When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

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4 Habits to Fight Sin

John Owen wrote these famous words: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Likewise, Charles Spurgeon wrote “If you do not die to sin, you shall die for sin. If you do not slay sin, sin will slay you.” 

Great minds think alike, right? This idea was not original to Owen or Spurgeon it came long before them from the pages of Scripture.

Paul commands, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

Peter exhorts, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15).

Time and time again the Bible commands us to flee sin, fight sin, and hate sin. The one who has been saved by grace through faith is now called to live a life that represents Christ well (Colossians 1:10). We are to be holy as He is holy. A call to holiness is a call to wage war on sin.

How can we do this? The good news is that we do not do this alone (Philippians 2:12b-13).  God is at work within us to make us more like Him and we can have peace in that. But there is still work to be done. 

Here are four practical ways we can fight sin:

Scripture Reading 

It’s so easy to fill our minds with thoughts, plans, dreams, and fantasies that don’t honor Christ. And our actions will follow wherever we let our mind wonder. The Psalmist had come to realize that knowing, meditating, and memorizing Scripture was crucial in fighting sin when he wrote, “I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). Like a squirrel who stores up food to prepare for the long winter, so the Psalmist stores up God’s Word in His heart to prepare him for the long road ahead full of temptation. There are endless benefits of spending time in God’s Word.

Avoid Bad Company 

The Bible makes it clear that, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The people you associate with will have great influence on your life. The more time you spend surrounding yourself with morally corrupt people, the more you will become indifferent towards the sin that you so often see and experience. This is exactly the opposite of “do not be conformed” (Romans 12:2) and it will hurt you in your pursuit to fight sin. If you desire to wage war against your sin then you need to have people of godly character in your life. The people you are spending most of your time with should be those who love God and desire His best for you. Striving to have godly people in your life doesn’t mean you can never converse with sinners, it means your closest friends and mentors should be striving for the same thing you are – holiness!

Avoid Tempting Circumstances

In Mark 9 we read, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…'”(Mark 9:43b-48). These verses can be summed up like this: if there are people, places, things, or situations in your life that frequently cause you to sin then you need to distance yourself from them. You need to do whatever it takes to remove yourself from those vices. If you constantly struggle with purity while surfing the internet then maybe it’s time to get rid of your internet or set up some accountability. If you struggle with drunkenness when you hangout with a certain crowd then maybe its time to stop hanging out with that crowd. If you tend to get really angry and lash out at others while engaging in a particular activity, then perhaps you need to back off of that activity – or “cut it off and tear it out” as Mark tells us. Yes, it will be painful, but this is how serious sin and it’s consequences are. If there are people, places, things, or situations in your life that cause you to frequently sin then you need to remove them from your life, at least for a time, until you get that sin under control.

Prayer  

Jesus in in Matthew 6 tells us to pray in this way, “Our Father…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9b-13). Later in Matthew 26 Jesus commands His disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41a). Also in Psalm 141 the Psalmist prays, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” (Psalm 141:3-4). In all these verses we can see that there is a real correlation between fighting sin and prayer. If you desire to fight sin then you need to be a person of prayer.

Fighting sin is a lifelong battle. Praise God we do not fight sin on our own. God is with us and works in us to make us more like Him, yet we are still called to fight sin ourselves. We do this by meditating on God’s word, spending time with Godly people, avoiding tempting situations, and having an active prayer life asking God to help us fight sin.

God Meant It for Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a)

Perhaps the biggest issue people have with Christianity is how a good God can coexist with the evil and suffering of this world. More ink has been spilt trying to give a sufficient answer to the question of God’s goodness in an evil world than I could write in ten lifetimes, but in this one verse we find perhaps the best concise explanation. 

