The teaching of the Bible with regard to man in sin is that he is born into this world dead in trespasses and sins. The student of the Bible identifies those words as being from Ephesians 2:6. When the Apostle says, “you were dead” he obviously is dealing with the truth of spiritual death and not actual physical death, because he goes on immediately to say, “wherein ye walked” and “in which we all had our conversation in times past.” In other words, the Bible teaches that apart from Christ man is born into a living death. He is born spiritually dead.
There is no stronger word than death. Death is the end of all activity, and spiritual death means there is no activity in the soul of man to love God or do the good in God’s sight which is peace and joy. Death is the absence of life, and spiritual death means no life of God which is sweet and satisfying; but rather there is darkness, blackness, and separation from God, the only Good. Death is absolute. It is not “almost dead”; it is not “desperately ill”; but it is dead. Death is horrifying, and the deepest horror of spiritual death is that it leads to eternal death, i.e., uninterrupted torment in hell fire according to God’s justice. Man in the state of sin, before the power of God unto salvation comes to him by grace, is spiritually dead.
We are born this way. We are not born neutral into this world. We are not born evenly balanced, with the possibility of going either the narrow way of life or the broad way of destruction. But we are born within the sphere of death, a child of death, chained to death, loving death in fiendish delight. David puts it memorably in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Here David is examining himself. He has been reminded of what he has done, the adultery and the murder following it. He is awakened and seems to be saying to himself, “How could I do it? What renders a man capable of that?” And, he says, “There is only one answer, it is as deep as this: I was conceived and born in sin. I inherited corruption from Father and Mother and of myself I am born unclean!”
This means that from the very inception of life, man of himself is depraved. To be born in sin means that sin is a matter of the nature, not just the act, of the heart, not just the deed. Sin is something which stems from what a man is, not merely what he learns or does. Look at the little child, the newborn. That infant was shapen in iniquity and was conceived and born in sin. This does not mean that the sexual act of a believer within the sphere of marriage is sinful in itself. Paul makes plain in Hebrews 13 that marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled when sanctified by prayer. But this does mean that we inherit a sinful nature from our parents. Our very natures, when we come into this world, are already polluted. The tendencies for sin and the desires of sin are all there, and all the world does is give it an outlet. There is rebellion, hatred, and enmity within us. It comes out at once. This is the first thing we manifest.
We tend to think of sin in terms of separate acts of the will; and therefore we tend to lose sight of the fact that we ourselves are sinful apart from our actions, that sin is in us and is part of our very nature. It is not true that we are “all right” until temptation comes and we fall. Certainly our acts of sin are evil in themselves. It is not only the act or the fall into sin, but it is the nature that is sinful. Take the words of the Lord Himself Who said to the Pharisees: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. . . For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications. . .” (Matthew 15:10-20). The trouble is the heart of man. It is fallen and sinful by nature. It is as Paul says, “in my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” or “the carnal mind is enmity against God. . . ” Observe’ how strongly the Apostle expresses it: “The carnal mind,” he says, “is enmity against God.” He does not say it is merely opposed to God, but it is positive enmity. It is not only at enmity, but enmity itself; it is not only black, but blackness; it is not only corrupt, but corruption; it is not only rebellious, it is rebellion; it is not only wicked, it is wickedness itself. The heart of man by nature, though it be deceitful, is positively deceit; it is evil in the concrete, sin in the essence; it is the quintessence of all things that are vile; it is not merely envious against God, it is envy; it is not only at enmity, it is actual enmity. This is what it means to be born dead in sins: sin is a matter of our very natures received in birth.
Still more, to be born in sin is to be under the wrath of God. God’s wrath, which is the burning of His holiness against sin, is upon those who are at enmity with Him and hate Him. Therefore, of ourselves we are children of wrath even as others. This is powerful. We deserve wrath, we are subject to it, we can only bring it down upon us. How offensive this is to man. The further we go into the truth of man’s being born dead in sins, the more incensed becomes man; Little babies, so cute and beautiful, are under wrath? “‘How can it be?” cries man in supposedly pious indignation. Yet it is so, and the Bible makes it plain that of ourselves the wrath of God is justly upon us.
This is universal. All are born dead in sins. “In Adam all die”; “for all have sinned”; “Death passed upon all men.” This is true without exception. Here the world becomes one. This transcends and breaks down every curtain, whether it be iron or bamboo; every color and race; every culture and age. All are born dead in sins and thus the world stands guilty before God.
