Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
You bite your tongue just before you let loose with some scathing snarky remark intended to cut down the weird girl who sits a couple of rows over. It was a close one, but you remembered what you learned in catechism class about defending other people’s reputations and speaking well of them. You caught yourself just in time. Whew! You didn’t sin.
But you wanted to. In your heart-deep down beneath your polished Christian exterior-you really wanted to. It would have felt good, actually. Insults always come much more naturally than compliments, as if cruelty is sort of hard-wired into you. It’s a good thing that you’re a Law-abiding Christian. At least, well, you were this time.
But just because you didn’t sin doesn’t mean that you didn’t sin. Before you could even think of sinning, the desire to sin, the inclination to sin already existed. It’s the part of your sin that you can’t control. It’s the sin that precedes all sin. We call it “concupiscence.” “Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit” (Augsburg Confession, Article II.1-2).
Even the desire to sin is truly sin. Even if you bite your tongue, you’re still guilty of the sin you really wanted to commit. The world’s narrative is that whatever comes naturally is good and right – it should be encouraged and celebrated. But by nature you don’t fear God, you don’t trust God. By nature, you’re His enemy.
The solution for those born in the natural way lies with One who was born in a most unnatural way, One who was conceived by God’s Spirit of a virgin mother. Jesus Christ alone is without concupiscence and so only has the inclination to do His Father’s will. It’s for this reason that He became the sacrifice for sinners. On the cross, He bore your sin and your inclination to sin.
And what’s more, He also offers you the cure to your concupiscence. He offers a new birth – a birth from above, a birth by water and the Spirit (John 3:1-16). With this new birth comes a new nature, a nature quite distinct from the nature inclined to sin. This new birth is your baptismal identity, marked by the cross as one redeemed by Christ the crucified one. Because of this water and Spirit, your inclination is now toward the things that are above – the things of God.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.