The Christian Story – IV. What Sin Deserves

Because of sin, all mankind are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This means they come under God’s condemnation for what they’ve done. Romans 2:6 says that God “will render to each one according to his works.” This means that every person will be judged according to what they’ve done. “For those [people] who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury,” (Romans 2:8). One day every human being will appear before God and will have to answer for everything they’ve done, during their whole life. For those whose lives have been lived in rebellion toward God, living their lives as if he had nothing to say, as if he had no rights over them, they will face the fury of God on the day when he judges mankind.

God, since he is good and just, must punish all sin. There will be no pardons on the last day for people who have lived life on their own terms. And because their offense is so serious, they will never be able to finish paying the debt that they owe. Since God is infinitely good, sin is an offense that is infinitely serious. God will punish them forever, and there will be no appeals. They will go away into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

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The Christian Story – III. Sin

(continued from part II. – The Fall)

But sin didn’t stay as a simple breaking of a rule. It spread throughout the whole of man, and became a part of who he was. He didn’t just commit a sin; he was now a sinner, by nature and not just action. After this event in the garden happened, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5). Sin was so thoroughly now a part of man that it infected not just the way he acted, but the way he thought, all the way down to the deepest motivations of his heart.

Another way the Bible describes sin is as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). This is who man naturally is now. He is a lawless rebel, caring nothing for what God says, and who now lives his life in total defiance of God. He now tries to decide for himself what is right and wrong, what he should worship, and everything else about his life.

The one who was created by God, gets his life and breath from God, and should live his life to God, is now a “child of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The problem is not primarily wrongs committed against fellow human beings, but against God. The problem is not because man needs self-actualization, or because he lacks self-confidence, or that he is simply not living up to his full potential, or that he is isolated from other human beings and suffers broken relationships, or that he doesn’t have enough knowledge. The problem is that he is now an enemy of God. And we must remember that this problem is not just in what people do, but who they are. So because God is completely morally perfect, and because who he is and the way he acts as a person actually defines what “good” even means, and since sin is a breaking of his intent for our lives as expressed through his law, sin is also relational. It is the denial of the creator/creation relationship that makes us enemies of the God we’re created to love. Every way that people naturally relate to God is sinful.

In the religions that really recognize that something is drastically wrong, and even try to please some sort of god or supernatural force, the way it is said to accomplish this is by things that they do. Some people try to do this by denying themselves pleasure, fasting, inflicting pain on themselves, and other means of asceticism. Others do so in seeking to do good to their fellow man. They hope that God will look on these things and be pleased, or at the very least that these ‘good’ things that they do will outweigh all the bad that they’ve done. But like we’ve already seen, the main problem isn’t in what we do, but in who we are. Man’s thoughts and deeds are only evil, all the time, Genesis 6:5 says.

So even when men try to do good, they actually do evil, because their intent is to bribe God by the things they do, in order to avoid punishment, whatever that may be. Or, instead of bribing him, they try to obligate him to be merciful by showing what good people they really are. They actually show they have no idea just how bad the problem is, to think that by good deeds or harshness to their own bodies that they can make up for the evil they’ve done. They think the solution can be found in themselves, but really, that’s where the problem is. All human religion sees the problem as outside of them, and the solution inside of them. But the opposite is true: the problem is inside them, and the solution outside.

(next to come: What Does Sin Deserve?)

The Christian Story – II. The Fall

The book of Genesis explains the creation of man, that he is special among all created things, being made in God’s image, in his likeness (Genesis 1:26). Everything else that was created was created by God speaking, but man it says, was “formed” (Genesis 2:7). He was created, as we already saw, to know God and to be in a relationship with him from the very beginning. God gave the man only a few instructions, and one of those was to not eat from a certain tree in the garden that he was supposed to tend.

But the story, as most people will know, finds Eve eating fruit from the tree that was forbidden. But the beginning of her sin wasn’t eating. The beginning of her sin was violating what we saw earlier: when Satan comes to her and tells her she should eat, Eve decides to listen both to Satan and to God and what they claimed about what was right to do, and then from her own wisdom figure out which of them is right. She set her judgment up against God’s, and that was the beginning of her sin. She thought she could be her own standard, and so she and Adam ate.

