In Chapter Two we considered the fact that, as the Bible describes it, sin is much more than a mere breaking of the rules. Sin is a breakdown of trust or trustworthiness. Sin means a stubborn and suspicious unwillingness to listen. It includes all the damaging consequences of our being unwilling to listen to our heavenly Father. Jesus came to set right everything that had gone wrong, and to set it right in such a way that it would stay right for the rest of eternity.
Let us review again what has gone wrong, because to understand what went wrong helps us to understand the methods God has used to set things right. It particularly helps us to understand why Jesus had to die. Our God has been accused, specifically, of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. God sent His Son to reveal the truth about these matters. Why was it not enough for Jesus simply to come and live among us the way He did? Why was it not enough simply to tell us the truth about His Father and then demonstrate it by His gracious treatment of the worst of sinners? Couldn’t He just show by His life that God, indeed, is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be?
The way Jesus lived and the way He treated people is, of course, vital evidence. We will address that topic in detail in Chapter Thirteen, “How God Treats His Erring Children.” But remember that the most serious charge leveled against God is that He has lied to us. He lied when He said that sin results in death (Gen 2:17). Worse than that, Satan has turned God’s gracious warning to our first parents in the Garden of Eden into a terrifying threat. He pictures God as saying to Adam and Eve, “Either you obey Me, or I’ll kill you!” And think of the baleful effect which this perversion of the truth about our God has had on the human race. Think how it has poisoned people’s attitude toward God and their practice of religion. Think of picturing our gracious God as saying, “You either love and obey Me, or I’ll torture and execute you in My righteous wrath.” How could this satanic view of God win the wide acceptance that it has?
For thousands of years, parents have sacrificed even their own children to win the favor of their offended gods. Even in the Christian world it is believed by many that if it were not for Christ’s appeasement of His Father’s wrath (sometimes called propitiation), we would have been destroyed long ago. Similarly, it is also believed that were it not for Christ’s constant pleading with the Father, God could not find it in His own heart to forgive and heal His children.
Who could have thought up such perversion? Does it fit the picture of God in all sixty-six books? Does anything need to be done to persuade God to love His children? The testimony of all sixty-six books is that God has always loved even His most wayward child. That is summed up in John 3:16, “God so loved the world. . . .” God loves not just His good children, but all His children, both good and bad.
Those serious words to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were no threat. Those words were a gracious warning, sin actually results in death. Sin so changes the sinner that the natural consequence of this condition is death. Cut off by his own rebellious choice from the source of life, the sinner will die. Out of harmony with God by his own rebellious rejection, the sinner is so changed that even the life-giving glory of God becomes a consuming fire. How can this best be clarified? Not by claims, but by evidence and demonstration.
One way to answer this charge would have been for God to allow Adam and Eve to die. And He could have said to the universe, “Who is telling the truth? I said sinners would die! It is the Devil who has lied to you.” Or going back even further, God could have left Satan and his followers to reap the natural results of their sin and they would have perished. And surely then there would have been no question about the truthfulness of God’s warning. Why didn’t God make those relatively easy choices? He could have saved all the painful history since that time.
Keep in mind, however, that the beings in the universe had never seen death before. So had they watched Satan and his followers die, there was the hazard that they would assume God was executing His own children who did not please Him. Then there would be the danger that the angels would serve God from fear, and the obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel. And rebelliousness is the essence of sin. For this reason God did not take that relatively easy way. He did not want the obedience and “love” that springs from fear. That kind of obedience has dire consequences and is totally unacceptable to a God as gracious as we know Him to be. So instead of taking what may have seemed the easy way, God chose to send His Son in human form. He died the death that is the natural result of sin. And the universe was able to see how God was involved in the death of the “wicked.”