Catechism

4 Mankind in need of redemption

Mankind has fallen into sin and is thus in need of redemption from the evil one.

4.1 Evil–the powers opposed to God Back to top

The origin of evil within the order of creation cannot be rationally grasped or explained. Paul speaks of evil as a mystery (2 Thessalonians 2: 7). Evil cannot always be clearly recognised. Sometimes it disguises itself and takes on the appearance of something good or divine (2 Corinthians 11: 14). Only through faith in the gospel do the ultimate nature of evil, its power, strength, and effects, become clear.

Only God is absolutely good. In God's words, both the invisible and the visible creation was "very good" in the beginning (Genesis 1: 1-31), and thus evil had no place within it originally. God did not create evil as such. It is thus not among the things that were expressly created, but has rather been permitted.

When God created man, He made him according to His own likeness (Genesis 1: 26 et seq.). This means that man has been endowed with a free will. He has the ability to decide between obedience and disobedience to God (Genesis 2: 16-17; 3: 1-7). The ability to do evil is also rooted in this free will. Evil manifests itself when human beings knowingly and intentionally oppose that which is good by distancing themselves from God and His will. Thus the evil in man was not created by God, but was at first only an alternative which man chose by violating the divine commandment. God neither wanted nor created evil, but nevertheless permitted it in that He did not prevent human beings from exercising choice.

Since the fall into sin, evil has affected both mankind and the entire creation (Romans 8: 18-22).

Evil began to unfold when the created (man) began to oppose the Creator. As a consequence of disobedience, of the fall into sin, evil gained a foothold and led to a state of remoteness from God, estrangement from God, and ultimately godlessness.

4.1.1 Evil as a power opposed to God Back to top

Evil is a power that stems from the desire for independence from God and the desire to be "like God". This power completely changes those who fall prey to it: angels become demons, human beings become sinners.

Throughout the history of man, the power of evil has manifested itself again and again. For example, after Adam and Eve's fall into sin we see evil manifested in the Old Testament in Cain's murder of his brother, in the godlessness of Noah's time, and in the oppression of the people of Israel by the Egyptians.

Evil is a destructive power that opposes the creation of God. It takes on many forms: it is delusion and subversion, it is untruth, envy, and avarice. It seeks to destroy, and it brings death.

Since the fall into sin, it has not been possible for any human beingwith the exception of the incarnate Son of Godto lead a sinless life. This is due to the human predisposition to sin (concupiscence). Nevertheless, no one is involuntarily subject to evil. Therefore, no individual human being is exempt from personal responsibility for his sins.

4.1.2 Evil as a person Back to top

Evil is not only manifested as a power, but also as a person. Holy Scripture refers to the personification of evil as "the Devil" (Matthew 4: 1), "Satan", or "unclean spirit", that is demon (Job 1: 6 et seq.; Mark 1: 13, 23).

The accounts in 2 Peter 2: 4 and Jude 6 speak of angels who have sinned. These spiritual beings fell prey to evil and became evil themselves. The Devil "has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3: 8), he was "a murderer from the beginning", and a "liar and the father of it" (John 8: 44). The question of the serpent to Adam and Eve caused man to doubt God and rebel against Him: "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3: 4-5).

The antichrist is a manifestation of evil. Jesus referred to the antichrist when He spoke of "false christs and false prophets" (Mark 13: 22). The terms "man of sin" or "son of perdition" also refer to the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4).

Satan is not capable of thwarting God's plan of salvation. On the contrary, "the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil" (1 John 3: 8). The power of the Devil and his followers is limited, and has already been broken by Jesus Christ's sacrificial death. Jesus Christ has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28: 18). Thus He also has power over evil spirits.

According to Revelation 12, evilwhich is personified as Satan, the Devil, the dragon, or the serpentwill be cast out of heaven. After the kingdom of peace, he will be given one last opportunity to unleash powers opposed to God (Revelation 20: 7-8). The ultimate banishment of evil into the "lake of fire and brimstone" is finally described in Revelation 20: 10. In the new creation, where God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15: 28), evil will no longer have a place.

