VICTORY OVER SIN AND TEMPTATION
Chapter 5: “Is sin so bad?”
The purpose of this chapter is to remind us how serious our sin problem is. This reminder is presented to motivate us to promptly deal with the sin that so easily besets us. This reminder also is presented to encourage us in order that we will not grow weary in our struggle against sin and abandon the effort. The Bible never pats Christians on the back and says, “Are you tired of fighting against your sins all the time? That’s OK. You’re doing fine. You need a break for a while. Let up a little so that you’ll have the energy to face the struggle another day.” Instead, the Bible is constant and unrelenting in its insistence that we fight against sin no matter what, because sin is so bad.
Sin is bad, very, very bad. It is bad for at least three reasons. Sin is bad because it is offensive. It is an insult to God. Sin is bad because it is corrupting. It results in physical, mental and spiritual deterioration, as well as death. Sin is bad because it is dangerous. It leads to the ultimate consequence of God’s eternal condemnation and wrath in Hell.
1. Sin is offensive
a. Hatred toward God
Psalm 51:4 states, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” While people’s sins often harm and distress other people and are a source of trouble to themselves, the Bible states that their sins are really directed against God (Gen. 39:9, Matt. 25:45, Luke 15:18).
All acts of disobedience are against God in the sense that all the laws in the universe are His. God designed, created and personally sustains the universe according to His Word. He is the Supreme Authority in His universe and has both the right and privilege to make all the rules. It is true that people in positions of authority make many rules, some helpful and even needful, others arbitrary, illogical and evil. It is true that other people are punished for violating those man-made rules. But the rules people make are legitimate only to the extent that their rules conform to God’s rules. It is more than just that people’s rules are flawed and ephemeral while God’s rules are perfect, authoritative and abiding. The fact is that God is the only real rule maker. Therefore, when people sin it is rebellion against what He says.
All acts of disobedience also are against God in the sense that they are meant personally. People simply do not like God. In fact, we read in Romans 1:30 sinners are “haters of God.” Matthew 26:67 displays the frightening destination to which the sinful heart of men takes them. According to that verse, sin leads men to spit in God’s face.
The personal hatred unsaved people have for God is based upon the fact that they have an unholy fear of Him. That is, they have a dread of His justice, for they recognize deep in their hearts that they are accountable to Him (Rom. 2:14-16). The personal hatred people have for God also is based upon the fact that they are jealous of the competition His authority represents in their lives. For them, God’s laws are oppressive. They are unreasonable burdens and infringements upon their perceived rights. People resent God’s interference in their lives and despise Him for hindering them from pursuing and achieving what they want to do, even if it hurts them to get their way.
It might seem to be an exaggeration to say that sinners hate God, inasmuch as many people who are not saved are very respectful of holy things. Not only that, it might be confusing to say that sinners hate God because all saved people continue to sin until the day they die. So, can we say that they hate God, too?
Unsaved people do hate God, just as the Bible declares (Psalm 22:6, Isaiah 49:7, Acts 4:26,27). It might be that unsaved people have not been put in a situation that would expose the hatred that they may not even realize resides in their hearts. It also might be that some unsaved people’s disposition and training may make their pleasant manners last, even under great stress. But if they are not saved, they are haters of God.
On the other hand, saved people do not hate God. They can think, say and do things that are contrary to God’s law; and for a moment the outward appearance of their behavior is identical to someone who hates God. But their behavior soon becomes a great distress to them. For that and many other reasons, true believers eventually repent and turn from their sins.
The audacious and arrogant disobedience of unsaved people, motivated by their personal hatred of God, is shocking and breathtaking. We do not gladly think about it. But the Bible insists that we understand the awful nature of sin. Therefore, we shall briefly examine a few of the ways people express their hatred.
