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Lest we forget God

Lest we forget God

And the sins and sacrifices of our forefathers

Dear friends,

In light of Anzac Day last week, Phillip and Tony converse about how our current lives are not as far removed from our forefathers and those who have gone before us as we might think.

Through the lens of Romans 5:12-21, we see how all the more true this is in our spiritual lives, and how much more powerful is the one whose sacrifice can change the entire course of our lives.

We hope this conversation is edifying and encouraging as we remember the sacrifices of the people who have made our modern life possible.

We would love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions, which you can email to or by hitting reply to this email.



Lest we forget God

Tony Payne: Here in Australia, we would have just had Anzac Day, a very important day for the Australians.

Phillip Jensen: The holy day for Australia. 

TP: It’s a very significant day in our household as it happens to be the birth date of our firstborn child. So we always get together and celebrate. We don't celebrate the Anzacs; we just have Gemma's birthday party.

PJ: I see. My parents married during the Depression and so their honeymoon was Anzac Day. That was the only day they could get off work and go. 

TP: But it’s significant for more reasons than that in our culture. Anzac stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which were the battalion of the Corps of soldiers who fought together in the First World War. It's a commemoration of the First World War and a particularly important day in it.

PJ: Yes, it was the great event of military failure. We celebrate our failure. 

TP: It was a complete disaster, but it was a heroic disaster. It was a day of great bravery when a lot of Australian and New Zealand soldiers died at Gallipoli in an ultimately futile attempt to take the beach and an ultimately failed campaign, but it was a very significant military event. And it is the date when we remember all of those before us who have served and died for the sake of our national welfare and national wellbeing.

PJ: Yes, and particularly because it was the first time that Australia as a whole nation went to war. We did send troops to aid other smaller wars, but the first time Australia as Australia went to war was on Gallipoli. And there were many great and heroic efforts there. The First World War was the war where most Australians think that our greatest commitment and our greatest loss happened.

TP: And it's one of those times of the year when you realize you're not just an individual. You're part of something much bigger, you're a member of not just a nation, but a nation that stretches back into history.

PJ: Yes. And the nation we have now was built on those sacrifices, like a kind of family connection. As a child growing up in a nation you assume that what you've got is normal and has always been there, but no. What we have here is extraordinary and it is here because of all these people’s sacrifices. 

Since the Second World War, we've lived in incredible wealth, peace, harmony. We've sent soldiers to all kinds of skirmishes in the world, but we've never as a nation gone to war with the same kind of size of armies that we had in the First World War and the Second World War. We’ve never been under threat since the Second World War where Darwin was bombed by the Japanese who were a very serious threat at the time. But ever since that day, we've lived in peace and harmony and prosperity, to get on with our lives for nearly 80 years, and not many nations can actually have that.

TP: And it's why we remember it. It's why we still celebrate it as a national day. It's why it's a day of solemn remembrance of ceremonies of different kinds. It's funny to think about how we might be in some alternative history or future, we might have been a Japanese Imperial nation.

PJ: We could be speaking German now or Japanese if they had won the war. It was a touch and go issue then. 

TP: Yes, they were making significant plans for a Japanese invasion, that we’ll give them Queensland and all kinds of terrible things like that. So in a national sense, it’s a very big issue that is all tied up with our forefathers, with a history we are part of and didn't choose, and yet, it's who we are. 

PJ: And because of the men and women who laid down their lives for us, it is right to remember them and to think carefully about life and death and the sacrifice that they made. We live in a democracy, in a responsible government. If Japan had won, we would be under a dreadful theocratic imperialism. If Germany had won, then we'd be Nazis. The freedoms that we just blithely take for granted–the freedom to demonstrate, for example–that was because men and women died fighting those battles. And it's right and proper that we do pause, thanking God for them, thinking about them, and thinking about our own lives and thanking God for the freedoms and the culture that we now enjoy.