Let’s at least get one thing out of the way before we break down what is going on in this text: the problem of evil cannot really be a problem to God. Were God to face a real dilemma He cannot solve, such as the presence of evil, He would cease to be the sovereign authority of all creation. The problem of evil then is really only a problem from our human perspective. The old saying, “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good He is not God”, from a play by Archibald MacLeish, sums up the belief of many regarding this issue. Yet in the life of Joseph, we encounter a God who is God and He is also good. On the one hand, He is in total sovereign control of all things (including evil and suffering), while on the other hand, He is altogether good and loving. Isn’t that the kind of God we all know exists anyway? One who is truly God and is truly good?

The story of Joseph’s life is quite remarkable. A dearly loved and favored son, Joseph dreams a strange dream of his family bowing before him only to be sold into slavery by his own brothers for even mentioning it to them. He is then falsely accused by an evil seductress and imprisoned, only to later be released by Pharaoh for interpreting dreams, and ends up becoming second in command over all Egypt and saving multitudes from a dreadful famine. 

Joseph’s story has traces of evil and suffering all over it: favoritism, envy, hatred, slave-trading, betrayal, lies, temptation, false accusations, prison, and famine. Yet at every turn in Joseph’s story, the reader is reminded of God’s good purposes and presence. In his slavery, imprisonment, and rise to power, we are told, “God was with Joseph.” Apparently a good and sovereign God can coexist with evil and suffering in this world. But how?

Later in his life, Joseph’s dreams have been fulfilled. He stands as second in command to Pharaoh and his brothers finally come bowing before him. The very plot meant to destroy Joseph’s dreams actually was the instrument by which those dreams were fulfilled. Had Joseph never been sold into slavery, he would have never been falsely accused, and had he never been falsely accused, he would have never been imprisoned, and had he never been imprisoned, he would have never been released to become Pharaoh’s right hand man, and had he never become Pharaoh’s right hand man, multitudes would have perished in a severe famine.

In Genesis 45:5-8 Joseph tells his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…so it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The psalmist, in Psalm 105, is so bold as to add that God, “summoned a famine on the land” and “sent a man ahead of them, Joseph.” How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements? You sold me…God sent me. You meant evil…God meant it for good. Famines are bad…but God summoned it. 

First we must realize that what often seem like contradictions in our Bibles are actually not contradictions at all, but paradoxes. A paradox is the coming together of two parallel truths that don’t seem to be reconcilable. When 19th Century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, he said, “I wouldn’t try…I never reconcile friends.”

The glorious truth obvious to Joseph and to all God’s suffering saints throughout the ages and needs to be understood by us as well is: behind every drop of suffering and behind every dark spot of evil, God is sovereignly working out His good and perfect plan. This truth is one some believers foolishly run from, yet which is given by God as a support for them in the trials of life. Instead of embracing God’s sovereignty and goodness behind our suffering and behind the evil of our world, many believers choose to attribute all supposed “bad” events to Satan and all supposedly “good” events to God. I was in a Bible study once with a godly Christian woman who said her father’s death was all the work of Satan and refused the thought that God could have been sovereign behind it. After a time of her own prayerful reflection and study, she told the group that she now understood that God was sovereign and did allow her father to die for His own good purposes.

Think of the most ungodly and heinous act in human history. Now, can you confidently say, “The perpetrators meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”? Perhaps you were thinking of the Holocaust or September 11th. But these crimes pale in comparison to an even more despicable crime: the crucifixion of God’s only Son. The early church understood the cross to be both the most heinous crime ever committed and an offense God predestined to occur for His own good purposes in redemption. In Acts 2:23 we read, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” So on the one hand, there are “lawless men” who “killed” Jesus and on the other hand, Jesus’ death was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Then again in Acts 4:28 the church prays that all the evil perpetrators (Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Jews) did, “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” 

If God is sovereign over a famine in Joseph’s day and all the sin leading up to that event in his life and the horror of Christ’s crucifixion, then He is sovereign over every evil event and amount of suffering in this world. Yet God always has a good purpose which He brings out of evil and suffering. The ultimate good purpose of all evil and suffering in this world will be realized in the new heavens and new earth when the bride of Christ will finally be redeemed out of this sin-cursed world and all will be renewed. Until then, may we learn to rest in God’s sovereign care over our lives even as we live in a world full of sin and suffering. 

