We have reviewed the first two great biblical doctrines of inspiration of the Bible and the divinity of Christ. The other great Bible doctrines are based on these.
In this chapter we begin to study the next three great Bible doctrines together because they form a set:
- The Doctrine of Original Goodness
- The Doctrine of the Fall of Man
- The Doctrine of the Restoration or Reconciliation of Man to God
These three doctrines could be summarized as follows: In the beginning God created the universe and man to be good. Man disobeyed God and consequently was separated from God and made subject to suffering and death, along with all creation. Since then, God has acted in human history in a dynamic way in order to reconcile man to Himself through Jesus Christ.
The first of this set of three is the doctrine of original goodness, and it is found in Genesis chapters one and two.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- Genesis 1:26-27
Man is created in the likeness of God. This explains his potential and ability for doing what is good, creative, etc. It also explains why the most evil of people have some good. For example, Hitler was a painter, and terrorists love their families. Man’s basic character begins as good.
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
- Genesis 1:28
Man is God’s partner in the management of creation and he is good at it. So man’s purpose and work are good.
16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
- Genesis 2:16-17
Man is given a moral code in order to define his limits. This moral code gives substance to his relationship with God. Man has free will but was not free to disobey God; this is the limit of his freedom. The ethical code given to man awakened the conscience part of his being and provided the perspective as to the difference between himself and God.
We have heard of the saying, “I think therefore I am” (René Descartes). Well, the reason I think is because God gave me the ability to choose. The ability to choose provides the moral tension that enables man to experience self-awareness and a primary experience of God.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
- Genesis 2:18
A perfectly suitable partner was given to man in order to share in the joy of life and management of creation. Mankind’s life and enjoyment was good.
The biblical view of man is that he was designed as a holy, godly being and his task was to choose (as a conscious act of his will) to remain good, holy and obedient to God. Without this ability he is like the animals, aware only of himself, but not of God.
This, then, is the third major doctrine of the Bible: the doctrine of original goodness of man.
- He was created to have a relationship with God.
- He was created with the ability to manage creation and produce a society.
- He was created with the capacity to choose good and avoid evil.
- He did not just know God’s will, he had the ability to do it if he chose to.
The Fall of Man Through Sin
The fourth major doctrine of the Bible, and second in our subset of three, is man’s fall from grace through sin.
The original position of Adam and Eve at creation saw them having an intimate relationship with God as well as a perfect natural, emotional and spiritual balance between themselves, the creation and their creator. This prefect balance was destroyed when they fell through their disobedience to God.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
- Genesis 3:16
Through deception and seduction woman and man are tempted to disobey God, and they do. God’s command establishes what is right and wrong, violating His will constitutes sin and always has negative consequences. This, in essence, is the substance of the fourth great biblical doctrine. Man has been given the ability to choose and choosing to obey will result in maintaining his position. Choosing to disobey will result in a fall, and this fall is the subject of this doctrine.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
- Genesis 3:7-13
Note how this passage describes the results of their fall:
- Rebellion (disobedience)
- Shame (hiding)
- Anger (this woman you gave me)
- Loss of innocence and love (defensive attitude)
In addition to these, note the unbalancing of the social, natural and emotional order that existed between God and man, man and woman, and man and creation. This disruption ultimately resulting in physical and spiritual death.
The doctrine of the fall of man through sin is mirrored throughout the entire Old Testament: Cain and Abel, the sinfulness leading to the flood, the cycle of destruction that follows the Jewish nation throughout history; all reflect the fall of man through sin.
Misinterpretation of Major Doctrine
The fourth major doctrine has been misunderstood and improperly taught to the point that entire doctrinal systems have evolved around the incorrect application of its core ideas. One teaching that misrepresents the doctrine of the fall of man is the doctrine of “Original Sin.”
This doctrine was originally formulated by Augustine, a 4th century theologian, who mixed Christian doctrine with Greek philosophical ideas. He taught that Adam’s fall produced two things:
- A human nature which was unable by itself to choose good or to respond to God in faith. This idea, later developed by Protestant thinkers (Calvin/Presbyterianism) as “total depravity” said that without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit a person was not able to obey God.
- The second idea Augustine promoted was that original sinfulness and its condition of moral helplessness was passed on (or imputed) to every descendant of Adam. In other words, every child born afterwards was not only born guilty of Adam’s sin, but helpless to do anything about it.