First of all, we shall consider the fact that when people sin, they are making a statement of their contempt for God’s character and ability. They say in their heart, “God’s laws have no value because God is not competent to make or enforce the right rules. God has no integrity because He is not just, since His rules are not fair.” Sin is far worse than a cosmic brush-off, which says “I don’t care about His rules.” It is saying, “God is interfering where He doesn’t belong. God is wrong to tell me what to do. Nothing He says is worth listening to.” Again, sin is taken personally by God, because it is meant personally by sinners.
Next, we shall think about Romans 1:18 which states that people “hold” (or as the word really is, “hold down”) the knowledge of God. The idea is that people suppress the truth about God. Any time or place the truth of God is revealed, they seek to hide or distort it, in part because they do not want to answer to Him, and in part because they simply do not like Him.
One example of that suppression is given in Romans 1:23 and 24, which declares that sinners seek to “change” or rather “exchange” the reality of the glory of God with something imaginary. Instead of honoring God in their hearts and praising Him with their mouths for all of the beauty of His purity and holiness as well as the majesty of His power and authority, sinners seek to reduce God in their minds and advertise Him to be limited and fallible. They picture God to be something that He is not, by deliberately confusing the perfect Creator with His corrupted Creation.
In addition to that, Romans 1:25 states sinners “changed the truth of God into a lie.” It is not possible to change the truth of God into a lie. But it is possible to make a statement about the truth of God, either a verbal statement or a statement through actions, that is a lie. To act in a wicked way and claim that God agrees with and approves of it is to claim something about God that is not true. In other words, sin is an offensive lie motivated by a desire to discredit God and dismiss His authority.
Next, we shall consider the fact that the “invisible things of” God are clearly seen in His Creation (Rom. 1:19-20). That is, there is a picture of God in what He has made, the clearest image being in the children of Adam (Gen 1:26). Therefore, unsaved people work extra hard to try to deface that picture. They do it by means of their immodest and sometimes grotesque outward adornment. They do it by means of their vile behavior (Rom. 1:24-27). Unsaved people try to erase any similarity between themselves and God because they do not want any reminder of God or His demands upon them. Also, people focus their malice upon one another as an attack against someone who is made in God’s image. Consciously or unconsciously, people who sin are trying to suppress the witness to God that is found within and around themselves.
Perhaps we can better appreciate this terrible idea by means of the following illustration. Imagine that you gave a picture of yourself to someone whom you liked and whom you thought liked you. What if that same person, in gleeful meanness, defaced it right in front of you? What if he wrote horrible insults over it, tore it up and then threw it in your face? What if the person laughed over your dismay? How would you feel about that contemptuous attitude and action? In a similar way, all sins are mean-spirited, hateful, personal insults against God. God takes sinful disobedience to His law personally because it is meant personally by those who disobey Him, whether the person who sins consciously realizes it or not.
We also can think of unsaved people’s hatred of God in the following way. It is as if we can measure the evil nature of sin when we consider the nature and character of the Person against whom it is committed. Perhaps the following illustration will serve, in a dim way, to clarify this idea. In one sense, the act of deliberately damaging a cheap, common vase and the act of deliberately damaging an expensive, rare vase are the same. Both display the callous and violent attitude of the vandal. But in another sense, the two acts are very different. The difference is in the value of the vases. One act results in a greater loss than the other. In a similar way, sin’s enormity is based upon the fact that it is deliberately disobeying not a common person but the greatest of all Persons (Isaiah 65:3; 40:25,26, 1 Timothy 6:14-16).
With all this in mind we can begin to understand the ugly and offensive nature and character of sin. God is beautiful in holiness. God is majestic in power and authority. God is worthy of prompt and adoring obedience because of who He is. Denying Him what is due Him is great wickedness. Therefore, sin is ugly and disgusting because it is deliberate, willful rebellion against the pure, holy and “incorruptible” God.
