By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
We come next to a consideration of sin. Let us proceed by considering
it under three heads: its nature, its cause, its results.
In our consideration we shall mainly use Genesis 3, for therein
is contained the basic account from which the concept is drawn.
The word sin does not actually occur in Genesis 3. Its first
mention as such is in Genesis 4, the story of Cains murder of Abel,
where the words occur, "If you do not well, sin is couching at
the door" (4:7).
However, there can be no question that Genesis 3 is the description
of the basic evil that lies upon the world. There it begins: as Paul
affirms in the words of Romans, "Sin came into the world through
one man" (5:12).
I. The Nature of Sin
From the narrative in Genesis 3 it is apparent that sin in its essence
is disobedience to the commandment of God. God had said, "You may
freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it
you shall die" (Genesis 2:16).
The woman, later to be called Eve, eats fruit from the forbidden tree,
gives some to her husband, and he eats. So do they disobey the express
command of God.
Another way of putting it is that sin is to say, "Not Gods will,
but mine be done," acting therefore according to ones own pleasure.
Sin is rebellion against ones Creator and actually an attempt to usurp
His sovereignty. "God may command, but I do not have to follow"one
may so say or feel and thus believe he can call the signals. Sin is
to seek to remove God from the throne and put self in His place.
The tragedy of mans sin is that it is disobedience against the God
who is holy love. Man is faithless to the God who in love has given
him a beautiful world and all good things in it. The very commandment
of God, moreover, is not an arbitrary imposition but is Gods guidance
for true human existence and His gracious warning against that which
One of the greatest gifts of God to man is freedom. It is one of the
characteristics of man created in the image of God that distinguishes
him from all the rest of creation. Man may "freely" (note
the word in Genesis 2:16) act. Without freedom, man would not be truly
human. But at the same time it is an exceedingly perilous gift because
he can use that freedom to disobey God and so fall into sin.
No animal, below man, is able to sin, because no subhuman creature
is truly free. It acts in terms of stimuli and responses, heredity and
environment. Man however is created to act freely. Much of his action
is determined as is the animals, but essentially man, like God, is
free to make decisions, free to act. If he uses that freedom at any
point to disobey his Creator, he thereby sins.
Perhaps you recall the catechism definition: "Sin is any want
of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God" (Westminster
Shorter Catechism, answer to Question
14, "What is sin?"). A good definition. Adam and Eve did not
conform to Gods commandment; rather they transgressed it by eating
the forbidden fruit.
So it is throughout the Bible. For example, the Ten Commandments are
given by God. To fail to conform to them, to transgress them in any
part is to break Gods law and therefore to sin. Hence the great importance
of knowing them, understanding them, seeking to practice them. The words
of the prophets who preface their messages with a "Thus saith the
Lord" likewise contain commands for the ordering of human life.
Such a word as "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah
6:8) is truly a divine command. To fail to conform to such precepts
is likewise to sin.
But even more clearly and profoundly are Gods laws revealed in the
New Testament in the words of Jesus Christ.
"You have heard it said to the men of old, You shall not kill.
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall
be liable to judgment....You have heard that it was said, You shall
not commit adultery. But I say to you that every one who looks at a
woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart....
Judge not, that you be not judged....Love your enemies," and on
and on. Jesus shows that the laws of God refer not only to external
acts but also to inner feelings and motives. Hence one may sin without
doing a thing, since with the heart Gods laws may be broken.
Also in the New Testament the stress is made that the great commandment
is to love God and love ones neighbor. Sins of commission, wherein
one actually does something against God or ones brother, are compounded
by sins of omission wherein one fails to show love. To fail to show
love, as the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, is
to break Gods commandment in a fearsome and tragic way.
In essence sin, from the Garden of Eden on, is revealed to be disobedience
to the commandment of God. It is to say, "Not Gods will, but mine
II. The Cause of Sin
Sin is a strange phenomenon. By definition it is a breaking of Gods
commandment done willfully, freely by man. But why, we ask, should this
ever happen? If God is good and made all things "very good"
(as Genesis 1 concludes), surely His commandments, whatever they are,
are good also. Why should anyone want to break them? Did God create
man with a rebellious streak in him? No, man also was made "very
It is fascinating and instructive indeed to turn to Genesis and the
story of the Garden of Eden. Here is paradise, and yet sin enters. How?
Why? Do Adam and Eve arbitrarily and maliciously decide that they will
not obey Gods commandment about the tree? Obviously not; they sin because
they submit to a deceptive temptation. The cause of sin is always temptation,
and such a nature as to deceive one into thinking that there is justification
for doing the forbidden thing.
Let us then focus on the particular temptation that leads to Edens
transgression. Man and woman have been created in the image of God.
Among other things this means that, like God, they have dominion. God
rules over all things; man rules also, though his dominion is limited
to the earth and the lesser creatures upon it. The fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, the beasts of the earth, fruit-bearing treesall
are placed under mans responsibility. He has the God-given task of
tilling and keeping the garden in which he is placed (2:15); he gives
names to all Gods living creatures (2:19). So is man called to exercise
his dominion under God. Man, meaning man and wife, she as his helper
(or "help-meet"), are to share this great and wonderful responsibility.
It is to be a life of fellowship with God, of love for one another,
of responsibility for all Gods creation.
