Sin and Salvation (Pillars of Faith Series)

From our statement of faith:

Sin: We believe that we sin when we disobey the commands of God’s inspired Word and reject His authority. All of us have sinned and are therefore, in our natural state, lost and separated from God. We believe men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). As a result, mankind began to die spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left us in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23; Genesis 1:26,27; Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).

Salvation: We believe that God the Father showed His love for all people by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. (Luke 18:27; John 3:16,17; Romans 11:33; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:7-10; Revelation 4:8.) We believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins warranted, and His resurrection grants us the life we could not attain - both of these being necessary to reconcile us to right-standing before God.” (Matthew 16:16,17 and 25:31-46; Mark 14:61,62; Luke 1:34,35 and 2:7; John 1:1 and 1:14 and 5:22-30 and 10:30 and 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24.)  It is not through our efforts (Acts 4:12 John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; 
Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7)When we admit our sin, confess that Jesus is Lord, and repent, we become a new creation and are gradually transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

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God made the world good.

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared it ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense). 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, harmony, 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 (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). They choose their own way, and immediately the world begins to break apart. “And so sin entered the world, and death by sin.” Now a life 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 (and the New Testament writers say we will repeat those days). After the Flood, it’s not too long before people are building a tower to God to make a name for themselves. 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).

We know the source of the problem: sin.

It’s deeply embedded in all of us from the moment we are born. For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have done the same. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. “So sin entered the world, and death by sin; so death has passed on to all people, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Contrary to those who think we are born good or innocent, the Bible insists that we are not only born sinful, we default to sin. It’s our natural programming.

  • 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. (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”) 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.

You've heard how people in very snowy countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) have 300 different words for types of snow? 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.  

Why is sin so pervasive? Because we want to rule ourselves. We want to do life on our own terms: like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God, deciding what’s right and wrong. We want to worship and obey a god of our choosing. If we don’t live for God, we will live for something else that will function in God’s place. We will worship things other than God. We will order our life in the service of things other than God that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment if we can just do them right or better.

  • Sex/Sexuality
  • Jobs/Vocation
  • Toys/money/things
  • Children and Family
  • Reputation (what you are know for)
  • Comfort/Pleasure
  • Intelligence
  • Talent
  • Political or Social Causes
  • Appearance (personal and social)
  • Self-control/orderliness

 You may be looking at this list and thinking there is a pretty clear hierarchy here. Someone who lives to be really smart is obviously a better person than someone who lives to greedily accumulate stuff. A self-controlled person is clearly better than someone who lives for their own personal comfort or just pursues any pleasure they can find, right? Basically, you may be looking at this list, seeing one that applies to you, and finding ways to convince yourself it’s better than the others.

 It’s not, and here’s why.

We begin to ‘lean on’ these things to bring us peace, or happiness, or hope. Instead of ordering our life around Jesus, we turn to one of these things and just try to do them more and better so that that broken shalom within us and around us will heal. We tend to think in this in terms of the scandalous sins, but the Bible doesn’t. Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 that any action that does not have its foundation in faith is sin.

We begin to build our identity on these things. We don’t turn to Jesus to find the value, worth and dignity we have as image bearers of God (or children of God if we have committed our life to Christ). We look to these other things, and we begin to identify ourselves by them. All sin leads to us building a false foundation for who we are and why we matter. Any of these can become that thing that we rely on to give us value, worth, dignity and even hope.  Without actually saying it, we think doing these things just right will save us from the groaning of this broken world in us and around us. And when we begin to put that much pressure on these things…

 We become enslaved to these things, and we enslave those around us to our cause. We become zealots on behalf of our own sinful cause.

  • We overparent. We smother our kids because they bear the terrible weight of our worth, and we judge those around us whose kids aren’t as outwardly put together as ours.
  • We pursue as many partners as we can to continually validate our desirability; we pressure those we are with to complete us; and lash out at anyone who criticizes.
  • We spend inordinate amounts of time making money, or looking good, or studying so we can justify our existence. Anyone who gets in our way pays the price, and we look down on those who aren’t as focused and driven as we are.
  • We are consumed by keeping every aspect of our life in our control on our terms. Any disruption receives our scorn or wrath, and we just assume people who aren’t as controlling of their circumstances (“as purposeful and put together”?)are either dumb, lazy or bad.

Do you see the destructiveness of this sinful pattern? How even small things lead us here? Because we have given our lives to a false savior – and that’s idolatry. That’s a breaking of the First Commandment. All sin begins in idolatry - which is why all sin deserves an equal judgment.

In maybe the worst kind of idolatry, we turn to religious works – keeping the rules, always doing more to feel closer to God or earn God’s favor, showing others how important we are by the crucial things we all do, desperately trying to get rid of the bleak, relentless, gnawing emptiness. And we aren’t worshiping God at all but ourselves. That kind of religious grandstanding is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), the most ritually unclean thing you could imagine in Jewish culture.

 There is a solution. 

 That fact that we can be saved from our sinfulness is the heart of the gospel, the "good news." And 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,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

Because of Christ, we are saved from hell, 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;  and 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 Christ, we are being saved 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. We will see all those idols for what they are, and we will increasingly see Jesus for who he is. God will work in us (in a process we call sanctification) so that we lean on him; we build a real foundation of value worth, and dignity (our identity) in how Christ sees us, not how we or other see us.  

One day, we will be saved from the PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. 

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

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 So why a cross?

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. No one just forgives as if it is nothing. 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)