Sin and Salvation: Problem and Solution
“Bob, the workers who are building the house next door are mixing concrete today, so don’t go near them. You have on a new shirt.”
My wife likes to tell this story about how annoyed her brother was with his mother’s warning. Presently, he stood to his full six-year height and marched defiantly over to the construction site. Just as he arrived, a butterfly landed in the concrete-mixing trough. Bob quickly leaned over to free the struggling creature, but in the process he lost his balance and fell into the concrete! Concrete poured from his hair and ran all over his face. The new shirt was ruined! Bob’s bold defiance had changed to fearful agony. How would he ever face his mother? What would be the consequences of his disobedience?
Humanity finds itself in a similar situation. This glorious creation of God that was the subject of Lesson 6 has been corrupted and marred by sin. In this lesson we shall learn what the Bible says about the origin and consequences of sin. But thank God, we do not have to stop the study at the point of despair. We shall also learn about the solution that Christ has provided. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us as we study these important topics.
The Reality Of Sin
Sin may be defined as disobedience and failure to conform to the laws God has given for the direction of His rational creatures. Since God’s law is an expression of His moral nature, man must conform to that law in order to please God’s holy nature. The Bible clearly reveals to us the reality of sin, as well as its origin, nature, consequences, and cure. All of these aspects of sin will be discussed as we progress through the lesson.
As we saw in our last lesson, man is a rational creature. Thus, he knows that he is guilty of sin if he 1) does what he should not do; 2) does not do what he should do; 3) is what he should not be; or 4) is not what he should be. There are many evidences of the reality of sin. The first of these is found in the Bible.
Seen in Biblical Evidence
Sin is one of the main topics of the Bible. Genesis 3 records the first time that man sinned. Chapter 4 continues the story, telling how the problem continued to affect the children of our first parents. At this point, God made a moving plea to Cain: “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). Cain, however, submitted to his feelings of jealousy, hate, and rebellion and murdered his own brother.
Time and again we see the problem of sin as we go through the Bible. God gave the written Law to guide His people early in their experience (Exodus 20:1-17). He further instructed Moses in all the laws for His people and stated clearly how sin could be atoned for, directing the people of Israel to offer proper sacrifices for the sins they committed (Leviticus 4-7). He even named one day each year when the entire nation of Israel must deal with sin (Leviticus 16). The first five books of the Old Testament are called the books of the Law, because they contain all of God’s commandments to His people for holy living and His instructions for receiving pardon for sin.
The historical books, Joshua through Esther, record the tragic failure of God’s people to obey His commandments. They reveal the backsliding, disobedience, stubbornness, and rebellion of Israel toward God and His laws.
The Psalmist portrays sorrow over personal sin: “Have mercy on me, O God . . . wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin . . .Surely I have been a sinner from birth” (Psalm 51:1-2, 5). The prophets cry out against sin that caused Israel’s downfall (Ezekiel 23; Jeremiah 5; Daniel 9:1-23).
The New Testament records the treachery of Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:14-16). It portrays the suffering of our Savior, who took upon Himself the sin of the world (Luke 22:39-44; John 19:1-3, 18). It describes the horrible plot of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). One of the most vivid evidences of the reality of sin is recorded in Romans 1:18-32. Here is the way sin is described:
Furthermore, since they [men] did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, Godhaters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (vs. 28-32).
Seen in the Need for Government
Not only does the Bible present us with many examples of the reality of sin, it also provides evidence through the unavoidable need for government in society. In Judges 21:25 we read: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Up to that time God had used judges to lead the Israelites according to His directions, but in 1 Samuel 8 we find that the Israelites asked Samuel to appoint a king to lead them. They wanted to have the same type of government as all the nations around them (v. 5). Because the people were not willing to obey God, there was a need for government.
People sometimes dream of an environment called “Utopia,” an idealistic place or state where perfect justice and social harmony exist. In Utopia everyone minds his own business, gladly contributes to the welfare of the rest, and enjoys the good things of life to the fullest. However, a utopian society cannot exist on earth. Human beings are selfish and rebellious by nature. Sin is a reality of life that we face every day. No one escapes its effects. The tragic consequences of sin are reported in the newspapers and through the radio and other mass media, clearly indicating the need for governmental control in our society.
Sin is real. It is not the result of superstition or lack of education. It results from the nature of men and women who live contrary to the laws of God and according to their own evil desires.
The Origin Of Sin
For many centuries philosophers have debated whether sin is eternal and has always existed alongside of good. Some have concluded that the struggle between right and wrong has always existed and will continue throughout eternity. Was there a time when only goodness existed? If so, when did sin make its appearance? To resolve these questions, we turn now to a study of the origin of sin in the universe and in the human race.
