God decided to destroy the Earth by flood because He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” and He thus “regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6). And God did what He warned Noah He would do: He destroyed the Earth by flood. Yet after He caused the waters to subside and Noah worshiped the Lord, He says, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).
God destroyed the Earth by flood because of man’s concupiscence—humanity’s heart consists only of sin and evil. Yet the Flood didn’t resolve this problem; the intention of man’s heart is still evil from his youth, that is, birth. The Flood failed to wash away original sin.
Does this mean God can fail? Does this mean God thought the Flood would work and solve His problem of humanity but made a huge miscalculation? No. This would be an erroneous interpretation. After all, He preserved the righteous Noah and his family. Clearly, He had a plan.
Even more, the Flood prefigures the flood of Baptism that would enact the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29; cf Acts 2). In Baptism, God does what He knew the Flood could not do—He was prefiguring His saving work to come in Christ through Baptism.
The Apostle Peter teaches us this: “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:18-21). Compare this dying and living in Baptism through the death and resurrection of Christ to what St. Paul says in Romans 6.
After the Flood, nothing changed. God knew this, using the event to prefigure His salvific work in Baptism. After the flood of Baptism, everything changes. You change. As St. Paul reminds the Corinthians after rebuking them in their various sins, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You were filthy in your sins, but now you are different. Everything has changed.
The Lutheran Confessions call this original sin a “spiritual leprosy” (FC SD I, 6). But now, through Baptism, this completely changes. No longer a spiritual leper, God sees His dear child. No longer God’s enemy, You are now His son/daughter. Once you were wicked; now you are holy. Your heart used to be filled with evil; now it is filled with God’s goodness.
“But I still sin,” you might say. Yes, you do. The Confessions quote St. Augustine, “In baptism sin is forgiven, not that it no longer exists, but that it is not accounted [as sin]… That law, which is in the members, is forgiven by the regeneration [rebirth] of the Spirit, but it remains in mortal flesh. It is forgiven because the guilt is absolved in the sacrament by which the faithful are reborn [regenerated]. But it remains because it produces desires against which the faithful struggle” (Ap II, 36).
This is where Luther got his simul justus et peccator from (simultaneously saint and sinner). Though you are still a sinner because you struggle against sin in your flesh, God reckons you a saint. To paraphrase from St. Paul: though you still sin, it no longer rules you—that is, it no longer has dominion over you, for Christ has set you free from its dominion and has placed you under His own (Romans 6:1-14). This He has done through water and His Word.
Theology Terms Used
- Baptismal Regeneration: what is often termed as being “born again,” or new birth, that is, being born anew by Baptism, dying to sin and being made new in Christ (see Romans 6; John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5-6).
- Concupiscence: original sin, in other words, man’s natural inclination toward living in sin rather than original righteousness.
- Original Sin: see concupiscence.
- Simul Justus et Peccator (Simultaneously Saint and Sinner): Christians are at the same time saint and sinner, meaning we still struggle with the sins of the flesh but, being justified by faith in Christ, are saints in the eyes of God.