The hatred of people toward God is especially saddening when we consider that God is so kind and deserves thankful respect and submission for His gracious and undeserved blessings (Rom. 2:4). But sinners bite the Hand that feeds them. Sinners greedily grab the blessings that God showers upon the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45), but are unwilling to thank Him for what they receive (Rom. 1:21).
b. Love for self
A sinner’s hateful attitude toward God is related to his proud attitude toward himself. We can see the connection between them in Jeremiah 2:13, where we read, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Of the many sins that the nation of Israel committed, God reduced them to two. One is that they would not go to God for their needs. They did not trust God (Jer. 2:5; Rom. 14:23). A person who sins says, “God’s way is not good, at least not for me.” We have already discussed that attitude.
The other sin Jeremiah points out is that they worked hard to provide for their own needs, because they trusted in themselves instead of God (Jer. 1:16, Psalm 12:4, Prov. 12:15). It is not just that sinners say, “God’s way is not good for me.” They also say, “My way is better than God’s way.” A person who sins trusts that his own way will make him happier or solve his problems in a better way than will God’s way. Therefore, sin is a label that describes a person’s deliberate disobedience to God’s law that is motivated by a confidence and trust in himself, in replacement of a trust in God.
People’s self-trust is based upon self-love (II Tim. 3:2). They show, at least at the moment they sin, that they are totally self-absorbed, self-centered. They are charmed by their own selves, impressed by their own philosophies and achievements, and protective of their own interests. They have no concern for God or anyone else, except that they may use other people to serve their own desires. The reason is that they hold their own desires to be the highest good for themselves.
This helps us understand the phrase “I am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5, 34:14, Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:14,15). The phrase does not mean God is supersensitive, or that He can’t handle competition, or that He can dish it out but He can’t take it. Rather it is a reminder that when people sin, they give to another the love they owe to God alone (II Tim. 3:4). He is the worthy One who alone deserves to be the object of people’s love. In that sense, all sin is equal to spiritual adultery and fornication.
Taking one more step down into the cesspool of sin, we come to the horrible description of sin found in I Samuel 15:22,23. There we read, “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” What a shock! Disobedience is equal to witchcraft and idolatry. Sin’s identity as idolatry is somewhat easy to understand. When people sin, they show that they value and honor their own way above everything else and sacrifice all for that sacred cause. That is, people’s sins are really self-worship, and their idols are themselves. For support of this idea we can turn to Colossians 3:5. Colossians 3:5 lists many vices and sums them all up as “idolatry.” (That is, the word “idolatry” refers to the whole verse and not just the last vice of “covetousness.”) The reason sin is equated to idolatry is that sinners are devoted to their own wicked desires and serve them as they would a god.
Sin’s identity as “witchcraft” is harder to accept. Yet, it is just as valid. For according to John 8:44, Satan is the father of all unsaved people, who serve and obey his lusts. Satan is the sworn enemy of and is at war with God (Rev. 12). He is eager to recruit anyone to help him in his battles against God. People who live lives of sin are really Satan’s servants, honoring his cause.
c. Love for God
Finally, we can understand the offensive nature of sin when we compare the attitude that motivates a person to sin to the attitude that motivates a person to obey. That is, we can further understand how bad sin is when we consider the character of obedience.
When Jesus gave the apostle Peter a new command, after his previous cowardly, sinful denial of Jesus, He didn’t ask him, “Will you obey me?” Instead, He asked, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). Peter’s obedience would not be evaluated simply by observing his outward compliance. The reason is that while sin certainly includes any behavior that does not conform to God’s commandments, it encompasses much more. Wickedness is actually a heart problem (Jeremiah. 17:9).
As we read in Romans 13:10, “love is the fulfilling of the law,” with the greatest love being a love for God (Matt. 22:37-38). Obedience is rooted in a heart attitude of love for God, an attitude upon which hangs “all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Obedience to the law of God is summed up in the obligation to love God, and therefore to love all that He says, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30). Anything less than a 100% heart commitment to doing God’s will is sin.
Therefore, people sin because they love to sin rather than love to obey God (Prov. 2:14, 10:23, Jer. 11:14). In the first place, they love to sin in the sense that they love to think, say and do those things that satisfy their own desires. The world holds a great attraction for them and appeals strongly to their flesh. When people sin, they demonstrate that they cherish their own desires and fondly indulge the yearnings of their own flesh. So, people are in love with themselves, and are constantly seeking to give themselves what they want. They reveal that adoration by their deliberate disobedience to God.
