics.[9] Bonner after examining the exegesis of Augustine on Romans 5:12 writes:

It also appears that Augustine consider the meaning of the text to be virtually self-evident and saw it as confirmation of the doctrine of Original Sin which he believe to be the doctrine of the whole Catholic Church of Christ, which he himself learned in his first days as a Catholic Christian. Augustine’s declaration seems very likely historical correct, and so the so-called Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin would seem, in fact, to be one held not only in Africa but in Italy as well.[10]

In Romans 5:12, Augustine came to the conclusion that all of humanity was affected by Adam’s sin through seminal identity. This theory views Adam as containing the seed of all his posterity so when Adam sinned all of humanity also sinned.[11] When Adam committed the one act of sin in a physiological sense everyone that will proceed from his lions were included in that one act.[12] He writes, “by the evil will of that one man all sinned in him, since all were that one man therefore, they individually derived original sin.”[13] The one act of Adam involved the whole human race.

Augustine’s understanding of seminal identity is taken from Hebrews 7:9-10. In this passage it states that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek even though he was not yet born because he was in Abraham. Levi was in the lions of Abraham. When Abraham paid the tithes to Melchizedek, though Levi was not born he also paid it by extension of being united to Abraham. The concept of organic union of Levi to Abraham is the same as humanity to Adam.

The implication of the doctrine of original sin is we are all stand condemned before a Holy God and in need of a Savior. Only the blood of Christ is able to liberate us from the condemnation of original sin as the apostle Paul writes, “therefore is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8.1). The question is, are you free from condemnation? Do you have Jesus as your Savior? Are you in the Second Adam? How you answer those few questions will determine your destiny: saved or not saved.

[1] There is no debate that Augustine exegete Romans 5:12 from a Latin version. He read “in quo omnes peccaverunt” from the Latin version and automatically came to the conclusion that it “referred to the seminal identity of the human race with Adam.” The Greek version does not support an “in whom” reading but a “because all sinned.” Taken correctly then what Romans 5:12 speaks about is “death is the cause of sin and human misery.” See Michael Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” The Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984): 43.

[2] Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, 372-374.

[3] David Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 27 (1983): 203.

[4] Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, 373.

[5] For a more thorough treatment of Augustine’s exegesis on Romans 5:12 Gerald Bonner, “Augustine on Romans 5:12,” In Studia Evangelica Vol. IV-V: papers presented to the Third International Congress of New Testament Studies held at Christ Church, edited by F.L. Cross, (242-247) (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1968) 242-247.

[6] Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” 202.

[7] Michael Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” The Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984): 43.

[8] Azokoul, “Peccatum Originale: The Controversy,” 43.

[9] Augustine arrived at his understanding of the doctrine of original sin through four different sources: Scripture, tradition, the practice of the church in infants baptism, and man’s depraved condition. So to say that Augustine’s understanding of the transmission of original sin “strayed from the truth, the Apostolic Tradition” would be incorrect. To say that Augustine strayed from the truth would imply that the church also strayed from the truth because Augustine’s understanding of it was in line with the church. To say that Augustine strayed from the Apostolic Tradition would imply that all of the fathers Augustine used as proof to show the development and transmission of original sin were wrong. He quoted “Irenaeus, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Reticius of Autun, Jerome: amongst Eastern writes, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, John Chrysostom” N.P. Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin, 379.

[10] Gerald Bonner, “Augustine on Romans 5:12,” In Studia Evangelica Vol. IV-V: papers presented to the Third International Congress of New Testament Studies held at Christ Church, edited by F.L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1968) 246.

[11] Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin, 372.

[12] Ibid., 372.

[13] On Marriage and Concupiscence, 2.15.

Authentic faith in prayer

Psalm 19:14

Currently in Sunday school, we are going through “difficult” passages in the Bible. A couple weeks ago, I was reminded of the importance of prayer while reading Mark 11:12-25 with our Sunday school class. In this passage, Jesus curses a fig tree when he finds no fruit on it. The narrative then shifts to the temple at Jerusalem, where Jesus clears out the money changers. Finally, it returns to the fig tree, which is now withered. It ends with a puzzling and “difficult” passage:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” – Mark 11:23

Is Jesus just telling us that we can ask for whatever we want? Do we just need to “have enough faith” and anything can be accomplished?

