Tag Archives: sin

The Problem of Sin

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.”

What Sin Is All About

Conversations About God 2:2

A crisis of distrust developed in God’s universal family. As we reviewed earlier, our heavenly Father has been accused of being unworthy of our trust. Specifically, He has been accused of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And thus sin entered our universe for the first time. For the Bible, sin is much more than a mere breaking of the rules, serious as that might be. In its essence, sin is a violation of mutual trust. It is a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness, a stubborn unwillingness to listen to the One who is so eager to help us in our predicament.

Doesn’t the Bible specifically state, however, that sin is breaking the rules? How about the key text we’ve learned from childhood up, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV)? Actually, that’s a rather free translation. The Greek word that John used is anomia, and it means, literally, lawlessness. “Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, Williams). In other words, sin is described as a state of mind, an attitude. And anyone in that state of mind is a continuing threat to the peace and security of the universal family. Sin will not have been truly dealt with until our lawlessness has either been changed or eliminated. Sin begins with a lawless, rebellious state of mind.

The hazard of regarding sin primarily as breaking the rules is that such a mindset tends to encourage an impersonal, even fearful relationship with God. If we regard sin as primarily a breaking of the rules, God’s commandments may be misunderstood as arbitrary regulations designed to show His authority and test our willingness to obey. If we obey, we’re rewarded. If we disobey, we’re destroyed. Do you want to live under those circumstances?

Since we all have sinned, should we be fearfully awaiting the execution of the sentence? Or have we been spared because God found some legal way to give us yet another chance? And if we turn down that second chance, will He punish us with even greater severity for our ingratitude? Would such an understanding help produce the peace and the freedom from fear that God desires so much in His universal family?

Actually though, if rightly understood, there is a sense in which one can say that sin is a breaking of the rules. Let’s look again God’s commandments, particularly the Decalogue. All those Ten Commandments ultimately require is that we love God and we love each other (Matt 22:36-40). And if we really did that we would have peace and freedom. In fact, in the tenth of the Ten Commandments it says that we should not even want to sin. If we lived in that state of mind, not even wanting to do anything unloving, we would have freedom to be sure, and all kinds of peace and good will.

But can love actually be commanded? Or produced by force or by fear? To put it vividly, has God said to us children, “You either love Me, and love each other, or I’ll have to kill you. Do I make Myself clear?” Have you husbands ever tried that on your wives and children? Did it work? Imagine your wives and children trembling in front of you and saying in unison, “Oh, yes, daddy. We love you very much.” Would you be pleased? Would you be satisfied? If so, then you’re a brute. And the God some of us worship would never settle for that.

Having said that, we all must admit that the Bible is full of references to law, discipline, punishment and rewards, even final fiery destruction. And since our purpose in this series is always to look at the Bible as a whole, not just “here a little and there a little,” we must look at all these other passages seriously. In fact, several chapters of this book will be devoted to God’s wide use of law and why Jesus indeed had to die. And we will talk about how, in reality, God’s law is no threat to our freedom! To understand that is really the truth that sets us free.

Going back to the beginning, sin entered our universe when angels ceased to trust. As a consequence, they themselves became untrustworthy. James 4:17 offers a familiar definition: “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (RSV).” It is rebellious to act that way. It is lawless to act that way. Anyone who behaves like that is certainly not trustworthy to have around in a free universe.

Look at Romans 14:23 in several, different versions: “Any action that is not based on faith is a sin.” (Moffat) “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (RSV).” “When we act apart from our faith we sin (Phillips).” In a text from the book of Ezra (10:2), the Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity are confessing that they have done several things that they should not have done. But they describe their misbehaviors in these words: “We have broken faith with our God (RSV).” “We have been unfaithful to our God (NIV).” These texts underline that the essence of sin is a breach of faith; it’s a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness.

Chapter 2: “What Went Wrong in God’s Universe”

This blog begins chapter two of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures of Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that followed are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

In the previous chapter we summarized the war that broke out in Heaven, as described in Revelation 12. This conflict within God’s family began right in His very presence, in the mind of God’s most honored and trusted angel. This raised the question, What really went wrong in God’s universe? This question is important because understanding what went wrong helps us to understand the methods God is using to put right the things that have gone wrong. We often call these methods “The Plan of Salvation.” As we noted in the last chapter, we’re accustomed to thinking of the plan of salvation as God’s gracious provision to save you, me, and other sinners on this planet. But in the larger view of the great controversy, the plan of salvation is God’s way of setting right what went wrong in the whole universe, and setting it right in such a way that it will never go wrong again.

What really did go wrong? To begin with, it helps to consider what made things go so right before the war in heaven began. Before the war there was peace. There was peace because all the members of God’s vast family trusted each other. They trusted their heavenly Father. And He in turn could safely trust in them. Where you have that kind of mutual trust and trustworthiness, there is perfect peace, perfect freedom, and perfect security.