THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF SIN by the Reverend Jonathan Fletcher
Romans 1; 18-32 has an embarrassingly modern ring. Many today would like to feel that the concept of sin is out of date and can be eliminated from Christian thinking. Yet verses such as these show once again the frightening relevance of the Bible. As one young Christian said of the Scriptures "Whoever made this book made me. It tells me the desires and thoughts of my heart."
The Extent of Sin
The argument of the first chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans is that the cancer of sin has affected all mankind. Romans chapter 1 argues that all Gentiles are sinners; Chapter 2 that all Jews are as well. So that Romans 3; 10, 12, 23 can conclude the universality of sin. (Jesus of Nazareth, of course, excepted; 2 Corinthians 5; 21). So this is a subject that concerns every one of us, and every one we shall ever meet or hear of. Not only are we all sinners, but we are all born that way. We are not born morally neutral, but rather we enter this world with an inherited tendency towards evil (Psalm 51; 5, Romans 5; 12).
The Essence of Sin
Romans 1; 21 "they did not honour God. . . or give thanks to Him". The very heart of sin is the refusal to let God be God and therefore not to give Him the honour, worship and the thanks that are His due. In Genesis 3, it was not so much the eating of a piece of fruit in itself that was so serious, as thereby denying the authority of God and His right to command; the goodness of God and the love that lay behind that command; and the 'otherness' of God so that man thought he could be 'as God' and usurp His position. St. John in 1 John 3; 4 makes the point that sin isn't so much specific acts of law-breaking as 'lawlessness', that is, the setting up of oneself above the law of God. We are therefore all sinners and our sin is to be seen in that we have declared independence unilaterally and have tried to live our lives independently of God, as though He were of no import and had no say. One way or another we have bowed God out of the picture, and lived as though
He were irrelevant. In the words of Christ's parable we have said of Jehovah God "We will not have Him to reign over us" (Luke 19; 14).
The Consequences of Sin
Sin darkens (Romans 1; 21). The first thing to go is the mind, so that man can no longer think straight. He can be described as 'senseless'. Ephesians 4; 17, 18 gives a very surprising definition
of man apart from God. . . "futility of their minds", "darkened in their understanding", "ignorance". Man still reckons himself very clever (Romans 1; 21) but begins to say such things as "I like to think of God as. . ." and creates his own picture and image of God, which we are not at liberty to do. To undo the effects of sin, man's mind must be tackled and this is why Jesus came as a Teacher
(Mark 1; 38) and evangelism today should follow His pattern. This involves the shedding of light in the darkened areas (John 3; 19 ff and John 8; 12).
Sin depraves. Once man's mind has gone his morals go also. In the New Testament 'how we think' leads to 'how we behave'. Sound doctrine is married to holy living - "Those that God hath brought together let no man put asunder". By the same token, once man's thinking and understanding are adrift, his living and behaviour will be also. Romans 1; 24 - 31 gives a terrifyingly accurate description of the degradation and the depravity of man. Notice that the sins of immorality, perversions and those enumerated in the list of vv 29 - 31 are the result of sin. Sin - not letting God be God - brings sins into the world. Although sin brings judgement, the prior truth is that judgement brings sins into the world. Man gave God up, so God gives man up (vv 24, 26, 28). Man refused to honour God (v 21) so God gives man up to the dishonouring of his body (v 24) and to dishonourable passions (v 26). Man exchanged the truth about God for a lie (v 25) so God gave man up to the exchanging of natural relations for unnatural. But note that man's depravity is to be seen not just in sexual perversion but also in envy, gossip, boasting, disobedience to parents, insolence and pride (vv 29, 3O). In all these areas we are perverted from the norm of true human-ness which is being 'in the image of God'.
Sin destroys (v 32). The desert (or wages Romans 6; 23) due to sin is death. Man was warned back in Genesis that if he ate of the fruit he would die. The day he ate the fruit he was banished from God's presence. Death in the Bible therefore has this sense of exclusion and separation. Sin, therefore, is no mere common cold, but a fatal, terminal disease - and justly so. Romans 1; 18 speaks of the 'wrath of God'. This isn't the wilful quick temper of a capricious deity, but the settled, controlled opposition to all that is evil. A God of loving righteousness and holiness must punish
sin or else be open to the charge of being unjust. So if we began by seeing that in essence sin hates God, we see now that the inevitable consequence is that God hates sin, and sinners must be God- forsaken.
Of all the problems that face man in this world, this is far and away the greatest and most serious. Fortunately, God has provided a means of escape.
Sin and the Christian
Christians are those who by the grace of God and through absolutely no merit of their own have been once and for all totally forgiven. All past, present and future sins have been wiped away, and we stand before God justified and clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ. However, Christians remain sinners. That is to say we retain our fallen sinful nature, and this sadly manifests itself by our continuing to sin. Failure to recognise this state of affairs can lead to
(a) despair - as some Christians have imagined that they should now be sinless, and their continued sin has brought them to the point of desperation;
(b) hypocrisy - as many Christians have thought that their own continued sin was unique to themselves and therefore have persisted in claiming before other Christians a joy and a victory that simply was not true to their experience. This inevitably leads to isolation and the impossibility of true fellowship.
(c) judgment - as Christians are quick to condemn brothers who fall into sin.
Although we remain sinners this must never lead us to the position of calmly accepting sin as the inevitable pattern of every day life. One of the marks of the true Christian is that there is a daily, urgent, ruthless and practical fight against sin in our lives. We declare war on sin. We do this because of the very serious effects of sin in the life of the believer. For the Christian:
a. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit and hinders His work in our lives (Ephesians 4; 30).
b. Sin robs us of our joy. Psalm 51 indicates that David as a result of his sin lost not his salvation, but the joy of the salvation.
c. Sin spoils our fellowship with other Christians (1 John 1; 7).
d. Sin limits our effectiveness in Christ's service (Hebrews 12; 1).
It has been said that all heresy begins with a mistaken doctrine of sin and its consequences. An understanding of the true nature and appalling effect of sin must lead us to take action.