When we meet someone new, often the first question that comes up is, “So what do you do (for work or ministry)?” We’ve heard the saying, “You are what you do.” Last year, Daniel Im published his book titled “You Are What You Do and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love,” from a Christian viewpoint. He lists seven myths: you are what you do, what you experience, who you know, what you know, what you own, who you raise, and finally, you are your past. (1) “Daniel Im’s incisive cultural analysis is more than a big-picture overview of massive structural shifts. It’s an unflinching look at the way those shifts have changed our perception of ourselves, the world, and God. And his answer to these shifts is, thankfully, full of grace and truth. You Are What You Do is both a brutal excavation of our deepest assumptions and a healing balm for what ails us.” (2) As much as I appreciate our Christian authors, I wonder why we need a book to expose worldly lies when God has given us repentance for a “brutal excavation of our deepest assumptions and a healing balm for what ails us.” Christ, not a book, is our deliverance for original sin. Sin drives us to cultural solutions for soul problems, but Scripture compels us to our knees for transformation. Only Christ can provide the wisdom and freedom from preconceptions that deceive us.
David’s Confession of Original Sin
When King David sank to his knees, and God graciously preserved his confession for us in Psalm 51, a prayer of deep contrition over his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. But David also confessed his sinful nature from birth and the need for God’s truth to reach his innermost heart. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalms 51:5-6) Perhaps you are wondering about why we should confess over something for which we are not responsible. The answer lies in the fact that David was remined of his sin-nature, not just his sinful acts. “David was in danger of confusing what he did with what he was; repenting of the acts of sin but failing to repent of the sin nature that had brought him down. Yes, David had a problem with what he did, but his greater problem was what he was. In the same way, our greatest problem is not what we do but what we are. When we come to repentance, it is never enough to repent of the things we have done; it is always mandatory that we repent of what we are. Our great problem is not merely that we have sinned but that we are sinners. And when we come to repentance it is never enough to turn away from what we have done—our sin. It is mandatory that we turn from what we are—sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” (4) The more we meditate on and are broken by our sinfulness, the more we are freed from it to delight in God’s truth about who we are in Christ. Saint Augustine wrote, “Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter into it: let it be enlarged by you. It lies in ruins; build it up again. I confess and I know that it contains things that offend your eyes…Lord, all this you know. Have I not accused myself to you, my God, of my sins, and have you not forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I do not contend in judgment with you who are truth itself. I do not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie to itself.” (3) “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17)
Jesus Christ—the Only Sinless Man
There is only one man who does not need to be broken by his sinfulness—Jesus Christ. We may never quite comprehend how Mary’s sinfulness didn’t transfer to him, but he, alone of all humans, was indeed utterly sinless. In comparison, every other one of us must declare, like David, that “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalms 51:5) We often confess our appreciation and worship Christ for his atoning sacrifice made on our behalf when our sins were laid on him. But do we remember that his perfect human obedience qualified him to be our substitute, taking our punishment for us? “Let us be deeply humbled and mourn before the Lord for original sin. We have lost that pure quintessential frame of soul that once we had. Our nature is vitiated with corruption. Original sin has diffused itself as a poison into the whole man, like the Jerusalem artichoke which, wherever it is planted, soon overruns the ground…This primitive corruption is bitterly to be bewailed because we are never free from it. It is like a spring underground, which though it is not seen, yet it still runs. We may as well stop the beating of the pulse as strop the motions to sin. This inbred depravity retards and hinders us to that which is spiritual: ‘the good that I would do I do not’ (Rom. 7:19)…Sin does not come as a lodger for a night, but as an indweller (Rom 7:17). Original sin is inexhaustible. This ocean cannot be emptied. Though the stock of sin spends, yet it is not all diminished…Original corruption is like the widow’s oil which increased by pouring out [2 Kings 4:1-7]. Another wedge to break our hearts is that original sin mixes with the very habits of grace. Hence it is that our actings toward heaven are so dull and languid…As bad lungs cause an asthma or shortness of breath, so original sin having infected our heart, our graces breathe now very faintly. Thus we see what in original sin may draw forth our tears. Let us lament the corruption of our will and senses. Let us grieve for the diversion of our affections. They are taken off the proper object. The affections, like arrows, shoot beside the mark. At the beginning our affections were wings to fly to God; now they are weights to pull us from him. Let us grieve for the inclinations of our affections.” (5)
Christ’s Wisdom & the Spirit’s Witness
David wisely recognized and dealt with his utter sinfulness as he humbled himself with the Lord. “He who was born of religious parents, was famous for his early piety, and from whose seed the Messiah sprung, it may well be concluded to be the case…he having been, from his conception and formation, nothing else but a mass of sin, a lump of iniquity and, in his evangelical repentance for them, he is led to take notice of and mourn over the corruption of his nature, from whence they arose.” (6) But David also knew that drawing close to God through his brokenness would result in more truth and wisdom as he continued to walk with the Lord. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). This reminds me of Paul’s prayer for his Colossian brothers and sisters–“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-4) When we read of David confessing his sinful nature from birth and God’s provision of profound wisdom, should we not also be compelled to confess our sinful nature and delight in God’s insightful truth that results from it? “True repentance must always go beyond the specific acts of sin. It must include turning from what we are—sinners by nature and sinners by birth. Has this vital truth broken the unplowed ground of your heart? Has it registered in your life in such a way as to lead you to the most profound repentance possible? Or have you been living with the myth that it is enough to turn from the evil you have done? Face the facts: every one of us was born in sin. Sin has a vise-like grip on our lives. It has contaminated everything we are and do. You might have repented a thousand times of specific sins you have committed, but it is not until you repent of what you are that true repentance begins.” (8) “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)
Related Scripture: Job 15:14; Psalm 58:1-3; Romans 5:12-15; 7:17-19; Ephesians 2:1-5;
- Im, Danial, “You Are What You Do and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love, Kindle Edition, B&H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee, 2020.
- Im, Ibid, Inside Cover, Review by Richard Clark, podcast producer, host, and manager with Christianity Today.
- St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. John K. Ryan, Image Books, New York, 1960.
- Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 114-115, Crossway, 2002
- Roberts, Ibid.
- Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, pp. 73-74, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 51:5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-51.html
- Roberts, Ibid.
June 24, 2021