In the Universe
In Lesson 5 we discussed the sin of angels that led to their fall and what the Scriptures say about the origin of sin in the universe. Let’s review these facts briefly to see how they relate to the spread of sin to the human race. First, reread in Lesson 5 the section entitled The Moral Character of Angels. Here is a summary of that section:
1. Angels were created as a company of holy, perfect, and personal beings whose wills were inclined toward their Creator.
2. Angels apparently had the power of choice and understood the consequences of disobedience.
3. One among their number, Satan, occupied an exalted position (Ezekiel 28:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
4. Satan was evidently the leader of rebellion from the beginning (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8).
5. From references to earthly kings which seem to symbolize Satan, we gather that his sin began with ambition and conceit (pride). (Compare Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:13-14 with 1 Timothy 3:6).
The preceding Scripture passages help us to understand that Satan was discontented with his own position under God. He was more concerned with his own ambition than he was with serving God. He was so blinded by his own beauty that it appears he even thought he could surpass the Creator. He was, selfish, discontented, and covetous, desiring not only what his Creator had given to him but also what God had reserved for Himself. The symptoms of sin that we see in Satan were apparently the root causes of sin in the rest of the evil angels.
All of this is of great importance to us, because when Satan and his angels rebelled against God, sin became a principle of life to be faced in the universe. Their sin represented opposition to the rule of our loving heavenly Father. Satan’s purpose now is to frustrate God’s plan in every area of the universe. He heads a world system which stands in opposition to God and His rule.
In the Human Race
As we have seen, God created man without a sinful nature, placed him in an ideal environment, and provided for all his needs. God gave Adam a powerful mind and abundant challenges to occupy his time and energy. He also gave Adam a suitable helper and companion, Eve. Then the Creator gave some simple rules to be observed and warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of disobedience. He then entered into a very close relationship with this first couple.
God’s warning to Adam and Eve served as a simple test. In the midst of abundant privileges and provisions, they were denied only one thing: the fruit of one tree. This test was designed to show their obedience or disobedience to His will. Adam and Eve were not created as robots to live for God’s glory without any choice in this matter. Their wills were inclined toward God, but since they had the power either to accept or reject this inclination, they could exercise their free will and make a deliberate choice. This ability is a necessary condition of testing.
Satan had no tempter when he rebelled against God, but the first human beings did. Soon after Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, Satan approached Eve and implied that God was withholding from her and Adam something that was good and beneficial. It is remarkable that Eve did not raise any objections to this serious charge against God. In fact, when Satan in effect said that God was a liar, stating, “You will not surely die,” (Genesis 3:4), Eve neither protested nor sought to balance Satan’s false claims against God’s holy character. Rather, she thought only of the benefits she could gain from following the tempter’s advice. It appealed to her senses, her appetite, and a newly-awakened ambition.
Thus, Eve, by an act of her will and because of Satan’s deception, determined to do what she wanted rather than what God wanted. Genesis 3:1-5 indicates that she wanted to 1) have what God had forbidden; 2) know what God had not revealed; and 3) be what God had not intended for her to be.
Eve thus preferred self to God, which is sin. She considered what she was about to do. Looking at the fruit, she reasoned that since it was good food, there could be no wrong in partaking of it. She also reasoned that, since it was beautiful and was said to bring knowledge, eating it could not be wrong. She thus forgot the most important fact: GOD HAD FORBIDDEN THE EATING OF THE FRUIT! Seeing only what she wanted to see, she and Adam ate the fruit in open disobedience of God’s word. They did not question whether God would be glorified by their action, even though they had sufficient intelligence to understand the consequences. Why did they not consider more carefully what they were doing?
So our first ancestors deliberately chose to ignore God’s warning. Even though they were tempted, nobody forced them to go against God’s instructions. This act of disobedience produced sin in the human race (see Romans 5:12), and the attitude that led to it continues in human nature. I have felt it, and so have you. Thus sin entered the world and cast its evil influence on mankind, destroying man’s blessed relationship with God. Sin continues its effects on each descendant of Adam. Every person inherits from Adam a sinful nature that, if not corrected, will lead to eventual spiritual death.
The Nature Of Sin
Wouldn’t it be a help if sin were some physical substance that we could isolate? We could invite some researchers to find a chemical, drug, or serum to destroy it. Then teams of specialists could go from community to community giving injections that would end forever its power and consequences. Before long society would be totally transformed and people could live to glorify God. We know that sin is neither a microbe nor a virus. What is the real nature of sin?
We saw a brief definition of sin in the first section of this lesson; it is disobedience and failure to conform to God’s Word. It is all the things that people do wrong. It includes doing what we shouldn’t do and not doing what we should do.
