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Chapter Nine The Sin Question

In every land, in every culture and every religion we find that men have certain ideas of what is right and what is wrong. These ideas vary considerably, so that something which one man calls “virtue” is called “vice” by others. A pagan savage may throw his baby to the crocodiles as a sacrifice, thinking this is a virtuous act which pleases his gods, but to us, the same act is classed as murder. For this reason, the question, “What is sin?” is very important. How can we know right from wrong?

The Bible is our source of true knowledge about sin; it is indeed a textbook on the subject. No one can read the Bible without realizing that the subject of sin is raised on almost every page. Other books deal with sin and how it can be forgiven, but the Bible is unique. For one thing, it does not minimize the seriousness of sin, but describes its results in plain language. Some people think the Bible has too much to say about sin—they say that it is not suitable for reading in public! Such people often overlook the fact that the Bible never talks about sin merely to entertain evil-minded sensation-hunters, but always to show the awful effects of sin in human life. Sin is shown to be harmful to man and hateful to God.

THE ORIGIN OF SIN

God created man without sin. In the account of the creation of man we read that God saw that all He had made was very good. Adam and Eve lived in a state of happiness and purity and in perfect fellowship with God. We do not know how long this state of innocence lasted but we do know how it was lost, for the story is found in Genesis 3. It was disobedience to God’s will which brought sin into human experience. This brings us to the first important fact. God is not responsible for human sin, man is!

The story of the creation of man shows that God gave man the right to choose. Free-will is an essential part of human nature and it was God the Creator who gave the power of choice to man and so long as man chose to obey God, he enjoyed peace and purity. Sin came into human life as a result of self-will and disobedience. The circumstances of the first act of sin are these. Satan came to Adam and Eve and tempted them to distrust God. He suggested that God was preventing them from enjoying the full benefits of life, and that if they disobeyed God’s law they would be much happier. He promised that they would become like gods, knowing the difference between good and evil. They would have a new experience; they would increase their knowledge. There was an element of truth in what Satan said. In the very act of disobedience they did enter into a new experience—they learned to know what evil was! Until that time they had known only goodness and happiness, but now they had the knowledge of evil which always brings sorrow in its train. Thus sin became a reality in human life. So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12). The human race was corrupted at its source. If a spring is corrupt, then all the water from it is bound to be impure. Sin is part of our natural inheritance. Men hate this teaching of the Bible about sin; they hate to be told that they have a sinful nature, Let us see if this is really true.

A DEFINITION OF SIN

Before going any further, we must read several passages of Scripture:

And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

How happy is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven, whose sin is pardoned! How happy is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish, in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.” And then you forgave my sins (Psalm 32:1-5).

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts! Scrub away my wrongdoing! Cleanse me of my sin! For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin. Against you, especially you, I have sinned; I have done what is sinful in your sight. So you are just when you confront me; you are right when you condemn me (Psalm 51:1-4).

In these quotations we find three words used to describe the condition of our hearts and our daily behavior as seen by God.

1. Iniquity

This word comes from a root meaning “to bend or twist.” The modern word which conveys the same meaning is our word “perversion.” The Bible states that in the sight of a holy God, human nature is crooked, twisted, perverted. We know what is the right thing to do, but because of a “twist” in our nature, we constantly do the wrong things. This shows us that sin is more than a wrong act—it comes from a distorted, unbalanced attitude in human nature.

2. Rebellion (Transgression)

This word means to cross over a line, to deliberately disobey a law. From the very beginning, human sin was rebellion against God’s laws. Whenever we sin, we do so with the knowledge that it is wrong and therefore we must accept personal responsibility for our actions.

3. Sin

This little word means “to come short,” to fail to reach a standard. We know that God is holy and that His laws are good and that He desires us to obey Him, but we never reach His standard of constant obedience. No man is ever as good as he knows he ought to be, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

These words teach us that man is perverted in his thoughts, motives and actions, that he deliberately transgresses God’s laws, and is incapable of reaching the standard of perfect holiness which God requires.

