The Doctrine of Sin
The Doctrine of Sin
If you’re visiting with us here this morning, for the past couple of weeks and all throughout the rest of the summer, we are studying 12 of the core beliefs of the Christian faith, and taking a look at why it matters in everyday life.
There are certain things that happen in the life of the church when you realize, okay, God’s sovereign hand is over this whole thing – at my very, very best, I couldn’t have orchestrated this. And that is today we are studying the Doctrine of Sin, the same week after someone went into several local businesses here in Riverside with a baseball bat or something and tore them up.
I realize other things happened too, but when something like that happens in our own backyard, it stings a little. We feel the weight of someone else’s actions when it harms people and places we enjoy. You might have been sad that something like that happened to people you know; you might have been angry, and wanted a piece of the person who did it; you might have been fearful and beefed up the security at your own house or place of business.
And so this week as the news went around about this, I read some Facebook comments about what happened, and here is what a few people wrote:
- What is wrong with people?!?!
- It is a sad and unkind world we live in that someone can destroy a place where so many find our happy place
- [How could someone] be so disrespectful to go and damage someone's property like that?
Fair questions! All very good questions that every one of us have from time to time. And like these comments, we wonder, what in the world would make someone do that kind of thing?
For the answers, I went back to the Facebook comments, I found some:
- People are just stupid
- Complete ________.
- …there are plenty of _______ people around
- And then this one: “Hope it wasn't a Riverside person. Hate to think people like that live in this town.”
But it’s not just break-ins. What makes a husband or a wife just up and leave his or her family? What makes a teenager refuse to obey her parents? What makes a pastor or a priest have a moral failure? What makes nations go to war with other nations, or oppress their own people? What is it that makes a group of people fly airplanes into the World Trade Center? What makes a loving husband, or a curious teenage boy pull up pornographic images or videos on their devices? What makes someone call up their State Senator and tell him he should be drowned in the river because of how he voted? What makes someone at work sabotage a project so it fails?
Is it simply that people are stupid? Is it that schools are not educating kids properly? Is it that the news media is too liberal? Is it that we need changes in government? Is it that our medicine hasn’t advanced enough? Is it that we don’t have enough technology yet? Is it that people just don’t believe in God like they should? Is it that kids just don’t listen like they used to? Is it the influences of social media? Is it that our justice system isn’t very threatening anymore? I know I’m treading on dangerous ground with this one, but is it mental health issues?
What is wrong with people? That’s the question that we all have to have an answer for. And if you don’t believe the doctrine of sin, then you will have to come up with some other explanation for why someone would take a bat to a restaurant or a gun to a class of third graders. … and I’m sorry, but these options just don’t hold much water, because what about when you hurt someone else? What about when you say those words you wish you could take back? What about when you yell at your kids in anger? What about when you click the link after you look around to make sure you’re alone? Does the screen describe you?
Well, no, I’m not that bad. I mean I’m not perfect, but I would never do what they did. Fair enough, but at what point do we move from “I’m not that bad” to what’s on the screen?
The First Time Things Went Wrong
The first time we see something going wrong with people in scripture is in Genesis chapter 3, which Tom read for us a minute ago. So if you have a copy of Scripture with you, please turn there to the first book of the Bible.
But you can’t parachute in at Genesis 3 and get a clear view of what is happening unless you first look at Genesis 1 and 2. If you have your copy of Scripture open, just flip to the last verse of chapter 1 and here’s what it says: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.
Chapter 2:16 – The Lord God commanded the man, “you are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
In the very next verse, God created a partner for Adam to help him work and watch over the garden and bear the image of God, and in the last verse of chapter 2, Adam and Eve as husband and wife are naked, yet felt no shame.
This is the world God has created in all of its complexities and wonder and delight and amazement – no shame, no fear, no guilt – fellowship or communion with each other, with God, with creation, living rightly according to God’s commands and his standards, … in his own image. This strips away all those other answers. God didn’t create shitty people. He didn’t create complete assholes. He created ambassadors.
But if you’re reading the Bible page by page, you would notice that in a very short amount of time, something unbelievably drastic happens. There is a massive change in the world.
- In 2:24, they were naked and not ashamed of it. But in 3:7, the man and woman start covering up in shame.
- In 2:23, the man sings a song of praise when God presents him with his wife. But in 3:12, Adam is accusing God of giving him a faulty bride! The woman you gave me is the problem!
- By the end of chapter 3, God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden he created them to work, in chapter four one of their kids murders the other, and in Genesis 6:5, only six chapters into the Bible, you read that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time, and three chapters later God destroys almost everything with a worldwide flood.
🤯 What in the world happened!?! How did we get from naked and unashamed in the presence of God and each other, to “nothing but evil all the time”?
