Is Sin Really That Big A Deal?
You know, the more I read God’s Word the more constructs which seemed crystal clear become even clearer. Take sin, for example. I know it’s not a very popular topic to discuss, especially in some of the more famous megachurches. It’s extremely difficult to fill a cavernous building by reminding folks that (in our essence) we are, in fact, sinners. If we have been saved and redeemed by God’s grace, then we are forgiven sinners. But we are sinners nonetheless.
This is not a reality that we should try to run away from, but, instead, we should try to understand as best we can. The reason for this is quite simple. As Believers, our appreciation of grace will never exceed our understanding of our own sin. In other words, if I have a low view (or definition) of sin, then I will have a low view of grace. It’s simple; if I do not see myself as the sinner God has told me, in many ways, that I am, then His grace is less transformative and more of a self-help paradigm designed to help curb some annoying actions. The less I see my sin as horrific, the less amazing God’s grace will seem. It’s really as simple as that.
The problem is and will always be that we have a tendency to view our sin as actions: things we do, say, or even think. And when we have that view, sin will always be an action that needs to be corrected and not a state of being that needs to be transformed. That’s what I meant earlier when I spoke about things I thought were clear that were really not clear at all. And only further investigation of God’s Word can clarify these things I thought I understood so well. That is especially the case with the idea of sin.
Even a rudimentary embrace of Christianity has to acquiesce to the reality that people are sinners in some way, shape, or form. The term “original sin” rolls off of our lips without so much as a thought as to what that idea really entails. To be honest, most people define sin as a terrible act someone else does. The average Believer will seem to think that the word defines the really terrible acts people commit around the world. Sin is murder, rape, robbery, assault, embezzlement, child molestation, etc. There is a convenient reality associated with that list… the vast majority of us will never do any of those things. Ergo, sin is something others do, but not me.
Oh, we are not so arrogant as to declare ourselves not guilty of “lesser” behaviors. And people, in general, will not proclaim themselves completely innocent of some “things”. But these things are more viewed as behaviors that need to be corrected than sin that needs to be whitewashed. That’s why even a majority of Evangelicals, in a recent study, stated that they agreed with this statement: I believe all people are basically good. Of course, there is a tiny problem with that statement. It is in direct contradiction to God’s Word (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 3:10-12; etc.). In general, we have a low view of sin and, as a result, have a low appreciation of grace.
What amazes me is that we have a tendency to forget that, in the grand scheme of things, the “original” sin would, for us, fall into a lesser-behavior category. Let’s be honest, eating a piece of fruit off of a tree seems to pale in comparison to, say, murdering 6 million Jews. But therein lay the problem. Our desire to categorize sin then blunts our understanding of sin in the first place. Yes, the first sin recorded in the Bible involved eating forbidden fruit. The next sin recorded, in just the next generation, was murder. Do you think that these sins juxtaposed next to each other is an accident? Do you think that Adam and Eve never sinned again after eating the fruit? Of course they did. God placed these two events next to each other to make a point.
Sin is horrific. No matter what the behavior associated with it, sin is horrific. If we do not understand that our sin, no matter how “small” we think it to be, is terrible, then Jesus is less a Savior and more a self-help guru. In fact, He has become just that in many evangelical circles today. However, as we engage God’s Word, there is one inescapable conclusion we must confront… God is way less concerned about our behavior than He is our condition. We have made the mistake of focusing on our sin as a series of behaviors. And yes, the Scripture does talk about the “things” that we do that are considered sin. There is no shortage of those passages.
However, Jesus Himself expands the true definition of sin beyond the actions of the person and, instead, points to the condition of the person. In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus clearly delineates this idea. In essence, He says that sin is not simply the committing of a sinful act (in this case the act of adultery). He goes even further and gives us the origin of sin: the human heart. Here, Jesus is saying the desire and lust that leads to adultery is the actual sin. Acting on that desire is simply the logical outcome. In other words, sin is a heart problem, not a behavior problem. Why? Because we can alter some behaviors to a certain extent. Bookstores (at least those still in existence) are filled with secular self-help books designed to do just that.
Sin, however, is born in a heart that is “deceitful above all things” and cannot be understood (Jeremiah 17:9). We don’t simply commit sins. We are, by nature, sinners. If we don’t get this, we will never get grace. If we think God is simply interested in curbing our behavior, we will never grasp onto the fact that what He really wants to do is to bring us from death to life. Downplaying our sin simply means we will ignore His true holiness. In Luke’s Gospel, all Jesus had to do was provide a very innocuous miracle in order for Peter to reach this conclusion. After Peter recognizes that the miraculous catch of fish was indeed a miracle and that Jesus was responsible for that miracle, he actually saw Jesus for Who He was: the Messiah. He recognized Jesus’ holiness for the very first time.
And what was Peter’s reaction? “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8 ESV). At the very moment Peter recognized Jesus, the first thing that became overwhelmingly apparent was his own sinful nature. Note that Peter did not say that he had committed sins. He instead noted that he was, in his very nature, a sinner. Though I have no way of proving this, I feel very certain that Peter had never murdered, robbed, raped, or molested anyone. He just came to the immediate conclusion that the only reason God’s grace could be so amazing is because his sin was so terrible.
That’s why it is so imperative that we grasp onto this. Next week, we will investigate this further in part two of this series. We will actually look at the ingredients of sin and the process of sin, in order to better understand the devastating role it plays. The single most destructive force in the universe is sin. It is behind all of the most terrible things on record. So it’s necessary that we understand its lifecycle and its origins as it plays out in all of our lives. Stay tuned!
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in St. Cloud, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.