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The Doctrine of Sin

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Any treatment of Christian doctrine would be incomplete if the biblical statement concerning sin were omitted. Modern Philosophy denies the existence of sin, but any such denial is part of a false philosophy. All refusal to admit the existence of sin can neither be controverted nor challenged. The Bible declares sin’s existence and the human heart displays it. Sin is not a myth, it is not a figment of the mind; sin is a fact.

The Explanation of Sin

What is sin? When one seeks the answer to this question in the many and varied definitions of men he is left somewhat confused. There is a difference between the way God describes and explains sin, on the one hand, and the way, on the other hand, that men describe and explain sin. A certain minister excused bad behavior by accounting for it in terms of “infantile environment, traumatic experiences, psychological complexes and the like.” And then he added, “After preaching for fifty years I cannot help feeling that the church harps far too much on sin.”

Now where does a man get such ideas? Certainly not from God’s revelation to man as we find it in the Bible. This same minister, who calls himself “The Christian Agnostic,” also said, “Paul’s words that ‘through one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin’ (Romans 5:12) can be dismissed as nonsense.” Well, to such blasphemy I can only reply that God knows the thoughts of men and is able to answer their questions before they are asked. God tells us in His Word what sin is. But when any man exalts the human mind to the place of deity and goes so far as to rule God out altogether, that man is on the brink of destruction. The Bible condemns human intellect as the supreme court.

Dr. Charles Ryrie has given a listing of Hebrew and Greek words which describe sin. He says that in the Hebrew there are at least eight basic words: “ra, bad (Genesis 38:7); rasha, wickedness (Exodus 2:13); asham, guilt (Hosea 4:15); chata, sin (Exodus 20:20); avon, iniquity (I Samuel 3:13); shagag, err (Isaiah 28:7); taah, wander away (Ezekiel 48:11); pasha, rebel (I Kings 8:50). The usage of these words leads to certain conclusions about the doctrine of sin in the Old Testament. (1) Sin was conceived of as being fundamentally disobedience to God. (2) While disobedience involved both positive and negative ideas, the emphasis was definitely on the positive commission of wrong and not the negative omission of good. In other words, sin was not simply missing the right mark, but hitting the wrong mark. (3) Sin may take many forms, and the Israelite was aware of the particular form which his sin did take.”

“The New Testament uses twelve basic words to describe sin. They are: Kakos, bad (Romans 13:3); poneros, evil (Matthew 5:45); asebes, godless (Romans 1:18); enochos, guilt (Matthew 5:21); hamartia, sin (I Corinthians 6:18); adikia, unrighteousness (I Corinthians 6:9); anomos, lawlessness (I Timothy 1:9); parabates, transgression (Romans 5:14); agnoein, to be ignorant (Romans 1:13); planan, to go astray (I Corinthians 6:9); paraptomai, to fall away (Galatians 6:1); and hupocrites, hypocrite (I Timothy 4:2). From the uses of these words several conclusions may also be drawn. (1) There is always a clear standard against which sin is committed. (2) Ultimately all sin is a positive rebellion against God and a transgression of His standards. (3) Evil may assume a variety of forms. (4) Man’s responsibility is definite and clearly understood.”

This is a valuable listing of the words and their root meanings; however, I would like to expand one or two of the ideas.

The word that is used most frequently is hamartia, missing the mark. It is the most comprehensive term for explaining sin. Paul used the verb hamartano when he wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God has a high and holy standard of what is right, and so long as man follows the Divine standard he will see himself as he truly exists in God’s eyes. The flat statement of the Almighty is that all men have fallen far short of God’s required standard. It is the popular and common practice of men to create their own standards; however, God has established His standard of perfection for entry into Heaven, and all men have “missed the mark” as an archer’s arrow would fall to the ground because it fell short of its target.