In the second place, people love to sin in the sense that they love to think, say and do those things that are forbidden by God simply because He forbids them. Sinners are the kind of people who want to be the captains of their own souls, and they seek to wrest control from God. In fact, people are not always attracted to the tempting object they desire nor are they always enthused about the rebellious action they do, although that is often the case. Rather they cherish their imagined independence and express that presumed freedom by thinking, saying and doing anything that is different than what God commands. If God commands it, their sinful heart compels them to want, to love, the opposite.
The relationship between sin and the heart helps us understand an important response to personal sin that must be evident in the life of anyone who claims to be a Christian. A theoretically perfect record of obedience to God’s law without the motivation of love for Him is not really obedience to the law. And in fact, in light of Romans 13:10, it is sin. We used the word “theoretically” because no one can ever attain to a perfect record on his own. The reason is that obedience requires an attitude of love, and love is a gracious fruit of the Holy Spirit given only to believers (Gal. 5:22). According to Romans 8:9, we either have the Spirit (and are saved), and show that fact by our love for God, or we do not have the Spirit (and are not saved), and show that fact by our lack of love for God. A person who is not saved and does not have a heart that loves God does not have the power or desire to obey God. So a “perfect record” without love is only a theory to discuss and is not a real possibility. We used that hypothetical situation to highlight the necessary ingredient of love in the recipe of obedience that is acceptable to God.
Since love for Jesus is demonstrated by means of obedience (John 14:21-23), the questions we must ask when we disobey are, “Do I love the Lord Jesus? Why don’t I love Jesus, that I have done such a thing? What kind of heart do I have that it demonstrates no love for God?” And since it is also true that obedience is a product of God’s saving love for us, we also must ask, “Does my attitude and behavior reveal if I am loved of God? Am I saved?” (II Cor. 13:5)
2. Sin is corrupting
a. Credit and blame
The universe was created very good, without one blemish (Gen. 1:31). Then Adam disobeyed God, and sin entered into the perfect universe (Rom 5:12). God’s just response to Adam’s sinful disobedience was swift and severe. God cursed the universe and its inhabitants, the effect of which was deterioration and eventual death (Gen. 2:17, 3:17, Dan. 9:14, Rom. 8:20). Although God claims credit or responsibility for the damage to which the universe is subject, as well as the sadness and pain humans endure, mankind gets the blame. It is ultimately because of Adam’s sin that the universe and all who live in it groan under the heavy hand of God.
The fact that people live in a world that is sin-damaged and deteriorating more every day, resulting in hardship and sorrow (Psalm 32:10, Proverbs 13:21, Romans 2:9), is an automatic consequence of the wicked acts of their race (e.g. Romans 1:27). From that point of view, even though sin is a label for people’s deliberate disobedience, we also can think of sin in terms of the corruption that results from it.
It is important to investigate some of the present consequences of sin. In that way we will better appreciate sin for the enemy it is, both to our environment and to ourselves. Let us, then, consider some of the ways in which sin has corrupted the universe and all who inhabit it.
b. Sin is opportunistic
Hebrews 12:1 states, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” The Greek word translated “weight” is used only in this verse. But it is related to the word translated “hook” or “anchor.” The words “which doth so easily beset” are a translation of a word that means to lie around idly. The idea of the verse is that sin is opportunistic. It lies around waiting for the chance to catch someone (Gen. 4:7). We can compare this idea to a hook in water. It is as if sin goes fishing with bait on a sharp hook. The lure must be deceptive to be effective. We could compare the bait to sin’s promise of happiness, fulfillment and life, and the deadly hook to sorrow, vanity and death (Rom 6:23, II Thess. 2:10, Heb. 3:13). Or we can compare this idea to a virus. It is as if sin were an infectious pathogen that waited around, biding its time. When given the chance, it entered into and sickened the universe and all it contains. And it continues to infect the lives of people today. Sin is an effective infecting agent because it is wrapped in a coat of lies, lies that people so willingly believe and ingest. The only antidote to the infection of sin is the Gospel of God.
