We Need to be Careful How we Seek to Define Sin

The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!  He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!  -Psalm 99:1, ESV

Have you ever wondered what was going through Adam’s mind as he watched Eve take the first bite of that forbidden fruit?  It’s difficult for me not to think of him as an incredible jerk!  After all, he had been the one to hear directly from God concerning his warning that to do so would result in death.  I guess as a man who is prone to passivity myself, I can relate to his sitting back while the serpent assaulted his wife with deception.  But to stand there and allow her to take that first bite!?  The Scriptures clearly tell us that after eating of the fruit, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine).  I wonder if while he watched he began to wonder if God had indeed lied, as the snake alleged.  Perhaps he stood there in amazement to find that the woman continued to draw breath as she swallowed the sweet bite.  I don’t believe that thought to be too much of a stretch, primarily because only after watching her and considering the immediate results of her actions did he take of the fruit and eat for himself.

As I read through Psalm 99 this morning in anticipation of our student gathering this coming weekend, I realized that our culture has much in common with Adam’s actions.  At least I can glean this from so much of what I hear from a culture seeking to justify sin.  I think the following thought to be quite plausible.

When Adam should have kept his gaze upon the holiness of God and the faithfulness of God’s Word, he instead considered only the immediate perceived outcome of another’s sin.

Despite their temporary retreat from what they knew to be true about God, they quickly sobered to the reality of the devastation of their sin in light of God’s holiness.  They began to experience shame and the brokenness of relationships that had flourished up until that point.  Although they did not instantaneously drop dead upon biting into the forbidden fruit, from that moment forward they would experience death.  Comprehensive death leading to eternal death.

Too often our culture, and sadly many who claim to be Christian, base their opinions on sin upon the perceived immediate outcome of its participants.  Instead of staying tied to God’s Word and character, some see the perceived flourishing of those participating in a specific sin and conclude that perhaps that action must be OK.  The truth is, though, the serious consequences of sin will not always manifest themselves in the instant an act is committed.  To deduce then that God must not truly be against such an action, and therefore, that action must not be sin at all, is to adopt a very poor and ignorant assumption.  So, why does God not administer immediate justice in those situations?  Consider Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.  -Romans 2:4-5

One of the glorious truths of the gospel is that God is long-suffering in his love and mercy for his creation.  That patience is meant to lead sinners to repentance and reconciliation with God, himself.  That patience definitely does not communicate that God overlooks sin or has allowed us to define what is sin and what is not.

I heard an actress on TV this morning say, “The Bible says that God is love.  There is no comma after love.  He loves us, no matter who we are or choose to be.”  She cannot be speaking of the God of the Bible in her description.  Instead, this is the God our culture at-large has created.  Her ideal god is one solely defined by love as defined by our “tolerant” and shame-less culture.  He is a god defined by that attribute and nothing else.  He is easily manipulated and molded to ease the conscience and to justify every desire.

The God of the Bible, however, is holy above all else.  He is love, but even that love is seen through his holiness.  His love is not displayed in his allowance for his creation to do whatever it pleases, but rather, in the fact that while we were lost, blind, and estranged from him in our sin, even as we continued to sin, he came on a rescue mission to redeem us.  The end of love should be seen as protection, warning, and flourishing, not personal happiness and (every) desire fulfilled.  Ask any parent.

This was true for Adam and Eve.  Because he is holy, God banished them from his blessed presence.  Because he is love, he displayed mercy by covering them with the skins of innocent animal, thus showing them and us a pattern he initiated for atonement.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22b).  God promised to send the seed of a woman to one day defeat sin and reverse its curse.  This is also true for us.  We know now that Jesus was that seed, and in him any who would repent of sin and trust exclusively in Jesus can find eternal and complete rescue (Hebrews 10:12-14; 2 Corinthians 5:22; John 3:16-18).

God is holy and his Word is eternal and unchanging.  The Lord reigns over every heart.  He reigns out of his holiness.  Our response should be one of trembling and awe, not moral manipulation and self-justified rebellion.  One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  This will happen at his second coming.  At that time, no more mercy will be extended as Jesus takes his place as Sovereign Judge of every heart.  His wrath will be revealed against sin and the workers of sin.  Punishment for those outside of Christ will be eternal.  Even that action will be congruent with God’s great love.  In the meantime, God relents out of mercy in order to extend grace to those who would turn from sin to follow Jesus as Lord and King.

Do not be deceived.  Stay tied to God and his Word.  Fix your gaze on his holiness and look to the day when sin will one day be completely eradicated.  In the meantime, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

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