The Key to Understand What's Wrong
The key to understanding what we call sin is there in Genesis 3:6. The woman saw the tree was good for food and delightful to look at. Very true. Not a problem. That was already said back in 2:9. God created the trees to be good for food and beautiful to look at. But this particular tree was not to be harvested. That was God’s command, and as the eternally wise and Almighty God of heaven and earth, he was good and right and fair to do that.
But God wasn't the only voice in the garden. There was another voice present. How it got there, how long it was there, why God allowed it there are all questions that Genesis does not answer. But the book of Revelation tells this was the archenemy of God, named Satan – a created being that had himself already sinned against God. And in verse 5, he sets out to deceive her with this line: “God knows that when you eat the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
You will be like God. You can be autonomous. You can be sovereign. You can tap into the potential you have inside of you, Eve. Notice this: Satan didn’t tempt Eve with better fruit. He offered her self-sufficiency. You are enough for you.
Verse 6 follows – she saw the tree offered good food, and it looked really nice planted by the driveway, but what really pushed her over the top was not that she was hungry for fruit. Her hunger was for a wisdom that doesn’t depend on or submit to God (Tripp, 269). Her hunger was for a wisdom of her own.
I Want To Be God
Here is what lies at the foundational level of every sin, whether it’s taking a bat to a restaurant, flying planes into the WTC, or yelling at your kids: I don’t want to depend on God or anyone. I would like to be him. Of course we would never say that out loud. No one is writing in their journal, “I would like to be God.” But the foundational level of every sin is that God is not enough, I could do better. I deserve better. I’ve earned better. And we put ourselves in his seat.
The late pastor and author of the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson said it like this: “The personal Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is replaced by the personal Trinity of my Wants, Needs, and Feelings” (Tripp, 270).
That’s what causes someone to walk out on their family. That’s what causes someone to look at porn, steal something off a shelf, cheat on their taxes, abuse a child or a spouse, sabotage a project, or objectify other people. It’s what causes a 2yr old to throw a temper tantrum in the living room and it’s what causes nations to go to war.
In one sense, sin is sin no matter what it is. James 2:10 says if we keep the entire law, but stumble in one part of it, we’re guilty of breaking it all. The same person who commanded us to not covet is the same one who said don’t murder. The law is the law.
But not all sins are equal. Sexual abuse of a child is not on the same level as a 2 year old throwing a temper tantrum. But in either case, Sin gives in to the seduction of self-sufficiency. It’s the attraction of sovereignty & control, getting what I deserve because I am king or queen. I am my own, I determine what is right, I determine what is true, I determine who I am.
How To Think About Sin
The Bible uses a couple different words to talk about sin that help us understand it from God’s perspective. One passage in Psalm 51 uses all three, as King David is confessing his sins, so we’ll look at this together:
Psalm 51:1-3: Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.
- The first word is rebellion, or your translation might say transgression = means “to knowingly and willingly cross boundaries that an authority has set.”
- Adam and Eve’s sin is clearly a transgression. They have knowingly and willingly done what God said not to do. They knew God’s law, and they intentionally went against it. It’s like seeing a sign that says No Right Turn on Red and doing it anyway. You know what you’re told to do and you do something else.
- In God’s eyes, though, transgression isn’t just a problem because of the action that we did – it is a problem because we have given our heart to other things than God. Adam and Eve’s hearts were captured by the desire for wisdom. Gaining wisdom for themselves was more important to them than trusting God, and seeking his wisdom. For them to do so is to set themselves up as the higher power.
- The second word then is Guilt or as your translation might say, iniquity = this refers to a state of moral impurity. “Sin is deeper than just behavior. It is a condition, and inescapable state of being that causes us to rebel against God’s authority” (Tripp, 272).
- Jeremiah 13:23 puts it like this – Can a Cushite change his skin or a leopard his spots? If so, you might be able to do what is good, you are instructed in evil. What Jeremiah is saying is that our sin is as ingrained into our DNA as the color of our skin. We are hopeless to manage, control, minimize or escape our sin, because it’s not just what we occasionally do – it is who we are. We don’t have the power of self-renewal, or self-transformation. We are hopelessly trapped in our sin-guilt unless God intervenes with his redeeming love (Tripp, 273).
- This DNA was passed on to us from Adam and Eve. Romans 5:12 says that because Adam was humanity’s first representative, when he sinned, you and I sinned. When he bit the fruit as our representative, we did too. For that reason, we are born guilty of rebellion.
- Romans 5:8 says that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Now, you and I obviously weren’t even born when Christ died for us, but in God’s eyes, we were already sinners. Adams guilt belongs to us. But not only is his guilt on our record, we have added plenty of our own by our own choices.
- The third word David uses is simply the word Sin. You may have heard it said before that sinning is an archery term for “missing the mark.” That there is a standard of what is true and right and holy that is set by God, and we woefully miss the bullseye. In fact, Romans 3:23 would say not only do we miss the bullseye, we aren’t even hitting the target. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- This doesn’t mean we are as sinful as we could be. Laws of the land, family and social expectations, security measures, law enforcement, etc all restrain us from doing all the things we could do.