c. Corruption of the physical environment
Next, let us consider passages like Jeremiah 4:23-27, Hosea 4:1-3 or Joel 1:9-13. There are many others like it in the Bible. One message of these verses is that the physical deterioration of the environment in which people live has a spiritual basis. It is not that a particular abuse of the physical environment can be linked to a particular sinful action, although the foolish greed of people does contribute to the damage the environment endures. Rather, it is that the sinful rebellion of people against God has resulted in a universe that is subject to the burden of a relentless curse. The many observable evidences of corruption in the physical world that are the present effects of sin are severe, pervasive, indelible and inescapable. There is no hope for the world in its present state. In fact, it is God’s plan to remove this universe and replace it with a new one in which dwells righteousness (Isa. 65:17, Rom. 8:19-23, II Peter 3:10-13).
Even though it is easy to see the effects of sin in our physical environment, we must not make the mistake of limiting our understanding of sin to its physical consequences. We are material people and naturally have a material view of all things, including our problems. However, sin is not a “thing,” an object that can be isolated from its environment. Sin cannot be compared to an insect specimen that we put into a glass case. We cannot type a label that says “sin,” attach it to the display, and put it on a table for all to see. Also, when we say sin is “in us,” we do not mean that sin can be found behind our left third rib, or inside our spleen. Neither can we put a drop of our blood on a microscope slide and see molecules of sin floating between the blood cells. It is true that sin betrays its presence through many physical ways in our lives; but, as we have discussed, it is a word that describes a spiritual situation.
We should add that the programs which many people design and carry out in an attempt to protect their physical environment are sad wastes of their time and energy. A respect for the physical universe is proper as part of our respect for its Creator. After all, it is His universe, and we are only His guests. However, the plans of many people to clean up the environment are misplaced. The problem is not the garbage in people’s back yards. Instead, it is the garbage is people’s hearts. The great zeal that many people demonstrate to “save” the physical environment reveals that the physical universe is an idol which commands their religious affection, trust and loyalty. Their fervor reveals their alarm that their god is dying. But their efforts are doomed to failure because God Himself is guiding the corruption of the world now and its eventual destruction at the end of time. Only in the Gospel will people find the solution to the deterioration of the universe. That is, only when people find salvation for their souls in the Gospel will people understand that the present unrighteous universe is God’s tool to accomplish His spiritual goals (Luke 16:9). Only after people are saved can they understand that the hope of living in a perfect environment is the hope of Heaven (Isaiah 65:17, Rev. 21:1-4,23).
d. Corruption of relationships
Now let us consider the testimony of a passage like James 4:1-5. Sin causes problems between people. We are especially sensitive to the interpersonal conflicts and estrangements which are a measure the sin-caused social deterioration. The brutality and uselessness of violence and war between people causes us great distress. In addition, sin complicates life. People cover lies by more lies to avoid discovery. Divorce leaves indelible life-long scars on all people involved and requires strange and unnatural living arrangements, especially when children are involved. Arguments distort relationships and destroy friendships. Civil battles lead to legal complications, high costs and bitter hearts.
Unsaved sinners are so totally self-absorbed and self-preoccupied with fulfilling their own desires, so willing to justify themselves and condemn others, so driven to protect their pride and dignity, that they are become egotistical monsters. People are rude, discourteous, impatient, angry, hateful, jealous, fearful of personal loss, haughty, critical and aggressive. We could supply a long list of examples. Yet, all are just symptoms of a deeper problem. The basis for the outward person-to-person conflict is the inward person-to-God conflict in people’s hearts and in their resultant personal corruption.
e. Personal corruption
In addition to person-to-person problems, is the individual physical, mental and spiritual deterioration that accompanies personal sin. First, let us think about physical corruption that is displayed in people’s bodies. We are aware of the physical disfiguring effects of disease, and the debilitating effects of injury. They are partly consequences of the general corruption due to God’s curse and partly consequences of people’s foolishness. Notice the sad testimony found in Romans 1:24, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.” That is, sin is self-deforming.
