Sin and Salvation

Sin and salvation are two words that encapsulate the Christian gospel, but what do they mean? The literal meaning of sin is ‘to miss the mark,’ with the mark being a standard of behaviour set by God.  Salvation can be defined as ‘deliverance from the power and penalty of sin.’  The power of sin is a force (diabolical or carnal) contrary to the will of God. The penalty of sin is death. 

 

choose to sin, choose to suffer

 

Augustine based his conception of sin and salvation on the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.  All disciples of Wrath share this definition, which has four important ramifications.

 

1) Inherited (and imputed) Original Sin is the legitimate object of God’s Wrath.  This explained why everyone ‘misses the mark,’ even new-born babies, although modern disciples of Wrath give infants a free pass to heaven if they die ‘unsaved.’   

 

2) Personal sin was made secondary and almost incidental. If you have been convicted of murder, it is of little importance that you are also guilty of littering and jay-walking.

 

3) Salvation became the cure for Original Sin, by delivering sinners from its penalty, but it did not break the power of personal sin. The sinner was ‘justified’ rather than ‘sanctified.’

 

4) Saved Christians did not necessarily become better people.  Dramatic examples were offered of total transformations from sinner to saint, but salvation was not contingent upon saintly behavior. Sinners were not saved by their own merit. Disciples of Wrath promise that the born-again will be delivered from sin, but sin stubbornly persists.  Why? Disciples of Wrath say it is because depravity and carnality are part of this material world and will only be eliminated in heaven.  It is quite possible for Christians to engage in more personal sin than non-Christians and yet be ‘saved’ because of imputed justification. This theological fiction creates a moral double standard which is a notorious source of hypocrisy. 

 

Augustine provided salvation from Original Sin via baptism.  Personal sin remained a problem that required repentance and a real change in behaviour, however lapses into sinful behaviour could always be remedied via Confession, the Eucharist, the Mass, and Extreme Unction.  Residual sin could be expiated in Purgatory, but only for baptized Christians who had died in a state of grace. Augustine provided multiple sources of forgiveness for Christian sinners but offered no hope for unbaptized sinners.  

 

Protestant Reformers believed salvation from Original Sin was effectuated by God alone via grace alone. The imputed sin of Adam was redeemed by the imputed blood sacrifice of Jesus.  The elect, once justified, were expected to be sanctified and glorified, however personal sin remained active among ‘the saved.’ On one hand, the elect could not lose their salvation (once saved, always saved) no matter how badly they continued to ‘miss the mark.’ On the other hand, persistent and willful submission to the power of sin was an indicator that the sinner might not be numbered among the elect.  God only knows who is saved, but persistent personal sin was evidence that the sinner was not saved. Luther and Calvin provided explicit and implicit means of forgiveness for Christian but offered no hope for non-Christian sinners. 

 

Creationists who acknowledge freewill believe that salvation from Original Sin can be obtained by accepting Jesus as saviour and uttering the sinner’s prayer.  Regarding personal sin, they share Reformed views. Persistent and willful submission to the power of sin is an indicator that Jesus was not truly accepted as Saviour. However, for the sincerely repentant, no sin is too great to be washed away by the blood of Jesus.  This grace is repeatedly available to ‘saved’ Christians but not available to ‘unsaved’ non-Christians.

 

Disciples of Anti-wrath struggle with the power and penalty of sin. They acknowledge that sin is universal and as old as the human race; therefore the term ‘original sin’ serves as convenient shorthand for the problem of sin, but absent all Augustinian connotation of inherited total depravity. What about the penalty of sin?  If sin is universal, and if the power of sin is irresistible for every human being (at least at some times and to some degree), and if the penalty for sin (even the mildest offense) is death, then the entire human race has a mortal problem with sin.

 

If everyone is a sinner, who is saved from sin? Disciples of Anti-wrath acknowledge that if Jesus is the sole and unique savior, then multitudes have died in their sins simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Even with the mass communication of the 21st century, many people live and die without hearing the Gospel message.   As we travel back in time, fewer and fewer nations were visited by missionaries. What did the Americas know of Jesus prior to the 15th century?  If we wind the clock back to 100 BC, no one knew about Jesus.  This is a problem that causes disciples of Anti-wrath to reason that a God of Love must have provided other means for people in non-Christian times and places to be saved. This reasoning contradicts traditional theology and is not easily reconciled with Bible teachings about Jesus as sole and essential Saviour. Therefore disciples of Anti-wrath adopt non-literal readings of the Bible and move toward a universalist mystery religion in which many people are ‘saved’ for reasons that are not clear and do not necessarily involve Jesus as Saviour.  

