The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Sin (page 1 of 4)

The Fall of Man and the Devastation of Sin

The Fall of Man

Most Christians are generally familiar with the story of the Fall of Man as related in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent, who elsewhere in the Bible is equated with Satan,[1] comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating of the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin messes everything up, and as a result, we live in a messed-up world.[2]

Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:[3]

  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).

The point of this post is to help us take sin more seriously, and see how all-destroying it is.

A Separation Between You And Your God: The Theological Consequences of Sin

This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit for God’s presence. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.

What’s Wrong With Me? The Personal Consequences of Sin

Next, we focus on the personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). Returning to our text in Genesis 3, this aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed of themselves.[4] Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s creatures.

Basically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.

Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It’s because deep down, we all feel like there’s something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Sociological Consequences of Sin

Returning to our text, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:

[God] said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done?” The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect partner for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.

This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.

Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:

  • On an international level, countries wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
  • Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
  • Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
  • Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.

And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.

Sin destroys our relationships with one another.

Nature, Red In Tooth and Claw: The Ecological Consequences of Sin

As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:

And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.[5]

As I have written elsewhere, it is worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present and his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation. Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.[6]

Sin destroys our relationship with creation.

The Wages of Sin is Death: The Physical Consequences of Sin

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.

God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).

This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. It was through sin that that access was taken away and that the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.

Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.

Sin leads to physical death.

Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

The Bible presents sin as a destructive force with widespread ramifications, and I think having a robust theology of sin is important because it helps us to properly understand at least three crucial aspects of Christianity:

(1) What Jesus accomplished on the cross: Just as sin presents widespread problems, the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross offers a comprehensive solution. His sacrificial death makes possible reconciliation with God (theological). The resulting relationship enables us to live out the purpose for which we have been created and purge ourselves of self-loathing and existential uncertainties (personal). Indwelt by the Holy Spirit and developing His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5), we are empowered to love others and live in genuine, God-glorifying relationship with them (sociological), and to live as genuine stewards of God’s creation (ecological). Those who belong to God, although they die, will live eternally with him (physical).

(2) Christian life and mission: A fundamental part of the mission of God is to oppose and destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3.8), and understanding the widespread ramifications of sin helps us to see that our response to sin and evil in the world should be similarly widespread. Helping people find meaning and purpose in their lives, opposing poverty and racism, and caring for creation are all endeavors that Christians can and should be involved in as they seek to alleviate the consequences of sin.

(3) Christian hope: Regardless of the previous two points, the ultimate reality is that we live outside the Garden, in a world that has been tarnished and broken by sin. Despite the fact that we work to oppose evil and spread the values of God’s kingdom, suffering and heartache are a part of our lives. In these difficult circumstances, we are continually strengthened and emboldened by hope: we look forward to the time when Christ returns, when sin is destroyed, and when we live for eternity in perfect community with our Creator.

Come, Lord Jesus!


[1]See, for example, Revelation 12.9.

[2]One of the biggest problems I have with those who read the early chapters of Genesis—especially the account of Adam and Eve—as non-historical is that such a view strips away the Bible’s explanation for the reason why our world is the way it is. The Bible repeatedly affirms that sin is a huge problem, and our own observations repeatedly affirm that our world in its current state is fundamentally broken. Genesis 3 provides the biblical explanation for the enormity of sin, and a groaning creation (cf. Romans 8.22).

[3]This post is based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.

[4]It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.

[5]If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.

[6]I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle!

Creation, Chaos, and Suffering

Theological Suffering

Introduction

In the last post of this series, I talked about the Problem of Evil, and the two categories of evil which philosophers and theologians usually talk about: moral evil and natural evil. Generally speaking, moral evil refers to the evil acts that people choose to commit which lead to the suffering of others, while natural evil refers to those seemingly random (or, chaotic) things which occur as a result of the way the world works which bring about suffering. A man killing his wife would be classified as moral evil, while a tornado destroying a house and killing the family inside would be natural evil.

If you take the idea of free will seriously (which I certainly do), moral evil is pretty easy to explain: bad things happen because people abuse the freedom of will which they have been given. We might not like it when a terrorist blows up a building, and we might even wish that God would have taken the terrorist’s free will away in order to prevent the horrific act, but ultimately, we know that people should be blamed for the bad things to do.