Let no man ever think that he comes anywhere near the standard set by God. God has demanded absolute perfection, and no matter how one measures himself, he falls far short. Some men measure themselves on the basis of human intelligence, some by educational attainment, some by financial success, some by cultural environment, and others by religious performance. But God refuses to accept man on any of these grounds. He has established His perfect standard, and by that standard He measures every man. The Divine verdict in every instance has been the same, “You have come short, you have missed the mark.” And when the best of men have done their best, our Lord would challenge each with the words, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). However much the difference that is lacking, no man can by himself raise himself to meet God’s moral standard, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yes, all without exception, for, says God, “We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9); that is, both Jew and Gentile have missed the mark.

The Book of Judges contains the record of 700 men in the Tribe of Benjamin, all left-handed, and “everyone could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16). The word translated “miss” is chata, rendered “sin” in Exodus 20:20 and so translated about 200 times in our English Bible. The left-handed marksmen in the Tribe of Benjamin rarely if ever fell short of their target. They were known as men of the sling, with a deadly accuracy which never missed the bull’s eye. On the other hand, the Bible contains no record of a man, save Jesus Christ, who never missed the moral standard of Almighty God

Every man has failed to do what he ought, therefore the term is fittingly applied to sins of omission. Every man can be charged with the sin of the Pharisees whom our Lord charged with leaving undone the things they ought to have done (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). The Bible says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). You see, sinning is not limited to the doing and saying things that are wrong, but it extends to our failure to do what in God’s standard is perfectly right, missing that mark, falling short of the honor and worth of Almighty God.

This first word, then, namely harmartia, which means “missing the mark,” suggests inability, the absolute inability of man to measure up to God’s moral standard. Actually God has placed the standard so high so that none can ever reach it. You see, God, because of Who He is, could not stoop to the human standards of man’s sinful heart. Frankly, I believe God set the target out of man’s reach by a deliberate act. And why do I believe this? I believe it because I know the pride of my own heart, and I am but one member of a fallen and depraved race. Now suppose that we were able to meet the demands of God. Those who made it would never cease to boast about how they did make it, and the unfortunate one who could not make it because of inability or some special inferiority on his own part would be lost forever. But God is not so cruel and compassionless. He tells us that we “all have sinned,” all have missed the mark, and that if we confess to this fact, admitting that we have sinned, He will forgive and cleanse our sin and guarantee salvation in time and for eternity.

Another word that is used for sin is anomia, translated in the Authorized Version “iniquity” and in the Revised Version “lawlessness.” Peter used the adjective anomos (lawless) when referring to the men of Sodom and Gomorrha and Lot’s association with them, when he wrote, “For that righteous man (Lot) dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (II Peter 2:8). The thought here is not merely that of doing what is unlawful according to the standard of men, but of a flagrant defiance of the known law of God.

This explanation of sin is given clearly by the Apostle John in the words, “sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). The Greek New Testament has the word anomia, and simply reads, “sin is lawlessness.” It is a condition of being without law, contrary to law, the violation of law, the rejection of law, the refusal to submit to law. Ryrie says in his Biblical Theology of the New Testament, “It is the negation of that which is inherent in the very character of God Himself. Sin, then, is that which is contrary to God Himself.” Any attitude or action that holds the law of God in contempt is sin. Jesus said that the approaching end of the age will be marked by the increase of lawlessness--“iniquity shall abound” (Matthew 24:12).

How easily we deceive ourselves and our friends! While we impress others with our righteousness, we are lawless in God’s eyes. Our Lord said, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:28). Our age will come to an end with the appearing of “that man of sin” (lawlessness) (II Thessalonians 2:3). Man by nature has a lawless heart, but we Christians can rejoice in Jesus Christ “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity. . . .” (Titus 2:14).

