Sin & Accountability

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

In book five of St. Augustine’s autobiographical work titled Confessions St. Augustine mentions a doctrine held by the Manicheans that puts forth the idea that man is not responsible, or rather not accountable for his own sins. He says that during his time as a Manichean* he believed “that it is not we who sin, but some other nature within us that is responsible.”[1] On the surface this actually seems to line up with biblical teaching on man’s sin nature, but as Augustine elaborates on the idea by adding that this ‘nature’ he speaks of is actually some outside force imposing its will on man, it becomes clear that this teaching is possibly a distortion of Romans chapter 7 specifically verses 20 through 23.

“[20] Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [21] So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. [22] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, [23] but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:20-23 ESV)

Here Paul talks about the sin that dwells within him being the cause of the wrong that he does, and evil waging war against his mind. The specific aspects of the Manichean idea concerning this appears to take the first part of verse 20, all of verse 21, and the first half of verse 23 changing a few words, and thus rendering it something like this:

Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, so I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand, and I see in my members another force or nature waging war against my mind.

This twisted belief ignores the fact that Paul says in the verses prior to these that nothing good dwells in man, and it misses the fact that he says the sin nature in fact dwells within man and is an inherent part of his makeup. As Augustine points out when describing this belief it alleviates man of having to confess his sins to God, and removes personal responsibility for one’s actions when they violate the law of God.

As an avid fan of Hip-Hop music I have seen this very same concept present in the Hip-Hop culture. Hip-Hop music draws a lot of its religious aspects, and indeed was founded by members of, the religious sect known as the Five Percent Nation of Gods & Earths. They believe that mankind possesses a physical being and a spiritual being that are separate from each other, and that any evil committed by their physical being does not corrupt their spiritual being. It is a form of Gnosticism, and in the same way as the heresy put forth by the Manicheans it absolves man of any accountability for his sins. We must always remember that man in his natural state is utterly depraved, and completely responsible for his sin and rejection of the Triune God.

Click here for more information on the Manicheans

And click here for more info on Gnosticism

*St. Augustine eventually renounced Manicheanism and converted to Christianity becoming one of the greatest Church Father’s and philosophers in history.

[1] Maria Boulding, trans., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century; The Confessions, ed. John E. Rotelle (New York: New City Press, 1997) 126.

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