Original Sin According to St. Paul (Page 3 of 7)

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By: Fr John S. Romanides
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II. The Justice of God and Law

It is obvious, according to what has been said about St. Paul’s views concerning the non-dualistic nature of fallen creation, that for Paul there cannot exist any system of moral laws inherent in a natural and normal universe. Therefore, what man accepts as just and good according to his observations of human relationships within society and nature cannot be confused with the justice of God. The justice of God has been revealed uniquely and fully only in Christ.[44] No man has the right to substitute his own conception of justice for that of God.[45]

The justice of God as revealed in Christ does not operate according to objective rules of conduct,[46] but rather according to the personal relationships of faith and love.[47] “The law is not made for a just man, but for   the lawless   and disobedient, for   the ungodly and   for sinners…”[48] Yet the law is not evil, but good[49] and even spiritual.[50] However, it is not enough. It is of a temporary and pedagogical nature,[51] and in Christ must be fulfilled[52] and surpassed by personalistic love, according to the image of God’s love as revealed in Christ.[53] Faith and love in Christ must be personal. for this reason, faith without love is empty. “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.”[54] Likewise, acts of faith bereft of love are of no avail. “Though I bestow all my goods and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”[55]

There is no life in the following of objective rules. If there were such a possibility of receiving life by living according to law, there would be no need of redemption in Christ. “Righteousness should have been by the law.”[56] If a “law was given capable of giving life”[57] then salvation, and not a promise, was bestowed upon Abraham.[58] But life does not exist in the   law. It is rather   of essence of God,   “Who alone hath immortality.”[59] Only God can bestow life and this He does freely, according to his own will,[60] in His own way, and at the time of His own choosing.[61]

On the other hand, it is a grave mistake to make the justice of God responsible for death and corruption. Nowhere does Paul attribute the beginnings of death and corruption to God. On the contrary, nature was subjected to vanity and corruption by the devil,[62] who through the sin and death of the first man managed to lodge himself parasitically within creation, of which he was already a part but at first not yet its tyrant. For Paul, the transgression of the first man opened the way for the entrance of death into the world,[63] but this enemy[64] is certainly not the finished product of God. Neither can the death of Adam, or even of each man, be considered the outcome of any decision of God to punish.[65] St. Paul never suggests such an idea.

To get at the basic presuppositions of Biblical thinking, one must abandon any juridical scheme of human justice which demands punishment and rewards according to objective rules of morality. To approach the problem of original sin in such a naive manner as to say that tout lecteur sense concilura qu’une penalite commune implique une offense commune , and that thus all share in the guilt of Adam,[66] is to ignore the true nature of the justice of God and deny and real power to the devil.

The relationships which exist among God, man and the devil are not according to rules and regulations, but according to personalistic freedom. The fact that there are laws forbidding one from killing his neighbor does not imply the impossibility of killing not only one, but hundreds of thousands of neighbors. If man can disregard rules and regulations of good conduct, certainly the devil cannot be expected to follow such rules if he can help it. St. Paul’s version of the devil is certainly not that of one who is simply obeying general rules of nature and carrying out the will of God by punishing souls in hell. Quite on the contrary, he is fighting God dynamically by means of all possible deception, trying by all his cunning and power to destroy the works of God.[67] Thus salvation for man and creation cannot come by a simple act of forgiveness of any juridical imputation of sin, nor can it come by any payment of satisfaction to the devil (Origen) or to God (Rome). Salvation can come only by the destruction of the devil and his power.[68]

Thus, according to St. Paul, it is God Himself Who has destroyed “principalities and powers” by nailing the handwriting in ordinances, which was against us, to the cross of Christ.[69] “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their offences.[70] although we were in sin, God did not hold this against us, but has declared His own justice to those who believe in Christ.[71] The justice of God is not according to that of men, which operates by the law of works.[72] For St. Paul, the justice of God and the love of God are not to be separated for the sake of any juridical doctrine of atonement. The justice of God and the love of God as revealed in Christ are the same thing. In Romans 3:21-26, for example, the expression,   “love of God,” could very easily be substituted for the “justice of God.”

It is interesting to note that every time St. Paul speaks about the wrath of God it is always that which is revealed to those who have become hopelessly enslaved, by their own choosing, to the flesh and the devil.[73] Although creation is held captive in corruption, those without the law are without excuse in worshipping and living falsely, because “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead[74]“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the desires of their own   hearts to dishonor their own bodies between themselves…”[75] and again, “God gave them over to reprobate mind.”[76] This does not mean that god caused them to become what they are, but rather that He gave them up as being completely lost to corruption and the power of the devil. One must also interpret other similar passages in like manner.[77]

This giving up by God of people who have already become hardened in their hearts against His works is not restricted to the gentiles, but extends, also, to Jews.[78] “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”[79] And, “For as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.”[80] The gentiles, however, even though they are not under the Mosaic law, are not excused from the responsibility of personal sin, for they, “having not the law, are a law unto themselves, who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and amongst themselves accusing or else excusing their thoughts.”[81] At the last judgment, all men, whether under the law or not, whether hearers of Christ or not, shall be judged by Christ according to the Gospel as preached by Paul,[82] and not according to any system of natural laws. Even though the invisible things of God “from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,” there is still no such thing as moral law inherent in the universe. The gentiles who “have not the law” but who “do by nature the things contained in the law” are not abiding by any natural system of moral laws in the universe. They rather “shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” Here, again, one sees Paul’s conception of personal relationships between God and man. “God hath shewed it unto them,[83] and it is God Who is still speaking to fallen man outside of the law, through the conscience and in the heart, which for Paul is the center of man’s thoughts,[84] and for members of the body of Christ the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit[85] and Christ.[86]

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