TP: It’s very true of our nation, isn’t it? And it's very right to pause and remember, but it's true more broadly too, isn't it? We're not individuals, in the sense that we’re the product of the community and of decisions made not just by our forefathers and our nation, but our family background as well. Who we are, where we came from, what our family decided and the values they embraced and passed on, where they set up home, all hugely shaped who I am. It’s not like I chose any of that and I can’t avoid any of it. 

PJ: Individualism is a complete nonsense. It's not just bad philosophy, it's just inhuman and wrong. The reason we exist is because of our parents. It's the love for each other and with each other–and sadly, sometimes their hatred of each other–that led to our very existence, let alone how we were raised. The human takes 20 odd years to raise. And so we're not like the giraffe who within a day or so is running around.

TP: It takes a little while longer for us.

PJ: It takes a lot longer for us, which means there is a mixture of nature and nurture because it just takes so long for us to be born and to be raised. All those factors determine who we are. So the idea that we're born tabula rasa, that's not true. We're born with the imprint of our genetic background in our brains, in our personality already. And we are raised by people who, intentionally and unintentionally, are laying information on us, even from the nursing that our mothers give us. We’re raised to recognise her voice even when we’re babies at the breast. You can't be an individual and that's why divorce is so ontologically damaging to children, because I am the outcome of my parents' love. If my parents now hate and separate, who am I?

TP: What does that make me?

PJ: What does it make me? I'm a mistake. I'm an error. And so it's very difficult, isn't it? Whether it's a loving, kind divorce–which is a nonsense–or whether it's a hate-filled, violent divorce–which not all divorces are–any divorce is going to affect me as an individual.

TP: Because I'm more than an individual. I'm part of this family and this family is fractured. And that means part of me somehow is fractured. And that's the inevitable consequence of our family breakdown that we all experience in different ways. But especially in that one.

PJ: I've got an interesting Christian book that I've just picked up recently on this subject called The Children of Divorce. Our friend Joshua Ng recommended it to me. We'll put it in the footnotes and for people to pick up because it's a very interesting Christian book written only a few years ago about the ontological consequence of divorce. 

TP: Which is how it affects my very being, my identity and everything.

PJ: It's a helpful book about how to help the children of divorce. 

TP: It's interesting with individualism, though, and with the sense of belonging, that I’m part of a body, a corporate, a family, a community, a nation. It seems like we can flip backwards and forwards. Certainly, from my point of view, when I've succeeded and am proud of something, I say that's my doing, that's all down to my brilliance. But if something's gone wrong and I've made a mistake, well, it's my mother, it's my environment. How could I help with the upbringing and culture I live? And how could I help it be like that?

PJ: Yes, she weaned me too fast. 

TP: Yes, and that's just a perverse way we try and avoid responsibility for ourselves. But it is true that we do tend to lean into one side or the other as it suits us. It depends on our particular view of humanity in view of the world and view of truth as to whether we are fiercely individualistic or whether we are fiercely corporatist or social structuralist in the way we think about ourselves.

PJ: Yes, I'll give you a strange example. I'm not entering into the issue of homosexuality itself, but up until about 1990, the homosexual community were adamant that it's a choice from the individual.

TP: Exactly. And the phrase that we used to describe homosexual behavior and lifestyle was not sexual orientation; it was sexual preference. That was the phrase that we were told we should use.

PJ: Then from the 1990s onwards, they said “No, no, it's not nurture; it's nature. I was born this way.” 

TP: So now, to say anything other than that is to be insulting.

PJ: Now you can say there was a great scientific discovery about genetic background. 

TP: But no, there wasn't.

PJ: It was a political choice of decision making, of shifting the way it is described because it suited the gay community before 1990 to say it was a choice. And it suited them for different political reasons, especially aids, to say, no, I can't help it. And therefore, I need to have the rights reserved for me. But we're all like that. I've illustrated that not to accuse them of doing something different to what you, Tony, do when you choose to claim things when it suits you, and you choose to blame the system when it doesn't suit you.