In concluding this brief explanation of sin, let us look for a moment at the statement which brings to a close Romans chapter 14, namely, “. . . for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Both the philosophy and morality of this statement are alike sound and rational. The man who does not decide his actions on the basis of that which he knows is right is deserving of condemnation, because he did not act according to his conviction. The word “damned” in this verse is not final judgment as to the loss of salvation, but the judgment which results in the believer’s loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Romans 14:23 is an excellent guideline for young Christians and all Christians who are faced with a decision when confronted with questionable amusements, dress or other practices. The decision of a growing or mature Christian is based upon his love for an obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. The actions and attitudes which do not proceed from faith in Christ are accounted as sin. If one has doubts about a certain matter, he should abstain from it, but if he goes on to do it anyhow, he acts out of faith, and such an action is sin. We commenced the Christian life by faith, and so we should proceed by faith. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord (by faith), so walk ye in Him” (Colossians 2:6). All our motives and actions should be prompted by our faith-union with Christ, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).

Are you wavering between two decisions, to eat or not to eat, to drink or not to drink, to go to a certain amusement or not to go, to say certain things or not say them, to conform to a style of dress or not to conform? If you do something despite strong scruples and convictions against that thing, this is sin which you must judge as sin, for surely God will judge it as sin. What is not done by faith cannot be done to the glory of God. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Even though there is no law which says we may not do a certain thing, we may be fully persuaded that the thing is not right, and consequently by doing it we will offend God. In such a case we sin against God and self when we do it. This I understand to be the meaning of the statement, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

The Entrance of Sin

With respect to the entrance of sin in the human race we are confined to God’s revelation to us in His Word. Philosophers and some theologians have no reliable explanation of sin’s entrance into the world. One well-known preacher wrote, “It may be that there are evil entities in the universe who have mysterious access to the lives of men.” But the Word of God leaves no room for doubt in this matter of sin’s origin.

According to Scripture sin first made its appearance in the world in the angelic creation. Peter wrote, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Peter 2:4). To this Jude adds, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). The obvious deduction is that the sin of these fallen angels was a free act on their part, arising from their dissatisfaction with the place God assigned to them when He created them. Lucifer, who became the Devil, appears to have been the leader of the rebellion (Isaiah 14:12-14), so that the Devil and demons were not created by God as such. They were angels who rose up in rebellion against God. Exactly how such dissatisfaction and rebellion could arise in beings whom God created is not revealed by the sacred writers. We assume that they possessed personality and freedom of will and thereby had the capability of making right or wrong choices.

At this point in our study the chief concern is with the entrance of sin in the human race, and this receives a different explanation from that which applied to angels.

The Scripture is clear in its declaration that “by one man sin entered into the world . . .” (Romans 5:12). Sin is a very real and terrible fact of human life. The problem as to its earthly origin is solved in Romans 5. It came through the sin of “one man,” Adam, and thereby “passed” to “all men.” I am not now discussing the ultimate origin of sin when disobedient angels rebelled against God, but the yielding of Adam and Eve to the temptation from without, and the resultant transmission of sin to Adam’s posterity.

The most tragic chapter in the Bible (Genesis 3) contains the inspired account of how sin came into the world. So important is this account to human understanding that God preserved it for all mankind. It is not to be found in the traditions and writings of the various races and antiquities on the earth. The critics of the Bible have referred to the early chapters of Genesis as Babylonian myth, and yet no one has ever found a Babylonian version of the entrance of sin into the human race. Genesis 3 is a divinely inspired account of the facts related to the Fall of man as they actually took place, and this historical record is approved in the New Testament (See II Corinthians 11:3; II Timothy 2:13). When Paul wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world,” he meant that sin began with the first man Adam and that Adam was the cause of all men becoming sinners.

How did it all happen? “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). The chief agent in the Fall of man was an evil spirit of unusual power and cleverness, no other than Satan himself (Revelation 12:9; 20:2 cf. II Corinthians 11:3). Satan did not appear to Eve as one writhing, slithering, hideous creature, but as a creature of grace and beauty with the power to appear as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14).

