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Mar 02 2012

Gospel Disproof #40: The law of sin and death

This may surprise some of you, but according to the Bible, Christians are actually supposed to be free from sin. Sure, temptation may still be around, and our mortal bodies may still be subject to the lusts of the flesh. But thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, those things no longer have any power over believers. Or at least that’s what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law [of Moses] could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you… If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Did you catch that? Without God you have death and sin; with God you have life and peace, right here, right now, in your mortal body. And God can give you that life—which is the opposite of sin and death—through the Spirit of God who dwells in you, because the flesh has been put to death.

It’s a fantastic promise except for the fact that it’s complete bollocks.

The fact of the matter is that while the power of God makes a great sermon topic, and while it’s pleasantly inspiring to think that faith in Christ has the power to kill off fleshly temptations, none of this happens in real life. Even Paul himself admits that this is his own experience.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law inthe members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free fromthe body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

The standard Christian excuse here is that God respects our free will and does not want us to be robots, and therefore He allows us to sin when we want to. Notice, though, what Paul is saying: he actually wants to do the right thing, and is being controlled, against his will, by sin. God’s failure to intervene is not protecting Paul’s free will and preventing him from becoming a robot, it’s frustrating his free will and turning him into a robot controlled by sin. The Christian excuse doesn’t really work, as Paul himself demonstrates.

Ironically, this confession occurs immediately before his bold announcement that the blood of Jesus sets us free. And notice, he’s not saying, “evil was present in me,” he’s saying it still is. How does he deal with this issue? By professing belief in a better theology. That’s an interesting technique, isn’t it? He confesses, then he professes, and even though his confession shows that his profession isn’t really true, it still cancels out the confession because it glorifies God.

The problem, for Paul and other Christians, is that in real life, God is limited to only what an imaginary friend can do. You can imagine a friend who helps you resist temptations, but because your friend only exists in your imagination, he has even less power than you do. (You can imagine him having more, but it’s only imaginary power, so it can’t really do much.) You end up having to resist the temptation with only your own willpower.

What happens next is an exercise in biased scorekeeping, as Paul demonstrates. If you happen to succeed in resisting the temptation, then God gets the credit for the win. If not, then you get the blame for the fail. That way, no matter how strong or weak your own willpower is, it makes you look like a sinner and God look like a Savior.

But the part about “the law of the Spirit” setting you “free from the law of sin and death”? Sheer bullshit. I spent decades as a Christian wondering why that promise never came true. (I blamed myself the whole time, of course, but honestly, what control do I have over whether or not God keeps His promises?) You can imagine that sin and temptation have been put to death, but in the end, if you’re honest, you’ll find yourself repeating Paul’s confession, over and over. Romans 8 is just something you believe in. It’s not something that’s true in real life.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    redpanda

    This is a pretty big part of Seventh-day Adventist theology. I grew up always hearing people talk about how God has given us the power to live perfect, sinless lives just as Jesus did right here on Earth, even before the second coming. There’s sort of a debate going on within the denomination as to whether Jesus had “fallen” human nature or not, since it has implications for this. If he did, then there’s no reason we can’t live the same type of life he did.

    I always wondered why I never saw anyone living perfect, sinless lives.

  2. 2
    JamesB

    I’m no psychologist and don’t mean to make light of a legitimate illness, but revisiting this passage for the first time in a long time makes me realize just how schizophrenic Paul appears to be. And how schizophrenic I felt trying to follow this for years and years, wondering why it never seemed to work while simultaneously telling myself that it was working.

  3. 3
    Kevin

    This also speaks to the Moral Argument for God. Without god, we wouldn’t know right from wrong; because there is law, there must be a lawgiver, blah blah blah.

    But if there is a lawgiver and the punishment for breaking the law is eternal torment, then why in the world would that lawgiver allow his special creatures the freedom to break the law?

    Makes no sense.

    For example, why couldn’t the lawmaker just instill in us a physical inability to break the law? For example, one can only have sex with your partner after marriage…any other construct results in instant emesis. Why should stealing not be met with crippling blindness or some other disability that precludes the completion of the act?