- There is also God’s common grace that allows and causes people to want to build hospitals and care centers, to produce art and beauty and technology, helping others in genuine kindness and patience – all things that help society grow and work together well. Those things are all great, and should continue to be encouraged in the world, but as far as God is concerned, because of our inherited tendency to sin, those who are not born again by grace through faith can do good things in human society, but they can do nothing that is spiritual good in terms of a relationship with God.
- Romans 8:8 – those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
- John 15:5 – apart from me you can do nothing
- And as such, because of our sin nature, we are slaves to sin. In our natural self, apart from outside intervention, we can do nothing but sin.
- Hebrews 11:6 – without faith it is impossible to please God
- Romans 14:23 – everything that is not from faith is sin.
So to summarize: Sin is active rebellion, crossing the boundaries God has established according to his absolute moral perfection and holiness. With Adam as our chief human, our table leader, the head of the human race, we are all guilty of his rebellion and of our own. That sin-guilt has stained and corrupted every part of us – mind, body, soul – down to our very DNA, to the point where, like a zebra can’t just try harder to not have black and white stripes, we are helpless to do anything about our sin. Any attempts we make to free ourselves from its grip fall disgustingly short of what would please a holy, holy, holy God.
As a result, God pronounced us all DOA. Dead on arrival.
Sin doesn’t make us bad – it makes us dead.
The Bad News
So when someone writes about the person who vandalized businesses in town: “I hope it wasn't a Riverside person. Hate to think people like that live in this town,” the reality is that not only do sinners live in this town, one lives in your clothes every day. And while you may not tear up local restaurants with a baseball bat, you are infected with the same terminal cancer called sin that he is. That’s the bad news. But it’s not the only news. Here’s the good news.
The Good News
Adam was a type of someone else who would come. Just as Adam was the table leader, the chief representative of the human race at creation, there would be another representative who would come one day and begin a new creation. Here’s what the apostle Paul writes: Romans 5:19 For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Where Adam failed to obey God, failed to live up to God’s standards, failed to submit to his wisdom and authority and will, Jesus succeeded all of those. Jesus perfectly obeyed God, perfectly met God’s standards, perfectly submitted to his Father’s wisdom, authority, and his will – even when it meant a brutal, painful death on a cross at the hands of the very people he came to save. The first Adam was put to sleep and a woman, his bride, was fashioned out of his side; On that cross as Jesus died, his side was pierced with a sword, and as his blood flowed out, another woman was created – the Church, his bride, her sins purified, washed, forgiven, and cleansed by his blood.
Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 How much more then, since we have now been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 And not only that, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.
That’s our spiritual bio in God’s eyes – helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. Ephesians 2 adds that we were living according to the spirit of disobedience, carrying out the desires of our flesh, and were by nature children under wrath.
And while you were, God, in his love, did something about it. The gospel is news about what has happened for you while you were dead on arrival. I’ve heard it said that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made it necessary. As Romans 5:11 says, our only boast is in God and what he has done for us in Christ, the second Adam, the new human representative.
That’s what we’re celebrating when we participate in communion. We are participating in something we didn’t earn. Something we didn’t bring about. Something we didn’t deserve. We are participating in something that was done for us. The body and blood of Jesus poured out for us.
Our first reaction to this doctrine is that we hate the seemingly unfairness, the offensiveness of this doctrine. How dare you say I am corrupt. How dare you condemn me like that – you don’t know me! How dare you say I’m not good! I mean you see it all over the world right now in thousands of different ways. And there are three responses we can have:
- You know what God says, but you turn right on red anyway. You try to find the answer in yourself, and say everyone else is the problem. People are just stupid. And You’ll walk away and harden your heart to the gospel even more, adding to the ever-growing list of sins that condemn you before God.
– OR –
- You can hear this today, and like the crowd in Acts chapter 2, you say, “what must I do to be saved!?!”
- The Holy Spirit is already drawing you to salvation – don’t let that question die in the wind. Act on it today!
- The apostles answer in Acts 2 was to “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!”Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Next week we’ll talk more about what it means to be made righteous – how that happens, can it be undone or taken away, and that sort of thing.
As we go to communion, if you’re thinking wow, I’ve sinned too much to participate in this. I don’t understand enough. I’m not good enough. My life doesn’t look like I want it to. I still fall too many times… this meal is to remind you that the gospel is not about what you do. The good news of Jesus coming to earth, living, dying, rising, is not about what you can do for him, or how you measure up to other people – it’s about what he did for you while you were still a sinner, helpless, ungodly, enemies. It’s about what has been done for you. So when we participate in this, we join with all the other believers around the world who have been brought from death to life by this marvelous gift of grace.
Gregg Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011)
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)
Paul David Tripp, Do You Believe? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021)