Foundations for a Christian Worldview: Unseen Things (3)
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Genesis 4.6, 7
The reality of sin
As the people of Israel waited on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, God surveyed their readiness. His report to Moses was not encouraging: “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut. 5.29) Implying, of course, that the people did not have such a heart, that they would not fear God and always obey Him, and that, as a consequence, things would not go well with them for very long.
The question arises: Why, given all Israel had witnessed of the greatness and graciousness of God, and in view of the precious and very great promises He held out to them – why did the people have such a difficult time getting in step with His Law?
The answer is found in yet another unseen component of the worldview which we begin to discover in the Law of God: sin. Already, in the earliest chapters of the Law, sin is active among the fallen people of God, crouching like a lion to devour whoever refuses to prepare against its terrible power.
Sin, as the apostle John explained, is transgression of the Law of God (1 Jn. 3.4). Sin, Paul explained, is whatever we do apart from faith in God (Rom. 14.23). When we break the Law, we sin. When we trust our best judgment rather than God’s, we sin. Sin has destructive consequences for us and the people affected by our sin. Sin dulls the heart, so that we do not love God as we ought, but focus our desires on ourselves and created things. Sin encourages us to make up our own minds about right and wrong and good and evil, and to consider that we know better than God what will get us to the true and good life we desire.
And – unless our hearts have become completely hardened – sin always leaves us dissatisfied and disappointed, ridden with guilt and shame, and very often, with broken and abused people in our wake.
Sin is very real. The word may sound quaint to sophisticated moderns, and they may prefer to think that no such thing as sin exists. But everyone will agree that people do wrong. People hurt one another. People violate the rights of their neighbors. People steal and maim and oppress and cheat. People bully. People lie and betray one another. People, that is, sin.
But why do we sin?
The rebellion of Adam and Eve introduced the unseen power of sin into the cosmos, concentrated in the souls of human beings (cf. Rom. 5.12). Sin affects every aspect of creation, beginning in the hearts, minds, and consciences of people. Our natural set-of-the-soul is ruled bysin and therefore untosinning. Sins and sinning we can see; sin, we cannot. But it is the reality of sinthat makes sinningand sinsa problem to be reckoned with by all people.
Sin is that spiritual malady that turns the heart and all the soul away from God and His Law, and that affects the entire creation of God in ways contrary to His good and perfect will. We cannot see sin as such, but we can see it in action. Sin was active in Israel from the day God delivered them from Egypt. It continued active throughout their journey in the wilderness. And it was present and active in the hearts of His people, even as they prepared to cross the Jordan and enter the land of promise.
God knew this full well; nevertheless, He lamented the lack of a heart for Him within His people, and He looked forward to the day when He would “operate” on their hearts so that, overcoming the power of sin, they would hear and obey Him (cf. Deut. 30.1-10; Ezek. 36.26, 27). God would not leave His people in sin; He promised to establish a new set-of-the-soul in them, so that they would learn what is true and good, and would overcome the evil that lingers in their soul with good works of love for God and their neighbors.
But until God accomplished this work in them, the people of Israel, in spite of their many accomplishments, would be ruled by hearts like that of Cain – hearts laden with self-interest, jealousy, rage, greed, and murder.
God knew the hearts of His people were ruled by sin and self-interest. Nevertheless, He commanded them to walk in the ways of His Law; and, knowing they would fail, He provided means, through offerings, sacrifices, and Sabbaths, for them to be continually renewed in His grace. God shows, beginning in His Law, that, while sin is endemic in the soul, grace can overcome it.
Sin and sins
The Law of God takes into account the sin as well as the sins of people. It does not excuse disobedience, because of sin; rather, it commands obedience, because of grace. Grace ever exists from God to carry us through our transgressions into His favor once again. Grace to overcome evil with good is available to all who seek it from the Lord, even as early as God’s warning to Cain.
In the Law, this grace could be known through sacrifices and offerings, which served to cover, for the time, the sins of God’s people. The heart could be readied with grace by reading and meditating in the Law of God, seeking Him in prayer, and avoiding those practices which are known to be contrary to God’s will.
Yet beyond this, the Law pointed the people forward to the greater obedience and the perfect sacrifice and offering of a Lamb without spot or blemish – even our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 7-9). In Him the Law is fulfilled, the sacrifices are complete, and grace is available to even the most wretched of sinners. In Him not only are sins forgiven and cleansed, but sin itself is destroyed forever.
Forgiveness of sin, and the renewal of our souls, sets us, by God’s Spirit, on a path of obedience in which grace carries us step by step into greater degrees of Christlikeness (2 Cor. 3.12-18). God still commands us to obey His Law (Rom. 7.12; Matt. 5.17-19; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). He still warns us against sin’s destructive powers (1 Pet. 5.8). But now He gives us the heart and His own Spirit to set our souls for love, so that we will and do according to His pleasure, overcoming the evil of sin with the power of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 12.21; Phil. 2.12, 13).
Sin still has a destructive place in the worldview we find in Scripture, but the true believer, clinging to Christ and walking in God’s Word and Spirit, is set free from the murderous power of sin into the newness of God’s grace and love (Jn. 8.31-36).
1. How would you explain the idea of sin to an unbelieving friend?
2. How can we know that an unseen spiritual malady – sin – abides in the hearts of people? What dangers result from denying this unseen reality?
3. What do we mean by saying that grace overcomes sin? How do we see that in the Law? To what greater grace does the Law point? How does it do that?
Next steps – Transformation: Meditate on 1 John 1.8-10. How should believers deal with sin? How often should they do this? Is this part of your daily walk with the Lord?
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.