    Invoking the religious concept of “free will” is merely a way to get around the clear lack of ability of god to prevent acts that it objects to. Meaning: it’s not an omnipotent being.

    You really can’t have it both ways. You can’t invoke an all-powerful law-giver AND an inability to prevent those laws from being broken. One of the two has to go.

    Unless, of course, the alleged “lawgiver” is imaginary.

    1. 3.1
      jerthebarbarian

      But if there is a lawgiver and the punishment for breaking the law is eternal torment, then why in the world would that lawgiver allow his special creatures the freedom to break the law?

      Makes no sense.

      Sure it does, but it takes a certain interpretation of God.

      For instance, suppose we take what you have right there and think about it. A creator God who is also a lawgiver. He’s created some world out of Chaos, created entities to populate it, and told them “Obey this damned law or else you will suffer eternal torment”. What kind of a God would do that?

      Well, a fairly sadistic one actually. A bastard who likes to watch people suffer. Certainly not one that is all loving.

      It’s not a contradiction and it does make sense. Where it doesn’t make sense is the assumption that such a god would be benevolent. Honestly, there’s really nothing in the Old or New Testament that makes God out to be particularly benevolent. He’s the angry patriarch who should be obeyed because he’s the patriarch. He brought you into this world and he can take you out so shut up and do what you’re told.

      One might argue the “he died for your sins” thing is an act of benevolence, but it isn’t. Because, if he’s still the lawgiver and is still going to condemn you to hell for the sin of NOT believing, then what he’s done is design an all new way of hurting people. The Law of the Jewish people was something that was difficult to observe, but it didn’t involve thought-crime. Either you followed the rules or you didn’t, and everyone could see what was going on. The Christian God of Paul makes disbelief a sin – which means that for the credulous it’s an easier path than Judaism but for the thoughtful it’s a much tougher one. Just by thinking things you condemn yourself to Hell. Suddenly every day can be an agony for the believer – perfect for a sadistic bastard who likes to watch people twist in the wind.

      The theologian who got closest to this was John Calvin – who took what was in the Bible to it’s actual logical conclusions, ditched the idea of God being all-benevolent, and allowed God to be a sick bastard. Calvin’s mistake was in thinking that a God like that was worth worshiping, rather than rejecting as not any better than the alternative. But there is a consistent approach to reading the Bible that leads to the kind of God you propose above.

      1. Randomfactor

        because there is law, there must be a lawgiver,

        And there’s absolutely no reason why that lawgiver couldn’t be a human being. In fact, it’s the only sort we’ve ever seen.

  4. 4
    Alex D

    Consider this analogy: Suppose that you were involved in a massive refinery explosion and scores of those around you did not survive. The odds were stacked heavily against you but somehow you made it.
    Would this not then ellicit an emotional response of thankfulness and appreciation? I’d say this is a matter of one’s own heart but, to one that believe that God chooses the few that will be saved, it really is not.
    For even this free will we were given is not our own but rather it is fettered by the very nature in which we were created. Why did God allow Adam and Eve to fall? I can’t say precisely but I would place my trust that it is somehow to His Glory. That, ultimately, is His purpose, not to bolster man’s egos and pride for those things are abhorrent to Him but rather to exalt those who are humble.
    This may seem a far cry from your perception of truth but perhaps you do not possess a true understanding of Scripture. God does not always accomodate our expectations or whims for He is God. “All things work together to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
    To tie it into my original analogy, Salvation is a gift and not everyone was created to receive it. It takes a special kind of heart or, if you were not preordained to receive, the Gospel will be viewed as utter foolishness. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” 1 Corinthians 1:18
    Perhaps, you think it naivette or wishful thinking, but I can tell you I have experienced the thing called the Holy Spirit. I have experienced special providence. I know His voice and I listen. We all wrestle with the flesh and it will continue to death. I would say a more observable power of the Holy Spirit is the inspiration that one may derive from it although I see it as going much deeper than that. The sanctification process set forth by the Spirit is long and arduous not without it’s faults and occasional slip-ups. That is the result of living in a world that is still under the effects of sin; however, to a submitted follower of Christ this may abate to a degree but will not be completed until our bodies are glorified after the physical death. The one you should be concerned with is the spiritual death, my friend. There is something past our knowledge, beyond science, and beyond empirical verification. I challenge you to seek it out with an open heart. There is a slew of spirituality out there but there can only be one God. I can make the case for monotheism at a later juncture but I want to know what you think about what I said so far. Be as critical as possible. Thank you

    1. 4.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Hi Alex.

