The Truth that Makes Us Free (4)
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—… Romans 5.12
A matter of opinion?
Ask a dozen people what they consider the greatest problem facing our world, and you’re likely to get almost as many different answers: “More justice!” cries one. “Economic opportunity,” insists another. “Less government”; “More government”; “Better education”; “Free health care”; “Environmental reform!” – the list goes on.
Most of these answers identify real problems, but they don’t quite get at the true nature of the mess we’re in as human beings. They’re rather like Yossarian, the character in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, who believed that covering his cold comrade with his flight jacket would relieve his suffering, only to discover that the reason he was cold had nothing to do with the outside air, but everything to do with the life-blood oozing out through a wound which Yossarian was not able to see.
We may have firm convictions about the problems that face us, and effective and perhaps even noble solutions or technologies for addressing those problems. But if we have misdiagnosed the truth of the situation, we’ll only end up making matters worse. What we fail to consider or see about a situation can be our undoing.
Unseen things are like that, and sin is the greatest unseen and unacknowledged problem facing the human race, the planet, and the entire cosmos. The mess the world is in is not simply a matter of opinion, of political persuasion, of material want, or of who has the most or best facts or leverage. It is the problem of sin. And while the world may scoff at such a notion, and while many Christians don’t like to talk about sin, because it makes us feel uncomfortable and judgmental, the Scriptures are not in the least shy about shoving the problem of sin in our faces over and over again.
How sin affects us
Sin is a spiritual condition which entered the human situation through the machinations of the devil and the disobedience of our first parents, as Paul, echoing Moses, explained. The Scriptures teach that all descendants of Adam and Eve – and that would be all of us – have inherited this condition, even though we will never be able to pinpoint the gene which bears the fatal disease. Sin being a spiritual condition, it cannot be located on one strand or link of our DNA; rather, it pervades the whole genome, orienting us by nature away from worshiping God and submitting to His Word, and causing us to look to ourselves and our own best ideas concerning how to make our way in the world.
Once we embark on such a course, however, the problem of sin becomes even more acute. Welling up from within the depths of our souls, a law of sin prevails so that sin affects all our words and deeds, and most of what we do in life is undertaken out of mere self-interest. Even the good things many people do can have deeply selfish motives, which is why they allow buildings and parks and highways to be named after them, so that everyone can admire them for the good works they have done.
The sin that thus infects our words and deeds is transmuted by our decisions and actions into the culture we create and use in order to define, sustain, and enrich our lives. Institutions become corrupt; conventions of language and law and social protocols deteriorate and degrade. The artifacts of culture we create reflect the selfishness in our souls and reinforce the notion that, in the end, it’s really all about me.
Of course, a certain amount of beauty, goodness, and truth appears in various ways throughout the world, but this is only the work of God’s common grace as He strives against our sinful tendencies to continue bearing witness to Himself and calling us to repent.
Thus sin, like an unseen spiritual virus or mold, attaches to everything we do and use, all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, so that it creates an environment of looking out for number 1, doing unto others before they do unto us, and using whatever lies at hand in as many ways as we can think of to gain an advantage over others, regardless of how that affects them.
And the longer we deny this unseen menace, or tolerate its presence, or rationalize its relative importance, the more firmly entrenched the lie of sin becomes established within and among us, where its corrupting influence wreaks havoc, decay, and destruction on everyone and everything.
Thus, the answer to the problem of sin is not education or justice or economics or government. They lie to us who insist these are our best hope.
The answer is what God reports in His truth – repentance, and looking to the God of Scripture to bring us the gift of forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ. No, your unbelieving friends won’t agree with this – at least, not right away. And yes, even certain of your Christian friends will find you tiresome because you insist on calling us to repent and pursue holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1).
But we must let God be true; and all who deny Him or seek to avoid His Word must be seen to be liars. The mess we’re in will only begin to heal when hearts are turned away from sin and self to grace and God, and we are the frail vessels tasked with the duty of making this necessity known to the world (2 Cor. 4.7, 15). To the extent we minimize the devastating effects of sin or neglect our calling to expose it and call people to turn from it, we add to the burden of lies that weighs our world with woe.
As the people in your life begin to see the power of God’s Word at work in you, producing the love of Jesus Christ with ever-increasing glory, they might be enabled to see the sin in their own lives and become willing to take another look at God’s truth and its explanation of the serious mess we’re in.
1. What is sin? How can we know when sin has established a foothold in our lives?
2. What is repentance? When is repentance necessary? Meditate on Psalm 119.59, 60. What do these verses suggest about the nature of repentance?
3. Meditate on Hebrews 12.1, 2. How does meditating on Jesus help us in discovering our sins and repenting of them? Should this be part of our normal “race” in this world? Explain.
Next steps – Preparation: How would you describe the state of repentance in your own life? Is this a practice you engage in frequently? Should it be? What can you do today to make repentance a more consistent part of your walk with the Lord?
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.