Course: A Guide to Christian Theology

Lecture: Sin

This is the 18th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.

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I. The Consequences of Sin

We have talked about the origin of sin and the result of sin. I want to explore the consequences of sin. Adam said that he was afraid and a consequence of sin is fear. The contrast from before the serpent and after the serpent with Adam is now he is ashamed. It doesn’t use the word guilt here but the context implies it. This involves some different world views; for example in the west we deal basically with a right / wrong perspective or environment. Everything is looked at a right / wrong point of view. When I’m in the Middle East or parts of Asia, it is very different; people there don’t quite understand this right / wrong mentality. It is all about guilt, shame and honor. You want to honor your family and if you don’t, you and they are shamed and people will kill themselves out of shame. We in the West can’t understand that point of view. It is often heard where in the Muslim a woman is sexually violated and then someone has to go and kill her. It has to do with an honor / shame thing. The same applies when someone becomes a Christian out of a Muslim family and they have to die because this is a way of removing shame. Another one is in the animistic world is power / fear and who is the more powerful person. So these three: right / wrong, honor / shame and power / fear help us understand a lot as the Gospel deals with all of these. And I think the reason why we are so ineffective in our Gospel presentation is that we don’t understand the consequences of sin. We think of sin as only a right / wrong thing as we talk about sin and justification. We don’t talk about shame or deliverance from hostile powers. But within sin, we see the dimensions of these three points. So guilt is un-defining; it is when I have done wrong things. Shame is when I am wrong; these are not totally biblical distinctions exactly. Out of that comes spiritual death, the breaking of the relationship and we saw this when Adam hid. Physical death is when the body and soul come apart. The body is dead and goes into the ground and the spirit goes to God. The physical death is the consequence of the fall.

II. Definitions of Sin

So what is sin? Some basic definitions include the idea of falling short of God’s standard in actions, attitudes and in character. This is from a Calvinistic viewpoint. So sin can be there when I am not doing anything because my character is broken. But from a Wesleyan perspective, sin is a willful transgression of the moral law of God. If sin is therefore a falling short of God’s standard in actions, attitudes and character that means a lot of things can be sin compared to a willful transgression of the moral law of God. That is not an encouragement toward ignorance. This is saying that sin is basically rebellion against God. So how do we view the expression of sin? Is sin fundamentally breaking a law or is sin fundamentally violating a relationship. Biblically I think the law always comes under the character of the Law Giver. Now many laws or rules are relational, that is, they affect others along with myself. We often learn about these rules from others or from the Bible or through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes our attitude toward sin or rather let’s just say breaking the law is that we don’t want the consequence of that but the biblical reason of not breaking the law is the honor and value toward the law giver. So we obey the laws of God because of who made those laws, not necessarily out of fear of the consequences of breaking the law. So Biblically the heart of sin is when I violate the relationship between me and God. It is not about rule breaking first and foremost; it is about a proper relationship with God. So I think sin is more of a violation of a relationship; it is more a matter of the heart than the will. It is more a matter of lack of trust than breaking the law. I see sin in a broader sense is anything that violates Shalom (peace). This is a key to all relationships with others and creation, the way that God designed it to be. So confession would be speaking out about anything. any violations of Shalom.

III. Degrees of Sin

Another question that comes up is whether or not there are degrees of sin? Are some sins more sinful than others? To help answer this, look at Matthew 5:27 where it says that anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So it seems that the physical act of adultery and the internal act of lusting are the same. The Book of James says that if you have broken the law in one point, you have broken the whole law. It is very common to argue that all sin is the same. Let’s look at John 19:10 saying, ‘so Pilate said to him, you will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you? Jesus answered, you would have no authority over me at all unless is had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’ Here, Jesus says that there can be a different degree of sin. It was the high priest that handled Jesus over to Pilate. So why is the sin of the high priest greater than Pilate? Perhaps, because the high priest knew the Scriptures compared to Pilate, not knowing them. The high priest should be welcoming the Messiah instead of trying to kill him. Another verse Matthew 18 talks about children and sin against them. It would be better for a load stone to be hung around their necks. Woe to those who cause people to stumble and to cause others to sin. Numbers 15 talks about the sin of intend verses sin of ignorance. In Matthew 11:20, ‘then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the mighty works done for you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, then they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.’ Jesus is saying there is a greater consequence for Capernaum than for Sodom. This is a degree of consequence. So it seems that all sin is sin and that if you lust in your heart is sin just as adultery is sin; it can’t be that the lust of the heart is the same sin as adultery. So there are degrees of sin and some sins are worse than others. This is difficult for some people to understand and accept because we have reacted against the Roman Catholics in the idea of restitution that they have to do. A comical question to illustrate this further: which is worse, stealing all the toilet paper in a building or premeditated murder? Another illustration is lying to someone in regards to the way they did something or telling them the truth. For example, your wife cooking you a meal or a land lord who will not take care of repairs compared to someone who bombs an empty building. Which one is worse? So there are different degrees of sin.

IV. Humanity and Sin

Let us look at terms like total depravity, pervasive depravity and spiritual inability. So how fallen is humanity? There are terms like total depravity which is a bit misleading. Nobody believes that we are totally depraved. I would rather say that sin has invaded every part of who we are and what we do. This is total depravity compared to invasive depravity. Everything that I am and do is tainted by sin. Spiritual inability means that I cannot respond to God by myself, instead I must have his help. So everything that I do, everything that I think is tainted by sin. And spiritual inability requires that I need to have help from God even to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1st Thessalonians 5:23 it says that may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think what it is saying: every part of me is tainted by sin. Look at Romans 12 where it says to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice; don’t conform to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. My mind need renewed. 2nd Corinthians 7 let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit perfecting holiness out of reverence to the fear of God. So body and spirit can be tainted by sin. I think that the whole person is tainted by sin. So most Christians accept the idea of pervasive depravity and the debate is concerned with how deep is that depravity. Is there anything good in a sinful person of which I would say yes, there is. Genesis 20:1 is one of my most favorite stories where Abraham goes down to Egypt and tells Sarah to lie to the people saying that she was Abraham’s sister. Abimelech was interested in Sarah until he found out that she was Abraham’s wife. So who is a better guy in the story; Abimelech or Abraham? Of course the better guy is Abimelech. Abimelech obeys God where Abraham doesn’t.

Another story, the Good Samaritan is a story of compassion for a man beaten up on the road to Jericho. Jews passed by his side and many even crossed the road away from him and went on their way. Yet a Samaritan whom the Jews hated took the person to the village and paid others to take care of him. He is the person who Jesus singles out as doing the right thing. Jesus talks about evil people doing good things, I think that hell bound people can do good things. It may be mixed motives involved but nevertheless they do good things, so fallen sinners can do good things. Can a non-Christian accept Jesus apart from God’s help? John 6:44 says that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. So it says that no one can come to Jesus unless he is drawn by the Father. It seems very clear that someone has to be drawn otherwise they can’t come. So, most evangelicals would agree that God needs to do some sort of drawing in order for people to be saved. We are not by ourselves neutral and we need God to reach out to us and draw us and convict us of our sins and that has to be done before we come to him. There has to be an initiation of grace before we come to God and his Gospel. So, we are not neutral people as we have the heritage of Adam in us. We have this inbred tendency toward sin. This is an inbred built in self-centeredness. So, everybody is tainted by sin and everybody needs God’s grace to pull them toward Jesus. We are sinful beings and hiding from God.