      The Emperor’s New Clothes is a fairy tale, whether it’s about a cloth that only the “truly wise” can perceive, or whether it’s about a Spirit that only the “truly humble/spiritual/whatever” can perceive. I was a dedicated, faithful, Bible-believing Christian for decades before I finally heard the little boy’s voice asking, “Mommy, why is that man (or God) naked?”

      If you are willing, you can know the truth about that “Spirit” you think you have that others don’t. Just observe it. Observe how it can never tell you anything you can’t know or guess on your own. For example, I have a piece of paper in my back pocket. A real God ought to be able to know what’s on that paper. But the “Spirit” you think you perceive can’t tell you what it is, because all you have is the imagination of your own heart flattering you with the idea that you’re more privileged than the rest of us.

    2. 4.2
      Azuma Hazuki

      Alex D:

      Sorry, nope *buzzer.*

      I am constantly amazed by how we nonbelievers seem to take your God and its omni-$PROPERTY attributes more seriously than you and yours do.

      Leaving aside the utter circularity and question-begging of quoting your theology to support your theology: your Yahweh is said to be all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal (that is, transcending time), all-loving or omnibenevolent, and perfect, lacking nothing.

      This means that the very existence of anything other than Yahweh already fatally destroys your belief, since a perfect being by definition isn’t missing anything and has no need or want to create.

      Even if we decide to grant you a pass on this one, the existences aside from Yahweh are in fatal conflict with the other omni-attributes, especially omnibenevolence. Not even the much-vaunted free-will defense can save you here: a being which knows all, can do anything, and is maximally benevolent would, rather than create free will, create a world without it if it would lead to suffering.

      Against your forthcoming objection: you must show that it is not logically possible for Yahweh to both create free will and not allow for suffering (and then show that that doesn’t violate the omnipotence clause…). Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold water either: heaven is just such a place, and according to most it existed before our world/dimension/plane/whatever did.

      I can see from the content of your post that you’re a Calvinist, even if you don’t call yourself that by name. There doesn’t seem to be any helping you, sad to say; you’ll probably live and die under this illusion. That’s fine, it’s your choice, but please stop polluting the noosphere for the rest of us.

    3. 4.3
      Nemo

      Would this not then ellicit an emotional response of thankfulness and appreciation?

      No. It elicits a response of relief. That this is routinely cast as gratitude is merely the result of endless cultural browbeating, telling us that’s how we should feel.

    4. 4.4
      Randomfactor

      Gratitude to whom? The incompetent refinery designer who was responsible for the original faulty design? The operators, whose regulations failed to keep the workers from the unsafe areas?

      Whom should he thank for barely surviving other peoples’ literally grave mistakes?

      In fact, according to the holy book, the state of the world today derives from the Judeo-Christian god’s Original Landscaping Error.

  5. 5
    mikespeir

    Whenever a Christian tries to claim that Christians have a moral advantage I send them here: http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=36562

    You’ll notice that’s a site of the Schaeffer Institute, after the late Evangelical apologist and theologian, Francis Schaeffer. The stats are a distillation of the findings of Christianity Today, Focus on the Family, and the Barna Group. Notice that every organization involved is Christian. These aren’t the findings of some atheist group out to besmirch the Christian religion. They came from groups which, if anything, would be inclined to fudge in favor of the religion. Believers should be very, very disturbed.

  6. 6
    Tony Hoffman

    @Alex You are correct that we are not all blessed with the gift of faith.

    Of course, according to your criteria, a child indoctrinated in a Madrass who foists his handler’s beliefs on the world is similarly blessed. Which makes your worldview naive at best, and despicable or worse among those who have a broader perspective.