The first thing to notice about this passage is that it forms a “Markan Sandwich,” a literary technique in which Mark interposes one story on top of another, resulting in an A-B-A pattern:

A. Jesus sees a leafy fig tree, but there isn’t fruit on it. Mark 11:12-14
B. Jesus clears the temple. Mark 11:15-19
A. Jesus gives a lesson from the fig tree. Mark 11:20-25

Now, what has a fig-tree got to do with the temple? Why does Mark interrupt one story (fig tree) with another (temple) only to return to the original story? When it comes to Markan sandwiches one story usually helps us to understand the other. Let’s see how this plays out:

First, Jesus sees a leafy fig tree. Mark emphasizes that this tree is “in leaf” and that Jesus “found nothing but leaves.” The tree has the appearance of fruitfulness, but it is not bearing any fruit. Why? Because, as Mark says, “it was not the season for figs” (11:13).

Next, we find Jesus in the temple. What is the temple? A place for worship; Jesus himself says that it ought to be “a house of prayer for all the nations” (11:17). What does he find instead? A “den of robbers.” The temple then, has the appearance of worship, but underneath, it is rotting with greed and injustice. Like the fig tree, the temple has the appearance of fruitfulness, but none of the real fruit.

This brings us back to the fig tree, which is now “withered away to its roots” (11:20; sidenote: does this mean it has lost its leaves?). Jesus gives the following lesson:

“…Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” -Mark 11:20-25.

Now the difficulty of the passage is resolved in context. Jesus is giving a lesson about authentic faith, one which isn’t just about appearances, but one which bears true fruit. What kind of fruit? Would it be too much to suggest that faith bears fruit in prayer? The temple is supposed to be a house of prayer. Jesus’ lesson is about having faith in prayer, petitioning God in prayer, and forgiving in prayer. Of course, there is so much we could pull out of this passage, but we can draw this general application: a Christian life that lacks prayer only has the appearance of fruitfulness, but none of the real fruit.

This doesn’t mean we can just go off and uncritically pray for whatever we want. To do so would be to act like the money-changers, who used a place of worship for selfish gain. Instead, this passage in Mark encourages us to cultivate true faith and true prayer. And, beyond our individual lives, the Church ought to be “a house of prayer for all the nations.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that real, authentic prayer often takes a back seat to serving at church, Bible study, friends, hanging out, homework…and the list goes on. But as Mark (and the Bible) show, prayer is an essential part of a thriving Christian life.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14

The greatest lesson we can learn from the Linsanity

Jeremy Lin

I didn’t plan to write a blog post about Jeremy Lin, but I felt it was necessary in light of the Forbes’ article that was posted recently, and  my concerns that such an article could mess with the thinking of many of my close friends.  This is a response to that post because I think it portrays everything that is wrong and why our perspective of Jeremy Lin’s story can be a trap that will only lead us into unhealthy places of our lives and faith.

As of the writing of this post (2/13/2012), Jeremy Lin has captured the hearts of millions of fans especially those that are Asian American.  Why?  For the uninformed, Jeremy has been the ultimate feel good story for all Asian kids that want to play NBA basketball.  Always counted out since high school (Palo Alto) through college (Harvard)  to the NBA (Warriors/Rockets), Jeremy Lin started 4 games ago and his team, the New York Knicks, has won the past 5 games with both their main stars (‘Melo & ‘Mare) out.  The Jeremy Lin show or the Linsanity/All he can do is Lin!/ Linspiration/Shao-Lin/Linderella, and so many ridiculous nicknames… has captured the minds and the hearts of many folks recently. What makes it even better? He loves Jesus Christ and does not hesitate to give God the glory for it all!  If anything, we as his brothers and sisters in Christ need to be praying for him because it is getting dangerous for him.

But why do we love this story?  We love this story because it is the ultimate underdog story!  As Michael Wilbon of ESPN best put it, we love this because it is about a person “going from a nobody to a somebody.”  Kobe Bryant after his team’s loss to the Knicks made this statement too: “a great story…it’s a testament to perseverance and hard work.”  Forbes magazine listed 10 things we can learn from Jeremy Lin’s story as these qualities:

1) Believe in yourself when no one else does.

2) Seize the opportunity when it comes up.

3) Your family will always be there for you, so be there for them.

4) Find the system that works for your style.

5) Don’t overlook talent that might exist around you today on your team.

6) People will love you for being an original, not trying to be someone else.

7) Stay humble.

8) When you make others around you look good, they will love you forever.

9) Never forget about the importance of luck or fate in life.

10) Work your butt off

Now I think both of these men & the Forbes article captures the essence of our culture and our mindset because what it reveals is really how we all think we are to live our lives.