Natural evil is tougher to explain away, though. It is clear that we live in a world where chaotic things occur and leave great destruction in their wake: hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, cancer, genetic diseases. They question is, Why does our world work like this? People do not cause these things to happen—did God design the world to be like this? And if so, why?

There are, I think, four basic perspectives on the idea of creation, chaos, and suffering:

Chaos as the Result of Sin

The traditional view (also called the Augustinian view) is that God created the world perfect, without sin or chaos anywhere. Living in a perfect garden, eating from the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve did not have to worry about tornados or skin cancer (which is a good thing, since they didn’t wear any clothes).

But then sin entered the world through their disobedience, and as a result, creation itself was cursed (Genesis 3.17-19). No longer was the earth the ideal home for mankind which God had intended it to be. Sin had far-reaching consequences, including death and chaotic destruction.

Until very recently, this was the view I held, but as you’ll see below, I think it needs to be nuanced a little.

Chaos as part of the Design of Creation

At the opposite extreme from the Augustinian perspective is the argument that chaos (and suffering) were always present, and were simply a part of the way God made the world. This is the argument set forth by Terence E. Fretheim in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters.

Fretheim points out that God created the world good; He did not create it perfect. In other words, God created an earth that suited His purposes; not one that was necessarily flawless or without chaos present in any way.

Furthermore, man is given the task of keeping and tending the garden (Genesis 2.15). This suggests that creation was not a perfect, finished product, but something which required the keeping and ordering of Adam. Is that not a suggestion of a certain level of chaos?

And finally, what is the presence of the serpent in the garden if not an element of chaos? If creation was absolutely perfect, why would it contain a tempter? Instead, the doorway to sin which the serpent provided and the possible ramifications of that sin strongly suggest a chaotic element in creation even from the beginning.

Having said that, I think Fretheim goes too far. In my mind, it is a huge leap from the hints of chaos listed above to the claim that volcanoes, tsunamis, and genetic conditions were present from the beginning (a claim that Fretheim makes many times in the book).

Chaos Outside of the Garden

The last two perspectives are basically hybrids; midpoints between the two viewpoints already described above.

It is possible that the Garden of Eden was an environment free from chaos, but that the rest of creation was not. When Adam and Even sinned, they were cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3.23-24) and forced to live in the “real world.” Outside of the special haven God had prepared for them, Adam and Eve and their descendants had to live with the harsh realities of the world which included natural disasters and disease.

This perspective is intriguing because it marks a clear distinction between the Garden and the rest of creation (and Scriptures seems to do that as well), but I think it has the same problems as the first viewpoint because as Fretheim points out, there do seem to be some elements of chaos in the description of the Garden

Chaos in Creation but Intensified by Sin

This last option is also somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and best describes my current understanding of the relationship between creation and chaos.

It seems to me that chaos was always present to an extent, but was intensified and multiplied after Adam and Eve sinned. As the “Chaos as Result of Sin” view accurately points out, creation itself was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and that fundamentally altered the way things worked.

Water is a chaotic thing, and always had the potential for danger (I would suggest that even in the Garden, if Adam’s lungs filled with water he would have drowned), but after the Fall, hurricanes and tsunamis and the true destructive power of water was unleashed. In the Garden, Adam and Eve grew hungry, and if they had refused to eat, they would have died. But after the Fall, they had to grow their food by the sweat of their brow, and sometimes the ground would fail to yield properly. Famine and suffering result.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t think it is wise to be too dogmatic about this, because the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay out the relationship between chaos and creation. There is a lot we don’t know and thus, our conclusions can never be certain.

Still, it seems to me that there are a few conclusions that we can draw with relative certainty:

(1) From the beginning, there was a degree of chaos. Creation was good, not perfect. Satan slithered around. The Garden needed to be tended and kept.

(2) That chaos was intensified by the Fall. After Adam and Eve sinned, a curse was placed on creation. It is only logical that this made conditions worse. I do not see natural disasters and devastating illness in the chaos of the Garden, but it is easy for me to see them in a chaos intensified and magnified by the Fall.

(3) Outside of the Garden, life involved suffering. Regardless of the amount of chaos that occurred in the Garden, the Garden also possessed the Tree of Life, and presumably, the fruit of that tree would counteract any illness. In fact, it was access to this tree and the immortality to offered which directly led God to banish Adam and Eve from the Garden (Genesis 3.22).

For us, the reality is that we have to navigate life in a world which is filled with chaos. Outside of the Garden, we suffer. Modern technology has revolutionized health care, and yet there are illnesses and diseases against which we are powerless. Modern technology has allowed us to predict dangerous storms with increasing accuracy, and yet people still die.

