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GOSPEL TRUTH: The Universal Qualification

SINNERS = WHERE WE ALL QUALIFY…..

 

Sin is just one word that could hardly be smaller. Yet the consequences could hardly be greater. It is a simple word that a child can understand, and yet a concept that can engage the minds of the greatest theologians in the most profound of debates. Some are shocked by it. Others enjoy it. Some make excuses for it. Still others deny its very existence.

 

 What, then, is sin? The Penguin English Dictionary has defined sin as “violation of a God-given, religious or moral rule; wickedness; immorality; tendency to commit sins; offence.”  At once we are confronted by religious overtones. It may be argued that one must acknowledge the existence of God in order to accept this definition. Clearly, if God does not exist, then God-given moral rules do not exist either. In all societies, however, moral rules of some kind do exist, although they may vary considerably from one society to another. What may be right in one place at one particular time may be wrong if you happen to be living in another place at another time. From the comfort of our own armchairs we may say that this is simply unfortunate, but to the youth who is about to experience a barbaric execution for stealing it is grossly unfair. Why could he not have been allowed to live in Britain in the twenty-first century and simply face an indulgent judge who would dismiss him from the court with nothing to pay for his misdemeanours?  It is not that his theft has become acceptable. The offended party may not possess the benevolence of the judge and thus be prepared to turn a blind eye to the personal loss experienced. In the mind of the victim (and in the minds of many impartial observers too) a wrong has been committed, and the thief ought to be punished.

 

Being responsible for determining our own standards of right and wrong is most unsatisfactory. If something was “wrong” a hundred years ago, can it be “right” today? Further, if what we consider to be “right” today becomes unacceptable and actually “wrong” a hundred years from now, where does this leave us?  “Society decides,” it may be argued; but if society’s views are liable to change, punishments may be inflicted when they are not necessary or withheld when they are. Something better than this is needed: a foundation that does not adapt itself to the prevailing mood of the day. Such a foundation is found in the Bible – God’s own revelation – and it is this book which provides us with a far more satisfactory explanation of sin.

 

 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans deals with the existence of sin in the world, its effect, its consequences, and its remedy. Central to his argument is the statement: “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (1).  At once we are reminded of what took place many years before in the Garden of Eden. According to the argument employed by the Apostle Paul, this was no mythological garden but a real place where mankind’s first sin was committed. Adam and Eve were tempted, as recorded in Genesis 3. The cunning “serpent” came to Eve and persuaded her to disobey her Creator and take the fruit of the forbidden tree. She was deceived by him, but her husband was “not deceived” (2). Knowingly, he took the fruit his wife gave him and at once experienced a new awareness of himself. The deadly reign of sin had begun. Fellowship with their God was broken. Hearing the voice of the Lord God, Adam and Eve hid themselves from Him among the trees of the garden. They were ashamed.

 

This incident provides us with a framework for defining sin. It is an act of disobedience that involves violating a known commandment. The argument put forward by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans is that in some way Adam’s original sin has affected all of mankind. The perfect human being created at the beginning by God was somehow marred. Each one of us has been born with a sinful nature. We have a natural tendency to do wrong. To verify the truth of this, an honest man might look no further than his own children. He did not teach them to be disobedient, to be unkind, to lie, or to take what is not theirs – and yet they do. Instead, he finds that he must teach them obedience, kindness, love, and honesty. Actually, they sin because they are exactly like him! They have inherited his sinful nature.

 

The Apostle Paul explains that sin, in its wake, has brought death. In spite of all the impressive scientific and medical discoveries that have brought great benefit to countless lives, we still age and eventually die. Although the average person who died in the year 2000 may have been older than the one who died in 1900, the fact remains that death itself has not been eradicated. The simple biblical explanation is that it never will be until the underlying problem of sin is dealt with, for “the wages of sin is death” (3).

 

 

 

IDENTIFYING SIN

It is the Bible that reveals to us the unchanging standards of a holy God. The Ten Commandments given to Israel in the time of Moses outline the requirements of this God. He must be worshipped supremely, and no other god must rival His position. His name must not be taken in vain, and His day must be kept holy. An ordered society must be built upon certain unchanging principles. These include respect for one’s parents and for human life and relationships. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness are all forbidden. Even the desire to possess something belonging to someone else is wrong (4).

 

This last statement reveals that sin has another dimension. The Bible teaches that sin is not simply an act committed; it is more. The concept of sin encompasses deeds, words, and thoughts as well – for God searches the thoughts and intents of the heart (5). Sin is a deadly root existing within the human heart from which sins in their multitudinous forms spring forth. Unless the root can be dealt with and rendered impotent, the fruit of sin will continue to blossom. Does this not explain the reason why penal institutions so often fail to improve society? The murderer serves his term, is released and reoffends. The act of sin was recognized and “punished”, but the existence of sin itself within the person was not taken into consideration. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” declared Jeremiah (6). Only when the heart is changed will the conduct change.

 

Murder and acts of violence against humanity are sins, but (as has already been stated) sin can exist within the mind. An unkind thought, a lustful look, hatred harboured in the heart, and pride, are all sins. When this is recognized, we will not be surprised to read that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (7). The Greek word translated “sin” in the New Testament means to miss the mark. It is not difficult to visualize the scene. The target is placed in the open field, and one by one with bow in hand the archers shoot their arrows. The requirement is that the centre of the target must be hit. Some are unskilled and their arrows land nowhere near the target. Others are more successful in reaching the goal, and some manage to get very near. But if nobody manages to touch the centre of the target with the pointed tip of an arrow, then all have failed. So it is with God’s “target”. His standard is perfection. Less, it could not be, for God Himself is absolutely holy. Some of us may seem to get much nearer to the target than others, but the fact remains that a miss is as good as a mile.