Now, as the story has it, in the midst of all this paradise of pleasant
plants and delicious fruit-bearing trees which man is to tend and enjoy,
God places two other trees: one in the midst of the garden, the "tree
of life," the other the forbidden one, the "tree of the knowledge
of good and evil" (2:9).
Perhaps this raises two questions: first, if God made everything good,
and nothing but good, why a forbidden tree? The answer is that this
particular tree is just as good as any other, but if man is to be strong
in faith and character he must be tested. If a child, for example, is
to grow morally, there must not only be instruction in righteousness,
but also clear warning against evil. Some things are simply forbidden.
Innocence is pretty, but character is far betterand it only comes through
trial and testing. Were there no forbidden tree, were man free to do
absolutely everything he pleased, he could hardly be worthy of God.
But, a second question: does not this mean that God is at least partly
responsible for their sin? Did he not provide the temptation? The answer:
no. As one New Testament writer says, "God cannot be tempted with
evil and he himself tempts no one" (James 1:13). The test is there,
but if man meets it gladly and says that he will not do what God has
forbidden, there is no temptation and of course no ensuing sin.
The tragedy is that man allows the test to become a temptation by becoming
gradually convinced that God who has given permission for everything
else is unfair in not letting him do this one other thing. Man, who
should gladly recognize that the test is for his own good and therefore
should strongly resist if it becomes a temptation, begins rather to
focus his attention upon it. Soon this one tree becomes so important
that temptation becomes almost overpowering. Heand here we should change
the gender to "she"is soon hearing a serpent with its subtle
voice speaking that which finds a quick echo in her heart: "Did
God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" The one
forbidden tree thus in fancy becomes all the trees, and Gods justice
Quickly she regains some of her balance, knowing that this is going
too farof course, God never was that unjust. Hence, "We
may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, You
shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the
garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die." This of course
is only a partially correct statement; it was the tree of life in the
midst of the garden which was for their eating, but with temptation
having been aroused, she sees the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil as if it were in the midst and adds what God did not say, namely,
that one could not even touch it. So does the temptation become more
and more irresistible, until she can now hear the serpent saying what
she wants to hear, namely, "You will not die." Eve perhaps
began to muse, "It is all a matter of Gods jealousy; He wants
to deny us the best fruit in the garden. Moreover, God is fearful lest
we become really like Him, with eyes opened to everything. It is time
we took matters into our own handsso let us eat this delectable fruit
and really live."
Thus do we read that tragic, terrible verse"She took of its fruit
and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." Sin
enters the world through subtlety and deception.
Another factor that leads to temptation and sin is the very situation
of mans limited dominion. Mans highest authority is over the wild
creatures, the serpent of course included, and this unfortunately leads
him to feel he ought to have more. Thus does the serpent, representing
a part of creation man rightly rules, become a source of temptation
to want to rule over more and thus pridefully assume Gods place and
authority. Pride goes before destruction, and pride assists in mankinds
Now let us seek to summarize the cause of sin. The cause does not lie
in a perverse desire to break Gods commandments, but rather it is caused
by deception, the deception that sin somehow is rewarding and that God,
who does not want us to sin, is depriving us of life and freedom. So
does the serpent whisper in ones ear, and to the degree that we fall
for it, we fall farther away from God, farther away from true life.
This brings us to our final consideration.
III. The Results of Sin
God had said that "in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
But did they really? They still seem to be scurrying around. Scurry
is right, the scurrying of those who are no longer the samesomething
They feel guilty and ashamed, and cannot bear their nakedness of body.
It seems to expose their deeper nakedness of spirit. They fashion aprons
for themselves, perchance to hide their guilt and shame from each other.
They become fearful of Gods presence and seek to hide themselves among
the trees of the garden in the vain hope that God may not find them.
Something has died between them, and between them and their Godthey
are afraid, ashamed, laden with guilt. And when God speaks, pointing
to their sinful deed, each seeks to justify himself by placing the blame
on another. So tragic the results of disobedience to God.
To all this is added a curse upon the serpentine origin of sin in its
subtle, deceptive nature; upon woman who shall henceforward bring forth
children only in pain because creation is now in travail; upon man who
shall henceforward till the ground only in the sweat of his face because
the earth now knows mans blight. Man and woman are driven out of Eden,
away from the presence of God. Expulsion from Eden is Gods judgment
upon sin, but also it is Gods mercy, because they can no longer bear
His presence. So they spiritually die.
Such continue to be some of the results of sin for all mankind. They
make up a sad total of deep inner guilt, of separation from one another,
but even more of alienation from God. Sin, whether it be in Adams day
or our day, is the same; it brings the same devastating results. It
seems so alluring to break Gods laws, but we find ourselves broken
by them instead. It is so tempting to live just for ourselves, but we
lose life in the process.
The wages of sin is death. It begins with Adam"sin came into
the world through one man." And it has been going on ever since.
It is death now and death in eternity, unless there is a way outunless
somehow, somewhere, there is Someone who can lead us back into the paradise
Ah, but is it not wonderful that in this ancient story, almost hidden
away (Genesis 3:15), is the promise that the seed of woman shall someday
(for all the bruising of heel that it must endure) bruise the serpents
head. In that mortal bruising mankind will find its sure salvation.
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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