  7. 7
    frankb

    For two millenia theologians have fashioned Christian theology to be safe from the need of evidence in this world. The Trials Of Job is an admission that God is a dick even to the most faithful, but don’t worry. When you are death he will reward you. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, don’t worry. Jesus is coming soon. Being a Christian doesn’t make you act better (see mikespeir #5), but really, your soul is saved.

    All of Yahweh’s deeds are invisible. All his benefits are invisible. The wondrous feelings Christians feel are felt by people of every other religion and the non-religious. The god hypothesis does not produce any statistically significant difference (for good) in any measure of the real world. Alex, your personal beliefs are your own and you are welcome to them. But you have not produce any real reasons for us to believe.

    Oh yeah, one more thing. Yahweh can’t spread the word about himself to the non-believers on his own. So it is the duty of believers to spread the word. How convenient!

  8. 8
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Alex:

    This may seem a far cry from your perception of truth but perhaps you do not possess a true understanding of Scripture.

    After hearing stuff like this crap, I’m amazed that believers call atheists arrogant (because we all know how arrogant it is to believe in things for which there is no evidence; how many non-existent gods are there now?).
    Somehow, Alex has a hotline to the imaginary man in the sky that other people lack.
    Somehow Alex is privy to knowledge about god. Not sure how, given that god is supposed to be so infinitely perfect that humans can’t grasp anything about him (except for those oh, so convenient times when they can…which usually lines up with whatever they already believe).

    Oh, and Alex, riddle me this:
    God is omnipotent.
    God is all knowing.
    Given the above, god created the universe (according to believers who like an inconsistent mythology made up over centuries, and translated multiple times) and knew everything that would ever happen, including exactly what his ‘special creations’ were going to do.
    Why would god ever be surprised that adam and eve were going to eat from the tree? Being all-knowing, he already knew that (of course he didn’t know where adam was in the garden of eden either). He knew that humanity wouldn’t know anything about him for much of human history, yet still retroactively counts all the humans he neglected–in his infinite perfection–to inform of his existence. Perhaps that’s where the silly mormon notion of posthumous conversions came from.

  9. 9
    Alex D

    Thank you for all the thoughtful replies. I will try my best to address all of them fully.

    @Deacon Duncan: Hello :) I am not familiar with the Emperor’s New Clothes. I will add that to my list of things to do. It does seem vaguely reminiscent of a story my buddy told me about an emperor that fell in love with a servant girl and got himself on her level so that the love would be genuine rather than impressed or some notion as that. Anyways, that is not particularly what I am alluding to as far as I know but will review it for it’s bearing on this discussion. Moving right along…
    Not, sure about the story involving your fall from the faith. What is this inquiry about a naked man (or God)? Perhaps, your meaning will dawn on me later.

    As for the “Spirit” I claim to have experienced, I had a extraordinary alignment of circumstances that affirmed some sort of presence in my life. I don’t see it necessary to go into the anecdote but it was a series of events all happening seemingly perfectly. These instances are what make for a compelling Christian testimony. I hope to one day compile all such happenings into my testimony. On second thought, I’ll include the story just so you can know what I am referring to:

    “I was driving back from your Christian show yesterday and came across the scene of an accident. There was a flipped vehicle in the ditch and I dreaded the worst. A man had been ejected from it and lie still in the grass seemingly teeter-tottering between life and death. I never saw anybody die like that and I didn’t want this to be the day.
    I expressed a strong desire to pray to those who were gathered at the scene. They may have been believers and non-believers alike but it didn’t matter. A lady who seemed strong in faith grabbed my hand and I extended mine to a unsure young man next to me. I was scared that I wouldn’t find the words but somehow they came into me as I led the prayer whilst quietly the lady prayed under her breath. It seemed, as soon as I uttered the words “LORD may you enter this man’s heart and may he be moved by it”, the man suddenly became very animated kicking around violently. He movement was so intense that the first responders even advised him to be still due to the possibility of a spinal injury. He was later stabilized and could coherently say his name before I left the scene. The lady looked back at me and asked, “Did you see that?!” We both knew something unusual had seemingly occurred.
    I got back in my truck and turned my cd player back on which just so happened to have your newest album in it and it was on track 5 “What Faith Can Do”, the song title of which I was completely oblivious to. My truck, once turned off, will stop mid-song and resume in the place it left off when turned back on. The next lyric that played was “I’ve seen miracles just happen”. I had struggled with myself on what shirt I was going to purchase. I was about to buy a black one when suddenly I changed my mind for a gray one. It just so happened that shirt had the same song title as the one that was playing when these events occurred.”

