Why is sin so bad?
We have a tendency to down play the seriousness of sin. In fact, I would say that a lot of people don’t see the need to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus because they don’t see a need to repent.
We say things like, “Well, I’m not hurting anyone.” “It doesn’t affect you, so why do you care what I do?”
I think, at least partially, this comes from a political state-of-mind. With regard to policy, we more or less have adopted the standard of “If it doesn’t harm others, I should be able to do it under the law.”
This, however, is not the mindset we should adopt when thinking of sin. Breaking the law and sinning are two different, though related things. Breaking the law, under normal circumstances, is sinful, if that law is a just law. However, sin is not confined to mere disobedience to political laws. You probably know this, and this seems a bit trivial, but the mindset of “If I’m not hurting anyone, why is it so bad?” is so pervasive, this trivial difference seems worth pointing out.
What is Sin?
I find it helpful to think of sin as “missing the mark” which is indeed the definition of one term used for “sin” in the New Testament. I find this concept especially helpful when I approach the subject philosophically (I will turn to a Biblical view as well, calm down).
From a philosophical perspective, all human beings act with “the good” in mind. You cannot avoid this. Every action you take, you take because you deem it “good” and by “good” you mean “good for your human nature.”
When you take an action, you take it because you think it will fulfill, or perfect you as a human being. The question is: was your assessment correct? Will the action actually perfect you as a human being, or not?
In the case where an action is taken that does not perfect your human nature, but actually does violence to you as a human, this would be sin, or missing the mark. You thought this action would fulfill you, but you have “missed your mark.”
If you are thinking there is a selfish reason to behave morally, you are correct. Sin, missing the mark, taking an action that does violence to human nature, is actually bad for you.
Why does God care?
When we turn to the Bible we see that God creates humanity with a purpose: to multiply and fill the Earth with his “image”. As humanity spreads across the face of the Earth, they will consequently be spreading God’s “image” all over the globe because part of what it means to be human is to be an “image bearer.” In this way, God will be glorified throughout all the Earth by his willingly loyal vicegerents, or representatives.
God puts humanity on Earth to rule over it and in this way reflect him, or “image” him, that is what the word means. Being an “image bearer” is to reflect God and that is why he made us: to reflect him, which is a relational description. He wants to be in a willingly obedient relationship with beings that reflect him. That is what God wants from humanity.
The problem, in a word, is sin. We throw a wrench in all of this, when we, like Adam, willfully disobey God.
Hosea 6:7 says, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” The Old Testament uses Adam’s transgression as an analogy to describe Israel’s faithlessness to the covenant they, as a nation, made with God.
By nature of being a human, you are in obligation to God. If you find that unfair, I don’t know what you could possibly mean. Would you rather not exist? By the way, you don’t have to obey your obligation to God. He has given you the freedom to do as you wish. You are not free from the consequences, but do as you please.
To return to the Genesis story, Adam usurps God’s wisdom in creation, obtains a “wisdom” of his own, and disobeys God. Essentially, his sin was reaching for wisdom outside of God’s provision and providence. The bait for getting Adam and Eve to do so was that they would become “like God.” They were basically giving God “the finger” and telling him that they would do things as they saw fit. As the Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
The consequence of “dethroning” God and disobeying him is death. God told Adam he would surely die, he would return to the dust. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, so that they would not live in such a guilty state forever by eating from the tree of life.
God does not want man to live in a state of guilt forever. But this is the state in which we find ourselves. As C.S. Lewis points out in his Mere Christianity, we all recognize that there is a transcendent moral law. This law is not relative, or subjective, but objective and absolute. We also recognize that when it comes to ourselves, at least, we like to make exceptions and break this law. We are law breakers and we feel the guilt of that. We ought not have broken this moral law. We also recognize the need for justice when it comes to law breakers.
So, here we find ourselves. This can all be deduced from a very simple understanding of moral philosophy, and yet aligns well with the Biblical picture, which was of course Lewis’ point.
Before turning to the guilt, I want to point out one more thing. This is why God’s commands are not a buzzkill, as so many like to think of them. Some people have this vision of God’s commands, especially and almost exclusively God’s commands concerning sexual ethics, as if God wants to limit the fun you can have. This is of course a childish caricature.
Some even take it a step further to say that God’s commands are tyrannical in nature, and therefore immoral. As much as I loved listening to the late Christopher Hitchens, he often described God this way, which only revealed the shallowness of his own thinking on this subject.
