Grace: the Gift of God

31.5 Sin

by Hubert F. Sturges,, October 2009

The Nature of Sin

There are important concepts in the Bible which are easily understood as broad principles, yet will tax the greatest intellect in their details. One of these is the nature of sin. This needs to be understood in order to know the action of grace. Romans chapter six needs to be read in its entirety, but a short passage here will bring out the cogent thoughts:

   12 "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
   13 "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
   14 "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
   15 "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
   16 "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
   17 "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.
   18 "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6:12-18, NIV).

What changes took place when Adam sinned? From the above we find that sin opened the path to "reign in your mortal body." Man now had a sinful nature, evil desires and propensities to sin. All thoughts, words, and actions now arose from motives of pride and selfishness. Even the good things that men did arose from these sinful motives. Man had chosen another master, and sin and Satan now ruled over him.
Sin is also described as breaking one of the ten commandments (1 John 3:4). Most of you DO keep the ten commandments, at least on a superficial level. So there must be something deeper.

Jesus summarized the ten commandments as love to God which is to have faith in Him, and love to your fellow man which requires involvement, friendship and help (Matthew 22:35-40). The ten commandments are the law of love. Love is more difficult to measure than just "doing things." But lacking love to God you are left proud and unbelieving. Lacking love to your fellow man leaves you selfish.

Pride, unbelief and selfishness are the motives of sinful man. You cannot change them because that is "where you stand." Everything you do arises from these motives, even the good things you do. Only in Christ is the sinful nature changed. Is this your desire today?

In the well known poem, The Vision of Sir Launfal, after fruitless years of searching for the holy grail, he returns to his castle. There he sees the same leprous beggar sitting by the gate. By now Sir Launfal is himself penniless and broken in health. He heaves himself onto the ground next to the beggar and says, "I have no money, but I will give you half my lunch." So saying he divides a sandwich and gives the beggar half. After eating the lunch, the beggar throws back his cowl, and there is Jesus Christ Himself! He says to Sir Launfal, as he worships at His feet:

The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In what so we share with another's need,--
Not that which we give, but what we share,--
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three,--
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me."
                 From the Vision of Sir Launfal, James Russell Lowell

Only by the Grace of God can men be changed.

What is Sin?

To love God is to have a faith relationship with Him. A man must believe and trust. He must be committed to God with no reservations.

How can these motivations be changed? At Eden, every man was given a spark of faith -- a desire to do good (Gen 3:15; John 1:9). If you choose to do good, you will be led step by step to Christ. The more you see of the perfection of Christ, and the more you see of the Cross of Christ -- the more you will be motivated to follow Him.

This process and the change in motivation is the work of grace, a creative act of God. Decision and consent are needed at every step. You must decide to keep the ten commandments. You must decide to not sin. These decisions are usually made at the point of temptation.

As C.A. Murray has said, when you are tempted or tried, you must "run to Christ." Send a prayer to God for grace and help, then decide to do what is right. By the grace of Christ, you will receive power to support your decision and to overcome. You must do this with all the small temptations so that if and when a big temptation or trial comes along, you will be able to find the road to Christ even in the dark.

Sin is Transgression of the Law

It is not possible to write on this website all aspects of sin, and it is not really helpful to do so. But there are a few things that are useful to say.

Sin is often divided into sins of commission and sins of omission. The following verses tell us about each type of sin:

   "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4, KJV).
   "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17, KJV).

To transgress the law is to break one of the ten commandments. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount made it plain that we need to keep the law from the heart, even in our thoughts and feelings. If our hearts are filled with the love of God, bad thoughts and feelings are crowded out.

Other terms for sin are used in the Bible. Many have also said that sin is separation from God. But please remember, in Eden God plainly commanded Adam and Eve to NOT eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they broke this plain command of God, they were separated from God.

If our hearts are filled with the love of God, our thoughts and feelings will be in harmony with Him, and we will keep the law of God.

But what about sins of omission? If our neighbor is in need, and we refuse to help him, that is a sin of omission. If we know the will of God, and we refuse to obey that is a sin of omission. A sin of omission is just as serious as a sin of commission (Matthew 25:31-46).

I Did It My Way

There was a popular song some years back, "I Did It My Way." In the Garden of Eden, Satan promised Eve that if she ate the fruit "your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). In verse 6 it shows that Eve was tempted by a desire to be made wise!

Is there a wisdom outside of God? No! If God created this universe, He also created all wisdom. Was God holding back on something desirable – wisdom? God was holding back on only one thing, a knowledge of evil. In short, there is nothing "outside the box" except evil.

"To know good and evil" or to "be as gods" is for man to take his life into his own hands. He would now direct his own way.

Satan does not directly pose as God. Instead he deceives the sinner into serving himself. And the sinful self is described as "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it" (Jeremiah 17:9)? In choosing against God, man had chosen "another god" and in so doing had surrendered dominion of the earth to Satan (Romans 6:16).

   "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness" (Romans 6:16, NIV)?

What did it mean when Satan, through the serpent said, "and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4)? Several concepts are shown in this statement: Adam and Eve in Eden knew only good. Now their choices would be broadened. Evil had now become an option, and having experienced evil, it would be easier to sin again. Man would now choose his own way. But what a tragedy this was, for "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

In following their own way, they were now to seek their own pleasure, to work for their own support, to gather to themselves "things," to seek for their own power, and in these to seek for their own meaning in life. Ultimately, in all this self-seeking they were doomed to fail, and, separate from God, would die. In doubting God, believing falsehood against God, and directly disobeying God in eating the fruit, Adam and Eve had exercised the option to sin. And once this was done, sin was always an option.

The Sinful Nature

After they sinned, Adam and Eve had a sinful nature. In the sinful nature, their life centers on self, rather than on God. They worship self rather than worshiping God. This takes many forms, most frequently some form of idolatry.

Frequently, in the sinful nature, man has lost control of his basic physical desires. These desires, good in themselves, now become a tool for evil unrestrained by a weakened self-control.

Is a man born with these tendencies? Is a baby born with propensities to evil? After long discussions, these questions are still being asked. When a baby is born, he has not yet done any evil deeds. However, I believe, that even a baby is born with evil propensities. I think many mothers will agree with that. A baby must be trained. But is a baby guilty? I don’t know.

Some say that he is guilty and must be converted, even as a baby. Godly parents have the responsibility teach the child good habits, and to model before him the right attitudes. When he has reached the "age of accountability" he must be brought to Christ and converted. Then there are others who say that he is not guilty until he begins to commit sins. However, the training process must be the same in either case.

Is man given up to his sinful nature? God has given us "great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,.." (2 Peter 1:4-8). These promises are the fruits of the Gospel, and indicate what we may become by the grace of God.