Some of the physical effects of sin in a person’s body are clearly evident and dramatic. They are repulsive even to unbelievers, such as the results of drug abuse and promiscuous sex. Some of the physical effects are more superficial but just as hideous. For example, how often have pretty girls or handsome boys ruined their appearance by selfish and discourteous speech and behavior? People may spend lots of time and money to improve and maintain how they look, but there is nothing as ugly as sin. While the beauty of holiness sparkles no matter how physically unattractive a person may be, the scowl of anger, the pout of stubborn self-interest, the sneer of criticism and the leer of lust are grotesque and repulsive distortions that mar even the most physically appealing features. Sin is the worst graffiti there is because it spoils the image of God on earth found in human beings.
Secondly, let us think about mental corruption. According to Ecclesiastes 9:3, “the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart.” A person’s madness can be based upon a physiological disorder, which is a consequence of God’s general curse upon the universe in response to sin. Madness can also be induced by a specific traumatic incident or a prolonged foolish pattern of behavior which leads people to lose contact with reality. But in all cases, madness is a testimony to the effects of sin. Let us consider some of the ways in which madness is expressed.
Unsaved people are mad in the sense that they are irrational and illogical. For example, they claim they are no more than an evolved animal and have no more value than a tree. They also claim God is either like themselves or a product of someone’s imagination. And yet, they cannot live sanely in the world of their own making. People can pretend that the human emotion of love is no more than a chemical reaction, or that existence is trivial, without any purpose, without any God-ordained objective or hope, but they cannot live like that. They cannot look into the eyes of someone for whom they care and treat them as they would a rock. They cannot get up in the morning without any reason for living. And yet, tragically they insist upon acting, not out of what makes sense, but out of what they want, regardless of how absurd and ridiculous it may be.
Unsaved sinners also are mad in the sense that they are erratic, bizarre and capricious. They lack any reasonable self-control. Their actions make them seem like marionettes dangling in the wind, driven with no more aim than the present breeze of whim and fancy. They behave according to their impulsive, capricious and fickle desires.
Finally, unsaved sinners are mad in the sense that their sins are insane challenges to God. They are willing to take on the Almighty Creator and Judge of the universe (Isaiah 45:9). That is a contest the outcome of which is not in doubt, namely their certain physical, spiritual and eternal deaths. Such audacious and self-destructive defiance of God is spiritual suicide. How could anyone continue such foolishness? He could, only if he had no fear of God. It is no wonder the Bible talks about the “mystery of iniquity” (II Thess. 2:7).
Thirdly, let us think about spiritual corruption. In Ephesians 2:1 we read that a person is dead in his sins, apart from the grace of God. We all live with the great handicaps of broken and corrupt bodies, as well as a hostile environment, all of which are the results of sin. But according to Ephesians 2:1, the worst present effect of sin is a dead soul. Although they are alive in their body, unsaved sinners are dead in their souls. That means they are totally depraved, or controlled by the desires of their sin-infected bodies without any restraint from their dead souls. Since the effect of sin is to make people spiritually dead, a condition in which unsaved people remain, unsaved people cannot do anything to make themselves right with God; neither do they want to do anything about their spiritual problems.
By the word “totally,” we do not mean that unsaved people are as bad as they could be. They could be far worse, for God restrains the sin in people’s hearts. Otherwise they would destroy themselves and the world in which they live before God completed His plans for this earth. Nor does the word “totally” mean that people cannot do any human good. People are capable of and do many acts of human kindness, yet all of their actions are as filth rags (Isaiah 64:6), inasmuch as they do them with their own honor and not God’s honor at heart. The word “totally” means that the poisonous effects of sin have reached to all parts of people’s lives (Genesis 6:5).