TP: Yes, exactly. And it's true in so many areas. We drift towards a mono causal explanation of reality for various reasons when it suits, and it's almost always wrong. It's almost always far more complex. And as an illustration you just gave and every other area we’ve talked about, it's always far more complex. So to say that it's a purely individual choice or purely genetic, that’s very unlikely. It's very likely to be a complex mix of the two, which is who we are, a complex mix of our personal responsibilities and choices and identity and who we choose to be and what we choose to do, and the fact that we actually didn't choose a whole series of things. 

PJ: Yes. So are you saying that we should feel guilty for what our parents have done?

TP: Well, that's a good question. And a really big social and political question here in Australia, of course, in relation to the sins of our forefathers towards the indigenous people, and the same for the United States and the great sin of their past in terms of slavery. It's a tricky question because you'd want to say no, I don't think I want to feel or should feel guilty for something that someone else has done. But then I've got to recognize that what someone else has done, like what my forefathers or my parents have done, may have advantaged me and disadvantaged others or the reverse. And that reality is real and I should respond to that. And so perhaps I should be aware of how I've benefited from certain things and be willing to share those good things with others, not out of a sense of guilt so much as a sense of generosity and wanting to live well with other people. And I've been advantaged from certain things and they've suffered disadvantage. 

PJ: So it is a sense of justice, isn't it? 

TP: Yes. 

PJ: My parents stole your farm. Well, I can share your farm back with you.

TP: This seems only the right thing to do.

PJ: But I shouldn't feel guilty, should I? Isn't there a certain sense of individual guilt in the scriptures? 

TP: Well, yes, I suppose you're thinking of passages like Ezekiel 18 where the soul that sins shall die for its own sin, not for someone else's? Is that the kind of thing you're thinking?

PJ: Yes, and the illustrations as well. Take Stalin. Stalin had a daughter called Svetlana. She rejected her father, rejected her father's immorality, and came to accept God. She fled Russia, went to India and then to America, and lived for many years back and forth between Russia and America, in the end settling in America and dying there 10 years or so ago, I think. But you shouldn't punish Svetlana because she happened to be the daughter of Stalin, especially as she didn't accept Stalin and all that he did for her. She rejected him. You can say yes, but she got his education, she got his wealth, she got his advantages. Yes. But that's not her fault, is it? She was born into it. When she had the opportunity, she repeatedly repudiated it. So to punish her for her father would be injustice. And that's why Ezekiel 18 says the soul that sins is the soul that will pay for it. If the son of the man turns away from what his father does, he should live. 

TP: So there's a sense even in the Scriptures of there being an individual responsibility for your own sin and not for anyone else's, and not being judged for someone else's sins. But there's also this idea that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children, that there are consequences. And that brings us to our passage for today, because it's more about the consequences of the very first sin and the very first sinner.

PJ: Yes, but the question is: am I just getting the consequences of Adam's sin? Or am I getting Adam's sin? So, Tony, can you read for us Romans 5:12-21, which is really about inheriting Adam’s sin and not just the consequences? 

TP: Indeed, which is why it's a challenging passage for us. Because when we're not used to thinking that way about how other people affect us. 

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

PJ: It's a fantastic passage, but it's hard to follow, isn't it? I've simplified it down to thinking: there are two men, and there are two kingdoms. There's a sermon I preached on it some years ago, which we'll put in the show notes as well. Now the interrelationship between these two men and us is, well, it's a contested issue amongst Christians, to say the least. The issue is in Adam, I became a sinner. So I've actually inherited his sin—that’s verse 19. You actually become sinful in Adam's sin.

TP: “For as by the one man's disobedience, that many were made sinners. So by the one man's obedience, the many will be made righteous.” So by his disobedience, we became sinners.