Satan’s initial approach was in the form of a question which suggested to Eve that possibly God had placed an unwelcome restraint upon her and Adam. He suggested that God did not mean what He said. God had given His Word, and now Satan appears on the scene to sow his tares. Our Lord exposed this method of Satan in His parable in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. And the fact remains that men today still reject the plain teaching of God’s Word while they accept the lies of Satan. The fact that Adam and Eve had access to all of the trees except one was minimized by Satan, and the fact that they were restricted from partaking of the one tree was magnified as a harsh and unwelcome restraint imposed by God. With the seed of doubt now planted in Eve’s mind, Satan waxed bold to deny what God said. “Thou shalt surely die” (2:17), God had said. “Ye shall not surely die” (3:4), Satan responded. The temptation involved a direct attack against the Word of God. Our Lord said of Satan, “He is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44), and here we see him introducing sin into the human race by perverting the very Word of God.

Today Satan still uses the familiar suggestion that to obey God is to take out of life all of the possible joy and happiness. And then he boldy asserts his lie that one can break God’s laws and sin without reaping suffering or punishment. All the while he knew that he was leading the human race to death. Our Lord called Satan a “murderer” (John 8:44), meaning a killer of men. Thus we see the killer at work in Eden luring the human race to its death by means of his lie. Speaking of the Devil, Dr. Basil Atkinson said, “Indeed it is impossible to conceive of the entrance of moral evil into God’s creation apart from the existence of such a personality.”

Of course, there are unanswered questions and unsolved problems connected with the entrance of sin and the Fall of man. Did God know that Satan would deceive Eve and the disastrous results that would follow? Certainly He knew, because He is omniscient. Could God have prevented Satan from entering Eden and deceiving Eve? Of course. He could, because He is omnipotent. There is no doubt that the whole experience in Eden was a part of the pre-determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). As we pursue this series of studies in Biblical Doctrines, it will become clearer that, evil being already present in the universe, the creation and fall of man might have been steps toward the final defeat of Satan and the redemption of man and the earth. But whatever view one takes of the foreknowledge, purposes and permissions of God, we are left with the indisputable fact that Adam and Eve made a wrong moral choice. They disobeyed God and chose to follow evil, knowing full well what the consequences would be.

The Extent of Sin

The Bible teaches that sin entered the human race with Adam’s transgression. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam was the doorway through which sin entered to all of his posterity because the “one man” in Paul’s statement is Adam. Adam was the first man and the father of all men, so by virtue of the solidarity of the race, when Adam sinned the entire race sinned in him. Imputed sin is not the only basis for judgment, but the idea of the imputation of Adam’s sin to all mankind is a clear part of the teaching of Paul’s statement. It is true that we all are sinners by choice, but this is not the point of discussion here. Our concern is with the entrance of sin into the human race and to what extent it affected Adam’s posterity. God has made it clear in His Word that this all came about through the disobedience of the first man who stood and acted as the representative of his entire posterity.

That Adam’s fall entailed disastrous consequences upon himself and his descendants is the plain teaching in both the Old and New Testaments. David said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Now we know that David is not so much as suggesting that the sexual relation between his mother and father, whereby he was conceived, was a sinful act. In substance he is saying the same thing that Paul is saying in Romans 5:12, namely, the natural depravity of the parents is transmitted to their offspring. The connection is natural and real. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). The account given in Genesis 3 is the basis for the whole argument, so that David and Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit as was Moses, are in agreement that sin entered the human race through the one man Adam. Sin entered through the disobedience of one man and thereby penetrated to all men. All men commit sins because all are infected with the sin principle. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). “What is man, that he should be clean? And he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” (Job 15:14).

