Talking about sin is not popular; some Christians now prefer to talk about ‘original goodness’ rather than ‘original sin’.
Talking about sin is a bit like having an inkling that something is wrong with you and not going to the doctor because you are afraid of the diagnosis – the trouble is it doesn’t make it any better or cause it to go away.
To understand our dilemma we have to go back to the beginning otherwise we won’t get it.
“In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1).
A Statement of fact and the starting point. God has no beginning or end, and needs no one and nothing to sustain him.
God is Trinity – He is One, and Three. At the centre of the cosmos there is a vibrant, loving, joyful and eternal relationship of three co-equal persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “God is love” and love does not dwell on its own, it must be expressed. Strict monotheism (as in Islam) leads to a lack of love, domination and oppression. It gives power to a single individual.
Creation – It was out of that loving, joyful, holy, happy relationship that God created the world – not because of any need in God, but out of sheer love and delight.
Humanity – It was out of that relationship of joy filled love that the Triune God made humanity in his own image (Gen 1:26, 27), to dwell within the circle of his own love – that is why relationships are so important to us, and why we crave them. It’s also why it hurts when they don’t work or are broken.
The point to note is: God wants us in on the relationship! And the gospel is all about right relationships.
BUT, God is holy love.
We have to understand God’s love on God’s terms, not ours. The world has whittled love down to an easy going, anything goes, sentimental thing.
In John 17 Jesus reveals something of the nature of this eternal relationship of love that he enjoyed before time began when he prays, “Father … your Son,”(v.1), “Holy Father, …”(v.11), “Righteous Father, …”(v.25), “Glory” (v.5).
- Father/Son. Speaks of the intimacy that exists in the Godhead.
- Holiness speaks of God’s ‘otherness.’ E.g. Moses and the burning bush which was not consumed (Exodus 3:1-5) – holy ground; first time we are introduced to the idea of God’s holiness. Also Isaiah in Is. 6. He is so much ‘other’ than we are.
- Righteousness speaks of God’s ways. “Righteous in all his ways.” Psalm 145:17. There is no imperfection. Whether in mercy or justice, God is righteous in all his ways.
- Glory – ‘weight.’ There is nothing trivial about God. He cannot, and must not be trivialised. We trivialise him to our cost. E.g. Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 1-7).
God made us to dwell within the circle of his own holy love.
BUT, Something is wrong
It doesn’t take much to realise that there is something wrong with humanity. Wherever you look you encounter it, on TV, in the newspapers, or just daily life. The horrifying thing is that without the restraint and discipline of parents, without law and order it would be far worse! Parents spend their time teaching their children to do what is right … they never have to teach them to do what is wrong!!
The disturbing reality is we find it easier to hurt than to heal; to break up rather than to make up.
When someone commits some horrendous crime a question arises as to their nature, what possessed them. In the James Bulger case that recently hit the headlines again, discussion was raised as to the nature, or need, of the two ten year olds (as they were then) who committed the crime. Were they demons, monsters who should be judged, or misguided and unfortunate and therefore shown compassion and understanding?
A similar situation confronted Yehiel Dinur an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor when he was called to give witness against Adolf Eichmann in 1960. Dinur on entering the courtroom and seeing Eichmann broke down. Why? Because he saw the one who had killed so many of his friends … because he was overcome with hatred … by the awful memories … by the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face? No. As he later said, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic impersonation of evil that he was expecting. He was just ordinary. Just like you and me. In was in that moment he realised that sin and evil ARE the human condition, “that I am capable … exactly like he.” His conclusion? “Eichmann is in all of us.”
Those two boys looked just like any other, so did Eichmann, just like you and me … normal. Eichmann is in all of us. We are capable.
In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) we have the story of the Fall, and in it we see the loss of innocence, and the intrusion of guilt, shame, fear and blame as relationships are disrupted. More, God was now an enemy.
Calvin describes it as Total Depravity a better description today would be Radical Corruption. Radical means to the core … everything is tainted. It’s not just a blemish that’s on the surface, but something that goes to the core of our being, so that every part of us is affected.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-12).
Now that doesn’t mean we are all as bad as one another, or incapable of any ‘good,’ though the good referred to here is according to God’s standard. Humanity is capable of the most heroic and kindest of acts as well as the most heinous, and sometimes both at the same time! E.g. the father who splits with his wife, and wants vengeance on her while at the same time doting on his children; Hitler and Eichmann who went home to family and friends
Everything is affected
Sin takes on all sorts of forms from outright disobedience/rebellion to spin! It’s not simply that we do wrong, it’s now very difficult for us to be objective. This means that we almost always have a tendency to skew everything … put a spin on it … in our favour of course, from children to adults to politicians to scientists. The tendency is to rationalise or victimise, and it all happened in the Genesis story!
The Fall affects not only humanity but also creation, it suffers, it groans under the weight of sin and the curse … suffering, disease, and death … the world is not as God meant it to be.
Six things about sin
- Sin – the outward act, to miss the mark. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. Fallen completely … you missed, whether by a little or by far! E.g. target.
- Uncleanness (Lev. 16:16) Pollution, contamination. Our sin has polluted our lives and the world so that God cannot dwell there.
- Transgression/lawlessness – a legal offense (wilful rebellion) (Lev. 16:16; 1 John3:4) Broken Law.
- Iniquity/wickedness – covers all aspects of sin. The character behind the fault. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (incurable); who can understand it?” Jer. 17:9. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Mat. 15:19
- Dead; cut off from the life of God. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:1-3). “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.” (Isa 59:2). “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Eph 4:18, 19
- Deserving of wrath and judgment. An unpopular subject. E.g. Eden, Cain & Abel, Noah, Egypt’s god’s, Romans 1.
“If your hand, …. foot, …. eye causes you to sin.” “cut it off/tear it out” (Mark 9:43-47). Not meant literally but A radical problem needs a radical solution …
Next week, Who? The kind of Saviour We Need.
Some questions for further reflection and application.
What thought do you give to the holiness and righteousness of God?
How might we/you trivialise God? Do you?
Do I recognise my own sinfulness?
What about the ‘small’ sins … white lies … spin … blame shifting etc.?
Do I understand the serious nature of sin?
Do I find it easy to point the finger at others?
Am I self-righteous?
Do I see my need of a saviour?