SUMMARY Back to top

The origin of evil cannot be rationally comprehended or explained. It is only through belief in the gospel that the true nature of evil ultimately becomes clear. (4.1)

The invisible and visible creation was very good at first. Evil as such was not created by God, but rather permitted. The capacity to do evil lies rooted in the human ability to decide between obedience and disobedience toward God. (4.1)

Evil began to unfold when the created rebelled against the Creator. This led to a state of remoteness from God, estrangement from God, and ultimately godlessness. (4.1)

Evil is a destructive power that arises from the will to be independent from God. It changes those who fall prey to it. Thereby human beings become sinners. (4.1.1)

On account of concupiscence, no human beingwith the exception of the incarnate Son of Godis capable of leading a sinless life. Nevertheless, no one is exposed to evil without a choice. No human being is exempt from personal responsibility for his sins. (4.1.1)

Evil not only appears as a power, but also as a person, and is called, among other things: "the Devil", "Satan", or "unclean spirit" (demon). (4.1.2)

4.2 The fall into sin Back to top

The doctrine of sin and mankind's need for redemption is based on Holy Scripture's account of the fall into sin (see also 3.3.3): "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, '... but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'" (Genesis 2: 16-17).–"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3: 6).

4.2.1 The consequences of the fall into sin for mankind Back to top

As a consequence of the fall into sin, man was driven out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 23-24).

Now that human beings had turned away from God through their actions, they experienced a new dimension: separation from God (Genesis 2: 17; Romans 6: 23).

4.2.1.1 Mankind in sin Back to top

Mankind sought to rise above the Creator. Thereby the untroubled relationship between God and man was destroyed. This has had drastic effects on the human race to this day.

Adam represents the archetype of all sinners, as it were. This is true as regards his motivation to sin, his conduct while in the state of sinfulness, as well as his hopelessness after the fall into sin.

The thought behind the decision to transgress the boundary imposed by God was expressed in the temptation: "... you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3: 5). Some of the motivations for sinful conduct are: the desire not to have any God over oneself but rather wanting to be a god in one's own right, no longer respecting the commandments of God but rather doing what one's own will and lusts desire.

The sinfulness of all human beings is portrayed in Genesis by an appalling increase in the sins of the human race: Cain rose up against God's counsel and warning, and killed his brother (Genesis 4: 6-8). As time went on, the sins of mankind continued to increase, and cried so loudly to heaven that God responded with the great flood (Genesis 6: 5-7, 17). But even after this judgement, human beings persisted in their disobedience and presumptuousness towards their Creator. For example, the Bible describes the conduct of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-8), whom God caused to fail on account of their ambition.

Apostle Paul writes as follows about the phenomenon of the sinfulness of all mankind after the fall into sin, and of the spiritual death which resulted from it: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5: 12).

The fall into sin brought about changes in the lives of mankind which they could not reverse. Fear estranged them from their Creator, whose nearness they no longer sought. Instead, they tried to hide from Him (Genesis 3: 8-10). The relationship of human beings toward one another also suffered (Genesis 3: 12), as did their relationship with the creation. From that time on, human beings had to toil arduously for their survival and, at the end of their lives, return to the ground from which they had been taken (Genesis 3: 16-19).

Man cannot return to the state of sinlessness.

4.2.1.2 Sinful mankind is still loved by God Back to top

Mankind, who had now become sinful, would from that time on have to reap what they had sown: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6: 23). Despite their disobedience and presumption, the Eternal One still loved those He had created. He continued to care for them and attend to them. Illustrations of this divine care include the fact that God made tunics of hide for Adam and Eve and clothed them (Genesis 3: 21), and that He set a mark upon Cain to protect him when he feared vengeance after killing his brother (Genesis 4: 15).

The love of God, which still covered mankind even after the fall into sin, was revealed in perfect fashion through the sending of His Son. Jesus Christ came and defeated sin (1 John 3: 8). In Him, mankind was saved from the harm brought about by sin (Acts 4: 12).

In impressive contrast to the rebelliousness and presumptuousness of mankind, who had become increasingly entangled in sin, the Son of God in His human form set an example of perfect obedience to His Father (Philippians 2: 8). Through His sacrificial death, Jesus Christ acquired the merit by which human beings could be liberated from their sins and ultimately redeemed from "the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8: 21), thereby making it possible for them to live in eternal fellowship with God.

Apostle Paul makes this contrast clear: "Therefore, as through one man's offence judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5: 18-19).

However, sinful mankind does not automatically gain justification before God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has shown His commitment to mankind: He does not condemn human beings, but rather seeks to grant them salvation. Human beings are called upon to make a serious effort to accept God's offer and attain salvation. For this purpose, God has endowed human beings with conscience, reason, and faith. If human beings align these gifts by Jesus Christ, then the justification attained by the Son of God (Romans 4: 25) becomes accessible to them by grace. That which human beings accomplish thus has no justifying effect. Rather, that which they accomplishtheir worksare a necessary and self-evident expression of faith, a sign that they have accepted God's offer of salvation.