So what does our culture and world look for about these things that’s so attractive to us?  We are so into these stories because it shows how the virtues of hard work, getting stronger, and getting more powerful can change your circumstances.  Let me first caveat everything by saying that the pursuit of working hard, becoming stronger, or desiring to overcome circumstances is NOT a bad thing.  My concern is that these qualities begin to become the dominating or ultimate motivating force in our lives and we allow these pursuits then to define us and to elevate them into a place of how they give our lives meaning.  The problem with this is that this in many ways becomes a theology or belief that strength /power/effort are the only ways for a person to live their life!  This is the reality of our lives and if anything, we seek to fight and overcome power with power, and what I want to share with you today is this… God has a different way to live your life; he shows this to Paul and it changes Paul’s entire perspective of faith.  God’s way is not one of power versus power, it is through a completely different level of “power” that one can learn an incredible lesson about what true strength and how it affects our lives.

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So what’s going on… how does this text possibly connect with us?  Especially those as Christians? As the 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church that is located in a busy port-city that was major trade route between Italy on the western side of Greece to the rest of the Asian Mediterranean on the eastern side (Turkey/Israel/Syria); Essentially Corinth was one the safest paths that connected the Ionian & the Aegean sea.  As a result of this popularity and traffic, Corinth was a very culturally diverse city exposed to many philosophies/cultures/people and was of thinking.  If anything, we can compare Corinth much to the US today because the internet and our diversity as a country makes us so exposed to much thinking… and the problem was that over time the wealthier Corinthians would invite folks to guest teach/speak at the local Corinthian church. They would house them, and as a result because of their skills both in oration and in amazing things happen  such as signs and healing… these super apostles… would start to draw the attention of the Corinthian folks and Christians!

Compared to these “super apostles”, Paul was not spectacular.  If anything, he was probably flawed whether in his physical ailments (blindness/epilepsy/speech impediment), to his physical appearance (he was scarred from his many experiences as a missionary)… Paul was nothing like these “super-apostles”.  As a result, folks started to get drawn to these characters and started to question/disobey/disrespect Paul and what he was teaching or talking about.  So Paul shared these comments in 2 Corinthians because he was in many ways having to deal with this drama… fighting power versus power… Paul being the underdog… was tempted I’m sure to counter these ridiculous statements with those of his own.

You see, he had been given some crazy visions & revelations from God (beginning of 2 Cor. 12),  which could have elevated him in his status… and yet  God took this time to teach Paul a great lesson on his perspective on power and how He didn’t want Paul to have to fight in this.  Rather than fighting strength with strength, God gave Paul a thorn (verse 7).  This thorn in Greek, skolops, not only means thorn, but was often used as a word for things thrown on the ground to hinder an enemy army in their advance.  Anyways, this thorn was bugging Paul and driving him nuts!  After praying 3 times for God to take it away, the Lord explains to Paul that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  We miss so much of the detail from the original language, but what Paul realizes is that ultimately this is God’s perfect plan for Paul.

God’s grace is sufficient for Paul because God’s power is made perfect in Paul’s thorn weakness.  God’s tying together His grace to His power… and ultimately, Paul starts to see that this has only been possible through the ultimate example of weakness… that is Jesus Christ!  God did not use the strong or the powerful means to prove and save humanity.  He chose the least likely, most humbling way through His son being born to a teenage mom (seemingly out of wedlock)… lived a humble life… home-less, and then Jesus was subjected to an unfair trial which led to his humiliating death on the cross!  This is the way that God chose to show His power, through Jesus’ humble/”weak” death on the cross, but what we forget was it was only through this way that true power via Jesus’ resurrection is revealed!

Paul is able to finally say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” because he understands that it’s only in our weakness that we are most close to our suffering Savior!  Why? When we are at the weakest, we are the most helpless. When we are helpless, we are utterly vulnerable, and when we are utterly vulnerable, it is then that we realize our complete need for God.  There is no other time that we are as true about our sin and our brokenness!  Our vision is most clear; nothing obstructs our sight of God… and we realize that we can rely on nothing else, but God!  This is when we all truly begin to tap the infinite power of God through Jesus Christ.  What Paul realizes from that point on is that there is nothing he can do that will ever come close to being as effective or as powerful as his complete dependence on the Lord because when he is weak, his closeness and connection to God is most reliant upon God and His power.

