I’ve been reading a few books at once (as is the custom in the Horton household) and one of them is The Normal Christian Life by Watchmen Nee. Nee came to know Christ in 1920 and became a voracious reader. He is said to have read close to 3000 books. He received no theological training, but due to his self education he had an amazing ability to deliver the truth clearly and succinctly. The Normal Christian Life is an exegesis of the first few chapters of Romans and his application of the text. There was one short passage which really got my attention.
Nee notes that in street evangelism the soul winner will often use Romans 3:23 to prove that a person is a sinner. As if anyone needs a reminder the verse says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So the logical thought process goes like this: You have sinned, therefore you are a sinner. While in one sense this is true, the Bible actually presents an entirely different position. The Bible actually presents the thought that “You are a sinner, therefore you sin”. Romans 5:19 says that by one mans disobedience we were made sinners. The biblical idea is that because Adam sinned and this sin infected the human race, all men are sinners.
I could go into a host of reasons why this matters, but I will let the man himself explain this position:
I once asked a class of children. ‘Who is a sinner?’ and their immediate reply was, ‘One who sins’. Yes, one who sins is a sinner, but the fact that he sins is merely the evidence that he is already a sinner; it is not the cause. One who sins is a sinner, but it is equally true that one who does not sin, if he is of Adam’s race, is a sinner too, and in need of redemption. Do you follow me? There are bad sinners and there are good sinners, there are moral sinners and there are corrupt sinners, but they are all alike sinners. We sometimes think that if only we had not done certain things all would be well; but the trouble lies far deeper than in what we do: it lies in what we are. A Chinese may be born America and be unable to speak Chinese at all, but he is a Chinese for all that, because he was born a Chinese. It is birth that counts. So I am a sinner not of my behaviour but of my heredity, my parentage. I am not a sinner because I sin, but I sin because I come of the wrong stock. I sin because I am a sinner.
We are apt to think that what we have done is very bad, but that we ourselves are not so bad. God is taking pains to show us that we ourselves are wrong, fundamentally wrong. The root trouble is the sinner; he must be dealt with. Our sins are dealt with by the Blood, but we ourselves are dealt with by the Cross. The Blood procures our pardon for what we have done; the Cross procures our deliverance from what we are.
It’s always important to remember that if our foundation for our thoughts is wrong, it will show up in our logical outcomes. Sort of like the house on shifting sand, it may stay up for a while, but it will not weather the storm.