Let’s get back to theology, shall we? I have some meaty chunks of it I’d like to get through in the next month or so. But first we must deal with a problem, a big problem. Your biggest, and my biggest problem. It is this, because it is something we don’t much like to talk about as a ‘big’ problem.
Christians like to think of sexual temptation, discouragement, financial difficulties and the bad quality of their prayer lives as big issues in the church today. But they are not the big problem. The big problem is the source of these things. From whence did they come? The answer is not the usual get-out clause of any Christian; it is not simply ‘sin’. I am talking about something deeper than even that. I am talking about the source of all sin. This thing I am talking about, is the only thing strong enough to break the ties that God has to His children. As we know, even sin could not do that, as it was, and always has been, beaten on the cross.
But often people will then wonder, if Jesus was real, and He really did die for us, for the graceful reasons that we as Christians will argue, then why isn’t everyone saved already; why is there any need for us to even ‘respond’ to be granted entry into Heaven? Because He has already broken the hold that sin has over us, right? And here’s the million pound question: why does it still seem, at the end of the day, despite Christ’s great act, that our eternal destiny ultimately depends upon a very simple decision we have to make about whether we believe it or not?
The logical answer then must be that there is something a great number of people have missed, and they have missed it, I believe, because we as Christians like to give all of the negative attention to this idea of sin being at fault for everything. It is the big bad wolf of our story. It is something that is ‘inherent’ in each one of us from birth. But in making this the overriding point, do you see what we have done? We have in effect, shifted a portion, even if it is the smallest portion, of blame away from ourselves. We are saying that we cannot help but sin because it is who we are: sinners. We will point to an event at creation that plunged all of mankind into darkness, separated him from God, and required the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to bridge that gap.
What happened way back then? I’ll show you the story:
Genesis 3: 1-6 – “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? (2) And the woman said to the serpent, “We shall eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, (3) but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’. (4) But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (5) For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. (6) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (7) Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
A Christian will tell you the story, mentioning that ‘we sinned’ in the process, as it is a pretty big plot point. They will point to a simple little thing (the eating of the fruit) as the reason for all of the bad things in the world today. Now, to many people, and I confess even to myself, this alone does not sound like it makes total sense. We point to sin as the enemy of the story without first defining what ‘sin’ really is, and without referencing the fact that before what we call the ‘sin’ even happened, there was a much, much bigger problem. And it is because of this problem that one little action sprouted into all of the bad things we now know in the world today. The big problem was that Adam and Eve, God’s great creation, decided to sin.
Now, in all likelihood this will not sit well with you. Am I saying that our ability to decide for ourselves, dare I say our ‘free will’, is the big problem? Considering that is something God gave us as a gift, for our own benefit, I don’t think I’m saying that at all. Once again, to blame it on our ‘free will’ would be to deflect from the real issue. I am not saying that their ability to choose was the problem. Even their final choice is not where the problem started. We can see it clearly written in the story above. We see that Adam and Eve were open to making the wrong choice because they were not content with what they already had, and this, more than the resulting actions, is our big problem.
Some Christians will also feel challenged by this. I am saying something that is, in a way, more complicated than claiming we are all sinners and need forgiveness, but something that conversely makes a lot more sense. What I am saying is that we are not so much inherently sinful, but that we all inherently want to be sinful. Once you grasp this you will find it does not cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but in essence makes His grace all that more extraordinary, glorious, and scandalous. He loves us despite the very nature of our being, and He chose to die precisely because we chose to sin. We want more than we have; He gave up all that He had. That is what is in His nature.
Perhaps you may recall my last theological post, where I said accepting Jesus as your saviour is not so much about your sins being forgiven as it is about you becoming something greater than you are – a process that includes the forgiveness of your sins but does not simply stop there. Jesus defeated sin on the cross, but what would we have gained had he not risen? (Paul highlights the answer to this in 1 Corinthians 15: 14-19, saying “if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”) Nothing would have changed. Jesus’ heroic act, while no less heroic, would have been merely that; ultimately an attempt to restore us in vain, rather than one that results in victory. It is victory because it gives us a new identity. Adam and Eve had the inclination to be tempted to sin; so will you. In that sense, it is already too late for all of us. You could live your whole life resisting sin, but the fact that you will have had to try so hard to resist it suggests there is already reason enough to warrant saving from it. Do you see what I am saying? There is a part in all of us that wants to sin, because once the first humans got a taste of it, they were enveloped in its web and we were all tarnished with the same brush. What I am essentially saying in this long-winded fashion is that it does not matter whether you sin or not; you need saving by the blood of Jesus, who died in your place so that you could live free of this curse of wanting to.
Here we are starting to get to the heart of the matter. I have yet to come across a person, Christian or non-Christian, who does not find this notion offensive. I am not blaming sin for all of the bad things in the world, but each one of us as individuals. It is true that sin has destroyed the world; but we sometimes talk of this as if it is something separate from us. Make no mistake; we have worked with sin every step of the way. It hasn’t destroyed anything on its own; it cannot. It is not independent. It has no power at all. But as God’s finest creation, and the ones He appointed as temporary rulers over the earth (which is still ultimately His), we do have this power. We became sins nasty little cohorts who then like to point the finger of blame solely at it and claim their innocence. There is no question what is worse when it comes to comparing us with sin. We are.
Not only that, but I am also saying that for the true Christian, it is not so much a case of resisting the temptations the world has to offer, but getting yourself to a place of faith where it is no longer a great challenge for you to do so, because you are who Jesus was; a man free of sin.
We are worse than something that Christ died to destroy, so that we could be rewarded with His perfect righteousness. Does that show you the true extent of His grace yet? Granted, there is also a sense of scandalous unfairness to the whole thing. That’s the point. To think of it in logical terms can make your head hurt, and I think this is surely a part of the reason God did things this way; to remind us of where our collective mind, our sense of reasoning, stands in relation to His.
But there are some who will still try, and will let it drive them mad before they accept it. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the hardest thing for them to grasp is that there are some things they don’t yet understand. They want to know what God knows, and believe that He somehow owes them these explanations in return for their belief and loyalty. After what I’ve just covered, this kind of attitude should seem almost embarrassing to the majority of us. Yet each one of us is in some way guilty of this. It is our big problem. It existed in us before sin, and therefore was the first, original sin, and the motivating factor for all others. In fact, it is the very definition of all sin. It is the belief that we know better than God; the ambition that we can one day surpass Him. It is, of course, pride.
The serpent’s temptation is built around the words ‘you will be like God’. Eve, with this in mind, goes to the tree and sees that it looks good, and that its fruit was ‘to be desired to make one wise’. Notice it was only after the serpent’s temptations that Eve saw these things; in a sense, she saw what she wanted to see, an idea planted in her mind by a crafty creature who had been able to read God’s greatest creation, and use the only weapon it had to ruin the goodness of it. A whisper in the ear of the inferior being, that it could be like the superior one.
Yet most of the things that the serpent claims are not outright lies. His claim that we would not surely die, although this should have been the consequence of our intentions, is true, as even is his assertion that we could be like God, because through Jesus both of these things have been made possible. This presents a further question that I will explore in another post: were any of the serpents actions even independent of God? In looking at it this way, it seems there were a number of restrictions on what he could say. It even seems, perhaps, that nothing happened which God had not already planned…
…which does, of course, lead us to question whether our ‘big problem’ was, in fact, created as part of us in the first place?