The word “totally” also means that unsaved people are “totally” without any ability or desire to do anything that pleases God. The phrase “the way of the transgressors is hard” found in Proverbs 15:13 does not mean sinners make life difficult for themselves. It does not mean that troubles come to sinners because of their sin, although such an idea is true. Instead, it means sinners are hard-hearted, obstinate, unwilling and unable to change. The reason is that all people are “totally” dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). Since they are spiritually dead, unsaved people cannot do any good, even if they wanted to (Rom. 8:7,8), and no one wants to (Rom. 3:10-12).
The word “totally” means sin is enslaving (John 8:34, Rom. 6:16). Sin is the oppressing tyrant of unsaved sinners. Sin is an unbreakable habit that leads nowhere else except to more sin (Rom 1:21). Imagining themselves to be free, unsaved people are compelled to do the bidding of their flesh. Unsaved people are in bondage to a horrible monster. It is as if sin was a voracious beast, with an insatiable appetite, which they serve to exhaustion (Isaiah 44:12). Such is the bondage to which unsaved people are subject.
The fact that unsaved people are spiritually dead also leads to the conclusion that people are driven to disobey God’s law because they are sinners. It is their nature to want to sin. In other words, people disobey for no other reason than they are the kind of creature that does not want to do God’s will, whatever that may be. We must not accept the premise that men are “basically good,” but occasionally do some bad things. Nor should we be surprised that “nice” people can sometimes act very wickedly. Rather, the evidence is that evil follows men wherever they go. The reason that sin is so handy and portable is that the desire to sin resides within everyone. Outside of the grace of God, all people’s hearts are desperately wicked, and their sin is simply an expression of who they are.
3. Sin is dangerous
a. The most important and urgent problem of all
In Ezekiel 18:4 and Romans 6:23 we read, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die ...” and “... for the wages of sin is death.” Sin is bad for sinners because it results in their death.
Physical death is a dramatic change. It ends all of the hopes for which we yearn and all the fears that haunt us. It puts aside all of our sweet achievements and bitter failures. Physical death breaks all of our earthly ties to family and friends. It separates us from all our earthly enemies and all the claims of society upon us. It cancels all of our burdensome and insistent earthly obligations. Physical death is a final and unalterable event. It is a universal experience and an inevitable appointment. Unless the world comes to an end before we die, physical death ends our personal earthly existence (Eccl. 3:20). For those reasons alone, physical death is the most important event we must face on earth.
However, physical death is important for a much greater reason than all those we have given. Physical death is not the end of our existence. Physical death is not equivalent to annihilation. Physical death is the end of our contact with physical reality, but it is not the end of all things. We have more than just a body; we also have an eternal soul that continues to exist beyond the grave. The physical death we see calls our attention to the more important spiritual problem we cannot see. We see physical death, and the Bible tells us the meaning of what we see.
The real importance of physical death is that it is a door that leads to a meeting with God (Heb. 9:27). God is on the other side of death’s door and it is to Him whom we must give an account for all that we have thought, said and done. The results of that accounting is the most horrible and frightening event of all: abiding under the wrath of God without any hope of change, ever. That destiny is called eternal death. Therefore sin is dangerous, not only because it leads to physical death, but also because it leads to eternal death.
The most important issue of life is not preserving our physical life, nor regaining and maintaining our physical health, if we are sick. The most important issue of life is not achieving a respected and useful education, nor using that education to succeed in a career. The most important issue of life is not attaining financial security, nor acquiring the real estate and other material objects which such wealth affords. The most important issue of life is not grasping political power, nor using that power to try to make a better society and environment. The most important issue of life is not finding the meaning and purpose to our existence by means of self-understanding and self-fulfillment, nor by means of our identification with our family and friends. Instead, the most important issue of life is to avoid condemnation and Hell.