As Christians, we look forward to when suffering ceases, chaos is conquered, and Christ returns.

Come, Lord Jesus!

A Theological View of Suffering

Theological SufferingThe topic of suffering (and I use the word “suffering” as a shorthand for the well-known “problem of evil” as well as the existence of undeserved pain and suffering in the world) is one I think about a lot.

Though certainly not a new issue, it is one which I hadn’t thought about or studied much until it touched me personally. Which perhaps is a little selfish, but I guess also is human nature. I’ve written before about struggling with the grief of miscarriage, as well as the heartbreak of my daughter Kinsley being diagnosed with a devastating genetic condition.

In addition to these personal concerns, I also took a class on Providence and Suffering last fall, and as I did a lot of reading on the subject and reflected on those readings, some of my thoughts were further developed and refined.

So what I would like to do intermittently over the next several weeks and months (I’ll be posting other stuff too, unrelated to this topic) is to share some of those thoughts. It will in no way be a systematic coverage of suffering, but it will be a reflection of my efforts to work through some of the difficult questions surrounding this issue (How can a loving God allow pain and suffering? Why do tornados and tsunamis kill innocent people? What is God’s response to the pain and suffering which is present in the world?). I do not claim to have definitive answers to these questions, but I do want to share some ideas and resources which have been helpful to me and have aided my understanding to this point.

I’ll use the end of this post as a Table of Contents for the series:

Suffering and God’s Knowledge of the Future

Alexander Campbell and the Problem of Evil

Moral Evil and Natural Evil

Creation, Chaos, and Suffering

The Suffering Heart

Hurting With God: Faith and Lament, Part 1

Hurting With God: Faith and Lament, Part 2

Myths about Homosexuality, America, and the Kingdom of God

Myths

Introduction

It is with some hesitation that I share the following thoughts, because I am not really a very controversial guy and thus, like to avoid talking about hot-button topics. And homosexuality is certainly a hot-button topic in today’s society.

From a Christian perspective, I think homosexuality is a complicated issue, and part of the reason that it’s so complicated is because there are so many myths, so many false ideas floating around that confuse us and prevent us from making progress in any of this with people with whom we disagree.

So today, I want to look at several myths regarding homosexuality and to try to clarify our thinking on those, in the hopes that in the future, as we continue to deal with this issue (because it’s definitely not going away), we’ll be able to do so in a more productive and Biblically-accurate way.

Myth 1: The Bible Doesn’t Really Condemn Homosexuality.

Now, before we get into this one, I should note that there are a lot of people out there who don’t care what the Bible says, so with those folks, you’re going to have a lot of trouble finding common ground. But increasingly, there are people who call themselves Bible-believing Christians who will claim that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality. That claim is false. It is a myth.

I could spend a long time on this, but as you’ll see, this is going to be a long post already, so briefly:

In Genesis 2.18-25 we have the beautiful account of the creation of Eve, and the clear, direct idea is that woman was created for companionship with man. Man was incomplete without her. This fact has strong implications, and we’ll return to it later, but for now, the idea is that God had a plan, God had a design, and that design was for man and woman to be together.

Later in Genesis 19 we have the destruction of the city of Sodom. Now, people who claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality will try to argue that the city of Sodom was destroyed because they showed a lack of hospitality toward the men/angels who visited Lot. And certainly that was true—it was not a hospitable place!—and I have no problem acknowledging that inhospitality was one of many sins that Sodom was destroyed for. Other sins include: violence, rape (or attempted rape), oppression of the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16.49), and, yes, homosexuality. If you were taking a multiple choice quiz about the sins of Sodom, the answer would be “E. All of the Above”. It was a wicked place.

Homosexuality is also explicitly condemned in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18.22; 20.13).

Moving on to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul forcefully addresses the issue of homosexuality in Romans 1.18-32, and he also includes it in lists of sinful practices in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 and 1 Timothy 1.8-10. Arguments that Paul is referring to some other practice in these texts and that he was unaware of consensual homosexual relationships like we have today are supported neither by the Greek text nor the testimony of history.

Sometimes you’ll hear people argue that Jesus never specifically condemned it, but even that is inaccurate. Jesus did condemn sexual immorality (Matthew 19.9) and fornication (Matthew 15.19), which would include any sexual intercourse outside of marriage…and Jesus defined marriage as being between one man and one woman (Matthew 19.4-6) just as God created it in the Garden of Eden and as it was described in Genesis 2.