After a time, several practices grew out of this false thinking:
Infant baptism and baptism for the dead
Those who accepted this idea of original sin reasoned that if people were born guilty, they were then condemned at birth and needed to be saved immediately. They also reasoned that if you could impute (pass on) guilt, you could also impute faith. The idea was that if Adam’s sin transferred to you, it seemed reasonable that your parent’s faith could be transferred to you as well in order to save you.
From here it was easy to conclude that if you, as a baby, could be saved without being conscious of it, you could also be saved after you die (i.e. baptism for the dead).
Another false idea that grew out of this incorrect interpretation of the doctrine of the fall of man is that of predestination/arbitrary election.
Predestination / Arbitrary Election
The doctrine of total depravity created a problem. If one was unable to respond to the gospel because sinners were too depraved to do so, how could one be saved? In answer to this question Augustine, and later some of the Protestant Reformers, taught that God chose, in advance, those who would be lost and those who would be saved. The rationale was that since you were helpless to choose or obey, the only way to be saved was if God arbitrarily chose you for salvation.
Now another question that arises at this point is, “If God chooses me, how do I know that I have been chosen?” Evangelicals (Baptists, Community Churches, etc.) see God’s choice of themselves for salvation by observing the progressive improvement of their moral character as a confirmation that one has been chosen. This is why there is a “watch and see” period before baptism, and why they teach that baptism is not essential for salvation (you have already been chosen, baptism is only a symbolic ritual).
The idea of “once saved, always saved” comes from the teachings on original sin. After all, if God chooses you, you cannot refuse (irresistible grace) and you can never fall (once saved, always saved).
Charismatic and Pentecostal churches see the ability to speak in tongues as the sign of election by God. It is the way they know and are sure of God’s choosing of them.
The teaching of the incorrect idea of original sin was a departure from the biblical doctrine of the fall of man. It said that by his fall, Adam spread the guilt for sin to all men. It said that because of this guilt, man became unable to choose correctly (depraved) or to respond to God in faith. It taught that God arbitrarily chose some for salvation and others for condemnation; and once the choice was made, nothing could change it.
Eventually this led to modern religious groups looking for signs of improved moral living or special spiritual gifts as an assurance that they were the chosen. This is why Evangelicals say, “I accept Jesus as my Savior.” They accept because they cannot choose. Roman Catholics respond to this doctrine by baptizing babies. Since babies cannot save themselves, the parents save them based on their transferred faith.
We will examine these departures again later, but for now let us go back to our discussion of this set of major doctrines.
The first two doctrines in this set of three teach us about man’s original goodness when created, and the consequences of his fall through the sin of disobedience.
The second doctrine (fall through sin) has been used to establish a variety of other doctrines such as original sin, total depravity and election, as well as certain religious practices like infant baptism.
However, in its original form, the doctrine of the fall of man simply explained that from the beginning man had the power to choose right from wrong, and even after the fall, continued to have this ability, even if it was weakened by a sinful nature. This is where we, in the Churches of Christ, differ from most Protestants and Evangelicals.
The Bible clearly teaches the idea that each is responsible for their own sins:
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
- Isaiah 59:2
It is the individual’s sins that condemn him, not those of others.
20 The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
21 “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
- Ezekiel 18:20-21
The gospel appeals to man’s intellect and requires a choice based on faith. Something only an adult can do. Baptism is a ritual that expresses obedient faith.
3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- I Timothy 2:3-4
God requires that all men be saved, not just a few, not just those chosen for this.
Man still has the capacity to accept or reject Christ. His spiritual destiny is in his hands where God originally placed it at the creation. Christ died for all men and all those who believe in Him, repent of their sins and are baptized will be saved (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:37-38). Man’s spiritual destiny is in his own hands.
If we could read the Bible in one sitting, we would note how naturally and seamlessly these three great doctrines follow each other. The first two describe and explain man’s original goodness followed by his sin, his fall and the consequences of these. The third major doctrine in the set explains the wonderful story of how God restores man to Himself (restoration of sinful man).
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
- II Corinthians 5:17-19
The word reconciliation means to bring into harmony or to re-align. The history and the method that God used in reconciling man with Himself after the fall is what the rest of the Bible is about and the subject of the fifth major doctrine (and the third in this set of three).
This reconciliation between God and man is explained in the ten sub-doctrines of:
- Election (biblical)
- Predestination (biblical)
The next several chapters of this book will be a study of the sub-doctrines that explain God’s plan and purpose in reconciling fallen mankind to Himself.
We will look back at what these mean, why God did it this way and how these impact our Christian lives.