After all, what hope would there be if there were no sovereign and good God behind the helm of this world and behind the wheel of our own lives?

Sovereign Grace Reverses Radical Corruption

Picture before you a lion in a cage. And before this lion imagine a bowl of meat and a bowl of wheat. Tell me, which one do you think the lion will choose to eat?

If you chose the meat you’re correct. The lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, they’re meat eaters. Consider a deeper question now: what would have to happen to the lion for him to desire the wheat? Or to ask it in another way, what would have to happen to the lion so that he desired something He has no natural taste for? Answer: his nature would have to change, and that is something he cannot do himself.

My aim today is to persuade you that the salvation described in the Bible is just like this. You see, our radical corruption, our sinful nature will only choose what it desires, and a sinful nature only desires sin, so just as the lion only eats meat, sinners when put to a choice between Jesus Christ and sin, will choose sin every time. So, naturally a question than comes: what would have to happen to us so that we desire Jesus Christ, whose character and commands we have no natural taste for? Answer: because we’re unable to change our own nature, God would have to change our nature. Because of this, our only hope is the sovereign grace of God who can and does change the sinners heart.

You see, the Bible does not present a will in man that is neutral being able to choose one way or another way, but a will that’s dead in sin or in bondage to sin until God makes it new. The Bible speaks of our radical corruption in 5 ways:

1) Guilt

When our first parents were deceived in Genesis 3 and took a bite from the forbidden fruit, they plunged the entire human race into guilt and condemnation. Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 where he says, ‘…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned…’ As goes the head so goes the body. The relationship between Adam and us is so close that God includes that phrase at the end of 5:12 ‘…death spread to all men (not because Adam sinned, but) because all sinned…’ From his disobedience to God’s first command, Adam brought sin, and therefore guilt, and therefore death to all men because Adam, in Eden, was the representative head of all mankind. Because of this at the moment of our birth, we are born, not as innocent people who choose right or wrong, no, we are born guilty before God before we commit any sin. This is why God says earlier in Romans 3:23, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’ because though we were made in God’s image we have chosen to exchange the glory of God for our own glory, distorting God’s image in us. We had life, and life to the full, walking with God in the cool of the day, all was as it should be, but we rebelled. And our act of rebelling against the King of Kings, the Just Judge of all the universe, is nothing short of cosmic treason, thus all mankind is born under the death sentence, all mankind is born guilty.

2) Darkness

The Bible goes further and speaks of our darkness. John 3:19-20, ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ This sad reality John expresses is clear is it not? John 8:12 says Jesus is the Light of the world, and when He came John says light entered our dark world, and not surprisingly, we didn’t just prefer the darkness over the light, John says we ‘loved the darkness’ over the light. This is not a lifeless choice like we would make between staying home or going to a ballgame…this is a heart level emotionally loaded assessment. Our natural state when we’re born into this world is that we ‘love’ darkness and hate the light; we love sin, we hate Jesus. Why? Because our deeds are evil, and because we don’t want our wickedness to be broadcast to the world by coming to the light, thus we remain in the darkness we so love.

3) Hatred

Describing the difference between living with a mind set on the flesh with and a mind set on the things of the Holy Spirit Paul says, ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law, indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:5-8). What is the sinner’s natural posture toward God? Is it one of peace, or maybe indifference or neutrality? No, far from it. v7, ‘For the mind set on the flesh on hostile to God.’ That word ‘hostile’ literally means ‘hates’ or ‘is at enmity with.’ Natural man, or to put it another way, all those who have not been raised to life by the power of the Spirit hate God, are alienated from God, and are at odds with God. Paul even says in v8 that natural man is unable to submit to God. Not that natural man won’t submit to God as if they chose not to, v8 says they are not able to submit to God because of their sin.