Only those who repudiate the authority of the Word of God will challenge the fact of transmitted and inherited sin. None can deny that every individual is free to sin or not to sin, but all choose to sin. Why does every member of the race choose to do wrong? Certainly one person could be found who obeyed God in everything if that person existed. I have studied some of the arguments against the biblical teaching that by Adam’s sin the race became guilty and corrupt and deserving of punishment, and I have concluded that it is so because God judicially declared it to be so. It was God and not a man who imputed the guilt of Adam’s sin to the whole race.

Now many men, because of this, will blame God for man’s sin and try to make the Almighty responsible. Adam and Eve did this after the Fall. Adam said, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12, 13). This kind of excuse-making is typical of all mankind. Questions are still being asked such as, “Why did God create man with the ability to sin?” “Why did God put restrictions on Adam and Eve in relation to the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” “Why did God allow man to be tempted?” “Why didn’t God restrain the Devil from deceiving Eve?” I would not refuse to discuss such questions as these, but I do believe that they tend to confuse the point under consideration, namely, the effect of Adam’s sin on the whole race.

The sovereignty of God and the seduction by the Devil do not eliminate the fact that man perpetrates and perpetuates sin, therefore he cannot be relieved of the responsibility for it. Adam and Eve were beguiled by Satan, yet they were pronounced guilty and punished by God (Genesis 3:16-18). In the end of the age those persons who are deceived by Satan and Antichrist are held responsible to God and judged by Him (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). The seat of sin is in man himself. Our Lord said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). The heart of man is the birthplace of all sinful thoughts, words and actions. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In each of us there is sin for which each is accountable. The hidden capacities for evil are present in even the best of men.

Man’s antagonism becomes aroused when the subject of original sin is brought up for discussion. He resents the idea that he is born with hereditary guilt and depravity. The Scriptures state clearly, “Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation,” and “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:18, 19). These are the plain facts as given to Paul from the Holy Spirit, and yet one theologian wrote, “We firmly deny that the sin of Adam is imputed to his descendants.” Another declared, “Neither Scripture nor human wisdom will permit any man to say that Adam’s sin has been imputed to Adam’s descendants.” Human wisdom and sentiment may cause the natural mind to rise up in protest against the doctrine of original sin, but this is due to “the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). But no amount of unbelief can change the truth that all men are constituted sinners judicially by God. We must take our stand on the Word of God which silences all opposition. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).

In 1909 Dr. Thomas Whitelaw of Scotland said, “It is extremely doubtful whether any intelligent person whose moral intuitions have not been completely destroyed or whose mental perceptions have not been blunted by indulgence in wickedness, can successfully persuade himself permanently that sin is a myth or a creation of the imagination, and not a grim reality. Sin is a quality or condition of soul which exists in every child born of woman, and not merely at isolated times but at all times, and at every stage of his career, though not always manifesting itself in the same forms of thought, feeling, word and action in every individual or even in the same individual. It has affected extensively the whole race of man in every age from the beginning of the world on, in every land beneath the sun, in every race into which mankind has been divided. Scripture utters no uncertain sound on the world-embracing character of moral corruption, in the prediluvian age (Genesis 6:12), in David’s generation (Psalm 14:3), in Isaiah’s time (Isaiah 53:6), and in the Christian era (Romans 3:23). Solomon’s verdict holds good, “There is no man that sinneth not” (I Kings 8:46).” “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).

The Effects of Sin

The consequences of sin are doubtless more numerous than we will attempt to consider in this brief study. We will ponder only two at this time. Look first at the matter of guilt. I mean real guilt, that feeling of having done wrong because I know I did wrong.

Sometimes a person is plagued with pseudo guilt, a guilt feeling arising from emotional causes. During my twenty-five years of pastoral counseling I interviewed young people and older people who were depressed and at the same time condemning and punishing themselves for having done wrong and shameful things. In some instances the person was not able to name any particular act or sin that produced the guilt feeling. In such cases I tried to learn the cause of the false guilt feeling. One case in particular comes to mind. I will not burden you with the many details but concentrate on the essential.

