John Stott writes* “Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much. But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience” .
In my previous post, I got personal. I wrote about approaches to sin, approaches that I illustrated with people I have actually known, people who really did not deal with the reality of their sin: the “nice” person, the man with the “laundry list” of good deeds and Mr. “Goody Two-Shoes.”
Sometimes illustrations are effective because they make a point and they are easy to understand, but in this post I want to get into the specifics of why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience.
This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014.
“We don’t want to admit that we have a “sin nature.” This is an extremely harsh statement but it is true: sinning is “baked into” who we are as human beings. We are made to be rebellious against God; we have a natural inclination to sin. God has given us a choice in life: to do His will or to do our own. Naturally we choose to do our own” [from “Dirt in the Carpet…” St. John Studies, September 16, 2021].
To understand why we sin, we have to consider the first man. God created Adam without sin but it was not long until he fell into sinning. In Genesis it says “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” [1: 27]. However by Genesis 3, things had drastically changed. The first man and the first woman had disobeyed God, choosing to do what they wanted instead of doing God’s will. By their one action with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they introduced sin into the world. When God said “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” [Genesis 2: 17], they chose to do the opposite. They ate of that tree.
Most of us know the story. Immediately they were stricken with a sense of shame and unfitness and they hid from God [as if anyone can “hide” from God]. God punished them for their sinning but he did not start over with another man and another woman. Adam and Eve were allowed to have children and their sinful nature was passed on from them. Adam’s “image and likeness” was passed on to his offspring and their first child Cain became the very first person to commit murder.
Romans 5: 12 states “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”
That’s why I can write one of the most unpopular statements about Christians, a statement that many do not want to hear: we are all sinners.
Surely people argue that we not born bad. How could a little baby be a sinner? The Bible teaches that every one of is affected by Adam’s sin, even babies have a sin nature inherited from Adam. Proverbs 22:15 states that “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” As soon as a child is able to choose between obedience and disobedience, children exhibit selfish behavior and they will invariably choose disobedience. In Psalm 51: 5 David speaks of his own sinful nature in the words “I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.”
There is nothing inherently good in any of us despite what we think. There is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation, being nice, accomplishing great acts of goodness or adopting a “good” façade will not do the trick. What do we deserve as human beings?
Here’s another unpopular statement: what we deserve is God’s wrath.
This is where John Stott makes his fundamental point in his book Basic Christianity: after explaining the deity of Jesus Christ in the first four chapters of his book, he is ready to explain Jesus’ mission: what Jesus came to earth to do. He came to save us sinners. Stott writes that the “Lord from heaven” and “Savior of sinners” are two labels that cannot be separated when one describes Jesus. We need to understand that we are sinners and He is our only hope. “We must understand who we are as well as who He was. His work was done for us. It was the work of a Person for persons by the only Person competent to meet their need. His competence lies in His deity; our need lies in our sin. We have tested His competence; we must now expose our need” [Basic, 61].
It is hard to take on the label of sinner? Yes. Is it something we want to do? No. Stott continues “After we have clearly grasped what we are, shall we be in a position to perceive the wonder of what He has done for us and offers to us. Only when we have had our malady accurately diagnosed shall we be willing to take the medicine prescribed” [Basic, 61].
I have read the Old Testament many times and this part of the Bible is [in my simple view] God trying to communicate to man that certain standards must be met. This is very inadequate description but I think God is using the carrot and stick method of behavior modification in the Old Testament. When man does right, God gives him a carrot. When man does wrong God gives man the stick. A simple description of what is going on in the Old Testament is that man is just not getting the message. Serious sins are occurring over and over and man is experiencing God’s wrath but man continues to sin and God continues to punish him.
The only sinless person in the history of the world enters the picture: Jesus Christ. Instead of having a normal birth in which He would have to inherit Adam’s sin nature, Jesus had a virgin birth. He bypassed the curse the rest of us are born with. “God made Him who had no sin to be Sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” [1 Peter 1: 18-19].
My wife and I have had this discussion many times over the years. I have told her that I think that humanity has a thin veneer of civilization that keeps all of us from committing acts we would not be proud of. Stott takes it further. He feels that “civilized” society is based on the assumption that humans are sinners. Legislation is based on the idea that humans cannot be trusted to settle their own disputes without self-interest. Promising something to someone else is not enough; we have to have contracts. Doors have to have locks and bolts because humans sin. Payment of fares is not enough; we have to issue tickets. “Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them. All this is due to man’s sin. We cannot trust each other. We need protection against one another” [Stott, 62].
It is a sorry state we live in, this world that is full of sin. It impacts us all. As I think on this post about why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience, it is a depressing post. This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014, but we have to be real about sin. Stott says “It is a terrible indictment of human nature.”
But as Stott writes “we must now expose our need. Our need lies in our sin.”
We have need of a Savior, a Savior of sinners…
*This is post number two of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity. This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”