The Significance of Sin (Carson)

Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) Don Carson’s contribution to the book, Fallen: A Theology of Sin, is an excellent piece in which he talks about the significance of sin in Scripture and life.  Near the beginning of the essay he says,

“There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us.  The problem and the solution hang together: the one explicates the other.  It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is; conversely, to augment one’s understanding of the cross is to augment one’s understanding of sin.”

Carson goes on in the article to lay out and explain some theological structures that are shaped by what the Bible teaches about sin – and that therefore shape our understanding of sin.  Here they are:

1) Sin is tied to passages that disclose important things about God [who he is and what he’s like].
2) Sin is tied to the work of Satan.
3) Sin is depicted in many ways [in the Bible].
4) Sin is enmeshed in theological constructions [e.g. anthropology, pneumatology, soteriology, etc.].
5) Reflection on sin is necessary to understand suffering and evil.

If you want to read Carson’s discussion of these points, you’ll have to get the book. Here’s one more helpful note where Carson summarizes the importance of understanding sin’s significance in the Bible:

“…If we do not comprehend the massive role that sin plays in the Bible…, we shall misread the Bible.  Positively, a sober and realistic grasp of sin is one of the things necessary to read the Bible in a percipient [perceptive – spl] fashion; it is one of the required criteria for a responsible hermeneutic.”

D. A. Carson, “Sin’s Contemporary Significance” in Fallen: A Theology of Sin, chapter 1.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

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Sin’s Sinful Sinfulness

This is a tough book.  Reading 284 pages of a Puritan’s discussion about sin’s hideousness is neither fun nor enjoyable.  It was hard to read.  There were even times in this book where Ralph Venning (the author) basically said “This is tough for me, and I simply cannot write any more on this area of sin.”  Here’s one of his difficult summaries (from p. 172-173).

“That which sin is accused of and proved to be guilty of is high treason against God.  It attempts nothing less than the dethroning and un-godding of God himself.  It has unmanned man, made him a fool, a beast, a devil, and subjected him to the wrath of God and made him liable to eternal damnation.  It has made men deny that God is, or affirm that he is like themselves.  It has put the Lord of Life to death and shamefully crucified the Lord of Glory.  It is always resisting the Holy Spirit.  It is continually practicing the defiling, the dishonor, the deceiving, and the destruction of all men.  What a prodigious, devilish thing sin is!”

“It is impossible to speak worse of sin than it really is, or even as badly of it as it really deserves, for it is hyperbolically sinful.  There are not enough words; we need more, and stronger ones to speak of its vileness.  And if we were to say that it is worse than death and the devil, the very Hell of Hell, this would not be to rail at it, but tell it only the truth about itself.  Sin is the quintessence of evil; it has made all the evils that there are and is itself worse than all the evils it has made. …It is not only ugly but ugliness, not only filthy but filthiness, not only abominable but abomination.  There is not a worse thing in Hell itself….”

While this book isn’t a joy to read, it is necessary.  Probably many of us are accustomed to speaking of depravity, bondage, guilt, and corruption, but it is tough to explain those truths in a “deep” way that people haven’t heard a hundred times.  This book will help you explain and view sin in a deep way, a way that draws out its vileness in a biblical manner.  Of course, we shouldn’t do this because we have a perverse joy in telling people they are sinners or to show off (pride!) our orthodox doctrine of sin.  We uphold and teach the biblical emphasis of sin’s sinfulness because of Paul’s great statement: Where sin abounds, grace does all the more!  The Heidelberg Catechism captures this well by saying that we need to know sin/misery and deliverance from it so we can live in die in the comfort of belonging to Jesus in body and soul.

Read this book, be shocked by it, and then meditate on the truth that Jesus came to save sinners.

Quotes taken from Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth).

shane lems

sunnyside wa