Once understanding why human beings were created, what sin is, and the consequences of sin, I’m sure you can easily deduce why God gives commands. God gives commands and warnings against sin because he does not want humanity to live in guilt and live in the consequence of sin. Sin brings with it destruction and death, and God does not want that for humanity. So, in his omniscience, and being the creator of human nature, he gives commands that are good for humanity and will lead to humanity’s flourishing. God’s commands are good because they bring about the flourishing of humanity when obeyed. We believe God to be good because he wills the good of man.
Now, back to our guilt. We exist in a state of having broken the moral law and we are aware of our guilt and the need for justice. The Bible tells us that the just penalty is death. Why? The offense is great because the one whom we have offended is infinitely holy. God is wholly other than us. His nature is not something with which we are familiar. There is no comparison. Saying “God is like x, y, or z” is to speak analogously and will always fail to even come close to understanding exactly what God is like. He is wholly other. That is what it means to be holy.
Sin, disobeying the moral law, is an offense to the moral law Giver. An atheist recently was trying to tell me that for God to pardon my sin against somebody else is immoral. What he was missing was this: it is God’s law that has been broken. And the author of this law isn’t just anybody. He is the ground of all being, the Creator of the universe, and perfectly holy, good, and just.
The punishment is steep because the offense is steep. And the offense is steep because the Offended is perfectly holy.
However, this catastrophe is not what God desires, not what he wants. In Ezekiel 18:32 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone.” Later in Ezekiel 33:11 God says that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he wants everyone to repent, turn from sin and live. This assumes that the punishment for sin is death, and that if you repent of sin and turn to God, you will live.
The New Testament echoes this sentiment in 1 Timothy 2:4, “God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” He wants everyone to be saved from the curse of sin, namely death; and to have a knowledge of the truth, namely eternal life through Jesus.
Enter: The Solution
Through Jesus? Yes, this is the good news. The curse that has held man down since the time of Adam, has been lifted. In grand design, God sent his son to “taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). In Adam, the archetypal human, sin and death entered the world. In Jesus, the new archetypal human, sin and death were defeated. Where Adam failed, Jesus prevailed. He felt the curse of sin and death, and conquered it by rising from the dead.
In doing so, Jesus has “destroy[ed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and could set free these who through fear of death were subject to slavery throughout all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
We were slaves to death, living under the curse of sin, but Jesus through his death and resurrection has stolen the keys from our previous master and set us free. He became like us, human, in order to mediate between us and God, who of course he is. God became man in order to rescue man from the curse of sin, which is death.
One verse really summarizes all of this nicely. It is 1 Corinthians 15:22. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
But one must be “in Christ” in order to be made alive. How does one become “in Christ”? I’m glad you asked. Ephesians 1 tell us that “in Christ” we have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). Later in the same chapter Paul says that in Christ “when you believed you were sealed with the promised Holy spirit” (1:13). So when do you become in Christ? The moment you believe. Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is what you must believe in order to be “in Christ” and once you are “in Christ” you will be made alive to live eternally in right relationship with your Creator, which was God’s plan for you from the beginning.
If you do not want this, you are free to reject. That is not what God wants, as he has made clear, but he leaves it your decision. You may reject him.
But rejecting God ends in death and destruction. Likewise, we can reason to this: If God created us for the purpose of being in relationship with him, we should expect that using our freewill to reject his purposes and live for something else will ultimately be less than satisfactory, or fulfilling. It is a matter of philosophical reasoning. God created humanity for purpose x. If humanity lives for purpose y, they won’t be fulfilled as humans.
So, ultimately, rejecting God and his purpose for your life will result in something less than satisfactory and fulfilling, and ultimately end in death. Yes, sin is very serious.
In summary, we should note a few things:
- To be human is to be an “imager of God.”
- If you use your free will to not image, or reflect God, you should expect to be less than satisfied, fulfilled, or perfected as a human being.
- You also have a moral obligation to live as an imager of God.
- If you use your free will to not image, or reflect God, you should expect to experience guilt for breaking God’s universal, moral law.
- The punishment for sin is death.
- In likeness with Adam, we have all sinned and all deserve to die.
- Jesus defeated sin and death by experiencing death and rising from the grave.
- We can join in Jesus’ victory by believing in his work and professing him as Lord.