Paul learned that the theology of power that our world teaches… this false gospel is nothing like the theology of weakness which leads to the truest power found only in God.  It changed his life and the way he viewed himself.  No longer was there an elevated image of his own ability, but there was a humbling and an understanding that the truest power is only found in Christ and that it is the only way to live then.  The world lauds the theology of self-power and if you consider the Forbes article… what you notice is that almost all the ten qualities listed point to a self-reliance on self-power and says very little about what God has done.  But as we have seen, and I’m sure Jeremy Lin would agree, the truest credit and power that can help us to live our lives well is NOT founded or based on our own strength/power, but it is founded in our weakness.  It is in our weakness, we are the most true and real about our need for God and therefore it is in our weakness that we are the most close to our Lord, Jesus Christ… and it is then that our reliance and realization of our need for Jesus Christ is most clear; it is the way God chose to show His power to this world through weakness!

After writing this post, Jeremy Lin released an exclusive interview with the SJ Mercury News… check out what he says at the end:

“There is so much temptation to hold on to my career even more now…to try to micromanage and dictate every little aspect. But that’s not how I want to do things anymore. I’m thinking about how can I trust God more. How can I surrender more? How can I bring him more glory? It’s a fight. But it’s one I’m going to keep fighting.”

Jeremy Lin gets what Paul is saying.  This is the way we are to live lives with the truest and most pure power, and it is only then that we can say like Paul “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 


Philippians 4:20

Every week in Thousand Oaks a group of young adults meet to study the word and pray with one another. We jokingly named ourselves “Semi Pro” two years ago. How God brought us together and how he has grown and challenged us is an encouraging story I enjoy telling to whoever will listen. But that is something I’ll save for another post.

This past week we finished our series on the book of Philippians. As we stepped through Paul’s letter verse by verse, we came across verses that many of us are familiar with.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… – Phil. 3:7-8

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of byChrist Jesus. – Phil. 3:12

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 4:4-7

The book of Philippians, like many other epistles, is rich with memorable verses like these. We underline them in our Bibles, and commit them to memory. They become the “meat” of the book and everything else around it becomes some sort of “filler”. As I prepared for our final study, I struggled with the last set of verses. They read:

20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Should I have just bundled Philippians 4:20-23 with the previous study? Verse 20 sounded great, but it almost seemed like it was randomly inserted in the letter. We find other similar verses “plopped” into some of Paul’s other letters:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. -Rom. 11:33-36

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

These all fall into the category of “doxology”. Whenever I used hear the word doxology I thought a song in a hymn book. It was something I remembered singing at the end of a church service. Lots of words that I didn’t ever bother thinking twice about. Words sang to a melody without an understanding of the reason why it was being sung.

So what is doxology? It literally means word of glory. It is words that offer praise to God. When we look at these examples, we find that each of these follows after Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned truths about God.

In the example from Philippians chapter 4, Paul explodes into doxology after the statement that HIS God will supply all needs. This is not a distant God that he has heard a thing or two about. This is HIS God. The God who turned a murderer into a missionary on the road to Damascus. The God who demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, sent Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This is the God that Paul knows intimately. This is HIS God. And at this point Paul is absolutely confident. There is no condition. He does not say, “If you do this; if you do that; if you make sure you follow this”. He says, “You are His. He will supply all your needs.” Everything in his letter to the Philippians has been building up to this. Christ is my life (chapter 1), Christ is my example (chapter 2), Christ is my goal and prize (chapter 3). And as he instructs them on how to stand firm in the Lord and how to be content he finds the truth to be so overwhelming that he just can’t stop himself from praising God.

But where many of us find ourselves is at a point of frustration because we constantly let God down. We don’t measure up to His expectations. We must be “doing it wrong”, because we don’t skip down the road reciting doxologies like Paul.

When my life “lacks doxology”, I’ve forgotten the very truth of the gospel. Instead of a thankful heart in light of the gift of the cross, I try to “fix the situation” by doing this, doing that.

George Herbert wrote,

“Thou that hast given so much to me give one thing more, a grateful heart. Not thankful when it pleases me as if thy blessings had some spare days, but such a heart who’s pulse may be thy praise.”

I need to be reminded of the truth throughout each and every day. The truth that I am a sinner and that my sin demands payment. The truth that I cannot pay this debt alone. The truth that it is by grace I am saved, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross. The same truth that lead Paul to a real and authentic worship of our God.

Don’t get distracted trying to create an appearance of a worshipful life. Don’t only focus on the fruit. Saturate yourself in the truth. Spend time making sure that the water which feeds the tree is pure. The writer of Psalm 1 understood this:

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither; -Psalm 1:2-3

And so what we find at the end of the book of Philippians deserves our attention. It’s a heartfelt response to the truth. There is no filler in the Bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. -2 Tim. 3:16-17