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This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. We know it. We’ve always known it. People throughout history have tried to identify exactly what is wrong with the world—lack of information, a few evil people who oppress the innocent, a struggle between the classes, an unfinished evolutionary process—but we have always known that something is off.

In most worldviews, it is inconsistent to believe that something is wrong with the world. In eastern pantheistic religions, for example, where this world is an illusion and everything is all part of “the one,” it simply won’t do to call some things evil and other things good. Hence the yin and the yang. Love and cruelty are both equally part of “the one,” so making distinctions between good and evil is a regression. If the goal is to avoid all distinctions and mindlessly acknowledge that all is one, we have no basis for identifying a problem with the world.

Or consider secularist worldviews. If there is no God, or if He plays no active role in the universe, then there can be no evil. If, as Carl Sagan famously asserted, “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” then all we can do is describe what is, not what ought to be. In other words, there can be no evil, and there is no problem with the world as it is. The world is simply what the world is, and that’s all we can ever say about it. Though atheists will often push Christians to answer “the problem of evil” (God is good, God cares about humanity, yet evil exists), the atheist cannot properly claim “the problem of evil” because the recognition of evil requires the existence of a moral standard.

The Christian worldview is the only one that can adequately explain the problem we see in the world. Why does every person find in himself the desire to live in a good, sinless world? Because that is the type of world God created us to live in. Why do we all believe something is wrong with the world? Because ever since man rebelled against God and thereby invited evil into the world, our experience of the world is marred. How can God be both good and caring in light of evil’s existence? Because man brought sin into the world through his rebellion, and God is actively fighting against evil.

In the next four posts, I want to explore the reality of sin. (Depressing, I know, but don’t worry—the end of the story is pretty amazing.) Sin is our great enemy in the world. You could say that we battle against the evil people or forces in the world, but they are evil because of sin. Or perhaps we battle against ourselves, but again, this is the result of sin (though we are not passive in entertaining sin). Or you could argue that our enemy is Satan, but while that is true, he is evil because of sin.

Here’s how a Puritan named Ralph Venning put it 1669 (in a book entitled Sin, Plague of Plagues, and re-titled The Sinfulness of Sin):

“In general, sin is the worst of evils, the evil of evil, and indeed the only evil. Nothing is so evil as sin; nothing is evil but sin…No evil is displeasing to God or destructive to man but the evil of sin. Sin is worse than affliction, than death, than Devil, than Hell. Affliction is not so afflictive, death is not so deadly, the Devil not so devilish, Hell not so hellish as sin is.”

Sin is awful. But I don’t think that we are all that convinced of how bad sin really is. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.” Can you say that you hate sin? If you’re not sure, stick around for the next few posts.

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

Look around you. Think about every situation you’ve ever been in. Every day of your life (including the very best and the very worst) has somehow been affected by sin. There is a fundamental difference between the world as it was when God created it and the world as it stands after Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

God placed His first man and woman in a beautiful garden where they lacked nothing. They experienced an intimacy with God that is difficult for us to get our minds around. But when they rebelled, everything changed. The ground was cursed and work became frustrating instead of joyful (as God designed it to be). Something as beautiful and life giving as childbirth became exceedingly painful (so I’m told). Adam and Eve were displaced from the beautiful home God had prepared for them, and found the entrance heavily guarded.

It has become axiomatic that relationships are difficult. Every book on marriage, relationships, communication, and pretty much everything else assumes that relationships are difficult to maintain. But that hasn’t always been the case. Relationships were whole and untainted by sin and doubt before the fall. We are specifically told that the man and woman were naked and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25), a reality that signifies a complete trust and acceptance in their relationship.

Once sin entered the world, however, all relationships became problematic. Sin takes that which is designed to be whole and divides it. Sin divides man from God, and it took the death of Jesus to restore this broken relationship. Sin also divides man from man. We mistrust, mislead, and misuse one another regularly. Psychologically, man is also divided within himself. We find the ravages of sin within our hearts, minds, and actions (more on this in the next post). Finally, man is divided from creation. We were tasked with lovingly caring for the creation, but now we must protect ourselves from it and we find ourselves abusing and exploiting it.

The “wages” of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and everything around us is touched by death. Death inhabits every page of the Bible (aside from the first few and the last few). Our world literally falls apart as entropy moves everything from a state of order to disorder. We feel it in ourselves, and we see it all around us. The author of Hebrews even goes so far as to say that we are subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Death is a bitter enemy, and it will be the last enemy destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).

All this is the result of sin. We cannot have an experience of the world that is not stained by sin. This should cause us to hate sin. It should lead us to long for something more. We all find this desire for an unbroken world deep within ourselves. And we are not the only ones who long for a world set to rights:

“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:19-25)

Paul’s words assure us that a discussion of sin—as horrific as it is—does not have to be depressing. There is hope and healing, but we’ll wait on that until later this week.

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

Sin touches everything around us. And as bad as that is, the problem is worse than sin being everywhere. Sin is not just “out there.” Sin runs through each of us.

Everything we see “out there” is stained by sin. But even the eyes through which we see the world are clouded by sin. Our worldview is distorted because of the lies we believe; we don’t think as we ought to think (1 Cor. 2:14).