4) Death

Ephesians 2:1-3, ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Many people speak of our sinful nature as if we were drowning in an ocean reaching up as hard as we can to grasp, maybe even with just one finger, a life preserver that’s been tossed to us by Jesus. Others speak of it as if we were on a hospital bed, on the brink of death, when Jesus walks in with the cure to save. These are pleasant images for sure, if we ignore what the Bible has to say. In the Bible we don’t find that we’re drowning we find that we lying cold and lifeless on the sea floor with our lungs filled with water. When we come to the Bible we don’t find that we’re on the brink of death in a hospital bed, we find that we’re six feet under, dead. ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…’ This is not an individual assessment either, it’s universal. We are by nature ‘…children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Yet ironically it says that we, though dead in sin, ‘walk according to the course of the world’ and that we ‘follow Satan, the prince of the power of the air.’ By birth we really are the walking dead.

5) Blindness

Lastly see our blindness. 2 Cor. 4:4, ‘…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Here we see Satan’s work, blinding all those who don’t believe, keeping them from seeing not just ‘the light’ and not just ‘the light of the gospel’ he blinds unbelievers from seeing ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ There is glory to be seen in the gospel, the glory of Christ, and if we see it, it will stun our souls and fill our bones with pleasure and exuberance beyond measure. Yet, see here that by birth we’re blind to this, and are unable to see this beauty.

If you embrace the reality of our radical corruption it paves the way to the best news in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me show you how this is true. When God does save, when He regenerates our hearts, and gives us the gift of the ‘new birth’ He does the impossible and changes our nature through His sovereign grace. This act of sovereign grace reverses each of the 5 things we’ve just gone over:

1) Not Guilt, but Pardon

When God saves, we no longer carry the burden of guilt, but have been pardoned by the blood of Christ, who stood in our place as our substitute on the cross. Romans 3:23-25, ‘or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…’

2) Not Darkness, but Light

When God saves, we no longer are darkness, but light in the Lord. John 1:4-5, ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Ephesians 5:7-8, ‘Do not become partakers with sons of disobedience for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light.’

3) Not Hatred, but Love

When God saves, we longer hate God, we love Him. 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because He first loved us.’

4) No Death, but Life

When God saves, we no longer are dead, but alive. Ephesians 2:3-5, ‘…we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

5) Not Blindness, but Sight

When God saves, we are no longer blind, we can see. 2 Cor. 4:6, ‘For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

Let’s end this post properly with a plea from Martin Luther. Hear it well:

“Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! Let man be man! Let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! Let them realize that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ, and cry for mercy.”

(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)

4 Ways God Punishes Sin

Lastly, after spending two days on the origin of sin and the character of sin, today I’ll briefly discuss the punishment of sin. This is the result of sin in man. All this talk of guilt, pollution, corruption, depravity, and total and moral evil means little if God doesn’t take it seriously. Men may make light of it but God doesn’t, for He will punish all sin both in this life and in the life to come.

How? In 4 ways:

a) Spiritual Death

Our sinful nature is itself punishment for our sin. Sin is the great separator, separating man from man and more importantly, man from God. To be separated from God is a real kind of death, because only in communion with God can man really live. There is no life outside of Him (John 1:4-5 speak of the light inside of Christ being the life of men). So rather than going through life having a nature that always obeys, yearns for, and loves God we now (as a punishment from the fall) have a nature that rejects, runs from, and hates God. This is spiritual death.

b) Suffering in this Life

All suffering that takes place in this life is a result from and penalty of sin. Weakness, disease, distress, poverty, pain, sickness, sorrow, and everything other woe under the sun entered the world in Genesis 3 as a punishment for our sin. The true and lasting harmony of life has been ruined and wrecked so that we can never get past the fallen-ness of this present world. We feel this suffering in our souls, which no longer feels like paradise but a battleground. We feel this suffering with other men, rather than peace we have competition and strife. We feel this suffering in nature, rather than the ‘calm or cool of the day’ we see in Eden we experience destructive forces of nature like earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami’s, and floods. All of this suffering inside of us and outside of us is a punishment to us from the fall.