Why? Well, as you know, there can be only one explanation. Adam, the first man, created by God good and upright, was not an isolated individual, but he was the father of the human race (Acts 17:26). Adam’s fall into sin most definitely affected his nature; he died spiritually, he fled from the presence of God into the sphere of death. At one time he walked with God in the cool of the garden because his heart leaped and danced within himself with the love of God. But he sinned and his nature became depraved. The love of God was now hated by him, and the hatred of God was now loved by him. This corrupt nature he transmitted to all his posterity. Just as all human life comes from the one man Adam, so also Adam passed on his corrupt nature to all men. Just as you cannot gather grapes from a thorn bush, so also you cannot have a good man from fallen Adam. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” cries Job. “No one.”
This, by the way, is simply why we believe the first chapters of Genesis to be literal history. You cannot believe the gospel of salvation without it. This is why man is what he is. Adam fell, Adam sinned; and the result is that all the seed of Adam are born in corruption, with a polluted nature. We are all born in sin, children of disobedience, heirs of a fallen nature that expresses itself in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and therefore under the wrath of God and utterly hopeless.
Man does not like this: he never has and never will. He cries the same excuse that he brings against all the truth of sovereign grace: “How then can God account me to be responsible? If I am born this way, if I inherit a corrupt nature dead in sins, how can I be held responsible for my sins? I am only doing what is expected of me, what I can’t help doing! And thus how can God blame me for my sins?”
The answer is not impossible. There is first of all the fact that this is not true within the very conscience of man, that is, that a man sins because he feels constrained or forced to from without. When man gives the impression that he sins because he can’t help it and would rather not, he is a LIAR. The sinful nature is not as a Mr. Hyde which takes over against our will so that we say, “Here I go again, I can’t stop!” This is not true within the heart of man. Man can only sin, but man sins because he wants to, he remains a willing slave. Sin is his mistress which he loves and goes after in the lust of his heart. Not one sin has ever been committed by compulsion without, but always from an evil desire within. There is, secondly, the fact that according to the good pleasure of God, Adam was made the head of the human race. The transmission of corruption to Adam’s children is done in divine justice, for Adam was created the representative of all men, and the corruption he merited for his nature is justly reckoned to us. God is righteous in all His ways and dealings with man, and in strictest justice the pollution of Adam is infused to Adam’s descendants.
But there is something more involved in man’s objection to the truth of being born dead in sins. The very objection, the very refusal to admit to it, the hatred of man against this sound doctrine, reveals his true depravity. To be born in sin means that by nature we refuse to admit to the implications of this truth, but rather we grind our teeth and harden our hearts in hatred against it. Every compromise on the extent and meaning of man’s natural corruption stems from depraved pride which will never confess this truth.
One only submits and confesses this to be true bygrace. The more we learn and taste of God’s grace, the more we understand that its one great fruit ishumility. Grace makes a man humble to confess his birth in sins and death and to say “Amen” to the Lord’s words, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Spiritual humility worked by sovereign grace, says to the Word “born in sin,” “Alas, it is true! and true of me!” Pride says no to this truth. Behold now the true depth of human depravity! Man refuses to and cannot admit it; he will not. There is one thing a sinner never does of himself, and that is confess himself to be a worthless dead sinner. It is only God’s grace which makes a man know the truth about himself; it is only grace which makes him say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief.”
We want to know this truth of our birth in sins and death not in some morbid sense so that we can see how miserable we can make ourselves, not to spawn despair and false piety within us. We wish not to glory in our shame by never getting beyond our depravity of sin. We want to know this in true faith because this opens our eyes to see the whole gospel! Without the confession and knowledge of our birth in sin we can never see it and Christ profits us nothing. Compromise with this truth and inevitably man loses the only comfort of belonging not to himself but to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Only a dead man needs a Sovereign Savior. He needs resurrection from the dead! If you tamper with the truth of man’s birth in sin, you can only detract and ultimately deny his resurrection and rebirth in Christ.
“Ye must be born again.” Now we can understand themust. We do not need a good influence, a good example; but we need life out of death. Now we can understand the meaning of His resurrection and Joseph’s empty tomb. He arose with new life, life which seeks God’s face and fellowship. That is the life we need! Now we can understand that the imparting of true life can only be a work of God alone. And now we understand what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in me”! Without Him we can do nothing; we are nothing. The danger is always that in folly we would go away from Christ to seek ourselves and our sinful flesh. Always we must by faith stay close to Him. Then all is well.
We glorify God! God raises elect sinners, born dead in sins, to the life of His gracious covenant. Is salvation all of God? Yes, it is; that is a fact. It is the truth, no matter what any one says. Yes, it has to be, because we were born dead in sins and only God can raise the dead. Praise His name, for in Christ He has!