A quarter-century ago psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a landmark book titled Whatever Became of Sin? In it he frames the question this way:
In all the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of “sin,” a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone’s mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles—sin with an “I” in the middle? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented and repaired or atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal—or asleep? Wrong things are being done, we know; tares are being sown in the wheat field at night. But is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feeling; but has no one committed any sins? Where indeed, did sin go? What became of it?
There are many answers to that question, but this one is certainly true. Nothing has happened to sin but something has happened to us. We simply don’t want to talk about sin anymore. It isn’t a polite topic, especially not in polite company. Try mentioning the word “sin” the next time you go to a party and see how long it takes for someone to change the subject.
But our avoiding the subject doesn’t change the truth. Evil has been let loose in this world. Evil is everywhere we turn. Consider these word groups:
John Wayne Gacy…Jeffrey Dahmer…Ted Bundy
John Wayne Gacy…Jeffrey Dahmer…Ted Bundy
We all know what joins each group together, don’t we? If we are honest we must agree with G. K. Chesterton: “Whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain—man is not what he was meant to be.” I’m sure I don’t need to spend a great deal of time debating that point. If you have any question about the sinfulness of the human race, I bid you to simply go anywhere in the world, pick up any newspaper you want, in any language you please. Simply read the front page and you will be convinced.
Something has gone wrong with the human race. No one can successfully deny that fact. We are not all that we could be. And no matter how much we boast of our technological achievements, the sorry story of man’s inhumanity to man always grabs the front page. The details change, the faces come and go, but the story is always the same. Something evil lurks inside the heart of every person. No one is immune, no one is exempt, and no one is truly innocent.
Call it what you will—a twist, a taint, a bent to do wrong. Somehow, somewhere, someone injected poison into the human bloodstream. That’s why, even when we know the right thing to do, we go ahead and choose to do wrong. Deliberately. Repeatedly. Defiantly.
Sin is an unpopular subject. Sometimes preachers are criticized for talking too much about it. But we do so for two reasons:
Because the Bible says so much about it
Because we are realists
And we talk about it because we must know the bad news before we can truly appreciate the Good News.
Because we are realists
And we talk about it because we must know the bad news before we can truly appreciate the Good News.
I. The Fact of SinRather than quote a number of verses (which would be easy enough to do), I’d like to quote from an oft-overlooked document, the Articles of Faith of Calvary Memorial Church. If you are a member, you had to sign this statement (and probably haven’t looked at it since then). This is Article F: The Fall of Man:
We believe that man, although created as an innocent being in the image of God, fell from his high and holy estate through Adam’s act of disobedience. As a result, sin entered the human race, leaving mankind subject to the wrath of God, spiritually dead, inherently corrupt, and incapable of pleasing God apart from a work of divine grace. Thus all men are hopelessly lost apart from the salvation which is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Genesis 1:27; 3:6-24; Romans 5:12, 19; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:8-18.
That’s a strong statement isn’t it? Think about those phrases for a moment: spiritually dead…inherently corrupt…incapable of pleasing God…hopelessly lost. Add to that “subject to the wrath God.” I mention this because I want you to know what we believe right up front. We do not take an optimistic view of human nature. Quite the contrary. Apart from divine grace, we’re all in a heap of trouble.
The world is a mess—we all know that. The world is a mess because we ourselves are messed up. The problem is not “out there.” It’s “in us.” The world is bad because we are bad. The world is evil because evil lurks within us.
When I preached on “What is the Gospel?” several weeks ago, someone who does not attend Calvary read it and offered this comment: “One thing I do not agree with. I think people are inherently good, while he said nothing about people are good. I disagree.”
It’s a fair comment. The reason I didn’t say “people are good” is because people aren’t good. They are bad because of sin. If this man disagrees, his disagreement is not with me but with the Bible and ultimately with God.