c) Physical Death

Adam, the first created man, would not have died if he had not sinned, but he did, and part of the wages of his sin was physical death. Romans 5 says in him all men fell as well, and so naturally we will one day face the wages of sin too in our own physical death. The soul was never meant to be separated from the body, but in physical death that is exactly what happens. Genesis 3:19, ‘For you are dust and to dust you shall return.’

d) Eternal Death

Lastly, and perhaps most sorrowfully, physical death is not the only death that comes into man’s existence as a punishment from the fall, eternal death comes too. For all those who reject the gospel in this life, will experience in full measure the fallen-ness they tasted on earth. Eternal death is the culmination of spiritual death. ‘The restraints fall away, and the corruption of sin has it’s full work. The full weight of the wrath of God descends on the condemned’ (Louis Berkhof). This condition of eternal death is the eternal corresponding form of their inward spiritual death. What this is like we’ll return to in our time in eschatology.

One of the Most Obvious Things I Could Say

This past Monday I wrote on the origin of sin, today I’ll focus on the character of sin. When speaking of the character of something we’re usually referring to the essential qualities of a thing. For example, one essential quality of all good cheeseburgers is grease. Without it, they may be healthier, but they sure aren’t as good. This is obvious isn’t it? It’s a fact that all people who have eaten a few cheeseburgers understand. When it comes to sin, there is an equally obvious statement I can say: sin is nasty, literally nasty. This is as obvious as 1+1=2.

Throughout the history of the Church many have tried to describe the sinfulness of sin and have done so with terrifying clarity. Over the course of my reading I’ve gleaned two prominent things about sin: it is total, and it is moral.

a) Total

One of the results of the fall was that man is now totally depraved. To say we are totally depraved is not to say we are utterly depraved. We are not as bad as we could be (even Hitler didn’t kill his own mother), but the fall of man affected the totality of man. No faculty within man was left untouched or unchanged by the fall of man. Our hearts are bent on rebellion against God, our wills prefer evil to righteousness, and our bodies wear out. This is why people get dementia, cancer, colds, and all other diseases that war against the body. So to say sin is total is to say it totally wrecks us spiritually and physically. Romans 3:10-18 is a good place to see this clearly.

b) Moral

Many people speak of evil these days, evil things that happen in the world, and evil things that happen to people. The one word people shy away from using in most of these instances is the word ‘moral.’ Because to use the word moral is to refer to a standard that all men must abide by, and since we live in a culture where the reality of an objective moral standard is rejected, the word ‘moral’ has lost much of its sway. But when it comes to God and His Word, we must see that sin is a moral evil. Scripture speaks of us missing the mark which implies there is a right way or path to seek and go down. Scripture speaks of us preferring darkness to light and rejecting God for our own desires, seeking to get out from under His authority. The Bible calls this unfaithfulness. This implies that embracing light over darkness, and obeying God over our desires is faithfulness. To be faithful or unfaithful are words that only exist in moral categories. This means the Bible speaks of sin in such a way as to show it’s ethical nature, and shows how life can lived rightly and wrongly.

We too often think of man’s problem as something done to us that requires an inner solution, when the Bible speaks of man’s problem in terms of something we’ve done that requires the solution of another. We have deliberately chosen to disobey God and follow what we think is better. Man is never passive in sin, we don’t fall into sin, we sin because we want to, and because of this intentionality we held responsible for our active opposition to God. This brings guilt, and guilt is a word (again) that only exists and functions in a moral context.

To the degree we lessen the sinfulness of sin, to that degree we lessen graciousness of God’s grace, until we begin to see all man as more or less good people. This is wrong, sin is not a lesser degree of good, but a moral evil. We’re either on the right side or the wrong side.

