The Nature of Sin
Only two books and four chapters of the Bible do not mention sin. This arrangement helps us to understand God’s desire for mankind—an existence without sin. However, the center of the Book focuses upon mankind’s struggle with sin and God’s ultimate path to victory over sin. Satan and sin are the protagonist in our great story of the relationship between God and mankind.
Mankind was created in the image of God. Sin is that which distorts that image in mankind. Of all the powerful things in this world, sin is among the most powerful. Its destructive force is demonstrated in broken homes, broken lives, broken dreams, and forfeited potential. The only thing more powerful than sin is the power of the God exercised in the Gospel. When we study the destructive power of sin, we are better able to understand God’s purposes for mankind, the power of the Gospel, and the love of God.
At the culmination of God’s creation, God created mankind and said his work was very good. Sadly, sin entered the world and things became bad. The glory of the Garden was lost and mankind began its struggle sharing the world with sin. The nature of sin, the effects of sin, and the solution to sin are fundamental storylines in the Bibles grand narrative. Sin is the enemy and Jesus is the hero. In order for us to understand Jesus, we must also increase our understanding of sin.
What is Sin?
Sin is defined as “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness”. Sin is anything which is against God’s own nature. The Bible contains several lists of sinful behavior. However, none of these are exhaustive. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin can occur in our private lives, our relationships, our thinking, our words, our actions, and our worship. Sin can occur as we neglect God’s law and when we trespass God’s law.
The first sin is recorded in Genesis 3. As Eve and then Adam fell to the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The Bible records for us what happened. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
It was sin which drove Adam and Eve from the immediate fellowship with God inside the Garden. Sin also drives each individual away from the safe fellowship with God. Isaiah said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins
have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Since God is the source of all life, being separated from God results in death. So Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The original punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin was both physical death (being separated from the tree of life) and spiritual death (being separated from God himself).
What are the Effects of Sin?
No one can dispute that sin has very real consequences. In order to highlight the greatness of the saving Gospel, Paul described the condemning nature of sin.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23).
In order to understand what sin is, we must understand the reach of sin’s effects. In order to grasp this deep subject, we must first understand the nature of personal responsibility and representation in the Scriptures. These two concepts must be balanced in order fo us to have an appropriate understanding of sin and salvation.
One of the popular and enduring hymns of the church is “Rock of Ages.” We are accustomed to singing “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.” The original version of the song says, “Be of sin the double cure: save from wrath and make me pure.” Christ’s atonement does offer a “double cure” from sin. Christ offers freedom from the physical and spiritual consequences of sin. This is seen in the concepts of federal representation and personal responsibility.
Genesis 14 records the how Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek after returning from battle. In Hebrews, we see that Jesus stands in the royal priesthood of Melchizedek. However, we also learn that the entirety of the Levitical priesthood, which was not in existence in Genesis 14, was “represented” by Abraham’s actions. Hebrews 7:9-10 says, “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”
Adam stands as the representative of all the human race. In his sin he brought consequences upon all who would follow him. The consequences of Adam’s sin are expulsion from the Edenic existence, exclusion from the tree of life (hence the judicial penalty of death), increased travail in life, and the knowledge (experience) of sin. What is not passed down from Adam is the guilt of sin or the spiritual responsibility for his sin. God spoke through Ezekiel and said, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4). The remainder of this oracle goes on to demonstrate personal responsibility of individuals. One must choose. This is a privilege and responsibility of being free moral agents.
This concept of representation is crucial to understanding several New Testament passages. Paul wrote, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). The concept of representation is vital to understanding Paul’s statements in Romans 5:12-21.
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….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.
As we are under the representation of Adam, we are lost. However, as we choose to be in the representation of Christ, we are saved.
Representation does not negate the personal responsibility of free moral agents. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Christians are to choose God over the pleasures of the world. John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17).
The book of Acts if full of evangelistic appeals asking individuals to choose Christ rather than sin. In the evangelist appeals of the New Testament we see those who have sinned are given the opportunity to choose representation in Christ through baptism (Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3) as they have determined to repent (Acts 2:38). The personal responsibility of the individual continues. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6–7).
Just as the crowd heard the word and recognized their need for Jesus in Acts 2:36-37, today we must recognize our need for Christ. Today, sinners must choose to become Christians by obeying the Gospel of Christ (Acts 2:38). Those who become Christians in this way must choose to live out their lives as Christians. Hebrews 2:1-3 reminds the Christian, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”.
What Happens to those Who Refuse Forgiveness?
Sadly, many will choose to live their lives without God and will enter eternity without God’s blessings. To them, God will say, “Let thy will be done.” God will not dwell in the presence of sin. Isaiah recognized his horrifying situation of being in God’s presence and being a sinner (Isaiah 6:4-7).
One’s actions have very real consequences in this life and in the next. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). Paul wrote, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
- How does understanding the nature of sin affect your appreciation of Christ?
- How can we avoid sin?
- Since sin is anything which is against God’s nature, how can we become more godly?