    Ok so the alignment of these events could certainly be a lucky break or it could be divine communication. How can we know for certain? You all know as well as I that there is no way. I’ll respond to the former and subsequent comments at a later time as I have delicious fish sticks and am starving. :P

    1. 9.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Hi Alex,

      You can read the original story of “The Emperor’s New Suit” online. I’m sure this will enlighten you as to the meaning of my other remarks.

      As for your story, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Whatever show you were coming back from certainly wasn’t mine, nor is it likely that you have any CD of mine that features a track named “What Faith Can Do.” I presume you are cutting and pasting from somewhere?

      You seem to have witnessed an unfortunate victim with injuries so serious it provoked some kind of seizure, which is both a very bad sign and a very dangerous condition, so I certainly hope you did not cause it by your prayer.

      In the meantime, I would urge you to reconsider your conclusions. What your story demonstrates is that it is easier to imagine superstitious causes for things than to investigate a matter fully and find out what is truly going on. But superstitions are a terrible way to think because they are inconsistent and unreliable. Think about it: if there were really a loving God Who was going to supernaturally intervene in the real world to change it in some positive way, wouldn’t it have been much more helpful and loving for God to prevent the horrible accident in the first place? James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” According to this Biblical standard, God is the greatest sinner of all, because He knows the most good (since He knows all), and He could do it (since He has all power), and He does not.

  10. 10
    mephistopheles

    OMG. . . I can’t describe what a thrill it was to read this thread. First, I’ve been away from FTB for a couple months due to computer meltdown; this is just a random check-in on a friend’s. And I was so SURPRISED to see an SDA speaking up– I thought I was the only one out there. People hone in so quickly on the mormons or the RCC or whoever, while these types appear so innocent and fly under the radar with vicious, mind-exploding venom that the outside world never suspects it’s injecting into it’s victims and how far-our bug-nutty wingnuts they really are; much different from other mainstream denomoninations but it’s not so obvious to the otuside, trust me. I would tell my “story” on dealing with this garbage but it would suck all of the oxygen out of the aethosphere. Suffice it to say severe depression and major PTSD (yes, the kind that soldiers get when they see their buddies blown up in war) are the legacies bequeathed to me for my time spent (30 plus years) “walking with the Lord” and “listening to his voice and plan for my life.”

    So thank you RedPanda, and I hope more thoughtful discussions on actual practical application of their own doctrines like this one will become more commonplace than the usual rants about the big bad generic all-religious-people-are-alike and fit in the same mold, cause they don’t. I lived as SDA over 30 yrs; I have a degree in theology and biblical (koine) Greek, so much of what I read on these blogs I KNOW can be easily answered by true and serious students of doctrine like SDA’s, not the casual social religious person who isn’t caught up with it to the cult-like involvement.

    Because “that stuff” was part of me for so long, it is a natural response oftentimes. What I need is exposure, practice, work at building the case to make it look as ridiculous as I know that it is, as it is not a natural response for me. Those muscles have been there, but dormant for many years.

    I hope to get my computer soon and participate more regularly. Keep up the good work and thanks for letting me “fly over.”

    -m-

  11. 11
    Sytec

    “The problem, for Paul and other Christians, is that in real life, God is limited to only what an imaginary friend can do. You can imagine a friend who helps you resist temptations, but because your friend only exists in your imagination, he has even less power than you do. (You can imagine him having more, but it’s only imaginary power, so it can’t really do much.) You end up having to resist the temptation with only your own willpower.”
    Love this description… may have to quote ya. With a link to your blog of course.

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