The Hebrew language of the Old Testament and the Greek dialect in which the New Testament was written employ expressive words to describe the act of sinning against God. Bible scholars who have studied word formation explain what ideas created them. Their word study gives us a grasp of the meaning of the word sin. Each of the terms in a different way expresses an act or attitude that provokes God’s disapproval. Let’s look at some of these terms. (The terms used in modern Bible translations may not be exactly the same as those we have given here, which are derived from the Hebrew or Greek expressions.)
1. Trespass (Romans 5:14-17). We often see signs that say No Trespassing. What does this mean? To trespass means to go across or to invade the property or rights of another. When people put up a sign like this, they do not want anyone to cross their property. To prevent trespassing they either enclose their property or mark its boundaries clearly. Often they include on their sign the penalty for trespassing. Similarly, God has established certain moral boundaries for man which we refer to as laws. When a person trespasses, or crosses over these boundary lines, he sins— he ignores God’s law. Lawlessness is sin (1 John 3:4).
2. Missing the mark (Exodus 20:20). When a person sins, he fails to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. In this sense, sin is missing the mark. He falls short of what God has planned for him. Missing the mark is a term related to archery when one fails to hit the center of a target at which he aims.
3. Selfishness (Psalm 119:36; Philippians 2:3). The first disobedience arose because of selfishness, for man wanted what he felt God had denied him. It appealed to his vanity or pride.
4. Rebellion (Exodus 23:21; 1 Samuel 24:11). To rebel is to disobey or go against the one in authority. It is a departure from the law of God. Isaiah illustrates this by saying, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). This is just what people are doing today. Each one wants to “do his own thing”—follow his own desires. The same is true of entire communities and nations. People do not want to follow the path God has marked out for them.
5. Pollution (James 1:27). When one intentionally sins, he is aware of his wrongdoing, for his conscience condemns him. The feeling of guilt awakened by sin makes him aware of his pollution (uncleanness). He feels dirty. That is why the Scriptures speak of the need for cleansing from the pollution of sin (Psalm 51:2, 7; 1 John 1:7).
To summarize briefly, sin is the failure of God’s reasonable creatures to obey His laws. Anything that does not have as its goal the glory of God is sin (Romans 3:23). Anything in man which does not express, or which is contrary to, the holy character of God is sin.
The Consequences Of Sin
Genesis 3 recounts the tragic consequences of the first sin. As surely as God said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” He also warned, “for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Having disregarded the divine warning and taken what was forbidden, man could expect nothing less than the promised consequences. Let’s look, briefly, at the major consequences of man’s original sin.
A Broken Relationship With God
The knowledge and awareness that they had deliberately disobeyed God brought an immediate sense of guilt to Adam and Eve. Their innocence was gone, and their consciences condemned their action. They sensed their nakedness before each other and before God, and in shame they tried to hide from God. When He confronted them with what they had done, each tried to blame another. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:12-13), and with this tragic confession, their beautiful, personal relationship with God ended. They experienced spiritual death (Genesis 2:17) and were sent out of the perfect Garden of Eden to a life much different than they had known up to that time.
A Sinful Nature
The sin of Adam and Eve corrupted not only their own hearts but also the hearts of all their descendants. The Bible declares that their one sin was a corrupting principle that was passed on to every one of their descendants, to every human being (Romans 5:12). The entire world thus came under the power of sin (Galatians 3:22), and with this bondage we became “objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). This sinful nature makes it impossible for people to please God. Each person acts as he does because of his corrupt nature, because of what he is.
The Bible declares that we are born with this corrupt nature (Psalm 51:5). We would like to think that children are perfect and have no sinful nature. However, as we watch brothers and sisters fight with one another, we realize that selfishness is a part of human nature. A child’s tendency to disobey also comes from his sinful nature.
These texts show us that every part of man’s being is corrupted by sin, and in this state he can do nothing that pleases God. This does not mean that a person without God cannot do or appreciate acts of goodness and kindness. It does mean that, until he is revived spiritually, he can do nothing that is worthy of God’s approval. The likeness of God in him has been spoiled.
Not only do we suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin and the effects of the sinful nature that we received from him, we also suffer the consequences of our own sins. If I am lazy and do not work, I will suffer the consequences (and so will my family).
We often have to suffer not only the results of our own sin, but also the consequences of the sins of another. The citizens of a country whose government officials are corrupt do not enjoy the blessing that a good government can provide. The children of a drunken father may suffer the abuse that can result from a mind drugged by alcohol. People die in automobile accidents because of drunken drivers. Society in general suffers abuse from criminals and then pays the cost of their confinement in prisons.
In Lesson 6 we saw that the good side of man is to be admired; now we look at the tragic side. Man without God is depraved. As we approach the last days, we can expect to see terrible conditions everywhere. Under prophetic inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote these words:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
A Physical Liability
Sickness and disease were unknown to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Germs, viruses, and diseases of all kinds appeared as a result of sin and are seen thereafter in connection with sin and judgment (Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 28:58-62). Pain, weariness, and physical breakdown are part of the process begun by sin which leads finally to physical death (Genesis 3:16- 19). In fact, death stalks humanity as a result of the fall of man. The process of living is also marked by satanic opposition to man’s efforts to approach, live for, and please God (Genesis 3:15).