If you study the Bible and are honest about what it says, you have to reach one of two conclusions: either homosexuality is wrong, or the Bible is wrong. You can’t claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.

Myth 2: Homosexuality is the Chief of Sins.

Now, you might not actually hear someone say this, but if we’re honest about it, this is how we act sometimes. We sure get a lot more worked up about this sin than a lot of other sins.

Those sin lists that Paul makes where he includes homosexuality in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 8? They also include sins like adultery, greed, drunkenness, lying, gossip, envy…When was the last time you saw a bunch of Christians up in arms on Facebook because of gossip or greed or envy?

Or even if you just want to narrow it to sexual sins, there are a lot more heterosexuals than homosexuals in this country who are violating God’s laws about sexual behavior. We don’t seem to get as upset about that for some reason. Maybe because that’s a temptation that many of us understand better, or maybe because our culture has already compromised on that sin a long time ago!

A lot of times, if you hold to the biblical teaching on homosexuality—that it is a sin—you are branded as a hateful bigot. And that’s too bad. I don’t hate homosexuals; I don’t think most Christians do either. But when we use all of our moral outrage on this one issue, and we’re not consistent in the way we oppose other kinds of sin (including the ones like gossip and greed and lying that we tend to wink at), I can understand how some gay people could think that we hate them, because to them it seems like we only focus on their sin.

But homosexuality is not the chief of sins. It’s just one of many that we need to oppose.

Myth 3: There is No Difference between Homosexual Attraction and the Practice of Homosexuality.

This is a huge myth, because there is a huge difference: it’s the difference between temptation and sin. It’s the difference between orientation and behavior.

When you go back and look at those sin lists that Paul writes which we’ve already referred to a couple of times, he talks about practicing homosexuality, the physical act of it. That is a sin. We need to distinguish that practice from the temptation. Temptations are not sin. I know that because the Bible teaches that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, and yet was without sin (you can read about some of those temptations in Matthew 4). So it’s not sinful to be tempted; it’s sinful to give in to your temptations.

Sometimes in these discussions I think we get on shaky ground when we try to argue about whether or not people are born with a homosexual orientation. And honestly, if you keep up with this stuff, the science is still out on this. Scientists don’t know; they argue it both ways. We do know that our genetic makeup greatly influences our lives, but that also the environment in which we are raised greatly influences us.

But I’ll be honest with you, if science came out and definitively said that yes, some people are born with an inclination toward homosexual feelings, it really wouldn’t bother me, because my experience already leads me to believe that some people are naturally more inclined towards certain temptations than others.

For some who are reading this, the temptation for greed is so high. It’s so easy to find yourself thinking about how you can get more money, more possessions. For others, the temptation to gossip is so strong. When you find out information about someone—maybe a brother or sister in Christ—it is such a struggle to not gleefully pass that on. For others, the temptation of drunkenness or lust is a strong one, while others may never feel those temptations at all.

The point is, we’re different! Sins that are really tempting for me may not be tempting for you. Sins that are really tempting for you may not be tempting for me.

But we need to realize that homosexual attraction is a temptation. It’s giving in to that temptation that is sin. Christians who struggle with this temptation—like all temptations—need our sympathy, our compassion, and support, not our derision, or our judgment, or our cruel jokes.

Myth 4: America is a Christian Nation.

The United States was established on certain Christian principles, and there is a respect for the sovereignty of God and the teachings of Scripture that run deep within the heritage of our country. And if that’s what you mean in saying that America is a Christian nation, I get your point, and I agree.

However…

The United States of America is not a Christian nation, because as a nation, we don’t live according to the principles of Christ.

If America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t have an economy based largely on greed where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t legally permit the slaughter of nearly one million of our own unborn children each year and call it a medical procedure. And yes, if America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t be debating about whether or not we can “re-define” marriage when God has already clearly defined it. And we could go on and on.

But at an even more basic level, America is not a Christian nation because “Christian nations” do not exist. 

God doesn’t have a country; He has a kingdom. And by the way, if you are a Christian, that is where your primary allegiance should lie—not the United States! God’s Kingdom—or God’s reign, His rule—will one day extend over all that is. But for now, the Bible teaches that Satan is the ruler of this world. Sure, God is ultimately in charge and the Bible teaches that He is involved in the rise and fall of kings and nations…but right now, God’s Kingdom, His reign and His rule, is seen primarily in the Church and in the lives of individual Christians and the light that they shine.