The young woman who sought help was twenty-two years of age, unmarried and living at home with her parents. Both her mother and father were unhappy and had found it difficult through the years to tolerate their daughter. They had scolded her indiscreetly with repeated threats and warnings all throughout her childhood. She grew up with a guilt complex and a growing fear that her next words or action would provoke another scolding or even punishment. She was made to feel unworthy and in need of punishment when all the while she was doing nothing so wrong whereby she needed scolding or punishment. She had a fine job as a secretary for General Motors, earned good wages, but she anticipated disapproval and condemnation. She was suffering from pseudo guilt caused by emotional maladjustment.

Later I learned that her parents were college graduates. They began dating in their senior year, committed adultery which resulted in pregnancy. They kept the matter to themselves for several months, but by the time of graduation it was no longer a secret. Both of their parents learned the truth before the marriage ceremony. And now for all of those twenty-two years they lived in remorse over their sin in sexual behavior. They had a problem which they never solved, and so their repeated warnings and threats with domineering overtones awakened in their only child a sense of false guilt. They vented their feelings on their daughter, and so intuitively the child grew up with the unjust burden of guilt and anxiety. She suffered from guilt because it was put into her mind by the bad behavior of her parents. Thus it is possible to feel guilty without being so. (In time she overcame her problem through counseling in the Bible and prayer.)

But now let us direct our thoughts to the matter of real guilt. Not that pseudo guilt is not real to the sufferer. Freud believed that guilt feelings are born in the mind of a child when his parents scold him and are nothing other than the fear of losing the love of his parents. No one will deny Freud’s belief nor his conclusion that human beings need to feel loved. But this functional guilt-feeling aroused by our social and domestic contacts and environs is not all there is to guilt. We acknowledge the problems connected with neurotic or unreal guilt, but we must face the fact of genuine guilt which springs from the known violation of God’s laws.

Genuine guilt toward God arises from illumination we receive from the Bible. It appears as the result of a breakdown in man’s obedience to God and his utter dependence upon God. It is a truly genuine guilt when the sinner knows in his innermost heart that he has disobeyed God, and that all such disobedience is sin. If a person is gripped with guilt-feelings which are a result of sin and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, there is one solution, and only one. He must turn to God, trusting the redeeming work of Christ, and he may be veritably assured of forgiveness and cleansing. To all such the Bible says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). The New Testament adds its word, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Many present-day counselors attempt to dispel the guilt-feelings of their subjects by rationalizing. This is a non-Christian approach and is dangerous. The Scriptures cannot be bypassed when dealing with the subject of guilt and guilt-complexes. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). There is a great gulf between modern mentality and biblical revelation when it comes to the subject of guilt. To sidestep the plain teaching of Scripture and fail to turn to God with our guilt can only bring to pass upon the guilty one the inevitable judgment. Psychology and psychiatry, apart from the Bible, have no way of freeing the guilty sinner of his guilt.

When a person feels guilty because of sin, he does so because God has disapproved of that sin. He knows he has transgressed God’s law and therefore deserves to be punished. The guilt-feeling grows out of the fact that his fellowship with God has been marred. Every sin is an offense against God and stands in opposition to the holiness of God. We should be thankful to God that He has provided in man’s make-up and constitution the genuine and real guilt-feeling whenever sin enters. And praise be to God, the Lord Jesus Christ is able to free us from enslaving sin. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Another consequence of sin is the punishment imposed upon the sinner by God. Since sin is a capital crime against God, man is guilty of death. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that sin and death are inseparably linked together. Before the Fall God had warned Adam and Eve, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And then there follows a series of statements which seem to remind man all through human history of this solemn effect of sin. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Romans 6:23). “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (Romans 7:11). “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). The guilty sinner cannot escape the Divine sentence, “As it is appointed unto men once to die . . .” (Hebrews 9:27).