It’s important to realize that real Christianity sees this story as actually happening. It’s not a story that’s treated as a mythical explanation of what’s wrong with the world; instead, we believe that the story happened in such a way that you could have recorded it all with a video camera – that you could have taken a bite of the same piece of fruit that Eve ate had you been there.

Now, God had given the command specifically to Adam, and so his drastic failure was in following Eve’s lead instead of himself remembering what God said. Because God had made Adam the head, the leader of that relationship, the responsibility for the sin fell on his shoulders. He should have protected Eve, but Genesis says that when Eve decided to eat, she “gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate,” (3:6). He abdicated the responsibility, and so the fault is really his.

This is the first sin in the Bible. God gave a direct command, and that command was broken. Adam was made by God to be a representative of humankind in the garden, and when he fell, the whole of humanity fell with him. The Bible says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,” (Romans 5:12) showing that the origin of death is sin. The rest of the verse says that “death spread to all men because all sinned,” (5:12). So God was very gracious in giving us Adam as a representative: he was free of sin, he didn’t have anything in him (like we do) that naturally pushed him towards sin or evil, and he was given very simple rules. But he sinned anyway, and so all men, as God sees it, sinned with him (5:12 again).

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This is the Christian understanding of everything that’s wrong with the world. Moral evil is sin in action, and natural evil is God’s curse on his creation as a judgment for sin. If we don’t accept the fall, Christianity is completely incoherent.

The Christian Story – I. Creation

Christianity is the only religion in the world that is about a person. Religions the world over have moral codes, doctrines about man, perspectives on what good and evil are, and speculation as to what the afterlife will be like. But Christianity is different, unique among them all. Christianity is a teaching about something that has happened in history, and this history revolves around the life of a person.

The teaching about the life of this person is called gospel, or “good news”. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is good news, but it doesn’t merely begin with the life of a man in first century Palestine. To really understand this news, and why we should call it “good”, we have to start our story a lot earlier.

CREATION

For some people, the doctrine of creation might be a confusing place to start in something that’s supposed to be about the gospel. A survey of most of the Christian literature explaining what the gospel is usually has almost no chronological dimension to it—it simply begins with certain truths, which are told without much of a sense of history to them. When most people think about the Bible explaining creation, they think of Genesis 1:1. But one of the more clear statements about the fact of creation is found in the Gospel according to John. John explains in chapter one, verse three something incredibly foundational for our understanding of the gospel:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

We learn from this that nothing that has been brought into existence has existed for any other reason than God wanted it to. From this we can understand that God, as the creator, has complete ownership of everything he’s made. This is also testified to in Romans 9:21, using the analogy of God as a potter and his creation as clay: “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” The answer is an understood yes. When something is made, it’s completely at the disposal of its maker.

But we don’t only learn about God’s ownership and rights from the doctrine of creation. We also learn that God has a purpose for everything that he’s made. The analogy of the potter and clay is helpful here: potters create for a purpose. It can be for a functional purpose, like something to keep water in, or it can be artistic, intended to be something beautiful, and a display of craftsmanship.

All that being said, we can understand that man is both 1) not his own, but God’s, and 2) God created man with a purpose. The Bible says God created man so that man would seek him (Acts 17:27), and their responsibility is to serve him in everything they do, whether they eat, or drink, or laugh, or speak, or anything (1 Corinthians 10:31). Man is created to know God, to seek him, and to serve him. The apostle Paul puts it like this: “From him and through him and to him are all things,” (Romans 11:36). God is the source of all things, and through (because of) him they continue to exist, and they exist to him, toward him, for his sake. For the moment, we bring this truth to bear on what this has to do with man. Man does not exist for his own sake. He exists for God.

Therefore, man is not self-determining or self-governing. He can’t decide for himself what is good, what is evil, what he should worship, anything. He can’t be his own standard. God is his standard.

coming next: The Fall

The Christian Story – introductory

As part of the Apprentice program at my church, I was given the assignment of writing a gospel tract for us to use in our church. The intention is to have something on-hand, produced in-house, that can be useful both for non-believers who are totally unfamiliar with the gospel, and edifying for Christians who could benefit from a more thorough understanding of it.

In planning for it, we wanted to show that the facts of the Christian gospel are not simply a theological system – they’re instead history that has been given an interpretation; real events that happened in real time in a real place that have significance for us. This was the perspective we started from, and I’ve decided to post the different sections periodically.