A Biblical View of Sin
This is the last issue of the Dear Co-laborer until the first of next year. Leette and I wish you and yours a very special Thanksgiving and Christmas celebration. I hope the holidays afford you opportunity to be with family and loved ones. Our children will gather with us during Thanksgiving, and then we all gather again for Christmas at the home of Deborah and Michael.
A Biblical View of Sin
In the last issue we briefly looked at a couple of ways that the world in general, and philosophy in particular, views sin. You have to believe in one God, who has revealed His standards, and who holds each individual accountable, in order to legitimately establish absolutes. In these next few issues we will look at how the Bible defines sin.
Fountain of Sin
I want to explore two aspects to this “fountain of sin:”
1 – Ingratitude. Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome with an analysis of the human condition. As he begins his exposition on man’s sin, he says, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” The fountain of all sin is ingratitude.
Why does a man steal? Because he feels his needs are not adequately met and decides to take things into his own hands. Why does a person commit adultery? For the same reason. Many, if not most, of God’s commandments deal with limits on how we relate to one another. A great deal of our unhappiness comes from unfulfilled expectations. People tend to look to others for the meeting of their needs, and when their expectations are not met, they step outside biblical parameters in an endeavor to meet them.
From this we can easily see the link between gratitude and contentment. When our expectations are not met we are discontent, and a lack of contentment breeds ingratitude. The Apostle Paul tells his son in the faith, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
Ungrateful people are not content. Thus, Paul warns us to be content with what God has given. When we are unhappy with God’s provision, irrespective of the area of our lives in which we find this to be true, we are but a short step from sin. From the thankless heart flow all the sins enumerated by Paul in Romans 1.
2 – A Quest for Autonomy. For a look at this, we will briefly explore Genesis 3. It is impossible to understand a biblical view of sin apart from this chapter. The point of the story of the Fall is to make clear that our destiny was shaped by this event. Because the story of Adam and Eve is inseparable from human existence, and consequently of our understanding of ourselves, we will return to Genesis 3 frequently in our study.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
God made man in God’s image, endowing man with characteristics higher and nobler than any other creature. After creating man, God placed him in Utopia. Under God, he is the supreme ruler of the world; all creation was in subjection to him. He lived in Paradise without limits or prohibitions. Apart from being given the task of caring for God’s creation, the only restriction placed on Adam was that he could not eat of the fruit of one tree.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
The author seeks to make clear that the destiny of man is shaped by this event. Satan begins with a leading question as to the scope of the prohibition. Notice Eve’s willingness to be enticed. She said to the serpent, “We cannot touch it.” You cannot find from the account any indication that God said this – either to Adam or to her. “I can’t even touch it.” The first step in disobedience is to make the command appear unreasonable. When you argue that God’s prohibitions are unreasonable, you are well on your way to sinning.
The serpent argues that God does not need to be taken seriously. He characterizes the obedience of faith as hopeless stupidity. This fuels the appetite for autonomy. Note that the appetite for autonomy was not part of the Fall; it was the way God created man. The desire for autonomy gives man choice, and choice is essential for any meaningful relationship.
Adam and Eve’s thirst for understanding took precedence over God’s revelation. Thus, when the serpent argues that the prohibition and warning are not in their best interest, but God’s, they accept the premise. God wishes to restrain man, for he knows that the fruit will “make them as God, knowing good and evil.” God seeks to restrain them by fear from something that they might easily and safely take by transgression of the command.
Instead of gratitude, Adam is angry that God did not make man like God. God created man in His image, but that obviously is not enough. Man wants to be God! The phrase, “I want to be like God,” can be the most holy of ambitions, or the most sinful of ambitions – depending on what you mean by it.
Our first parents sinned because they doubted: a) – that God’s prohibition was in their interest; b) – that God’s will is unconditionally binding; and c) – that there are unacceptable consequences to disobedience.
Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
What was this tree, the fruit of which was prohibited by God? If “good and evil” means knowing “right from wrong,” then Adam and Eve would not have been culpable. For example, a child severely mentally handicapped is not charged with a crime when he breaks the law. We assume that he cannot distinguish right from wrong.
The fruit represented the authority to determine good and evil in their lives – i.e., what is good for them (in their best interest) and what is evil for them (not in their best interest). Satan suggested that if they answered that question correctly, they would have no need for God to meddle in their lives. This is a fundamental drive in every individual: they want veto power over deciding what is and is not in their best interest.
It is why all of us resist authority. I don’t mind submitting if I agree that it is in my interest. For example, I freely submit to the wishes of a physician when I go because of a need. Rather, I resist risks when I perceive that they are not in my interest, as illustrated by my attitude when sitting on a turbulence-free airplane that has the “fasten seat belt” sign on when I have to use the bathroom. The issue of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” rests at the heart of every relationship in every environment. It produces conflict between husband and wife, between parents and children, and between the citizen and the state.
I am not sure what God had in mind when He said that after they ate of the fruit their “eyes were opened.” I do know that they did not achieve their goal of shaping their own destinies. They were less in control of their future after eating the fruit than they were before. Still, this is probably the primary reason people resist giving their hearts to Jesus: they don’t want to lose control of their lives.
I remember witnessing to a scientist at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California. When he claimed to be an agnostic I suggest that he run a “scientific” experiment using the words of Jesus: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” I asked him to read through the gospels, and wherever Jesus asked him to do something that was within his power to do, obey and see if he ended up knowing. He looked at me with anger and contempt saying, “The thought of another telling me what to do is abhorrent. Never will I do such a thing!” He could not resist eating the fruit.
What did God mean when He told Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”? Adam had no experience to help him evaluate. He had never seen anything die physically, and had no point of reference for spiritual death, i.e. – separation from God. In short, he had no experience to help him evaluate the implications of disobedience. Satan could easily confuse him regarding what it means to die.
You are most easily deceived when tempted beyond your experience. And yet, experience often brings sin, addiction, and despair. The only reliable exit from this dilemma is to believe God has your best interest at heart when He establishes prohibitions in your life. You can believe Him and live, or you can eat of the fruit and suffer the consequences.
In His firm grip,
 Romans 1:21
 I Timothy 6:6-8
 Genesis 1:26-27
 Genesis 3:1-7
 John 7:17