SUMMARY Back to top

The separation between man and God came into being through the fall into sin. The consequence of this was expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Adam is the archetype of all sinners. (4.2.1; 4.2.1.1)

God's love still covered mankind even after the fall into sin. It was revealed in perfect fashion in the sending of Jesus Christ, who conquered sin and death. (4.2.1.2)

4.2.1.3 Conscience Back to top

Holy Scripture uses various terms to describe conscience as a gift which mankind has received from God [1]. In reference to this the Old Testament often uses the term "heart", in which the voice of God can be heard. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 30: 14: "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it." In contrast, Apostle Paul explains that the will of God was not only laid into the hearts of those living under the Mosaic Law, but also into the hearts of the Gentiles: "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" (Romans 2: 14-15). Therefore all human beings carry within themselves an awareness of the will of Godall of them possess such a conscience.

Sinful human beings are without orientation. They have lost the security and support that comes with obedience to God. Here the authority of conscience can help in making decisions that correspond to God's will. Nevertheless it is still quite possible to arrive at erroneous decisions, especially if the conscience is not guided by reason and faith.

Human beingswho have been left to their own devicescan perceive the will of God in their conscience. Thus the authority of the conscience is capable of leading an individual's will toward that which is good. For this reason, individuals should endeavour to continually expand and sharpen their conscience through the law that has been written into every human being's heart.

The conscience distinguishes between what is good and what is evil. If the conscience is governed by reason and faith, it assists mankind in acting wisely. It likewise allows human beings to recognise whether they have incurred guilt before God or their neighbour, and reveals where they have transgressed against God's will and violated His ordinances, whether in thought or deed.

First and foremost, human beings must recognise themselves and give account to their own conscience. If the conscience attests that they have sinned and incurred guilt, andprovided they allow themselves to be guided by remorse and repentanceGod in His grace offers forgiveness through the merit of Christ. This is the path God has established for the justification of mankind who has fallen into sin.

Human beings can experience Holy Baptism with water as the healing care of God: "There is also an antitype which now saves usbaptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3: 21). God's word strengthens human beings so that they can continue along the path they have begun toward salvation. Thereby the conscience undergoes a constant sharpening process, which aids human beings in recognising God's will more and more clearly.

The experience of grace fills the heart with the peace of God, and the conscience, which had previously condemned the individual on account of his sins, is calmed. John sums this up with the words: "And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (1 John 3: 19-20).

SUMMARY Back to top

The authority of conscience can help make decisions in accordance with the will of God. It is the conscience that weighs the question of what is good and what is evil. (4.2.1.3)

If the conscience is defined by reason and faith, it helps human beings to act wisely, and allows them to recognise whether they have incurred guilt with God or their neighbour. (4.2.1.3)

[1] The term "conscience" is used in many other contexts–e.g. sociological, philosophical, and psychological–which are not treated here.

4.2.1.4 Reason Back to top

Reason is a gift of God that distinguishes human beingsas the image of Godfrom all other creatures. It is of particular help in structuring their existence and comprehending their environment.

Reason is revealed when human beings think and act while engaging their intellect and knowledge. In so doing, they are accountable before God and themselves, whether they know it or not (see 4.2.1.3). Human beings are capable of recognising circumstances and interpreting the connections between them. They recognise themselves as individuals and see themselves in relationship to the world. Ultimately, reason is a gift of God to human beings, which can guide them to proper conduct: "Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave He them [mankind] to understand" (Ecclesiasticus 17: 5-6).

Mankind received from God the commission to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1: 28). With their inquisitive minds, human beings seek to access and make use of that which is available to them in the creation. When they do this out of a sense of responsibility toward God and the creation, human beings act in a reasonable manner, in accordance with the gift of God.

In the Bible, reason is also described using the term "wisdom". Understood as the ability to know, it is attributed to the activity of God. "For He [God] hath given me certain knowledge of things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements ..." (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 17). Apostle Paul also used the term "human wisdom" to refer to reason. It equips human beings with the cognitive faculty by which they endeavour to penetrate divine mysteries (1 Corinthians 1: 20-21). If human beings were to elevate themselves over divine ordinances and thus over God Himself, they would thereby dismiss divine wisdom as foolishness. Ultimately this means that reason would reject faith (1 Corinthians 2: 1-16). In so doing, human beings would ultimately fail to understand the purpose of their lives. Since the Age of Enlightenment, such a tendency can be clearly identified in many areas, especially in the industrialised world. It always reveals itself wherever mankind's inquiring mind is not subordinate to his responsibility toward God and the creation.