PJ: Yes. You’ve got to address that issue because Adam is humanity and represents mankind. The very word ‘Adam’ means Man. He was us. It is not like Fred living down the road. If Fred sins, Fred pays, because it’s not me. But Adam is me. I am in Adam. And so when Adam sinned, I was sinning. So different people have different kinds of theories of federal headship and things like this to try and explain the difference. I've always liked the example in Hebrews 7:9-10 where it talks about Levi being the great grandson of Abraham. Levi was in Abraham's loins when Abraham paid tithes to the priest, Melchizedek, so Levi was paying tithes to Melchizedek. So the sense of cooperativeness goes across four generations there. However it happened, Adam was not separate from me, and I am not separate from Adam. His sin was my sin. And so I was made a sinner in the sin of Adam.

TP: Is it enough to say that because of what Adam did as our great and first forebear, as the first man, as the first representative of all of humanity, that he makes a choice that plunges all of us into the same situation? We now are all outside the garden, we're all in rebellion. Is it sufficient to say that I was born in rebellion against God?

PJ: It's more than I was born in prison, because I could be like Svetlana.

TP: Part of the family of Stalin but wanting to reject it all the time.

PJ: Yes. But unlike Svetlana, I'm born into this criminal family and I want to be the criminal with them. Now, I guess the parallel with Svetlana is there's a thing called repentance, where you come to forgiveness through the death of Jesus. But that is a choice that I have to make. I have to renounce my family, I have to renounce my nature, I have to renounce my humanity, in that sense, to come to God, because I'm born already in death, in sin, in Adam's family.

TP: It's my default state, which will continue to be the case unless, by the grace of God, something extraordinary happens and that changes.

PJ: That’s right. To be true to myself, I will sin.

TP: Which is why it says earlier in the passage: 

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. 

And so yes, we are born into it, and it spreads to all of us, because we all embrace what our great forefather did and what's passed on to us.

PJ: Yes, he made me a sinner, but I also sin. This is just the way I am. But I can't blame him because I choose to do it. I'm not pushed into doing it. I choose to do that which I was born to do.

TP: In reading this complex passage, it seems to me, the main point of comparison is that Adam’s action affects and flows on to a whole race of others, just as Christ’s does. Is that the point of comparison? 

PJ: Yes, it is. But the point of the comparison is also the contrast between two things that are similar. The similarity is the effect of one upon the many. But it’s such a stark comparison between the sinner and the righteous one, because Adam is the opposite of Jesus despite sharing the similarity of affecting the many. 

TP: Yes, and he contrasts how the trespass or the disobedience is so unlike the grace, so unlike the glorious thing happening in Jesus Christ. 

PJ: So what’s the contrast? One of the contrasts is that of condemnation as opposed to justification, and another is of death as opposed to life. One is of sin reigning over us, and the other is us reining in the grace of God, because grace has come. The real trick of the passage is it's not a contrast of two equals; it's a contrast of one enormous power that has nearly destroyed humanity. 

The other contrast is the ‘much more’, a much greater, a much more powerful thing. Repeatedly, you get this phrase ‘how much more’ when it talks of Christ, because what has happened under the grace of God is more powerful than what Adam ever did. 

TP: Yes, like verse 15:

The free gift is not like the trespass, for if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

PJ: And there's more on that ‘much more’ phrase, isn't there? Verse 17 says, 

For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

And at this, it's like Romans 5:1-11, which again says, how much more if we've been reconciled by his death, how much more will we be saved by his life? And so the whole of Romans 5 is a ‘much more’ chapter. It's showing you the enormity of what we've discussed in chapters one to four–the enormity of the power of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. You see, we've talked about these things in Romans 1-4 but now he goes all the way back to Adam. Why do you think that is, Tony? 