A Hostile Environment
Because of the curse caused by sin, the whole universe suffers (Genesis 3:17-18). Animal life shows savage traits. Isaiah 11:6-9 indicates that in God’s coming kingdom wild animals will be peaceful rather than savage. This leads us to believe that the present order of the jungle is the result of the curse of sin; the stronger preys on the weaker, and harmony in nature has been disrupted.
Plant life also reveals the effects of sin. Weeds and thorns choke out the good plants. Food does not grow without much effort on the part of man. Man’s struggle to get food from the environment takes a heavy toll on his body. The apostle Paul describes it this way:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed . . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:19-22).
An Eternal Separation and Punishment
The final result of sin that we are going to mention is the saddest of all. The Bible reveals that the unrepentant sinner will have to suffer eternal punishment. How I wish it were different, but I dare not close my eyes to clear language.
While we find that biblical writers sometimes refer to this punishment as destruction, it will last forever (see Psalm 52:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Notice in Matthew 25:46 that the same word eternal is used to describe both heaven and hell: eternal punishment (hell); eternal life (heaven). Unless people repent of their sins and resolve their sin problem, they will suffer eternal punishment apart from the presence of the Lord.
The Restoration Of The Sinner
In the midst of despair a light of hope shines forth. God, in His mercy, has provided an escape from the consequences of spiritual death. He has provided a way of eternal glory in His presence for all who will accept His gracious offer. You and I can be restored both spiritually and physically, and the effects of sin can be canceled.
God has provided for man’s spiritual restoration through the death of His only Son Jesus, who became our substitute to make atonement for our sin. This is explained in John 3:16-17:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
You and I have the opportunity to receive spiritual restoration if we repent of our sins and make a decision to leave all sin behind. However, we must accept God’s offer of salvation and claim His promise to help us. This requires an act of faith; the Bible states that “it is by grace we are saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). A final requirement is that we confess that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). When we believe in Him, confess and forsake our sins, and allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, we are changed. We receive spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-9; Colossians 2:13) and we become new creatures in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The apostle admonishes believers to put off the old nature and allow God to remake us into a new self that will glorify Him (Ephesians 4:17-28; Colossians 3:1-17).
Through His death, our Lord paid the penalty for sin and satisfied God’s just anger against it. We become righteous through Him. He secures our pardon and provides a full and free redemption. He also gives us a new nature. Even though we have been born with such corrupted natures, He adopts us into the holy family of God. In addition, He gives us the status of sons of God and makes us heirs of God’s riches (Romans 8:17). Our Lord not only makes all of these arrangements for our spiritual restoration but also acts as our lawyer, our intercessor who pleads to the Almighty Judge and asks Him to have mercy on us (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1).
With the gift of salvation are various responsibilities for the new believer. He must “walk in the light” (see 1 John 1:7; John 1:4-9). While the Christian never attains perfection in this life, he can walk in the light and be responsive to it. As he does this, two things happen: 1) he has fellowship with other believers, and 2) he is cleansed. Cleansing takes place as the believer allows the Holy Spirit to reveal failures, wrong attitudes, or sins of any kind. He must continue to confess these sins and purpose to resist future temptations as he lives under the Spirit’s control (Romans 8:5).
Not only did Jesus provide for our spiritual restoration, but His death on the cross also made provision for our physical restoration as well. Sickness, which is part of the curse, lost its hold on mankind when Christ suffered on the cross. The Bible teaches that healing is a part of the restoration He effected. Some of the most beautiful poetry in Scripture was penned in reference to the healing He provides:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. —Isaiah 53:4-5
Jesus healed countless sick people throughout his public ministry on earth. He also instructed those He sent out in ministry to preach the message of the kingdom of God and heal the sick (see Matthew 10:7-8; Mark 16:18; Luke 9:1-2; 10:9).
After Jesus ascended into heaven, miracles of healing continued to be performed by His followers. The book of Acts is filled with miracles of healing. Moreover, James teaches that the church elders should pray for the sick and expect God to heal them (James 5:14). This is consistent with Jesus’ statement that He had come so that we might have life “to the full” (John 10:10).
The world is not yet free of all sickness and suffering, yet the testimony throughout church history is that those who trust in Jesus can be healed in answer to the prayer of faith. Thus, we can experience spiritual, physical, and eternal benefits because of our Lord’s provision on the cross of Calvary. Through Adam, sin entered the human race; through Jesus Christ, we have been set free from sin and its effects! Let us lift our hearts in praise to Him for His great gift of salvation!