Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,”

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.


[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)