SIN. Sin is at the heart of this debate. Both sides seek holiness, both believe sin exists and is real, and both long to see a world completely free of sin. Yet it is here that there is much disagreement. While I left you hanging a little bit in the previous post I’m going to leave you there just a little while longer. I know I’m mean. In spite of my cruelty I believe it will serve us best to not make blank statements but rather flesh out a thoroughly considered worldview so that I don’t teach people what to think but how to think.
From the outset let me acknowledge that a blog is not a sufficient medium for such a topic. A treatise is required and yet I will attempt to move forward within this limited means. Secondly, if you are not a Christian, please understand God and therefore the Bible speak very candidly about sin not with the intention to humiliate or to shame rather to save. If what the Bible teaches about sin is true, then we all desperately need a saviour. Much like a doctor would inform a patient of a severe illness in his or her body with the intention to help them rather than hurt them. So too the Bible seeks to highlight the problem of sin in order to present the helpful solution of a saviour.
Sin is simple in one sense but complex in another. The Bible gives us different types or means of sin. I believe these can be seen in the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1-4. I’ll attempt to narrate the story and help us see how these play out.
1. SIN OF COMMISSION – We Do What We Should Not Do!
The drama is set in a Garden, called Eden, an oasis of beauty and grandeur with four rivers running throughout. God had previously created all that is of the world below and universe above, including the animals of the sky, earth and water and most notably the people, Adam and Eve. While in the garden, Creator God blessed our first parents revealing his goodness and gave instructions revealing their purpose to be, ‘fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it’ (Gen. 1:28-29). From the outset there is a distinction made between humanity and God. God is creator and therefore has authority over the created. Thus as created beings we are to be subservient to the good creator God. When we disobey we sin. In Genesis 2:16 God told Adam that they should not eat of a particular tree, and warned that if they ate of it they would die. Now I sympathise with Adam, as a naked wife can be tremendously persuasive. Nonetheless, when they ate of the fruit of the tree (Gen. 3:6) they committed a sin of Commission. They disobeyed God and did what they should not do.
Example: The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are another example of God giving instructions to his people of what they should not do. (Thou Shall Not…)
2. SIN OF OMISSION – We Do Not Do What We Should Do!
Additionally in the story there is another layer to the sin of Adam. Not only did Adam directly disobey God, he indirectly disobeyed God. Consider the scene further. God told them to subdue the earth and have dominion over “the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This therefore begs the question, ‘why does Adam allow the serpent, a living thing that moves, into the garden and to influence the agenda within the garden? The serpent questioned God’s word (“Did God actually say?” Gen. 3:1) and even further, directly refuted God’s word (“You will not surely die”). Thus from the outset the serpent takes the dominion and influence from the man and makes it his own. Thus the serpent sins against God by doing what it should not do and Adam sins by not doing what God has called him to do – have dominion.
Thus it has led many theologians to state that Adam’s first sin was not in eating the forbidden fruit but in allowing the serpent, a false witness of God and his word, to become a resident of the garden in the first place. Adam’s sin is one of omission. He didn’t do what he should have done, that is shut the serpent up, kick the serpent out or even better kill the serpent altogether.
Example: love your neighbour, give to the poor, care for the orphan and widow. When we don’t do these things we commit sins of omission – we don’t do what we should do.
3. SIN OF INTENTION – We Do What We Should Do, But We Do So With The Wrong Intention!
This gets to the heart of sin, which is SIN OF THE HEART. Sin, according to Jesus, goes beyond what we do or don’t do with our hands. It extends to the thoughts of our minds and the intentions of our heart (Matt. 5-7). It is here that we begin to see that the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was not just related to what they did or did not do. It was deeper. In fact Genesis 3 unequivocally says as much,
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Gen. 3:6
It was the intention of the heart that led the hands to take the fruit and eat. Eve saw something she deemed good, even though God had said it was not good, she delighted, she desired and then she ate and Adam likewise. Their sin began in their head and their heart well before their hands.
