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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 3 "Man"

"Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love."

While this section affirms many important and true things about man from the Scriptures, like the imago Dei, the original innocence of man, and the inheritance of a sin nature for all Adam's posterity, it is in this section that we first encounter some explicit teaching with which I would directly disagree.

This section says that "as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation." This supposes that young children are innocent before God until some point of maturity at which point they are "capable of moral action" and are supposed to be accountable to God for their moral actions for the first time.

It is my conviction that Romans 5 gives us a different understanding of the scope of the forensic effects of Adam's sin. According to vv. 12-14, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come."

What I believe Paul to be saying here is, in effect, this: the deaths of even those who never possessed express divine revelation commanding obedience to specific laws (like God's commandment to Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit) prove that Adam's guilt is counted to all his posterity apart from their personal obedience or disobedience. Even if someone appeals to the conscience-written laws of Romans 2 to try and say that no one has ever been without the general revelation of God's moral Law, infants who cannot comprehend general revelation or rationally consider conscience-written laws would still fit Paul's category of those who had "not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." Yet even infants between Adam and Moses died in infancy regularly.

Even though in the rest of Romans 5:12-21 the actual sinful corruption of human nature comes in to view at times, another reason to understand the main thrust of the passage to be the forensic is the juxtaposition between condemnation and justification in verses 16 and 18. Moreover, the whole context of chapters 3-5 focuses on the justification of believers in Christ; Paul only moves to the issue of personal obedience and sanctification in chapter 6, and he only starts that discussion by asking and answering the wrong-headed question of an interlocutor which could only have arisen in response to a robust doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. The logical result is that, even though the entrance of death and a sinful bent in human nature is a part of the total picture, Paul's parallel between justification in Christ and condemnation in Adam here in Romans 5 is that condemnation in Adam is also reckoned apart from personal obedience.

Adam and Christ are covenantal "federal heads," such that being "in Adam" by birth as a human being results in the inheritance of the guilt of original sin, and being "in Christ" by faith results in being credited with the free "gift of righteousness" (5:17) which is nothing else but the righteousness of Christ Himself (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21; etc.)

Therefore, until a person exercises saving faith in Christ, severing his or her covenantal relation with Adam and joining him- or herself to Christ, he or she is liable to the just judgment of God against sinners regardless of maturity or age. There is no point in a person's life when there is a move from not being under condemnation for sin, to being under condemnation based on his or her personal disobedience expressed for the first time as conscious, intentional rebellion against understood Law.

One implication of this is that it is unwise and somewhat misguided to affirm some arbitrary "age of accountability" (even a general range of ages) for children. Every child, however young, stands in need of the grace of Christ--and that not only because of the sinful nature with which they are born, but also because of the legal inheritance of Adam's guilt for sin. The need Christ the "Last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45) as their covenant head in place of the first Adam.

I should make one clarification. I believe that even though young children are no less exempt from the condemnation due original sin than a mature adult who has personally and consciously committed many overt sins, there are a number of biblical lines of evidence which together strongly support the idea that very young children or infants who die very young or in infancy (or the severely mentally handicapped) are all elect, saved by Christ, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit without the normal effect of mature, conscious faith in the propositions of the gospel in this life. Lines of evidence I would cite, without detailed development here, would include: 1) The Romans 1:18ff principle of the ability to comprehend general revelation as a pre-requisite for being without excuse for judgment 2) David's suggestive (although perhaps idiomatic) words about his relationship to his departed son 3) Jesus' words about children and the kingdom 4) the wider scriptural theme of God's exalting the lowly and humble and humiliating the strong and proud. While the case of the children of unbelievers is less certain scripturally, we can at least say that the covenant promises to believers and their children that God will be God to them (no less now in the better and fulfilled New Covenant than it was in the foundational Abrahamic covenant!) seems to warrant our confidence that God will glorify His great mercy and power in the salvation of any of our little ones whom we tragically lose while they are still young. Even Reformed credobaptist Wayne Grudem seems to agree with this particular conclusion.

To end this discussion on a gospel note...although Romans 5 teaches us about the tragic state of unconverted humanity in Adam--oppressed by the power of sin and death, awaiting capital punishment for personal sins that correspond well to the covenantal guilt we all inherited from our first parents--the free gift is not like the transgression (v.15). "...those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (v.17). "...where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (vv.20-21).

Sin, death, guilt, condemnation, and disobedience are all very bad news. But thanks be to God that the life, grace, obedience, righteousness, and love of Jesus Christ our redeemer far outshine all the darkness!

More could be said about the tasks for which God created man: like Christ in His incarnate mediatorial roles, man was made to be prophet, priest, and vice-regent with God, caring for Creation, mediating God's rule on earth, directing worship back to Him from all Creation, and declaring His truth and glory throughout Creation in song and proclamation. More could also be said about genders...but the F&M talks about and makes application of some of those details in later sections. Also conspicuous by its absence is any discussion of the essential constitution of man. The F&M does not specify any trichotomist, dichotomist, or physicalist/monist view of man's being. This is probably wise, as there is wide disagreement on that matter between solidly orthodox evangelical theologians today.

This section covers all the most basic truths of Man as the "crowning jewel" of God's good Creation, as he is often called. Apart from the idea of "becoming a transgressor" when one becomes "capable of moral action" this is a solid and important section of the Baptist F&M.

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