Chapter 1 Is sin real?

The purpose of this chapter is to force us to face the reality of sin. There are so many more pleasant things we would rather think about. It is tempting to ignore sin and hope that it would go away, like a bad dream from which we wake up. But sin will not disappear. Sin is firmly bound to our lives and has become a part of who we are. Worse than that, we must open our eyes to the fact that sin is a very real enemy that deceitfully seeks to keep us from all that is pure and good. In fact, it seeks to destroy us. And yet sin is not a foe so formidable and unconquerable that we can do nothing more than hide from it. We can gain victory over sin. But the first step toward victory is facing the fact that sin is real.

1. An irrelevant idea?

Most people admit, if only to themselves, that they are not perfect and that they sometimes can think, say and do things that are surprisingly harmful to others as well as to themselves. Yet most people either ignore the suggestion that their behavior is sin or despise the idea of sin as a vulgar subject that is not an appropriate topic of conversation in polite, civilized society. They are unwilling to agree with the Bible that their problems are the result of sin, especially their own personal sin. In fact, according to Proverbs 14:9, “Fools make a mock at sin.” That is, people for whom the Bible is not the highest or final authority consider the idea of sin to be a joke. They think of the concept of sin as something laughable, not out of humor but out of scorn and derision. They do not take sin seriously because for them it is unreal. Their objective is to justify their claim that the idea of sin is irrelevant to their own lives.

For example, some people think that the idea of sin is part of the myths which the ancients invented, as they attempted to explain the offensive behavior of men. Other people think that sin is a leftover notion from a prudish Victorian past. For all these people, the idea of sin is an historical museum piece. They dismiss it as an old-fashion concept with no connection to modern reality. In another example, some people think sin is a belief that comes out of a narrow-minded interpretation of one “religious” book, the Bible. Or people think that sin is a word used by bizarre or perverted religious fanatics who seek to control the lives of others. Therefore, these people have decided that sin not only is unreal, it also is a harmful idea that ought to be condemned and abandoned. As always, they view sin as an idea that does not apply to them.

2. As real as death

Interestingly, the Bible does not attempt to prove the reality of sin with rigorous logic or persuasive reasoning. Instead, the Bible links sin, a fuzzy or vague idea for many people, to a concrete and specific fact of their existence, a fact which they cannot explain away. The Bible ties sin to the undeniable fact of death. The Bible says in Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” From the words “and death by (actually, ‘through’) sin,” we learn that death “entered into the world” through the door called sin. In other words, the presence of death in this universe is dependent upon the reality of sin. The point is that people know sin exists because they can observe and in fact will experience death.

According to the Bible, since death exists, sin does, too. That is, sin is as real as death. Whether we wish to think of death in physical terms, spiritual terms, or both, its presence in the universe is the evidence of the existence of sin. Therefore, instead of an imaginary product of human invention that has no connection to people’s present lives, sin is as real as the most relevant event of all, death.

Most people object to the connection which Romans 5:12 makes between death and sin. People like to think of death as a neutral event. For them, death is nothing more than the end of physical life. However, the Bible explains that death has a spiritual dimension. Death is not just biological disintegration. It also is the evidence of sin. As we learned, death exists as a consequence of the fact that sin exists. In addition to that, the words “by (or ‘through’) one man” in Romans 5:12 insist that the sin which results in death is the fault of humankind. Although God claims the credit for bringing the curse of death into the universe, inasmuch as death is His just answer to sin (Gen. 2:17), humankind receives the blame for the entrance of sin, that in turn let in death.

3. As real as history

The reality of sin is based not only upon its link to the undisputed reality of death, but also upon the fact that it has an origin and a documented history in real time and space. God created a universe that was very good. It was imaginatively designed, well engineered and cleverly constructed; and it operated in perfect harmony with His will. It was without sin. Then, at a real moment in time, in a real place on earth, a real particular human being disobeyed God. That was the origin of human sin. After the first man, Adam, sinned, he experienced immediate death in his soul. His flesh was thoroughly infected by sin, which subsequently controlled his desires and behavior. In time, his flesh died too. In addition, God altered the world in which men lived. The world became a hostile environment. Through God’s curse, the world shared in man’s experience of deterioration and death. To tell the story of the real world and its inhabitants is to tell the story of the real sin which has played a major role in the violent conflicts that mark the course of human events throughout time.

4. A vain denial of reality

Unsaved people are unwilling to admit the reality of sin. They reject the reality of sin because they are reluctant to deny themselves the gratification of their sinful appetites. They also reject the reality of sin because they do not want to face their accountability before God. Sadly, when they reject the reality of sin, they also reject the only truth that could free them from its grip and its consequences (John 8:32-36). And yet, daily they must face the deterioration and decay which accompanies sin. For that reason, they still seek both an explanation for their world’s brokenness and a promise of deliverance from its sorrows. However, rather than go to God for His true perspective of reality and His solution to solve their real problems, people look to each other for wisdom and help. What do they find? In Psalm 108:12 we read, “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.” As this verse points out, what people offer to help themselves understand and cope with all that is wrong in this world is vain.

Man’s help is vain, both in the sense that the words he uses to explain sin are egotistical and in the sense that his counsel to deal with sin is worthless. First of all, let us think about the fact that man’s help is vain in the sense that his words are egotistical. II Peter 2:18 makes the observation that the words of help unsaved authors and teachers offer to whomever will listen are nothing more than “great swelling words of vanity.” The words of unsaved authors and teachers are “words of vanity” in the sense that they are self-flattering and self-justifying “swelling words” designed to inflate their own pride as well as the pride of their listeners. Unsaved authors and teachers never abandon the conceit that people have a spark of goodness within themselves. They continue the fantasy that people must believe in themselves and have faith in mankind.