Did Sin Come From God or Man?

As long as man has been we have sought to answer the question of the origin of sin, the source of moral corruption, and the root of evil. As you can imagine there are many answers to this question throughout history, but though there are many answers, we can assemble them into a few groups.

The early Church fathers were split on this. The Eastern Church (Greek theologians) came to settle on a position known as Pelagianism, which denied any connection between Adam’s sin and our own, believing all men are not polluted in Adam. The Western Church (Latin theologians) came to settle on a position known as Augustinianism, which stressed the connection between Adam’s sin and our own, believing all men to be polluted in Adam.

As history progressed the majority of the Church would come to a middle position called semi-pelagianism, where believes man to be polluted from Adam’s sin, but believes the pollution is not as depraved as the Augustinians made it seem. Though the majority of the Church embraced this middle-ground position, there was a group who rejected semi-pelagianism, the Reformers, whom we stand with today. After the Reformation period, the sinfulness of man continued to decrease in the eyes of the Church (though the Puritans held to it) so that eventually it came to disappear all together.

Within the Church now, it seems to be prevalent to believe two things: 1) Adam was the first sinner, and 2) but his sin is not the cause of the sin in mankind.

What does Scripture say about this? How did mankind receive a sinful nature? What is sin’s origin? It may seem arrogant of me to speak so bluntly but the Bible is crystal clear on this. We can say the following things:

a) The Consequence of God’s Sovereign Will

The first thing we can say about origin of sin is that the fall of man is the consequence of God’s sovereign will.

Don’t mishear me. God is holy, holy, holy (Isa. 6:3), sin cannot be in His presence (Job 34:10), He hates sin (Ps. 5:4, 11:5), He cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no man (Jam. 1:13). God is not the author of sin, yet we can say that in His sovereignty God was pleased to permit and purpose the fall of man to His own glory. We can say this because it is an implication of God’s sovereignty. Since God is sovereign over all things, since He ordains whatsoever comes to pass, and since all things work according to the counsel of His own will we must conclude that God was not surprised when the fall took place. God didn’t say oops.

To deny such a thing is to place God in subjection to another who brought about the fall against the will of God. Romans 8:20 says this, ‘For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ All creation was subjected to futility, this means subjected to the fall, BY WHO? By him who subjected it in hope. Who subjected creation to futility in hope? It surely wasn’t Adam, he didn’t disobey God’s one command with an aim toward hope. No, God subjected the creation to the fall of man, in hope, that one day He would raise it to new life, just as raises His children to new life.

Thus we believe with Jonathan Edwards, ‘It is not sin in God to will that sin be.’ Romans 5:8 teaches us this principle as well. ‘God shows His love for us (He really desired to display His love toward us) in that while we were still sinners (there had to be sin) Christ died (there had to be death) for us.’ So by permitting, allowing, and ordaining the fall of man God opened the jaws of death that would eventually slam shut on His Son at the cross. The fall prepared the world for the Son of God to enter it and die.

b) The Consequence of Man’s Wicked Choice

The second thing we can say about origin of sin is that the fall of man is the consequence of man’s wicked choice.

Scripture does hint in a few places that sin existed before the fall of man in the angelic world (John 8:44, 1 John 3:8), but the place we mainly want to go to mention the origin of sin is Adam’s transgression in Eden. The tempter, who was already fallen, came to the woman and through her to the man and lied to them about God’s command. They gave in to the temptation and committed the first sin by eating the forbidden fruit. Pollution, corruption, depravity entered Adam and Eve, and into all their descendants after them, such that through Adam, as Romans 5:12 says, ‘death spread to all men.’

This is the transmission of sin. Louis Berkhof says it like this, ‘As a result of the fall the father of the race could only pass on a depraved nature to his offspring. From that unholy source sin flows on as an impure stream to all the generations of men, polluting everyone and everything with which it comes in contact’ (Systematic Theology, 221). Romans 5:12-21 teaches this and shows that Adam was the representative head for all mankind in the fall, just as Christ is the representative head for all the elect, who through faith in Him will one day find all the consequences of reversed.

