Which of the following is an ideal life for a Christian?
a. One who got saved when he was a child;
b. One who rebelled in his youth and then got saved when he was a single professional; or
c. One who enjoyed the riches of this world, became sick when he was aging and then repented when he was in his deathbed; therefore, got saved just before death?
Okay. I’m not trying to bring down those who got to know the Lord at their old age. God, in his wise counsel, “has made everything beautiful in its time”.1 But what I’m trying to get at is our perception of sin. If we answered the third one, then we might not have yet grasped the corruption of sin and how our holy Lord abhors it. If we think that it is better to enjoy sin and then get to heaven, then we just want a pass to heaven, but we do not really love God.
In this two-part blog, I will attempt to establish truths relevant to sin and sanctification. But I think this subject is so important in our walk with God that we need to digest it thoroughly. I do not expect the reader to be able to let go immediately of habitual sins, but I believe meditation of these truths are essential to killing of sin. Please study them more carefully as I have found them to be life-changing in my personal walk with the Lord. As Christians, we really ought to understand what sin is and how it relates to us as Christians. We need to know who we are in Christ. “Being leads to doing. Knowing leads to acting”.2 So, make sure you got it well in the head first, that you may be careful to act out your identity in Christ. Nevertheless, I am praying that through this post, the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sins and show the abounding benefits of continuous walking by him.
The Fall of Man
In order for us to understand what sin is, it is important that we get to the first occurrence of sin and have an idea what took place. As we observe the fall of man from Genesis 3, I’ll encourage you to reflect on your own life as well.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
From this passage, I would like us to observe four things to the nature of sin:
v. 1 Did God actually say…? – We see the serpent here questioning the Word of God. Man chose to believe the lies of the devil instead of the truth of God.
v. 5 you will be like God – Isn’t it that God created man in the image of God? We know that from Genesis 2. But man was not content on being the image, he wanted more. He wanted to be the master of himself instead of submitting to God. Man wanted his own way; he disrespected the design of God.
v. 6 delight to the eyes – Man looked for pleasures in the thing that was forbidden. ‘Masarap ang bawal.’ Rather than enjoying God, he searched for pleasures beyond God.
v. 6 make one wise – Man chose to seek wisdom apart from God and was wise in his own eyes.3
As a consequence, God cursed humanity and banished them from the garden. Though because of God’s love for humanity, he promised an offspring of the woman who will bruise the head of the serpent, but whose heel will be bruised in the process.4
Now what has this have to do with us? Like the first man, we too have questioned God’s truth both as unbelievers and also even now as a Christian. Whenever we are in a pinch, we twist what the Word of God says to our own destruction. ‘Is it true that God really cares for you, that you will not have to be anxious?’ ‘Does God really give grace to the humble; wouldn’t it be easier and natural to take pride in yourself?’ ‘Did God really say that homosexuality is a sin, even if no one is hurt?’ That is why it is written, God gave us up in the lusts of our hearts to impurity because we exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.5
Like Adam and Eve, we too wanted to be like God, the God who has the utmost freedom to do what pleases him. Instead of submitting to him, we wanted to do our own way. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”6 We wanted to define our selves on our terms. We rebelled against God.
Like the first man and woman, we looked for delight in the wrong places. Even though we can only be satisfied fully in God since we are made for his glory, we searched for happiness from our career, from our love life, from money, from leisure, from anything but God. As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.”
This was not a small thing of eating a certain fruit. This was an utmost insult towards the holy God. We have always heard that God is love, but what some people really mean by that is God will tolerate their sinful lifestyle. How far are they in knowing God! How can God, the Creator of the universe, the eternal Being, the all-knowing, all-powerful God tolerate the twistedness of his own creation? God could have destroyed his creation and he would still be justified in doing so.
Slaves to Sin
As a consequence of this rebellion, we have become slaves to sin. What do I mean by that? Let me elaborate by saying what it is not. Have you heard the term ‘free will’? What does it mean? Oftentimes, what people or even Christians mean when they pertain to ‘free will’ is the equal freedom to do what is right or wrong. It means, they say, that we have the ability to choose God or not. Now, that’s unbiblical. Why? Read the Old Testament. How many times did the Israelites disobey God despite the giving of the law, despite the many prophets that warned them? In your own life and experience, before you knew the Lord, did you have any appetite for God and his Word? Did you desire honoring him and obeying him? The Bible is very clear on this, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…no one does good, not even one.”7 Let that sink in: No one does good. Apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, you cannot accomplish any good thing. Why is that so? How do we define what is good? If the Lord is good and righteous and he is the moral law giver, wouldn’t it make sense that ‘good’ is in accordance to who he is, that good things are the things that are only done for the glory of God? So no matter how noble we might think of our deeds, if it’s not done for God’s glory, it isn’t a good thing. We cannot separate good from God. There is no separate moral law from God; his moral law reflects who he is. It is a sin to lie because God does not lie. It is a sin to murder because God does not kill unjustly. It is a sin to commit idolatry because only God deserves all worship and honor and praise.
Therefore, we are slaves to sin. That is, if the Holy Spirit did not quicken our hearts and made us alive so that we may have a relationship with God, we will continue to live in sin. We will choose sin all our lives. We are in bondage to sin.
Iniquity, Transgression and Sin
So far, I have shown, hopefully, why Adam’s sin deserves the punishment that God brought them, and how we are guilty of our own sins as well. But at this point, let us define what sin is.
In Exodus 34.6-7, God defined himself towards Moses. It was the first time God made himself known comprehensively in the Bible. And so it says: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” Quite a declaration of who God is, right? This was so monumental that it was repeated and allured to in the Old Testament many times: in Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalms, Jeremiah, Joel and Jonah, to mention some. Did you catch the last part: “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”? Wait what? In our modern ears, that sounded like ‘forgiving sin and sin and sin’. Is there a distinction among those three?
In its basic definition, sin is missing the mark. It is failing to conform to the moral law of God.8 We are made for the glory of God but we have fallen short of that glory. We failed to adhere to God’s law.
Transgression, on the other hand, is a modern translation of the word ‘trespass’.9 When we trespass, we go over an area where we are not allowed. And in the Bible, transgression is often used in the context of relationship which implies breaching the trust of a person, a rebellion. So when I break a rule, I commit sin. But when I slander my friend, that is transgression: breaching the trust of my neighbor.
How about iniquity? It is related to the word ‘crookedness’ or being ‘bent’. So iniquity is rooted in one’s behavior that he can no longer recognize what’s straight.10 You are so corrupt then you have grown callous of your moral degradation.
Iniquity, transgression and sin. Ultimately, a violation of a moral code is a transgression. Because the law is anchored to who God is, we are not just violating an impersonal moral code. As people who are made in the image of God, we are transgressing the very nature of God. And this has not been a one time thing, but it is deeply rooted in our nature as a result of the sin of Adam, that we are so crooked and that we bear our iniquity towards God.
Going back to Exodus 34.6-7, what it really says is God forgives all these types of sin: whether it be a missing the mark of a moral code, a breach of trust, a rebellion, a crookedness or corruption. God does forgive. But the mystery is the next part of the verse: “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty”. In a single sentence, a tension is shown between God’s forgiveness and his justice. He forgives and yet does not let go of sin unpunished.
In the second part of this blog, we will resolve this tension and see its implication to Christians like us.
Ecclesiastes 3.11 ↩
Proverbs 3.7 ↩
Genesis 3.15 ↩
Romans 1.25 ↩
Isaiah 53.6 ↩
Romans 3.10-12 ↩
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology. Zondervan, 2008. ↩