Don’t Forget to Lock Your Car
It is common today to talk about evil as a result of a bad environment, lack of education, and poverty. Many people believe that if only those things can be changed, we could eradicate evil in the world. We hope to change people by changing their environment. After billions and billions of dollars, it hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen. Today we have produced a generation of high-tech criminals who know how to kill more people with less effort than ever before. Racism remains, killing continues, crime spreads, and nations are still at war. Ethnic violence seems to be the order of the day. Why? Because there is evil inside the human heart.
(When I preached this sermon on Sunday, I asked how many people locked their car doors before coming inside the sanctuary. Virtually everyone raised their hands. Ditto for how many locked the doors of their homes before coming to church. We have elaborate security systems because human nature has not been improved.)
Our problem is sin that separates us from God. We call it by other names, whitewash it, and then re-label it. But it doesn’t work. You can take a bottle of rat poison and label it “Whole Milk” but that doesn’t change its basic character. If you drink it, you will be wholly dead. Poison is still poison no matter what you call it.
The Bible traces sin back to the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree. The serpent deceived Eve who ate the fruit and then offered some to Adam who, though he was not deceived, ate the fruit anyway. It was through that deliberate choice that sin entered the world.
Before that moment he was a living soul in an immortal body. After that moment he was a dead soul in a dying body. If you had been there that day, all you would have seen was a man taking fruit from his wife and eating it. No lightning, no thunder, no bells, no scary music in the background. Yet from that one act of disobedience, awesome results flowed out across history.
Theologians call this event “The Fall.” It means that when Adam ate the fruit he fell from a state of innocence into a state of guilt. He fell from grace to judgment. He fell from life to death. He fell from heaven to hell.
“By one man sin entered the world”
In the King James Version of Romans 5:12 we are told that “by one man sin entered the world.” There is no way to explain the world apart from the Fall. How do you explain the rash of shootings in high schools? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain babies having babies? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain racial hatred and ethnic violence? “By one man sin entered the world.” How do you explain rampant divorce and broken homes? “By one man sin entered the world.”
The hatred, the greed, the violence, the competition, the injustice, the fraud, the killing, the wanton bloodshed—where does it come from? Why can’t we change human nature? The answer is simple: “By one man sin entered the world.”
Adam Drove the Bus Off the Cliff
What does all this have to do with you and me? In some mysterious way, you were there and I was there. When Adam sinned, you sinned with him and so did I. This is the doctrine of original sin in its plainest form. It means that when Adam sinned, you sinned. When Adam disobeyed, you disobeyed. When Adam fell, you fell. When he died, you died. To say it another way, although you and I were not historically there in the Garden, because we are descendents of Adam—in his family tree—we suffer the consequences of what he did.
Let me say it another way. Adam was the driver of the bus of humanity. When he drove the bus over the cliff, we went down with him. He was at the controls when the airplane crashed. It doesn’t matter that we were back in the coach section watching a movie on the big screen. When he crashed, we all went up in flames.
A few years ago the great tennis player Arthur Ashe died of AIDS contracted through a blood transfusion during the days before doctors had good blood screening techniques. Somehow tainted blood was used during his surgery. He didn’t know it, the doctors didn’t know it, nobody intended for it to happen. But when that blood was pumped into Arthur Ashe, it contained the deadly AIDS virus. Nothing could be done about it. Eventually the disease he contracted through tainted blood took his life.
When Adam sinned, he tainted the human bloodstream. The virus of sin entered the human bloodstream, and as a result, every baby born into this world is tainted with the deadly sin virus. Every person is born with a tendency to do wrong. We’re all born with a sin nature.
Many people think God has some kind of divine voltmeter that registers Good, Neutral, and Evil. They think that by nature the needle that measures their soul is somewhere right in the middle—Not too bad, not too good, mostly just neutral. They aren’t the best, but they aren’t the worst either. But the Bible tells us that because of Adam’s sin you come into the world with the needle stuck firmly on “Evil.” Apart from the grace of God, that’s where the needle will stay as long as you live.