This Biblical teaching aims a devastating blow to man’s pride and because of this many people refuse to believe what the Bible says about sin. Modern man is proud of his intellectual and technical prowess and hates to be told that God sees him as a sinner. But this only proves the Bible to be true. Human nature is so twisted by sin that we pretend that we are good enough to please God and win His favor by our own merit. It was for this very reason that God gave His laws to mankind. Any honest person can test himself in five minutes on this. Read the Ten Commandments carefully:

And God spoke all these words: I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on earth under it, or that is in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, who visits the iniquity of fathers on children, even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but who extends faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. For six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or your resident foreigner who is in your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving to you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:1-17).

Now answer honestly. Have you ever broken one of those laws? One is enough to show that you are sinful—a chain broken in one link is a broken chain! If one link of an anchor chain breaks, the ship will drift.

Few people are honest enough to admit that they have broken God’s laws. There was a young man who claimed that he had faithfully kept all the laws of God. Here is the story: Now as Jesus was starting out on his way, someone ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” The man said to him, “Teacher, I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since my youth.” As Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him and said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But at this statement, the man looked sad and went away sorrowful, for he was very rich (Mark 10:17-22). This young man did not really understand what he was saying. The mere outward observance of some of God’s laws does not prove us to be perfect and holy! Jesus taught this very plainly. He said, For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny! “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell. “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:20-48). You see, not only our outward actions but our inward thoughts and motives are known to God. Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, there is no hope of our entering the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders who were extremely careful to observe the outward forms of God’s laws, but their hearts were full of pride. They would not commit murder or adultery but they were too self-righteous to admit that there was anything lacking in their lives.

Here is another interesting story. Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee in this story was so proud of his own good deeds and his outward religious behavior that he actually began to boast to God of his own merit. He made no confession of sin nor did he ask forgiveness from God. The other man, a confessed sinner, prayed to God with humility and asked for forgiveness. Jesus said that the “good” man remained unforgiven by God while the “bad” man was forgiven because of his sincere repentance and humility.

Pride is extremely hateful to God. The Lord abhors every arrogant person; one can be sure that they will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5). This is a staggering concept, as we find in Proverbs 6:16-19 where we find a list of seven things which God hates. This list includes murder, lying and other evil things, but the first thing in the list is a “proud heart.” Why is this so serious? It is because pride was at the root of the very first human sin, and pride still keeps men and women from humbly confessing their sinfulness to God. God is full of mercy and compassion. No matter how wicked a person may have been He will forgive if that person repents sincerely and asks Him for forgiveness. But pride holds us back! Are you humble enough to admit that you are a sinner in the sight of God? Not just a sinner, but a lost sinner (even though you may consider yourself a very respectable kind of sinner like the religious Pharisee)! Or does pride keep you from true repentance and confession of sin to God? Are you proud of your good living, proud of your diligence in religion, proud of your prayers and fasting? (Remember, the proud Pharisee who was not forgiven, was proud of his fasting and other religious acts.)

No man can afford to be proud in the presence of God; He knows our actions, our thoughts and our motives. The Bible makes it plain that all men are sinners without any exception. Even the greatest and holiest of the prophets confessed their sins to God and found peace and forgiveness through trusting His Word. This is one reason why the Bible tells us so much of the life and history of the great men of faith. It shows us that like all other men they were sinners but they were humble enough to confess their need of salvation, and thus to be forgiven sinners, sinners who became saints, able to enjoy fellowship with God and to serve Him as His messengers. There has been only one exception in the entire history of the human race—Jesus Christ! Notice the contrast in the following verses:

Concerning mankind

Concerning Jesus Christ

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22).

Just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One (1 John 2:1).

“All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one” (Romans 3:12).

And the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do those things that please him (John 8:29).

We have seen in a previous chapter that because mankind is sinful, God promised and provided a sinless Savior. But even to this day, because of pride in their hearts, men still reject the good news about a Savior who is Himself sinless.

A drowning man, they tell us, will clutch at a straw. How strange it is that sinners who are in worse danger than a drowning man refuse to seize hold of the only way of salvation. Do you believe that Jesus is the only Savior? Read these words, spoken by the apostle Peter: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)