Jesus and the Second Spiritual Law

The 2d spiritual law of the classic Four Spiritual Laws is this: Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life. Here the law appeals to Romans 3:23 for “sinful” and to Romans 6:23 for the “separated” (=spiritual death).

The italicized explanation at the bottom of that website spells some of this out: God is holy and man is sinful. There is a great gulf, and man tries to get to God and find the “abundant life” through his own efforts, such as living a good life, following specific philosophies or religions.

This is a classical re-statement of the theory of salvation found in many Protestant Evangelical groups. It focuses on the implications of the Fall, narrowing it to the term “sin,” and the focus emerges from Romans 1-8.

Several comments are in order:

First, this is one but not the only way to speak of the gospel. If this is the gospel, then Jesus rarely spoke about the gospel. Jesus chose to express his vision of what God was doing in the world by using the term kingdom. It seems to me we need to be more comprehensive in our biblical sweep than just narrowed to the book of Romans — and today many would dispute even this about what Romans was intended to say.

Second, the chart at the bottom of the page leaves me ambivalent: I’m not sure that all humans are continually trying to reach God — and I doubt very much that any human being trying to reach God would find God not reciprocating. This whole notion of continually trying to reach God leans on something I find redemptive: if humans are trying to reach God, then that is a good thing and not a bad thing.

Third, I like the direction of the definition of “sinful” in the explanatory words:

Man was created to have fellowship with God; but, because of his stubborn self-will, he chose to go his own independent way and fellowship with God was broken. This self-will, characterized by an attitude of active rebellion or passive indifference, is evidence of what the Bible calls sin.

Here we find humans (“man” is generic) made to have fellowship with God (I call it “union with God”). But the original human condition involved two more “goods”: humans were also in communion with one another and at peace with the created order. The “choice” feature here focuses on Adam’s sin and it narrows it to “self-will” — and I like this because the Bible’s emphasis is on will and self and it is a will and self that strive for Individual Existence in spite of and contrary to God’s good order. There is more to sin than “self-will,” but many have narrowed it to that.

Fourth, the issue to be discussed here is the nature of “sin” in the Bible: one quick read of Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.’s book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, will show that what the 2d spiritual law relates is not complete enough to create the sense of what the gospel is designed to accomplish: in other words, the gospel resolves more than just the “sin” as “self-will” issue. Sin has at least three or four directions: Godward, Otherward, Worldward, and Selfward. That is, sin violates union with God, breaks down communion with others, jeopardizes peace with the rest of the created world, and in the end also begins to turn against itself.

Until we get “sin” figured out, the gospel can’t be figured out. Or, unless we figure out what “sin” is in Genesis 3 we won’t know why Jesus preached “kingdom.” Once again, this 2d spiritual law is like the first: it is entirely Individualistic in its sense of what life is all about: if sin is a violation of a person’s fellowship with God, then it is solely an Individual issue.

In light of some posts and some e-mails yesterday, let me say this: the Bible teaches personal accountability before God (we are individuals) but there is a huge difference between Individualism and a gospel that is designed to restore individuals in the context of a community to be Eikons of God.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Gerald, thanks for your insightful and provocative perspective. I do agree that the “body” metaphor is more about interdependence than about the priority of the community over the individual. You pointing that out was a good reminder. Your remarks to Jamie about God using distorted means to still reach those in need of salvation is a good reminder, too. I don’t want that viewpoint, however, to be an excuse not to question and improve on the wonder and beauty of the Gospel. Because it is such “good news,” we need to do our best, not as donkeys, but as human beings to express it.I don’t think sin is first a breaking of God’s law; it is breaking God’s love. The command not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of GOOD and evil” was from a perichoretic God so infinitely and fully in love that “they” wanted to share that love with humans. Sin is a violation of God’s being as all loving. The Enemy got them to doubt not God’s goodness, but God’s love. If we focus on the command, “Don’t eat….” and not on the God and God’s relationship with humans that issued the command, we will make sin a matter of legal breach, rather than betrayal of a lover. When sin becomes legal, salvation becomes legal…God credits our account with Jesus’ rightousness. Forensic, I think, is the term.Thus, God morphs into a Judge, not a Lover. Whatever we do, let’s keep sin relational. I am not denying the Judge-purposes of God, but they are not primary. Is the cross about primarily sin or primarily love? Not either/or, but both/and. Which is first? “Did ere such love and mercy meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8093653 Danny

    I really enjoyed your insights into the “Four Spiritual Laws.” For a long time I’ve been trying to put things like this into words. I hate the fact that so many Christians put their faith, rather than in the Bible, in Romans.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3452528 Bob Robinson

    Scot,Thanks so much for this insightful interaction with the Campus Crusade gospel. As you know, I am now in leadership with the Coalition for Christian Outreach, another college outreach ministry. While we have some things in common with Campus Crusade, and I appreciate a lot of the Campus Crusade ministry, the reason I am with the CCO is that we understand the Gospel as more than just a sin issue.As I commented today on my blog (quoting from another Plantinga book!) sin is a subset of evil, and what the gospel is all about is the establishment of SHALOM and the elimination of all evil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3452528 Bob Robinson

    While I’ve been kind of critical of the Four Laws in the last few years, I never thought about that diagram–one that Navigators use as well–of these attempts to reach God coming up short. I too think that if anybody really tried to reach out to God, He would honor that by reaching back…though the point is how? I still become kind of uneasy about ways that do not include the atonement and the name of Jesus Christ in the mix.But it does seem to me that if people are trying to reach God, then that seems to be a good thing…however, there are a lot of man-made attempts to reach God that God finds detestable. Hmmm….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3075330 Bob

    I’m not sure that all humans are continually trying to reach God — and I doubt very much that any human being trying to reach God would find God not reciprocating.I read this and tears came to my eyes. It’s beautiful…

  • http://www.antioch.com.sg/th/twp baruch

    The believers of the first century had the Torah, but they didn’t have bullit pointed gospel charts. Christian society today has it the other way around.


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