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4. The Problem of Sin

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Leaders’ Notes

Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the concept of sin and evil to participants so that they understand the need for salvation in Jesus Christ. When the lesson is over, each group member will ideally understand that:

  • Sin is any deviation from God’s perfect standards of righteousness. It includes actions, words, and thoughts.
  • Everybody is a sinner as a result of the sin of Adam. Nobody is righteous or good in God’s eyes.
  • The consequence of sin is eternal separation from God in hell.
  • There is a solution to the problem.

When the study is over, each participant will hopefully understand his or need for some kind of forgiveness or intervention on God’s part to alleviate the problem of sin.

Opening Dialogue (Allow roughly 5 minutes)

Discussion Prompt 1: Based on your observations of the world, do you think most people are basically good or basically bad?

This question is intended to determine some general attitudes about good and evil within the group. Most of your participants are likely to say that most people are generally good, simply because this is the prevailing cultural point of view. When group members respond that way, it is a good opportunity to segue into the following question. Make sure to challenge people to defend their points of view: What evidence do they have that most people are good or bad?

Discussion Prompt 2: What do you think is the underlying cause for all the suffering in the world?

This question will be especially helpful if most of your participants believe that people are generally good. If people are basically good, then where does evil come from? How do we explain events like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide or destruction in the Middle East or other displays of evil on a grand scale? Are other factors involved, or are people truly prone to bad deeds in their natural state?

Express your viewpoint as a facilitator. Introduce the idea that people are inherently sinful by nature. What do your group members think? Explain why you think the evidence demonstrates that people are not naturally good.

Definition (Allow about 10 minutes for this section)

Discussion Prompt 1: How would you define the word “sin”?

The point here is to simply get different answers regarding the meaning of sin. Is it the transgression of a cultural taboo, violation of one’s own conscience, or disobedience to God’s perfect standards of righteousness. Some of your group members may not believe in the concept of sin and may argue for the relativity of good and evil. Explore this concept a bit: What are the practical ramifications if there are not definite standards for good and evil? This will lead into the next question.

Discussion Prompt 2: What makes and action “right” or “wrong”? Who has the authority to judge between good and evil?

This question will naturally flow from the first one in this section. Some people will probably feel that right and wrong are simply societal constructs designed to preserve the power of the government or the ruling class. Others may feel that right and wrong are simply based upon what makes us feel good or bad emotionally. A few may actually believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. One way to press the issue is to find an extreme case. In other words, if a person believes that right and wrong are simply societal constructs, how can we absolutely condemn the actions of a serial killer like Dennis Rader? Is there a setting in which such behavior would be acceptable? Is genocide acceptable as long as the ruling government condones it? Is it okay if every government in the world favors genocide or turned a blind eye? If not, then why not?

If right and wrong are purely individual concepts, based on conscience and personal preference, then what are the ramifications of such a viewpoint? Is it wrong for one person to indulge his sexual desire by raping and murdering another, simply because it makes the offender feel good? Why or why not? On what basis can we call a sociopath’s version of morality incorrect if there is no absolute standard?

Thoughts from the Bible (Allow about 20 minutes for this section)

Discussion Prompt 1 (after reading the passages listed): According to the Bible, are people basically good or basically bad? Do you agree?

After reading the passages, it should be clear that the Bible supports the idea that people are basically evil because of the sin nature. Get the thoughts of your group. Does this seem like a reasonable idea or an unreasonable idea? Is everybody really a sinner?

Some people may protest that while everybody has committed sin at some point, most people have generally good intentions. Explore with them the question of how much sin makes a person a “sinner”? Is sin like a small impurity in a beautiful diamond, which is aesthetically displeasing but not truly harmful? Or is it more like a drop of poison in a bowl of soup, which is deadly even though the amount is small? In other words, does just a little bit of sin make a person unacceptable to God or not?

The biblical viewpoint from Romans 3 will support that nobody is acceptable before God.

Discussion Prompt 2: According to the Bible, what are the consequences of sin? Do you agree?

Introducing the concept of hell may be difficult. Some of your group members will no doubt find it unfair of God to condemn everybody to hell on the basis of just a little bit of sin.

It may help to review the perfect holiness of God and the absolute unacceptability of sin. Also, it may help to review some passages indicating that sin is a choice; even without the sin nature, we would have chosen sin (Romans 1:18ff). Therefore we have incurred guilt on our own; God did not make us guilty. He merely pronounces the sentence.

Another key point: If heaven is a perfect place for God’s glory to shine, then it would be a tragedy if it were populated with sinners. There must be some way to remove the sin so that it will not taint heaven.

Clearly express the idea that sin produces spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

Question to Ponder (Allow about 5 minutes)

Discussion Prompt: Assuming everybody is a sinner and sin destroys our relationship with God, do you think there is any hope for us?

This question is intended to set up the discussion of salvation during the final week. Sin seems to have left us in a hopeless situation, separated from God and unable to help ourselves. Is there any way to get around this problem? Ask your group members what they think. Perhaps they feel that sin can be overcome through education, or cultural understanding, or material wealth, or simply hard work.

Challenge everybody’s assumptions at this point. It is okay to express your viewpoint that human effort seems insufficient, since everybody is a sinner. It makes no sense for sinful people to try to solve their own sin problem, especially if our entire being is shot through with sin.

Related Topics: Man (Anthropology), Hamartiology (Sin), Evangelism

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