To say it another way, you’re not evil because you do evil. You do evil because you are evil. Your basic nature is corrupt and depraved. That’s your inheritance from Adam. You are born living on the Wild Side. You are born with a minus on your record. You turned the wrong way back in the Garden and all your life you’ve been going the wrong way.
It started with Adam but it didn’t end there. It continues in your life and in mine. Adam was the first sinner but he wasn’t the last. We follow in the footsteps of our forefather because we share his tainted blood.
If Sin Were Blue…
Sin has infected every part of our being—your mind, your emotions, your will, your intellect, your moral reasoning, your decision making, your words and your deeds. No part of your life is exempt from the debilitating effects of sin. As someone has said, “If sin were blue, we’d be blue all over.” Part would be dark blue, part would be sky blue, part would be light blue, but every part would be blue in one shade or another.
This leaves us with God’s solemn statement that “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). As God looks down from heaven, he doesn’t see a single righteous person—not even one. But how can this be? How can God look down at nearly six billion people and not see even one person whose life pleases him? Is this not an overly-harsh judgment? The answer is that God judges according to a different standard than the one we use. Most of us grade on the curve. That is, we look to our neighbor and say, “Well, I’m not as bad as he is.” Or we compare ourselves with someone we know at work who makes us look good by comparison.
But God doesn’t judge that way. When he looks down from heaven, the standard he uses is his own sinless perfection. He compares us to his own perfect holiness, his own perfect love, his own perfect wisdom, and his own perfect justice. Compared with God’s own perfection, there is no one—not even one person—who comes close to being righteous in his eyes.
Looking for a Righteous Person
Where, then, will you find a righteous man on the earth? In Brazil? No. In Cambodia? No. In Japan? No. In Malaysia? No. In Turkey? No. In Israel? No. In America? No. Will you find a righteous man in congress? You must be kidding! How about Hollywood? Forget it! Oak Park? Sorry. River Forest? Not a one. Forest Park? Nope. Is there anywhere in all the earth where we could find a truly righteous man? The answer is no. From God’s point of view there isn’t a single righteous person in the entire human race.
Let’s be honest and say that even as we read these words, there is something in us that resists this harsh conclusion. When God looks down from heaven, he sees a race of people who are “worthless” as far as redemption is concerned. We are like a basket of fruit that has gone rotten in the hot summer sun. We have all “gone bad” in the eyes of God.
What is the conclusion? There are no redeeming features in the human race. Not in the so-called “good person” nor in the evil law-breaker. From God’s standpoint, both are wholly corrupt.
II. The Nature of SinWhat is sin? It is any violation of God’s righteous character. It is anything we say or do or think or imagine or plan that does not meet God’s standard of perfection. The Bible uses many word pictures to describe sin:
Sin is lawlessness: That means sin is anything that ignores or violates the standard God laid down in the Bible.
Sin is missing the mark: Picture an archer shooting an arrow…and missing so badly that not only does he not hit the bull’s eye, he doesn’t even hit anywhere on the target. Sin causes us to aim our lives in the wrong direction and to miss the mark of what God wants us to do and to be.
Sin is transgression: This has the idea of going beyond the limits of what God has said is good and proper.
Sin is iniquity: This is a stronger word that means deliberately choosing to do wrong.
Sin is deviation from the standard: This describes a crookedness of the soul that results in a life full of twisted choices, evil deeds, and broken relationships.
Sin touches the inner ugliness of the soul. It involves our thoughts, our dreams, and our hidden motivations seen by no one else. But God sees them all. So much takes place beneath the surface. We can hide from others, and even hide from ourselves, but we cannot hide from God. All things are laid bare before his all-seeing eyes.
III. The Consequences of SinWhere does all this leave us? I can sum up the biblical data this way. Because of sin we are…
Lost—To be lost means to be in a position of great personal danger because you cannot find your way to safety. The unsaved are “lost” in precisely that sense. They are far from God and do not know where or how to find him.
