The Nature of Sin

Scripture Reading

…and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 

Matthew 1:21b

Once again, this same scripture is referenced from the last two Bible Studies –  The Birth of Jesus and Mary, mother of Jesus. This particular study will delve into the last part of the verse, …for he shall save his people from their sins.

Origin of Sin

The nature of sin or original sin as it is often called is a very complex and personal subject. The word sin is mentioned in the very first book of scripture when the Lord spoke to Cain the son of Adam, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee [shall be] his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” [Gen. 4:7] This verse helps to give some historical context to sin with its innately subtle nature, described here as lurking and waiting at the door. The scene is consequential though to a far more important and ominous event that occurred earlier, commonly referred to as the fall of man.

Let us first preface this by highlighting the place where everything started and that is with the holiness of God and the creation of man and woman, “So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” [Gen. 1:27] In this week’s Bible Study, it is important to understand from a Biblical perspective that people were created in God’s own image. Since God is holy, this is therefore our starting point of reference; rightly stated by the Lord’s declaration to the Israelites, “…ye shall be ye holy; for I am holy.” [Lev. 11:44b] So, here then we have in the beginning God, [Gen. 1:1] who is holy, and God creating man and woman in his very own image. shall be ye holy; for I am holy.

Lev. 11:44b

Following the creation of Adam and Eve, further scriptural records provide the setting that took place,  “…the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” [Gen. 2:8-9] Taking careful note of the two contrasting trees set before them, thereafter specific instruction was now given directly to Adam by the Lord,  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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.” [Gen. 2:16-17]

The initial setting for humanity was therefore in a sense a place of innocence and purity in the presence of the holy Lord, but that was only up until the time a certain nemesis was introduced onto the scene. The third chapter of Genesis records this event and while portrayed in the role of a serpent, it is none other than Satan himself, the father of lies, in whom is no truth [John 8:44].

Here then is the test and failure of human will with Satan casting doubt into the minds of people over God’s word along with the Lord’s instruction and provision for their lives. In this event, Eve was ultimately beguiled by the serpent and Adam followed soon thereafter by eating from the tree of 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.” [Gen. 3:6] This singular act of transgression of God’s commandment resulted in people knowing good and evil, thus fulfilling the warning from the Lord, …in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Herein lies the origin of the nature of sin in people and all descendants of Adam now bear the same consequential effect of this inborn knowledge, ability and propensity toward evil despite many good intentions to the contrary. The Lord described this dilemma of humanity on another occasion following the flood with Noah, “…the imagination of man’s heart [is] evil from his youth.” [Gen. 8:21b] In the New Testament, Paul also wrote of the consequence of sin by highlighting the notable distinction between Adam and Christ, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” [1 Cor. 15:22]  We shall soon see that in Adam, there is no hope for people without first coming to, believing in and being in Christ.

Atoning for Sin

It is of great interest to note that the word sin is recorded in almost every book in scripture, no doubt a frequent topic, but it is found most predominantly in two books. In the Old Testament, Leviticus outlines the very elaborate and extensive sacrificial requirements for Israelites to atone for their sins before their holy God. Such conviction over sin was often evident in scriptural records as noted by King David’s plea, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin [is] ever before me.” [Ps. 51:2-3]

The second book on the nature of sin is written in the New Testament called the book of Romans. Paul, the apostle was the author of this book and he articulates the transition from the ancient atoning requirements recorded in Leviticus over to the new covenant of God’s grace. This is provided only by the atoning work of Jesus Christ through his sacrificial death on the cross, his burial and resurrection. Paul wrote a very lengthy treatise on this subject by starting out with a bold declaration, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth… For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.” [Rom. 1:16a & 17a]

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. 

Rom. 1:16a

Decline of Humanity

What is perhaps most interesting in Paul’s letter is that after first declaring the righteousness of God, he then commences into an astonishing indictment upon humanity and the nature of sin. With this in mind, let us now continue to expound further on Paul’s portrayal of sinful mankind since his comments help to illustrate the connection right back to creation starting with this collection of verses from Romans,

“For the wrath  of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 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. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.”