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could not have stated it better:

“If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

If sin were somehow external to us, then maybe we could do something about it. If we could round up the evil people and ship them to a deserted island or put them all in jail, then the rest of us could live happy, holy lives. If we gather up everything around us that is affected by sin, we could either remove it or repair it. If we could identify sin as a substance, perhaps we could learn to avoid it, or fight it off when it came to affect our world.

But we’re all infected by it. It permeates the external world and our own hearts. This side of the fall, the human experience is saturated with sin and its deleterious effects. So foundational is depravity to the human experience that every plot line in every story takes the presence of sin as a given. There would be no drama if there were no sin. You can count on it: When human beings interact with the world, with one another, and with God, sin is involved.

Paul captured this brilliantly in Romans 7:

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

Theologians squabble over whether Paul was speaking of an unsaved person, a Christian who still struggles with sin, or a “representative Jew.” The answer is important, no doubt, but what seems clear is that Paul is describing a person who is trying to please God in the flesh apart from the Spirit (see Romans 8 for what a person pleasing God in the Spirit looks like). Paul’s description of sin’s deep seated and continuous pull describes the struggle that philosophers, artists, and gurus throughout the ages have wrestled with.

I can’t do what I want to do because sin “lies close at hand;” it even “dwells within me.” So now, after three posts on sin, its inherent ickiness, its ubiquity, and its debilitating presence in our lives, we are ready for an answer. We cry out like Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Of course, we all know the answer to that question. But we will explore the answer in greater depth tomorrow.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

The weight of sin compounds until it becomes unbearable. It is at this moment that Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). How do we answer this? What is the solution to “the sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1)?

Paul answers his own question in the very next breath: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” When we feel the weight of sin and its utter filthiness, when we see it staining everything around us, when we feel its terrible pull even within our own hearts, then we can truly appreciate what Jesus has done to deal with sin.

It is at this point that the “Sunday school” answers come alive:

 “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3)

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:6-7)

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” (Hebrews 10:12-13)

In part 1, I mentioned that Christianity alone has an answer for the problem of evil. How can God be both powerful and loving if evil exists? The answer is that human beings invited sin into the world, and that God is actively fighting against it. This battle with sin began the moment Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and God vowed that one day, her descendant would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).

This is exactly what we find in Jesus. In offering “for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” Jesus dealt the fatal blow. The power of sin is loosed. The sting of death is removed. According to Hebrews 10, Jesus dealt with the problem of evil, then sat down at the right hand of God, where He waits for the proper time when all of His enemies will be placed under His feet.

Sin and evil are still realities that we face everyday, and we should not minimize their pull and the wake of destruction they leave behind. Sin still changes people’s lives for the worse. Yet Satan is a defeated foe, and his final doom is certain. The evil in this world still causes pain and suffering, and sin still “clings so closely.” But the moment Jesus rose from the grave, this world became a fundamentally different place. We are assured that sin will not have the last word.

Paul promises: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). But that is the subject of the next (and last) post on sin.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

Why do a series of blog posts on sin? So I can talk about the end of the story! Think about it. We spend every moment of our lives in a cursed world. The effects of sin are everywhere, from the pain that haunts us to the pollution in the air to the brokenness in our relationships. Every tear we shed, every unsatisfied longing we feel, every regret we entertain—sin surrounds us, threatens us, takes every opportunity to ruin that which God created to be good.

The world is not now as it is supposed to be. In the first pages of the Bible, we see a picture of our world. The world of Genesis 1-2 looks familiar, yet there’s something distorted about it—distorted in a good way! It’s a “good” version of our world. It’s difficult to read without a sense of loss and a longing for a place we’ve never visited but recognize as our true home.

“The Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan Van Eyck (1432)

The good news is that at the greatest possible cost to Himself, God has defeated sin through Jesus Christ! We experience substantial healing now, and receive the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to conquer sin in our lives and enables us to please God (see Rom. 8). Through the redemption that Jesus offers, we are called into the battle against sin and evil that God has been fighting from the very beginning. This battle is deadly serious, and even with God’s enabling power we will only just overcome in the end.

But there will come a day when we will step into eternity. The time is coming when our experience with the sin-stained world will come to an end and we will find the home we have always longed for in God’s new creation. John was given a vision of the end of the story, and what he saw resonates deeply in the heart of every Christian. He saw a picture of God’s new heavens and new earth. This new creation evokes the good creation of Genesis 1-2, yet things appear to be even more glorious in the end. When John sees the new creation, he records some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Think of every tear you’ve ever cried, and picture God Himself wiping those tears away, promising that you will never shed another tear. Think of all the ways that death has affected your life—from stories on the news, to family members passing away, to the fear of death that has hung over you like a dark cloud—and hear God’s declaration that death shall be no more. Think about all the pain you’ve experienced, whether personally or vicariously through those you care about. There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more crying. The former things will pass away. Everything will be made new.

Here is our glorious future. And the part that should sustain us more than any other is that “the dwelling place of God is with man.” He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be with us as our God.

The story of sin has an amazing ending. In the beginning, God. Sin has affected much in the middle, but even then God’s plan of redemption has brought healing and victory in unbelievable ways. And then in the future, God. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. But that day is coming.

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