Separated from God—Sin has created a great chasm between God and us. We were made to know God but our sin keeps us from him. We feel it and we know it is true. There is a cloud between us, a mountain of sin rising up, and a deep chasm beneath us. This is why we are restless. Nothing on earth can satisfy our hunger for God. This is why we are seeking and searching and trying and striving.
Blind—Sin destroys our ability to see things clearly. We live in the darkness of sin and not even the tiniest ray of light breaks through to us.
Dead—A dead person has eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, lips but cannot speak, feet but cannot move. The spiritually dead have within them no ability to respond to God. Unless someone raises them to life, they can never know the God who made them.
Enslaved—Because of sin we are slaves to our own lusts. Even our heart has been corrupted. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that the heart is deceitful and wicked so that we cannot trust our own instincts. Left to ourselves, we repeatedly choose to do wrong. Try as we might we cannot change ourselves. In the words of the cartoon character Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We are enslaved and we cannot set ourselves free! God says, “Thou shalt not” but we say “I shall” and then we hate ourselves afterwards. Why? We are enslaved to sin. Sin masters us, rules us, dominates us. We are a people of high ideals and weak wills, of big dreams and small deeds, high hopes and low living.
Helpless—This is the logical end of it all. A person who is lost, separated, blind, dead, and enslaved is truly helpless. He is trapped with no hope within himself. Any help must come from somewhere else.
The First Step is the Hardest
This week I received a message from a friend who takes part in a little-known ministry at Calvary. Every Thursday night we have an Alcoholics Anonymous for Christ group that meets at the church. Their goal is to help anyone struggling with issues of alcohol addiction. Anyone can come who will admit they need help. My friend commented that for most alcoholics (he was speaking from personal experience), the hardest part of the process is admitting that you need help. He spoke of the difficulty of being totally honest about the mess your life is in and how easy it is to rationalize, to minimize, to make excuses, to tell part of the truth but not all the truth. At AA for Christ they talk a lot about the famous “12 Steps” that have helped so many people. The first step goes something like this: “I admitted my life was out of control and I was powerless to change my situation.” The next step involves admitting that you need God’s help to return to moral sanity. The third step says, “I turned my life over to God, humbly asking for his help.” And on it goes, through 12 steps of complete moral reformation.
The whole process strikes me as being based solidly on biblical truth. Those who have been in the program will tell you that the first step is the hardest—and the most crucial. Until you face the bad news about your condition, you can’t truly and totally turn your life over to God and ask for his help.
The same is true for all of us, no matter what our personal issues might be. Sin has left us powerless and enslaved, totally unable to save ourselves. Until we admit that, our lives can never really change.
Here is the Bottom Line: You were born in sin—separated from God, fallen, corrupt, spiritually dead. You are dying physically and dead spiritually. You are responsible for every sin you have ever committed.
You are in big trouble. Unless Someone intervenes to help you, you can never be saved.
Chemotherapy for the Soul
Next week we will talk at length about who that Someone is. For the moment let me say that Jesus Christ is the only one who can take away your sin. At one point in his ministry Jesus said he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Did he mean that some people didn’t need to be saved? No, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. He meant that only those who realize their sickness will get the help they need. An old hymn puts it this way:
Let not conscience bid you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Do you feel your need for God? Do you admit that you are sinner? Do you agree with God’s estimate of your desperate condition? If so, you are an excellent candidate for salvation. If you do not agree with what I have said, nothing else I say will matter one way or the other.
I have several good friends who are undergoing very difficult chemotherapy treatments for cancer. For some it is a very unpleasant experience indeed. I know of no one who takes chemotherapy for the fun of it. You take it because the doctor says, “If you don’t, you will die.” So you take it as the only available remedy. If sin is the cancer of the soul, then the gospel is God’s divine remedy. In fact, it is the only remedy for sin.
Let’s wrap up this message with two thoughts:
We must face the truth about our own condition, and until we do, we can never be saved.
Until we see how bad the bad news really is, we will never appreciate the Good News of the gospel.
May God help us to see ourselves as we really are and to flee to the cross of Christ as our only hope of salvation.