In this respect human reason is always imperfect on account of sin. It is for this reason that, from the perspective of faith, an attitude that defines reason as the measure of all things is exposed as foolishness: "For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1: 19-20).

It is impossible for human reason in its finiteness to grasp the endlessness of God. His actions transcend all human reason. Therefore, human beings must always be aware that they can never succeed in completely penetrating divine matters with reason (Romans 11: 33).

Although reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is still needed, for example to recognise the interconnections of the gospel, and to perceive and understand words and images in Holy Scripture. We also need it to profess the doctrine of Jesus to others. Reason is a valuable divine gift, but not the highest good (Philippians 4: 7). Accordingly it must never become the only standard of measure.

Whenever reason is tempted to rise up against things divine, the individual must be aware that he is not properly engaging the gift of reason, but rather demonstrating a lack of responsibility toward God. Through faith, human beings know that it is their duty to fight against such presumption, "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10: 5).

SUMMARY Back to top

Human beings exhibit reason when they think and act by engaging their understanding and knowledge. In so doing they are responsible toward God, themselves, and the creation, whether they are aware of it or not. (4.2.1.4)

Reason is a gift of God which can lead human beings to proper conduct. (4.2.1.4)

In its finiteness, reason is incapable of comprehending God in His endlessness. God's actions transcend all human reason. (4.2.1.4)

Even though reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is nevertheless needed in order to understand and profess the interconnections of the gospel. (4.2.1.4)

4.2.1.5 Faith Back to top

The word "faith" is not mentioned in the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament. Wherever we find this term in modern translations, the original words used were "trust", "loyalty", "obedience", "confidence", or "certainty". All of these meanings are implicit in the single word "faith". In Hebrews 11: 1 we read: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (see 1.4).

Faith always starts with God, who reveals Himself through His word and His works. As long as human beings trust God completely, they are able to obey God. Disobedience caused mankind to sin and therefore incur guilt before God. Ever since, mankind has had a broken relationship with his Creator. For any human being who desires to enter into fellowship with God again, it is indispensable to believe (Hebrews 11: 6).

For the models of faith in the time of the old covenant, salvation still lay in the future (Hebrews 11: 39). When God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the Old Testament promises were fulfilled. Thereby faith acquired a new dimension: it was now directed at the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him, it is possible to be reconciled to God and enter into fellowship with Him.

The Son of God demanded this kind of faith: "... believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14: 1). He emphasised the consequences of unbelief in all its implications: "For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8: 24).

Great things are promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and accept Him: they will "not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3: 16).

True Christian faith is always based first and foremost on God's grace of election and revelation. This is evident from the profession of Apostle Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", and Jesus' response: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16: 16-17). Faith is a gift of God as well as an obligation for human beings. If they accept God's word, trust in it, and act accordingly, then their faith is alive and will lead to salvation.

SUMMARY Back to top

Faith is a gift of God which constitutes an obligation for human beings. When human beings accept God's word, trust in it, and act in accordance with it, their faith is alive and leads to salvation. (4.2.1.5)

The beginning of faith is always God, who reveals Himself through words and works. (4.2.1.5)

Through faith in Jesus Christ it is possible to be reconciled with God. (4.2.1.5)

4.2.2 The consequences of the fall into sin for the creation Back to top

Mankind's fall into sin also resulted in far-reaching consequences for the creation, which is blameless.

Originally, the creation was "very good", that is to say perfect (Genesis 1: 31). Man was made regent of the visible creation. Thus man bears responsibility to God for the creation, but also bears responsibility to the creation itself (Genesis 1: 28-30). Considering that man occupies such an important position within the visible creation, his disobedience toward God also has significant effects upon the earthly creation: after mankind sinned, both the groundas an image of the visible creationand the serpent were cursed (Genesis 3: 17-18). Thorns and thistlesand the effort mankind now had to summon up to eke out an existenceare symbolic of mankind's remoteness from God and God's concealment from mankind, which have prevailed in the creation since that time. Mankind could no longer find direct access to God in the creation. Man's life was now accompanied by insecurity and fear.

The behaviour of animals towards each other can be seen as a sign of hostility and discord. The longing to overcome and heal