New Horizons

Doctrine 101: Sin

Edward N. Gross

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of our having an accurate and adequate perception of sin. Since sin is the real and ultimate problem facing us, a true definition of it is crucial.

False views of sin lead to false plans of redemption from it. If liberationists are right and sin is primarily physical and social oppression, then salvation is achieved by overthrowing oppressive, greedy institutions and regimes. If the essence of sin is self-denial or passivity due to patriarchal conditioning, as today's radical feminists insist, then salvation consists in overthrowing those Scriptures or systems that would subordinate women to men in any way. But if sin is essentially a state of rebellion against, and alienation from, a holy God, as the Bible teaches, then salvation consists in rescuing the rebels and removing the alienation between God and us.

Just as false views of sin lead to false views of salvation, so an inadequate estimation of sin leads to an inadequate estimation of that which saves us from it. As goes our understanding of sin, so goes our understanding of grace, for grace solves the problem caused by sin. A person who doesn't mind living with headaches will place little value on aspirin as a medicine. Similarly, the person who has little concern for sin will see little value in the cross and have little appreciation for the Christ who died there to pay the penalty for sin (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14).

The more we know about sin, the darker the picture of human history and hope becomes. But it is only by painting such a horrific and depressing picture that the full truth of sin can be known, and only then will sin be hated instead of loved. It is through seeing sin for what it is that humans are humbled for craving and cherishing self-destructive wickedness. And it is only if we see the destructive depths into which sin has taken us, that we can marvel at the wisdom, love, and power displayed by our awesome God as he overcomes all of this evil for and in us. As a jeweler wisely displays a diamond against a black velvet background so that its features may appear in all their beauty, so the triune God's glorious nature is more brilliantly manifested against the backdrop of the history of iniquity (Rom. 1:18-3:31; 9:22-24).

In six revealing paragraphs, the Confession of Faith (Chapter 6) summarizes the biblical data that unmask sin. There we see that sin entered into human history through the fall of Adam and Eve, during their time of probation in the Garden of Eden, under the temptation of Satan (Gen. 2:4-3:24). This was permitted by God in such a way that he was not and is never to be considered as the author of sin (James 1:13-15). Satan, the fallen angels, and our representative, Adam, all sinned during their time of testing by the choice of their own wills. Accordingly, they were responsible for their decisions, just as we are (Rom. 5:12; Luke 22:22).

Their first sin left Adam and Eve spiritually dead and filled with guilt, separated from fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8-10). Their loss of original righteousness was the legacy that they passed on to us and all their posterity (Pss. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 3:10; Eph. 2:1)—except Jesus, whose conception was supernaturally caused by the Holy Spirit to preclude the sinful nature from infecting his humanity (Luke 1:34-35). The sinful nature with which we are born so influences every part of our being that we are thoroughly sinful—although, by Gods common grace, we are not as wicked as we could be. The sinful nature remains in the regenerated Christian, but its power is countered by the Christian's new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:14-25; 8:5-8; Gal. 5:16-17).

The Bible describes sin with many frightening words. It is a falling, a dying, a wandering, an enslavement, a blindness, and a lostness. Scripture defines sin as a type of lawlessness (1 John 3:4; Rom. 4:15). Just as a crime breaks society's accepted code of conduct, so sin breaks God's prescribed way of life. We can break God's law in two ways: by doing what he forbids and by not doing what he commands (Ex. 20:1-17; Matt. 22:34-40). The degree to which the world has been plunged into sin can be seen in the many ways that sin has now become the accepted code of human conduct and God's law has become the exception. Although Paul was preaching the truth and putting fallen sinners back on their feet, he was seen as one who was turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6 NKJV). In embracing sin, the world has gone mad.

God has warned, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil" (Isa. 5:20). There are countless consequences of sin in this life, but the worst part of the judgment, which is certain to come on all unrepentant sinners, is eternal separation from God, in hell. That is sin's wages, from which Christ came to save us. So rejoice in his salvation and walk by his power, following his law, as one rescued from the insanity of sin.

This fourth in a series of articles on basic Christian doctrines was written by Dr. Edward N. Gross, pastor of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2000.

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