THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!
T. PIERCE BROWN
For almost half a century I have had questions raised about the problem of sin as related to man’s nature. Little children, as well as profound Bible scholars raise these questions: Why do we sin? Did not Christ have our nature? Then why did He not sin? If Christ had help that was not available to us, what was it, and if so, how could we follow His example? If Christ did not have help that is not available to us because of His unique connection with God, then is it possible for us to live without sin as He did? If so, why has not someone done it? Or are there any exceptions to the universal rule that “All have sinned” (Rom.3:23)?
I was taught by the dearest Bible teacher I ever had at Abilene Christian College that we inherit our “fallen nature” from Adam, and this “fallen nature” is the basic cause of our sin. I rejected the teaching then, and still reject it. I contend that I was born with the same nature with which Adam was created — perfect, pure, and in the image of God. If I could inherit a “fallen nature” which makes it impossible for me to live without sinning, why could I not inherit a “divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) from one who had been born again, making it impossible for me to live in sin? Any talk which my teacher had of Adam as “the federal head of the human race” may have some bearing on the question of the legal standing of the human race before God, but I did not then see, and still do not, any necessary connection between that concept and the so-called “fallen nature.” I assert that whatever man lost in Adam, unconditionally, he gained in Christ, unconditionally.
Let us consider Adam’s original state. Was there anything in his nature as created that made it necessary for him to sin? The answer to that must be an unequivocal “No,” else he was not to blame, but God was. Of course this concept fits very well with the modern practice of blaming everything and everybody for our sins except ourselves. It is heredity, environment, training, society, government, poverty, parents, and even, “The Devil made me do it,” but seldom, “I have sinned!”
I challenged my beloved Bible teacher in about 1946 with this question (which he did not answer), and with which I now challenge you: “What tendency to sin do we have today that Adam did not have when he was created, and how do you know?” Also, “Can you be tempted any other way than through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life — and could he?” Just how does our nature or temptation differ from his?
I believe one of the keys to a difficult problem is partly a failure to make a distinction between probability and possibility, and the failure to make a distinction between a generic statement, “All have sinned,” and a specific application of that to my situation, “I have sinned.” Probably we usually mean, “Since all have sinned, I must have sinned, and that means the same as `I must sin’.”
If the statement that “through one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” involves the idea that “through Adam’s sin we all have a tendency to sin,” then “through the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19) means that through Christ’s obedience that tendency was removed and replaced by the tendency to be righteous! We do not have time and space to dwell on that in more detail, so now let us look at an illustration which may help us see the difference between probability and possibility.
Suppose you flip a dime into the air. Is it possible that you could do it one million times and it come up “heads” every time? I think most of us would say, “No, it is not possible, provided it was an ordinary dime, and you were not just playing tricks with it.” Our experience and knowledge of facts have both indicated that if we gave each of ten million persons a dime, and all started flipping, not one would flip very long with it coming up “tails” instead of “heads.” Yet if one asks the question, “Is there anything about the nature of the dime that makes it necessary for it to come up “tails” on any given occasion when I flip it?” the answer must be “No.” Then, insofar as the nature of the dime is concerned it is possible that we could flip it one million times, and it would come up “heads” each time! There is really no connection at all between how it comes up the first and any subsequent time.
This probably explains nothing and illustrates little. But as you examine your own experience and the Bible, ask yourself if you do not find something similar in the matter of sinning. First, ask, “Is it possible to live a whole life without sinning?” and 999 out of 1000 Bible believers will probably answer, “No.” Then ask, “Is it possible to live one year without sinning?” “One month?” “One week?” “One day?” “One minute?” If your answer stayed “No” all the way from “”all your life” to “one minute,” you are saying that you really believe from the Bible and your own experience that you are sinning and must be sinning every minute of your life!!! If your answer shifted from “No” to the first question about the whole lifetime to “Yes” about some smaller span of time, why did it, and where did it? Is there something about your nature that makes it necessary for you to sin sometime during a year that does not make it necessary for you sin during a minute? If so, what? And, if so, at that time God is at fault, not you, for He made your nature so it must sin at that point! Is it not clear that the truth of the matter is found in another direction?
There is nothing in your nature that makes it necessary to sin at the end of a year of life any more than at the end of a particular second of life! The thing that makes you sin at any time is not that necessity is laid upon you because of your “sinful nature,” but that you choose to sin, exactly as Adam did! The probabilities of our doing it may be almost infinitely greater than his, for there was only one thing of which I know that he could do that was a sin, and there are probably at least ten million we can do!
So the probabilities of our sinning are so great that we could say with certainty (even if the Bible had not so revealed) that all have sinned. But is that not a general truth, like, “All dimes when flipped will come up both heads and tails”? Do I mean by that, when I see a man flip a dime a few times, I can say with certainty, “That dime has to come up both heads and tails?” Then, when I see a baby, umbilical cord yet uncut, should I say about it, “Since the Bible says `All have sinned,’ and it is one of the `all,’ it has sinned!” Surely most of my readers would say, “No.” The newborn infant is not included in that “all.” Then, suppose we say about him each subsequent day of his life, “On this day I find it necessary to conclude from God’s revealed truth that this child has now sinned. It is impossible for him to have lived thus far without sin.” On what day will that statement become true? Do you not see that we are likely to be confusing the idea of “impossible” with regard to the nature of the person, with “improbably” with regard to the nature of the total situation and mathematical odds? And we may be confusing a general statement of truth with a specific statement about a particular person.
Let us attempt to clarify that by looking at the following facts, indicated both by experience and revelation: 1. Some of us have a greater tendency to sin, or weakness in some areas than others. This may be a “mitigating” circumstance, but not an “extenuating” one. That is, it may lessen one’s guilt relative to another’s in God’s sight, but does not remove it. 2. Some persons may have a greater tendency or temptation to sin at a given moment than at another one. 3. But for a Christian, 1 Cor. 10:13 is always true, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that yea are able to endure it.” 4. 1 John 1:9-10 is also true, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and His word is not in us.” But those statements have to do with general and universal truths, and do not refer to specific situations. For example, when Saul obeyed Ananias as recorded in Acts 22:16, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins,” he could have said, “I have no sin,” at the moment he arose from baptism, without being a liar or deceiving himself, for at that moment they had been washed away. 5. Romans6:23is also a general universal truth, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But it does not deal with specific situations, such as a little child, or whether we have such a weak and “sinful nature” that we must sin on any specific occasion.
So, we must conclude that although the universal experience of mankind coincides with the revelation of God that all sin, there is no occasion on which we DO sin that we can properly say, “My nature is such that I found it necessary to do that sin.”
One other question deserves our attention, which we shall not be able to adequately discuss now. Did not the fact that Christ had a Divine nature as well as a human one give Him an ability to overcome sin that we do not have? Does this not explain the fact that He lived without sin and we do not? There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that, as far as I know. On the other hand, the Bible suggests that we may become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), that we are protected from undue temptation (1 Cor.10:13) and that He was “tempted in all points as we are” (Hebrews4:15). We conclude, therefore, that there was nothing special in His Divine nature that made him impervious to sin, but that His greater ability to overcome sin was in His greater willingness to make every decision in terms of what His Father wanted. No doubt He could see with greater clarity than we do the advantages of obedience and disadvantages of disobedience. But so can different ones of us who live closer to God than others! Let the life of Christ be manifest in your mortal flesh, and you can overcome sin the same way He did.