[Rom. 1:18-23a]

While this is only part of a long discourse from Paul, at times like these it is important just to let God’s word speak for itself with minimal inclusion of additional commentary. Note though, the key points he is making – God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness, man is without excuse, despite knowing God, people turned their back on him and while professing to be wise they actually became fools. Paul continues to write his carefully crafted letter to the church in Rome outlining the detailed, depraved and downward spiral  of sin that now culminates, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” [Rom. 1:32] Paul’s letter not only has relevance for people two thousand years ago but reads with direct relevance for today. This is the true nature of sin in our world and the sinful nature of man.

Reality of Sin

This is the tragic reality of the nature of sin; it is in complete and utter conflict with the holy God of creation and what he desires for our life. While people may label sin by other words to soften its impact or to justify it in any way shape or form, sin in God’s eyes still remains sin. To reinforce this point, the apostle John once highlighted this same distinction in one of his letters,”If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:10]

Continuing on now with Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the demise of human thought is further summed up by him as part of the continual decline into sin, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [Rom. 3:18]  Finally, Paul casts a wide net over all of humanity, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” [Rom. 3:23] This tends to be one of those uncomfortable, all encompassing statements that does not say, some, or a few, but yes, “…all have sinned.” Recalling from above, sin also comes with a penalty and price to pay as Paul wrote about in his letter; thus harmonizing with the earlier statement from the Lord as recorded in Genesis and now noted in Romans, “For the wages of sin [is] death.” [Rom. 6:23a]

Good News of the Gospel

All is not entirely bleak though on the subject of sin for Paul now continues by concluding the very same verse with the hope that comes from God,  “…but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Rom. 6:23b] Hopefully, readers are starting to see how this brings us right back to the verse for this week’s study, “…and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ literally means good news. It is good news because the due wages, or penalty for sin have already been paid in full by Jesus Christ. Paul indicates this as he commences onto a new path in his letter; one that is no longer filled with despair, but one that is now filled with abundant hope, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” [Rom. 3:24]

This means that in Christ, we can now stand justified before the holy God of creation through his own eternal redemption of us and not by our own doing. Jesus has paid the ultimate penalty for sin with his sinless life, his death, burial and resurrection. Paul summarized this redemptive process in this manner, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” [Rom. 10:9-10]

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Rom. 3:24

To close off this Bible Study on the nature of sin a most compelling portrayal is given when the keeper of an ancient prison, no doubt convicted over his own sins, once asked Paul and Silas the most important question of his life, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” [Acts 16:30b-31] The Lord Jesus Christ has done it all for us and more information about saving faith in him will be discussed in upcoming Bible studies. Paul once again contrasted the incredibly dramatic difference between Adam and Christ, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” [Rom. 5:19] This is where righteousness is found before our holy God; in Christ through faith.

For this week’s study on the nature of sin, take careful note of Paul’s frequently referenced statement in one of his other church letters, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” [ Eph. 2:8-9] Paul is telling us here that our good deeds and works will not get us to heaven as many would think. It is rather through believing in what Christ has already done for us, otherwise we make ourselves out to be our own saviour through self-effort, all the while denying the atoning work of Christ on the cross. There is only one sinless person who ever existed on earth and it is through his sacrifice where our redemption is obtained, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” [1 John 3:5]

As fallen and frail beings of humanity often bound by the nature of sin, let us give thanks to God for the provision of his forgiving and atoning grace through the Lord Jesus Christ, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.” [1 John 2:1-2] Propitiation is another word for atonement or appeasement, meaning a reconciliation between God and his people. This is the gospel, this is the good news and it is the only hope for humanity as the apostle declared, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus  Christ, [which is] our hope.” [1 Tim. 1:1]

Bible Study Questions

  1. Who proclaimed this week’s scripture reading, …and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins?
  2. Can you name the first scripture reference in the Bible where the subject of sin is first mentioned?
  3. Why is it important for us to be holy, or to live a holy life in our own lives as believers in Christ?
  4. List three ways on how you could live a more holy life in the presence of God in your life.
  5. How would you explain the origin of the sin nature to someone who is not familiar with Christianity?
  6. How would you define sin to someone who sees themselves as having no sin or think they have never sinned?
  7. Explain what it means to have your sins forgiven through the sacrificial act of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection?

Helpful Resources

What is sin?

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