The Need for Restoration (2)
… whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14.23
Many Christians in our day suffer from an inadequate understanding of sin. It’s not that we don’t believe in sin; rather, it’s that we do not truly understand its pervading, perverting, and perduring power. We tend to think of sin as a moral lapse, something we do that’s wrong. We try to avoid such lapses, or at least, to minimize their visibility and damage.
But sin is not, in the first instance, an action. It’s not even a thought, not in essence. Sin is a spiritual condition marked by separation from God and subjection to powers bent on evil, wickedness, destruction, dissolution, and death. The condition of sin pervades the vast creation, a pernicious spiritual presence which makes things not the way they’re supposed to be. Sin prevents the creation from realizing its full fruitfulness and flourishing, and causes waste and blight and natural disasters to ravage God’s good world.
Sin also operates within the soul of every person, a condition Paul describes as the “law of sin” (Rom. 7.21-23). The operative presence of this law in our souls works to obscure the teaching of God’s Law, which is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12), and which God has inscribed on the heart of every person (Rom. 2.14). Because people are the image-bearers of God, they know that such things as good and evil exists, and they have a general sense of what is good and ought to be adhered to and taught, as C. S. Lewis argued in his book, The Abolition of Man.
But the law of sin perverts the heart, implanting wicked and selfish desires above the desire for God. It corrupts the mind, leading us to embrace half-truths and lies rather than to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Jesus Christ. And the law of sin hijacks our priorities, so that the interests of self trump the interests of Christ and His Kingdom more often than not. Thus all of culture and society reflects the groaning and travailing of the creation because of the ravages of sin.
Sin is deadly spiritual poison which remains in the systems even of those who believe, and which must be actively, aggressively, and continuously sought out, detested, repented of, and forsaken if we are to make progress in the ministry of reconciliation which has been entrusted to us.
Yet it is important to understand that, while God is not the author of sin, nor does He approve it, yet He rules over sin and uses it for His purpose in moving His people to their work of restoration.
The effects of sin
Sin is the result of our first parents’ rebellion against God and His Word. In choosing to be their own law-makers, Adam and Eve set aside the clearly-revealed will of God, scorned His threats, abused His creation, transgressed His mandate, and gave His arch-foe a beachhead in the good creation of God. We see the effects of this condition immediately (Gen. 3).
Adam and Eve became ashamed of the way God had made them, and tried to save face before one another with crudely-fashioned coverings. They became blame-shifters – Adam to his wife, Eve to the serpent, and both of them together to God. They cut themselves off from God and actively sought to avoid Him. The beautiful, welcoming, and cooperative garden was forfeited, and the man and woman were thrust out into a world where the condition of sin had already begun working against them. Work that had been designed as a source of beauty, goodness, and prosperity now became tedious and difficult labor, in a creation that seemed determined to frustrate their efforts to make a living. Pain and suffering now attended every human endeavor, including bringing more humans into the world. In Genesis 4, violence among men erupted; whole societies were started for the sole purpose of advancing the power, prestige, and prosperity of the few at the expense of everyone else. Works of culture are created, celebrating the prowess of sinful men and making it possible to advance their self-serving agenda, without regard for God’s original mandate.
The story of humankind, including those chosen by God to be His agents of reconciliation, is the record of sin’s ravages. The writer of Hebrews, looking forward to a different world, a world where God’s original dominion mandate would increasingly be the way of things, lamented the fact that the world in his day was a far cry from the way it is supposed to be (Heb. 2.5-8; cf. Ps. 8).
Even today, we do not see that very-good-the-way-it’s-supposed-to-be world flourishing around us. The goodness of the Lord remains in all the earth, but as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, where men refuse to take God’s measuring rod into consideration, there “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;/And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil/Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod” (“God’s Grandeur”).
I hardly need to mount an argument for the continuing and corrupting influence of the condition of sin in the world today. The writer of Hebrews insisted that God’s mandate to rule the earth in His stead, and to bring out His goodness and glory in all things, remained then and thus remains today. And though we don’t much see that mandate coming to fruition, yet, the writer explained, “we see Jesus”. And this is the key to all our work of restoration.
Looking to Jesus is the way to overcome sin and its effects, first, of course, for the new birth and forgiveness that it brings. All who look to Jesus in faith are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and have the Word of the Lord opened to them. They are redeemed from the constricting power of the serpent and set free to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.
Looking to Jesus, we learn how to bind the devil and grow through temptation. We follow Him in obedience to God’s Word for increasing righteousness. We increase in holy power and are transformed into the very likeness of Christ; He increases in us as our sinful self decreases. He leads us into the resurrection life of His Kingdom, showing us the world which is to come, and leading and empowering us to realize more of that coming Kingdom in the here and now of our lives.
Sin does not have the last word in God’s creation. But it has powerful effects, and we know them well. We must not be complacent or content with the wretched and wasteful effects of sin. Instead, looking to Him Who has reconciled all things to God, we accept our own calling to the ministry of reconciliation and daily take up the work of making all things new in Jesus Christ.
1. How do you see the effects of sin continuing in our world today?
2. Why can we as believers not be content with the world being not the way it’s supposed to be?
3. How can Christians help one another to be more consistent and fruitful in “looking unto Jesus”?
Next Steps – Transformation: Meditate on Jesus, exalted in glory. What one thing does He show you about His majesty, greatness, holiness, beauty, and power that you can bring to the work of restoration today?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.