 

If Augustine, Luther and Calvin were right in believing that God deliberately created multitudes for damnation, with no hope of salvation,

then ‘justice’ in a human sense is not an issue. But if God loves the entire human race equally and wants ‘all men to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4) and ‘is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish’ (2 Peter 3:9) then the opportunity for salvation becomes a serious conundrum.  What provision has God made for the salvation of all? Have all been saved? If so, how? If not, why? 

 

A further complicating factor is freewill. Many modern Christians think of salvation as a choice. God does not randomly condemn nations or individuals. They condemn themselves by refusing the free gift of salvation. This process is easy to understand for a modern street preacher or a television evangelist.  Sinners have an ample opportunity to hear the Gospel message, repent of their sins, and be saved.  

Rather than eliminate traditional problems with Gospel of Wrath, freewill compounds them. 

 

Augustine spent decades ‘proving’ that freewill was a damnable heresy.  Luther and Calvin were even more strident in their condemnation of freewill. One of their arguments was true and one was false.  If deliverance from the power of sin depends on OUR effort, then no one will ever be fully saved.  This is demonstrably true. No one in this life fully eradicates sin. Pelagius never disagreed with this proposition and Arminius never disagreed, in fact they were both quite clear about the need for divine intervention and human cooperation in the process of salvation. The Gospel of Wrath’s other main argument is that if salvation depends on OUR choosing to be saved, then God is denied full glory. There is no glory for God in randomly choosing to elect a few while damning multitudes. This is grimly false interpretation of scripture based on a unbiblical theology of Wrath that has restricted the divine plan for salvation.

 

Modern Creationists pay lip service to freewill but have no systematic theology to incorporate it into a divine plan of salvation. They recognize the multitude of theological problems that flow from equating sin with death if salvation is dependent upon Jesus as the unique ‘way and truth and life’ (John 14:6). They cannot explain why entire nations and periods of history had no opportunity to know Jesus as their personal saviour. The only thing they know for sure is that no one will get a ‘second chance’ for salvation beyond the grave.  They are speaking quite literally when they warn sinners to repent now because they are just ‘one heart beat from hell.’

 

Disciples of Anti-wrath recognize all these problems with sin, salvation and freewill but have developed no systematic counter-theology. They believe very strongly that sin is, at least in part, the result of personal choices, and that salvation is meaningless unless the sinner freely chooses it.  But how all of this actually works out, when and where, remains a mystery, beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

 

Disciples of Anti-wrath take freewill into account in their attempts to understand theology and the practical problems of living in this suffering world. They do not believe we are born criminally depraved because of the inherited Original Sin of Adam and Eve. They believe we are born into a society that is imperfect, filled with inequality, injustice and social handicaps.  Some of us are born with mental and physical handicaps. Our suffering is not caused by a Wrathful God, and wrath is not directed at us because we – or our ancestors – were notorious sinners.   

 

Disciples of Anti-wrath do not believe we are under divine wrath because of Original Sin, and they do not believe personal sin is as black and white as moral absolutists pretend. For example, the sex drive, which is deeply imbedded in our human nature, cannot be turned on and off by magical thinking about virginity and purity. Trying to suppress sex with guilt and fear has always produced nefarious side effects.  Augustine held consistently negative ideas about sex and concupiscence, even in a loving relationship between legally married partners of opposite genders, which was another of his very human errors.

 

In response to the Gospel of Wrath’s repressive attitudes toward extra-marital sex, prostitution, and abortion, disciples of Anti-wrath take liberal positions.  Masturbation is a non issue.  Pre-marital sex is not a problem as long as it is consensual and safe.  Prostitution is better in safe work places than in dangerous back alleys. Medical abortion is a lesser evil than unwanted babies growing up in neglect and misery, or woman resorting to knitting needles or poisons that threaten their lives. Disciples of Anti-wrath reject the preposterous notion that even children conceived in rape are ‘gifts from God.’  

 

In an evil world, disciples of Anti-wrath seek the lesser evil.  This attempt at harm reduction is called moral relativism by disciples of Wrath, for whom good and evil exist in tidy, distinct boxes.  For them the problem of Original Sin is solved by salvation; the problem of personal sin will be eliminated in heaven.  Simple.

 

And yet sin persists and Christians are unable to agree who is saved or how.  Does salvation result from baptism, but only for those within the Catholic Church? Is salvation by Grace alone for Protestants alone? Or is salvation a free gift for all who choose to accept it?

 

The literal meaning of sin is ‘to miss the mark,’ and we can all agree – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists – that our human behaviour leaves much to be desired. If salvation is ‘deliverance from the power and penalty of sin’ then all religions fail to provide it and we will not find perfection or paradise in this world. Can we expect anything different beyond the grave? 

 

Return to the Problem of Evil

 

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11.   Judgement and Justice

 

12.   Eternity, Hell and Heaven

 

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