Much to the surprise of many people, the most important issue of life is not even sacrificially serving others nor faithfully serving God (I Cor. 13:1-3). As it turns out, even if a person had a noble desire to serve others or God, he cannot fulfill that desire without first dealing with the most important issue of all, his personal sin and the wrath that it merits. In fact, he really does not want to fulfill that desire, at least not in the way that God has commanded. Again, the most important issue of life is to be sure that we will not face the wrath of God in punishment for our sins after we die (John 3:36).
A person’s meeting with God after physical death is not in itself a problem. If God asked a person for an accounting and was pleased with his response, that person would experience none of His wrath. But that is not how it will be. If Jesus is not a person’s Savior and has not stood for judgment on his behalf, then his meeting with God leads to wrath. The reason is that when he will give an account to God, a neutral event in itself, it will be revealed that none of his thoughts, words and deeds measured up to God’s standards. A sinner’s behavior is different than what God demands in His law. That difference leads to condemnation, followed by eternal death in Hell. So it is really the difference between God’s expectations (as expressed in His Law) and a sinner’s performance that is the basis for the great problem he faces after death. That difference is called sin. It is because of sin that an unsaved person is in such trouble with God. Sin that is the source of all his problems, problems for which he must seek wisdom, especially wisdom to avoid God’s wrath after he dies.
Thus, the Bible explains that physical death is a reminder that all unsaved people face the ultimate consequences of their sin, eternal death. Eternal death is real and is far more horrible than we can imagine. All people are forced to recognize the fact of physical death but most refuse to acknowledge the sin that causes it and the condemnation and spiritual death that follows it. Some people recognize the deeper problem of sin but focus upon its physical consequences, including physical death. Therefore, we must direct people’s attention to the bigger and more tragic spiritual reality in order to find a way to avoid an angry God before it is too late. Sin is the most important and urgent problem we face on earth.
Sin is dangerous because it puts people in harm’s way. It leads to death, physical and eternal death, exposing them to the condemnation and wrath of God. We have discussed all that at length. But more than that, sin is especially dangerous because it obstructs people from finding the only rescue available from the threat of God’s wrath. First of all, sin encourages people to modify their view of the Gospel (Prov. 1:7, I Cor 1:18, Col. 2:8, II Thess 2:10-11). It is as if every sin has a string attached to it that can be traced back to the cross. That is, a person’s view of sin and the Gospel are related to each other. Sin causes people to soften or dismiss the Gospel’s threat of judgment, because they wish to avoid the uncomfortable reminder of the threat of condemnation. Sin seals off their minds from a careful consideration of their spiritual need to avoid the wrath to come (Prov. 22:3). Secondly, sin is like a narcotic (Prov. 6:9, II Thess 5:6-7, II Peter 2:12). Sin deceitfully causes people to continue indulging their desires. It causes them to fill their senses and minds with the satisfaction of their passions, unrestrained by their consciences and God’s law. It is as if they are intoxicated or living in a dream, heedless of the spiritual jeopardy into which their sin places them.
b. Judgment as a measure of sin’s nature
This brings us to the point of view that another way to measure the evil nature of sin is to consider the punishment God requires to pay for it. God is absolutely righteous (Psalm 11:7, 119:137, Rev. 16:5). He requires no more or less than what is fair to pay for disobedience to His law (Rom. 6:23). The punishment exactly fits the crime. From that point of view, we see that sin is bad, very, very bad. Sin is so bad that it requires the payment of eternal death in Hell (Rev. 21:8). One great display of that fact is the sacrifice of Jesus. The shame and horror of the Cross advertises how serious an offense sin is. Therefore, judgment is a measure of how bad sin is.
Yet there is hope. The help that people need but often refuse is only a prayer away. When a person cries out for help and receives grace to recognize that he is a sinner and realizes that he must meet a pure and holy God, he is not left alone with the fear that grips his heart. He also has the good news of the Bible’s message about sin. He has the wisdom of the Bible that begins with fear but ends in hope. Only someone who has been given the grace to fear, will seek a way to take that fear away. The Bible shows sinners that Jesus is the Way (John 14:6). From that we see that the Cross also advertises “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
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