The Bible teaches that there are two kinds of death. The first kind, which is the separation of the soul from the body, comes to all men except those living on the earth when Christ comes to take His own to Heaven (I Thessalonians 4:16, 17). This was certainly included in God’s warning to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

There is a second kind of death, called in the Scripture, “The second death” (Revelation 20:6, 14; 21:8). This is the final and eternal separation of the whole man from God. Eternal death is not a cessation of man’s existence, not the annihilation of man, but his eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:46; II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 21:8). There can be no doubt about what Scripture means by these awful consequences of sin. This is solemn truth that should serve as a warning to every man.

The Expiation For Sin

Expiation is the act of making satisfaction or atonement for a crime or fault. God, because of His nature, not only demands that sin be punished but He also has provided for the sinner’s restoration to fellowship with Himself. It is at this point where the death of Christ enters the scene. God could not be satisfied until sin had been fully atoned for. The Bible teaches that by the sufferings and death of Christ, the acceptable Substitute was provided for the sin of man, thereby making His sufferings and death to be vicarious, that is, in the room and stead of the sinner.

There could be no expiation for sin apart from the sacrifice of blood, the reason being that God so declared it. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Christ was the sinner’s bleeding sacrifice. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). “. . . now once in the end of the world (age) hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Caiaphas said, “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50). Paul wrote, “One died for all” (II Corinthians 5:14). “For He hath made Him to be sin for us . . .” (II Corinthians 5:21). Peter added, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18). These are but a few of the many passages which show us how the death of Christ was God’s way of providing an expiation for our sins.

Expiation means that our sins were laid upon Christ. “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). This is what the nation Israel will acknowledge when Christ comes to earth, but it is true of the whole human race. Man substituted his own will for God’s will when he sinned; God substituted His own Son to atone for man’s sin. “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28). “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree . . .” (I Peter 2:24).

The chief purpose of the Incarnation of Christ was to offer Himself a ransom for sinners. “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). This too is the fundamental theme of the Christian Gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:14), and is therefore essential to Christianity and man’s salvation. Our Lord repeatedly said that He must suffer, be killed, and be raised from death the third day (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; John 12:32-34). Even in Heaven Christ’s expiation for sin is the grand theme, for there the redeemed will sing a new song, “. . . Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). His death was neither an accident nor a mere incident, but rather it was a divinely planned death in the sinner’s stead.

Christ’s death satisfies the holiness of God. By the holiness ‘of God we mean that perfection of God whereby He is absolutely separate from all moral evil. It is the attribute of holiness by which God was especially known in Old Testament times. He said to His people, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 45). Because of His holiness, there is a great gulf between God and the sinner. The prophet wrote, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Before sin entered, God and man enjoyed fellowship, but when sin entered, the fellowship was broken and there was an estrangement between God and the sinner. The sinner cannot come near to God because he lacks the sinlessness that is required in order to appear before His Holiness. Though Adam did not die a physical death for 930 years after he disobeyed God, he died spiritually the instant he sinned, and he felt himself estranged from God Who was holy.

Fortunately for us sinners, God met the demands of His own holiness by providing Himself an atonement, a satisfaction, an expiation. Christ’s death on the cross was not a compromise but a holy Substitute, a satisfaction. God is love, but true love is conditioned by holiness so that it can be said that the most fundamental attribute of God is not love, but holiness. Because of the very nature of God He must maintain His own moral excellence. God could not forgive sin without an atonement. Human sin could not go unpunished because of Who and What God is. The tendency among modern liberal theologians is to assume that a God of love can pardon sin without an atonement. But that kind of easy-going optimism cannot possibly understand either the holiness of God or the heinousness of sin. The love of God was never more fully demonstrated than in His self-giving, self-sacrificing passion at Calvary when “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Nothing less than the atonement of Christ could rescue the sinner from the guilt and penalty of his sins and at the same time satisfy the infinitely holy and just God.

Please see the study, The Doctrine of Salvation, also by this author.

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)

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