The result of the origin of sin is fivefold:

1) All men are brought into the world not only polluted in sin, but guilty from that sin before God, totally depraved, meaning not that we’re as bad as we could be but that sin effects man totally.

2) Communion with God was lost, and man entered into a condition of spiritual death.

3) Shame came to bear on the soul of man, thus Adam and Eve ‘covered’ themselves.

4) Physical death entered the world in the human and animal world, we were made from the dust and to the dust we shall all return, or as Paul says, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23).

5) Man’s residence changed from the Eden to exile.

Take caution though before you agree with me too quickly. The correct response to this isn’t, ‘Yep, I know this is true. We live in a messed up world, I see it everyday.’ No, the correct response to this is, ‘Yep, I know this is true. I see it in my own heart everyday.’ Unless you’re willing to acknowledge that this is true of you, you’ll never embrace the gospel that can save sinners.

(The above image is taken from Kevin DeYoung’s book, The Biggest Story)

 

We Sin, But Sin Is Not Our Custom

1 John 3:9 says, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”

Upon reading this verse some of you may be thinking UH-OH.  Now, your UH-OH is personally warranted because you know how much you fall short day after day because of your sin.  Every human being on the planet feels the same way you do about this, it’s just that some are more honest about their sin than others.  So what do we make of this verse?  Is it really true that if we sin we have no part in Christ?  Clark Davidson helps us out:

It’s not that sin is not in him (the Christian), or that he never is guilty of an act of sin; but it is not his delight, it is not his custom, he follows it not with full consent, he makes not a trade of it.

Yes, every Christian sins, and there may even be seasons of gross immoral sin.  But notice how 1 John 3:9 says, “…practices sin…”?  This phrase means that one born of God does not make a continual practice of sin, as if sin were a lifestyle or a habit which one would revolve their life around.

In this life freedom from the penalty of sin does not mean that we’ll have freedom from the presence and influence of sin.  The power of sin remains though its dominion in the soul is crushed.  For the Christian, sin will happen far more often than you’d like to admit, but sin is not something that delights us, it afflicts our souls.

Sin is not our custom.

Inventing gods and Squashing them by Eternal Truth

Surely just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this or that about God Himself. (John Calvin: Institutes, book 1, chapter 5, paragraph 12)

What then are we to do about such a dreadful truth?

We must come, I say, to the Word where God is truly and vividly described to us from His works, while these very works are appraised not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth. (John Calvin: Institutes, book 1, chapter 6, paragraph 3)

The 8 Steps of Sin

Kevin DeYoung:

Sin nibbles at our soul in small steps.

Eight steps, to be precise, according to John Witherspoon in his sermon on Hebrews 3:13 entitled “The Deceitfulness of Sin”:

1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by small sins.

2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something great and more daring; his courage grows with his experience; and he gives himself more liberty to walk in the ways of his own heart, and the sight of his own eyes.

3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions.

4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom.

5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame; and sin openly and boldly.

6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far, as to sin without remorse of conscience.

7. Improved sinners often come to boast and glory of their wickedness. It is something to be above shame; but it is more still to glory in wickedness and esteem it honorable.

8. Not to be content with being wicked themselves, but to use all their art and influence to make others so too. This is to be zealous in sinning, and industriously to promote the interest of the infernal cause. How often do we find those who have no fear of God before their own eyes, use their utmost endeavors to extinguish it before others, to laugh down qualms of their consciences, and break any reluctance they may seem to have at running to same excess of riot with themselves? (Works, 2:61-69)

From small sins to bigger sins, to bad friends and bad habits, to loss of shame and loss of conscience, to boasting in what is evil and being zealous for others to do the same–that is the devilish nature of sin’s grip on the human heart.

Was true in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Is true in America now. And everywhere else for that matter.