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Yesterday I said that everything in this world is important because of the kingdom of God. If God’s righteous reign is to spread into every aspect of this world, then we need to take everything seriously. This is God’s world, and we should love every inch of it and long to see it redeemed (Rom. 8:19–25).

One of the major reasons we have trouble thinking highly of this world is the reality of sin. Our world is soaked in sin. Sin is responsible for everything from thistles to headaches to rude customers to cancer to death itself. So when we look at the world, we see sin. It’s unavoidable.

So let’s burn the place to the ground! Right? When the milk in my fridge gets corrupted, I plug my nose and pour it down the drain. There’s nothing lovely about spoiled milk.

But our world is different. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew use a helpful analogy here. They explain that sin is like a stain. It’s messy, it taints what it touches, but it’s different than the fabric itself. There is still good fabric underneath the stain. If I love my favorite shirt enough, I don’t throw it out with my every coffee spill.

Here’s where I’ll carry the analogy a bit too far and into some cheesy territory. I do everything I can to clean my shirt. Very often, I can get the stain out. If that doesn’t work, I can always take it to the cleaners. And lucky for us (brace yourself for the cheesiness), we know the ultimate Cleaner who at the end of all things will bring us back our once-stained world, sparkling clean, renewed, reinvigorated, and—because our Cleaner is also the Master Tailor—made even better than before.

Cheesiness aside, I hope the point is coming across. This exercise would be so helpful for all of us: read Genesis 1 and 2, then skip ahead to Revelation 21 and 22. These are the bookends of Scripture and the parallels are stunning.

So what do we do? We engage every aspect of our world with Christian fury. We look to politics, economics, education, childcare, and entertainment with a passion to see God’s will done in each of these spheres. Rather than turning away in disgust because these activities are too corrupt, we ask ourselves what it would mean for each of these spheres to come under the lordship of Christ and be transformed by his grace.

Of course, this task is difficult. Impossible even. But if God’s plan of redemption is indeed as wide as creation itself, then we will have to represent him across the board. We can’t be defeatist and give up simply because we can’t do the whole job by ourselves. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing even if we’re bound to fail. We labor to see God’s will done in and around us, and we trust him for the results.

Our world is stained by sin, but it’s worth fighting for. Let’s attack the stain but rescue the fabric.

Many of you noticed that our blog was hit by some sort of virus at the end of last week.[1] Google Chrome users travelled to our site only to find a very intimidating warning claiming that if they wanted to read about practical theology, their computers would be commandeered by the devil. Or something to that effect.

If you’ve never had something that you’ve poured so much of your heart into corrupted by a bunch of malevolent zeros and ones, let me assure you that it’s frustrating.  It got me thinking about why this kind of thing happens.

Everyone loves the world wide interwebs. Think of how much it allows us to do. Think of all the good it has done and continues to do for the kingdom of God. Think even of the ways that it makes our daily lives easier. How could something so potentially good be used for evil purposes?

Welcome to the fallen world. Here, people have evil intentions in their hearts (Jer. 17:(9). You’ve never met a “good person” in your life (Rom. 3:23). Everyone is tainted in their thinking, their actions, and their desires. And our world suffers dearly because of it.

Look around you. Literally everything you have ever seen in your entire life has been affected by sin. One man sinned a long time ago, and since then, all of God’s green earth has been wincing and groaning (Rom. 5:12; 8:22).

The corruption of sin does not stop with the visible world. Everything is subject to decay (Rom. 8:19–21). And everything bears the potential to be co-opted for some evil purpose. For example, words are good creations of God, yet they are often forced to serve someone or something other than their Creator. Look at the speeches of the atheist. Or the poem of Lamech (Gen. 4:23­–24, significantly, this is the first poem recorded in the Bible).

The same goes for the zeros and ones that make up every aspect of our computer programs. Something that should be good for everyone, that we all desire to use for good purposes, is vulnerable to misappropriation. Evil people (people with sinful hearts just like ours) lurk on the other side of our screens, trying to make our computing experiences less enjoyable, more harmful, and ultimately, trying to get some of our money or information or something.

If it existed, the New Technological Version of the Bible would quote Paul as saying, “Our computers (Macs and PCs) have been groaning together in the pains of childbirth…” (Rom. 8:22, NTV).

Computer viruses are one more important reminder that our world is stained by sin, and one more important goad calling us to long for the final day of redemption. Sin gets everywhere, even “in the computer” (in the words of Derek Zoolander).

Praise God that his great plan of redemption is as wide as creation itself. His healing spreads as far as the curse is found. Together we can long for that day when there are no more tears, no more pain, no more sickness, no more computer viruses.

 

 


[1] Or may have been. For those who are interested, Google Chrome is the only browser that seemed to care, and we’re still not convinced that anything bad happened with the site. Our “people” are diligently looking into it.

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 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 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.

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