What was in their heart and mind? Unbelief and idolatry! (Idolatry = false worship or worship of something or someone other than God). They did not trust God as the good God that created them. Before they ever ate the fruit of that tree their heart and mind were filled with unbelief. God had spoken yet they no longer believed God’s word to be trustworthy, because they no longer believed God to be good or trustworthy. Adam and Eve were given the dominion of the whole earth yet not only were they unable to maintain the dominion of a small portion of the earth in the Garden of Eden, they were unable to have dominion even over their own heart and mind.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his work ‘Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3’
“The decisive point, is that this question suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God.… Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word.” (Pg. 66)
In other words the sin committed by Adam and Eve was to disbelieve God, to make up their own version of god, and to trust in themselves as gods. Their sin is unbelief and idolatry. It is no wonder that both unbelief and idolatry are so prevalently spoken of throughout all of scripture. Tim Keller in his book ‘The Prodigal God puts it this way.
“Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviours may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord and Judge….”
This begins in our hearts and minds and leads us to take actions with our hands.
Example: Matthew 22:37 Jesus commanded us to Love God with all our ‘heart, soul and mind’. All internal, motivational, intentions! Matthew 5-7 is known as Jesus’ ‘Sermon of the Mount’ through which he consistently goes beyond sins of commission or omission and calls attention to sins of intention. (Adultery Vs Lust; Murder Vs Anger; Prayer to be seen by people rather than to be heard by God)
4. SIN OF REFLECTION – We Do Not Reflect God’s Good Design!
Other than life itself there is no greater privilege given to humanity than to be made in the ‘image and likeness of God’ (Gen. 1:26-27). While there is much to be said as to what this means or does not mean, it cannot be understated that this distinction between humanity and rest of creation sets a compelling trajectory for the remaining narrative of scripture.
Michael Horton notes in ‘The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way’
“In his deceptive speech, Lucifer makes himself sound like he is more interested in their welfare than God, but his ultimate aim is to make them his image-bearers rather than God’s.” (Pg. 409)
It is not only that we sin by doing something we are instructed not to do, or that we don’t do something we are instructed to do, or even that we do something for the wrong reasons. It is also that by our doing or not doing we in actuality imitate someone or something other than God, the one we are designed to reflect. Adam and Eve are to be witnesses of God and like the serpent become false witnesses. Horton adds here,
“Evil is not a principle in creation itself, but the wilful distortion of good gifts into an arsenal deployed against God’s reign. This perversity corrupts that which is noble, suppresses that which is righteous, smears that which is beautiful, and smothers the light of truth…Every sign of human oppression, violence, idolatry, and immorality in the world can be seen as the perversion of an original good. The commission to be fruitful and to multiply, to work in, guard, protect, and subdue God’s garden so that its peace and righteousness extend to the ends of the earth is twisted into empires of oppression in order to secure a consummation without God.” (Pg. 411)
Instead of being God’s image-bearers, Adam and Eve represent something completely different altogether. Rather than representing the great interests of the good and perfect creator God throughout the entire world, they now represent another. Their sin is of reflection.
Example: Cain and Abel. The story immediately following Adam and Eve’s sin in chapter 3 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is filled with jealousy and anger and unlike God who brought life into the world; Cain takes a life from the world. He reflects another. The remainder of the scripture is a story of humanity reflecting another.
When we consider all that we have explored above about sin, it leads us to look upon Jesus’ incredible life, for he did not sin, in any way at any time. All Christ did in word and deed was in perfect obedience to the Father. (Jn. 12:49, 14:31, 15:10; Heb. 10:7). There was nothing that Jesus did that he should not have done; nor anything he should have done that he did not do. He never committed a sin of commission or omission. Likewise the intention and motivation of his heart was blameless. Everything he did, he did trusting and submitting to the Father (Jn. 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:30-31, 15:10), with joy (Heb. 12:2), for our joy (Jn. 15:11, 16:24) and in humility and love towards us (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17-19, 5:1-2). Jesus never committed a sin of intention. Even further Christ was the perfect reflection of the Father. To see him was to see God (Jn. 14:9; Col. 1:15). He never committed a sin of reflection.
At LCC we often like to say that ‘the worse the bad news is, the greater the good news is’. When we consider sin in all its manifestations it is extremely confronting. We know we cannot escape it. However when we consider our saviour Jesus with all the implications, it is extremely liberating. We know we are saved from it. The awareness of our sin is not something we should seek to escape, rather we should embrace the reality of what scripture teaches, because by it we gain an even greater awareness of our saviour Jesus Christ.
This is really important because if we get the problem of sin wrong it may mean we get the solution of Christ wrong. Until next time…