Today I want to consider a word that has been adopted in the Christian church. It is a word that is used to describe the miserable effects of the fall. It is a word that describes all kinds of transgressions, and yet it is entirely the wrong word. I am referring to the word “brokenness.” It is used to speak of unnatural attractions between men, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, riots, racism, and on and on the list goes. The person who is using this term usually means that life is imperfect, not as it should be, and even not as the Lord created it. The concern I have is not so much in recognizing the world is not as it was originally designed. That much is clear. The problem is that “brokenness” softens and minimizes biblical categories and thereby reduces the great blessing of the work of Christ in salvation.
In reformed, confession doctrine, there is typically a two-fold concept of sin. The one which is most obvious is the category the Westminster Standards call actual sin: the sins all people commit in action. The second category is discussed less often. That is the category of original sin: the corruption of man’s nature and his participation in the sin of Adam. The term brokenness can be used replace either of these categories. In doing so the seriousness of man’s condition is minimized.
Biblically speaking, there is a significant distinction between something that is broken and something that is infected with the consequence of sin. Something that is broken simply needs a little fixing. But that is not the biblical view of unnatural attractions, anger, drunkenness, and the like. When Scripture uses the word broken, it is not talking about sin. Usually is talking about what God has done to man (Ps. 37:15; 60:1; 80:12; 102:23). On the weekends many men grab their “honey-do” lists and go about fixing their houses that having various items that are broken or in disrepair. It may be a big repair, or a small one, but the reason it is on the man’s list is because “honey” believes he can “do” the repair. But when Scripture uses words to describe the effects of sin, it does so with words that paint a far graver picture for man.
When Scripture describes man in his natural condition, it uses words that deal with death. God himself warns of the consequence of sin even prior to the fall into sin. He does not warn man that on the day he eats of the fruit he will become broken. He warns man that on the day he eats of it, he shall “surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). In his letter to the Romans, Paul does not warn that sin will require main to be repaired. Instead, he warns that the “wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23). In Ephesians the apostle paints a similar picture to describe the Ephesian Christians before they became believers when he says they were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” (Eph. 2:1-2).
So why the fuss? Brokenness, death. Isn’t it just a matter of preference? God does not make mistakes in His words. When he describes man’s condition He does so in a way that rightly describes the urgency of his condition. To be dead is far more dire than to be broken. There is no “honey-do” lists that involve graveyards. It is intuitive that when a person is buried there is nothing left for anyone to do for them. No man can correct the condition of the dead. To be broken means you can be fixed. It is not a hopeless state. But to be dead means there is no hope for you.
Part of the joy of being a Christian is knowing that God has made alive one who was dead through the cross of Christ. He did not come to make repairs, but to bring life to those who were dead. I do not doubt that the people who use the word “broken” do so with good intentions. But the danger in changing the language of Scripture is that it causes a change in understanding of a concept as well. Man because of sin is not just broken and in need of a little fixing. No, man in sin is dead and in need of a resurrection. God alone can do this work, and when He does it the cause for rejoicing and gratitude is far greater. What was dead has been made alive. So talk about the concepts of sin and its effects using biblical vocabulary. It will protect your understanding of the magnitude of God’s gift in the gospel.