In addition to that, man’s words are egotistical in that they are self-serving. II Peter states that when men offer words of help, they use words that “allure through the lusts of the flesh” (II Peter 2:18). That is, their words promote and support the sinful passions of both the authors and their readers. Unsaved authors are popular and well spoken of because they express the sinful philosophy and yearnings of “wantonness” that fills and controls the hearts of all unsaved people who read their literature.

Secondly, man’s help is vain in the sense that his counsel is worthless. II Peter 2:18 points out that unsaved authors and teachers “promise liberty” from the corruption that is everyone’s common experience. Yet they remain as bound to their sin and its corrupting effects as the people who hear them. That is, the words of help unsaved authors and teachers offer are vain in the sense that the words are futile. The words have no power. They are weak words of deceit (Rom. 16:18, I Cor. 3:19-20).

For centuries gifted authors have been admired and honored for their mastery of language and for the accuracy of their insight into the misery and heartache all human’s share. These authors have become famous because they have skillfully written beautiful and poignant descriptions of the sadness and despair people endure, suffering the wounds inflicted by themselves and others. And yet, their work is futile because their stories end there. Authors of great literature offer no real hope for a change in the human condition (Psalm 108:12, Jer. 17:5,6, Col. 2:23, II Peter 2:19). These authors may have correctly exposed men’s foolish behavior in dramas, essays, poetry and novels. They may have described the sinful behavior of men with skill and art. They may have mocked the sinful behavior of men with perceptive irony and humor. They may have condemned the sinful behavior of men with shocking bitterness and anger. However, their accurate descriptions of the folly of men are superficial. Few, if any, are able or willing to see the root of the matter. They do not recognize the sinful, wicked nature of people and refuse to recognize the grip sin has upon their hearts. Also, they do not acknowledge the curse of God in response to sin that all people must bear. That is, few, if any, recognize the quarrel all men have with God.

The shelves of bookstores and libraries sag under the weight of many books. Some may contain eloquent laments about the human condition. However, in none can we find the wisdom or the power needed for relief from the present enslavement to personal sin. Some may offer self-improvement plans. However, in none can we find the wisdom or the power needed for relief from the conflict and oppression that are part of a wicked society. Some may promote expensive social projects or advocate improved political or judicial systems. However, in none can we find the wisdom or the power needed for relief from the threat of judgment for sin. The reason is that the authors choose to ignore or deny both sin and the threat of condemnation. The authors of great literature leave themselves and their readers as they are, hopelessly immersed in their sin and its consequences.

Sometimes authors do recognize the fallibility of all men, including themselves. However, they try to cleverly explain away the problem. For example, rather than admit the existence of individual personal sin, they present human failing as a common problem, shared by society as a whole. The guilt they describe is so diffused that no one really feels personally liable or accountable for any particular act of wickedness. As an another example, they criticize and mock the sins of a few especially prominent or notorious people in society. In that way, authors and their readers feel self-righteous, inasmuch as they have not taken part in the specific transgressions they condemn. Not only that, by focusing upon the prejudice and cruelty of some people against others, authors honor the victims as innocent, oppressed people. Authors desire to ennoble a part of the human race thereby, and retain a measure of human glory and dignity. Yet in the drama of sin no one is innocent. There are no victims. All people are villains. Some might be more successful at sinning because they are more clever or have more opportunity and so are able to assert their wicked ways over other people more effectively. But all people are willful sinners, the oppressed as well as the oppressors, committing acts of violence against God and His law (Rom. 2:10-12).

5. The value of seeing what is real

Unsaved people hate the Bible’s message that sin is real because sin is an embarrassment to them. They think better of themselves. People also hate the Bible’s message that sin is a deadly foe too strong for them to conquer. It is a wound to their pride that they cannot solve their problems on their own. Furthermore, people hate the Bible’s message that they are accountable to God for their own personal sins. They do not want God’s control over them or the punishment that He demands for their disobedience. So people prefer to think of sin as fiction, something remote and unconnected to their lives.

However, sin is not an obscure philosophical construction or an irrelevant religious doctrine. Sin is as real as the world it contaminates and corrupts. In fact, recognizing the reality of sin is the beginning point from which we make sense out of this oftentimes bewildering and painful world.

Even though most people do not acknowledge the reality of sin, they still see or experience destruction and death. Most people, then, turn away from or dismiss God in anger and fear. They decide God is an incompetent or evil Creator, or claim that He is unreal. When most people cry out, it is usually to blame God and justify themselves. They conveniently suppress the evidence that the cause of most of their troubles is found within themselves.

Sadly, because most people dismiss the reality of sin, they will never really enjoy all the blessings of love, harmony, peace and hope for which they yearn. There is no picture more pathetic than that of people who are wounded and diseased, confused and frightened, bitter and sad, yet defiantly shaking their fist at the One who comes to them with an honest message of sin and the comforting promise of the Gospel, which alone can give them hope. But unless people are willing to face the truth of the reality of personal sin, they are unwilling to face the only thing that can help them.

In contrast to that, people who recognize the reality of sin find answers to the most disturbing and frightening questions of life. They alone find the means and power to gain victory over sin’s dominion. Only with a God-given understanding of the reality of sin, can people be filled with true joy as well as unshakable peace and contentment.

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