 

 

 

WHERE IT ALL LEADS

Sadly, sin brings its consequences. The Bible plainly states: “The wages of sin is death” (8). Sin brings with it not only physical death but separation from God – a kind of spiritual death. Adam and Eve experienced this form of death when they sinned. There is also an eternal death to consider, for entrance into God’s eternal kingdom is impossible for those who are “defiled” and for those who have told even one single lie (9). Not only is God holy, demanding perfection, but He is also righteous and demands that sin must be punished.

 

The wonder of the Christian Gospel, however, is that God is also love. He has provided a remedy that perfectly satisfies His own holiness and righteousness and at the same time demonstrates His own unbounded love. God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to deal with the problem of sin (10). The Bible also records that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (11).

 

Christ did not come possessing “sinful flesh”, for if He had, He would have had to pay the price for His own sin. His life on earth was perfect: He “did no sin” (12). He was not guilty of wrong thoughts: He “knew no sin” (13). The reason for this is explained in the statement made by the Apostle John: “In Him is no sin” (14). By means of the Virgin Birth, the Son of God entered this world without a sinful nature. Its absence was demonstrated in the quality of His life. At the age of thirty-three He was led out to die upon a Roman cross. He suffered a cruel death at the hands of wicked men – but so have many others. The difference with Jesus Christ was that He was a “sacrifice for sins” (15). Prior to the moment of His death, there were three hours of intense darkness when Almighty God forsook His Son as He was “made…sin for us” (16). At the end of this period of suffering Jesus cried with a loud voice: “Finished!” (17). The work of atonement was complete. His death had made it possible for sinful man to be reconciled to a holy God. To show His acceptance of the work of His Son, God raised Him from the dead on the third day as He had said He would.

 

In simple and yet profound terms the Apostle John deals with the problem of sin. “If we say that we have no sin,” he declares, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (18). That deadly root of sin is to be found in every individual. However, “If we confess our sins, [the acts of sin that we have committed] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (19). In case we may wonder how God can forgive, John also states: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (20).

 

 

 

HOW TO OVERCOME

A thoughtful reader may ask “But what happens to sin itself? The death of Christ has not eradicated sin completely, has it?” This is absolutely true – but God does not leave us helpless. When we confess our sins to God and receive His cleansing, He also provides us with the power to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit of God has been sent to indwell every one who makes the work of Christ their own. Those who believe the message of the Christian Gospel are “sealed” with God’s Holy Spirit (21). Free forgiveness does not give us the licence to carry on living as we please and continuing to sin. The Apostle Paul anticipated this argument when he asked, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” He then answered his own question with a resounding, “God forbid!” (22).

 

We need reminding in these easy-going days of tolerance that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous people, drunkards, revilers and extortioners will be excluded for ever from His kingdom of righteousness. Yet in the church at Corinth were some who had come from these very backgrounds! Former fornicators, homosexuals, thieves, and extortioners sat side by side in the services. They had acknowledged these practices to be sinful and had renounced them. Now they were “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (23). A transformation had taken place. They had given up their sins and had been forgiven by a holy God.

 

The message of the Gospel has not changed, and God’s standards have not changed either. Sin, by God’s reckoning, merits punishment – and a punishment will be meted out one day on all who have not availed themselves of God’s own most gracious provision. In love God offers us forgiveness through His Son if only we will repent of our sins and believe that Christ died for us (24). Near the end of the last book in the Bible we have a description of two places. Forgiven sinners are seen in a place of bliss praising God for His mercy to them, while unforgiven sinners are seen in a place of torment from which there is no escape. Neutral ground does not exist.

 

 

JUST A LITTLE WORD…

Sin may be just a little word, but it has enormous repercussions. Who can measure the misery it has brought to this world? The fear of going out at night, the broken homes, the ruined lives, the wars, the overcrowded prisons all reflect one thing – sin. We cannot deny its existence and dare not ignore its consequences. It is perhaps significant that in our English language the central letter of that little word is “I”. One thing is at the heart of sin – and that is me. It couldn’t be more personal.

 

In life we often find ourselves excluded from some place or occupation because we lack the necessary qualification that would get us there. It may be a case of not possessing a visa or of not having passed the required examinations. In the matter of sin we all possess the same qualification: we are guilty before God (25). But the good news is that we may all therefore apply to the Living God for pardon and forgiveness because of the all-availing, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. The Bible makes it clear that “whosoever will” may come (26). All who truly repent, turn from their sin and place their trust in Christ can be eternally forgiven. There is everything to gain – or everything to lose.

 

END NOTES:-  All Scripture quotations are from the Authorized (King James) Version.

(1)Romans 5:12;  (2)1 Timothy 2:14;  (3)Romans 6:23;  (4)Exodus 20:1-17;  (5)Hebrews 4:12-13;  (6)Jeremiah 17:9;  (7)Romans 3:23;  (8)Romans 6:23;  (9)Revelation 21:27;  (10)Romans 8:3;  (11)1 Timothy 1:15;  (12)1 Peter 2:22;  (13)2 Corinthians 5:21;  (14)1 John 3:5;  (15)Hebrews 10:12;  (16)2 Corinthians 5:21;  (17)John 19:30;  (18)1 John 1:8;  (19)1 John 1:9;  (20)1 John 1:7;  (21)Ephesians 1:13;  (22)Romans 6:1-2;  (23)1 Corinthians 6:9-11;  (24)Acts 17:30-31;  (25)Romans 3:19;  (26)Revelation 22:17.