TP: Well, I've often wondered the same. Why now why this point? And why does he shift this enormous contrast between Adam and the consequences of Adam's sin and Christ? I've often wondered whether it's like pulling back to see the biggest possible lens on the whole thing. He's been talking about how Jews and Greeks are alike under sin. So he's talked about the law and the Jewish law and the place of that, and those who haven't got the law, he's gone further back to Abraham. He's anchored in Abraham. And he has very clearly talked about the universality of sin so far, but it's like going all the way back to the start of everything to see that the universal nature of it comes from the one man and spreads to all. And so what Jesus has done is this massive cosmic reversal of that spread of sin from one man to all. Now there can be a spread of righteousness and life from one man to all. And by ‘all’ I assume he means to all the world, just not to every single person in the world, but to all Jews and Greeks and Gentiles and barbarians and to all because it's to all humanity. It's to all of Adam's race that this gift is now, by great contrast, given.

PJ: Yes. Although that is not an explicit contrast in this passage, it is what the passage is saying. It is to every individual this universality of sin. But the justification is to all who believe, and that difference is not particularly drawn out here. But it's been drawn out so many times in the previous chapter that you've got to read it in that context. 

In terms of the universality of sin, we know it's true. We've even have the phrase ‘nobody's perfect’. We know there's no future except for tax and death. We know this is what the world is like. And we practice the universality of sin because we lock our doors and our cars, we have passwords on our computers and phones, and we insist on everybody having auditors. And yet strangely, we doubt it and deny it, even though we know it's true, even though we practice it. So people want to have faith in humanity. Well, yes, we have faith that they will sin. And we know death is inevitable. But we've got all these people who are doing experiments to see if they can reverse death and dying. 

TP: And certainly in our society, we behave as if death isn't inevitable. We try and push death away and not think about it as much as possible. It's the obsession we have with well-being and health and maximizing our life, with youth and vigor. 

PJ: Yes. And what we have here in Romans 5:12-21 is not a denial or doubting of these things. What we have here is something much more powerful–we have the reign of grace in our life. And we don’t get there by education or by more laws; you get there by the grace and power of God in sending his Son to die and pay the penalty for us and rise to life. He has the power, by his Spirit, to turn us around, breaking that universal power of death over us, giving us eternal life so that we may reign in life rather than be captives of sin and death. And we will discuss this in Romans 6, about how much more powerful Jesus is than everything Adam ever did, which was the most powerful thing one human has ever done until Jesus came. 

TP: And it's why we are so afraid of death and so unwilling to talk about it. While we don't want to face our mortality, we desperately try and keep it at bay in all different ways because there's nothing more powerful in our lives than this enemy. We know there's nothing that can defeat it. And the only response to it can either be morbid fear if we obsess about it, or denial if we just try and push it away and not think about it. 

PJ: We live in this very wonderful nation here in Sydney. And it is wonderful because people have laid down their life to stop the tyranny of Nazism and Imperial Japan ruling over us. But as wonderful as Anzac Day is to remember, it’s nothing compared to Easter because at Easter we remember the one of infinitely greater power who died and rose to defeat that power which was already at work in our lives—namely Satan and sin and mortality and death, the corruption and condemnation that we deserve. He overcame all that through his sacrifice for us that is so much greater than, so much more than any other sacrifice or any other power in this universe. 

TP: It's almost as if we should complete the quotation that it's not just ‘Lest we forget’. It's “Lest we forget God’. 

PJ: Yes. 

TP: Because that's the great victory that's being spoken of in this passage is the victory of God and Jesus Christ over our fear of death.

The Children of Divorce by Andrew Root

As mentioned by Phillip, this was the book recommended to him that discusses the ontological effects of divorce on children and seeks to help those who have experienced divorce in their families or those who are ministering to children of divorce.

You can find The Children of Divorce on Koorong or Amazon.

Two Men, Two Kingdoms - Sermon

Phillip also mentioned his sermon on Romans 5:12-21, expounding passage through the lens of the two men and two kingdoms that the author mentions.

To listen to Two Men, Two Kingdoms, you can click this link to the sermon, which you can find on


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Gospel thinking for today, with Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen.
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