It is not seen in our government or our laws. The United States is not the Kingdom of God.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t be upset over the direction that our country is going. If you care about the US (as I do), then that’s a natural response. And we see in Luke 13 and Matthew 23 that Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem because of the way that it rejected prophets and was going to reject Him and the punishment that would come as a result—the city was leveled in AD 70 by the Romans. It’s okay to be sad when our country makes decisions that go against God’s laws and desires.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t desire or use our political voice to try and reflect Kingdom values in our country. But I think it does mean that we should quit expecting our country to look like the Kingdom of God. Because it’s not that. I think as Christians, we need to quit being surprised when lost people act like they’re lost. How else are they going to act? We should expect the world to act like the world.

To me, that means that engaging in culture wars and arguing with people about gay marriage shouldn’t be our primary concern. Don’t misunderstand me: if someone asks me my opinion on gay marriage, you better believe that I’ll tell them. If I have the chance to vote on it, you can rest assured that I will use my vote to reflect the values of the Kingdom.

But what I’m not going to do is obsess over the fact that the U.S. doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God, because why would it? It’s not that.

Instead, I need to focus on making and maturing disciples to be like Jesus Christ! That’s what my mission is. That’s how I expand the borders of God’s Kingdom; not by arguing with people on Facebook.

Myth 5: The Direction in which America is Heading is Bad for the Church.

Related somewhat to the last idea, I think there is a general feeling that the direction our country is headed—a direction away from the teachings of God and Scripture—is a bad thing for the church.But I’m not sure that’s true. Hear me out…

I expect that as time goes on, the policies and laws of our nation will increasingly stray from the teachings of Scripture. I expect that to happen. As a result, I think our country will increasingly become a hostile environment for Christians.

And I firmly believe that God will bless us in that environment.

For one thing, it says that in Scripture. Jesus says in Matthew 5.11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

But also, this idea is borne out in history.

Starting in the Book of Acts we see that when the church was persecuted, it didn’t put an end to the church—it just enabled the church to spread! What began as a movement in Jerusalem spread throughout Judea, Samaria, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and beyond when Saul of Tarsus and others like him began to persecute the church.

That continued later on. Emperors like Nero and Domitian persecuted Christianity and tried to stamp it out—they had Christians beheaded and burned at the stake—but the church continued to grow. Tertullian, a Christian of the 2nd century, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the church is persecuted, fair-weather lukewarm Christians are weeded out, and those who remain do great things!

But keeping our gaze on the past, we also see the reverse is true.

In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity all across the Roman Empire—no longer would Christians be persecuted—and soon thereafter, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire. And that sounds like a good thing to us, but really it wasn’t a healthy thing for the church at all! Christianity became trendy and popular; it was something that people signed up for like a social club.

Lukewarm faith, questionable motives, and pagan backgrounds combined to produce a lot of practices which led people away from the truth of Scripture. Christianity was a name they wore, but not a cross they carried daily.

Fast forward hundreds and hundreds of years…when I look around at our culture, our so-called “Christian nation”, that’s what I see; a nation of lukewarm Christianity filled with people who claim the name of Christ but don’t really follow Him. People who instead worship money, or success, or a flag.

An American government that has largely been friendly to the values and ideas of Christianity for the last couple of hundred years hasn’t really been great for the church; it’s just made it easy for Christians to get comfortable living in this world and to forget that we are supposed to be citizens of another.

If our country continues to turn away from God’s commandments and teachings, I think it will become increasingly hostile toward Christians. And maybe that’s exactly what we need to wake us up!

If what we care about is our comfort, then the direction in which our country is headed is certainly troubling. But if we care about the health and growth of the church, then I think we need to look to the future with a bold confidence in what lies ahead.

Conclusion

We’ve been talking about myths:

  • Is it true that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality? No, the Bible does condemn it. As Christians, we need to know this truth and be able to share it.
  • Is it true that homosexuality is the chief of sins? No, it isn’t. And if we want to have a witness that the world will listen to, we have got to be consistent. We have to speak out against all sins, not just this one.
  • Is it true that there is no difference between homosexual attraction and the practice of homosexuality? No, there’s a huge difference: the difference between temptation and sin. People who struggle with this temptation need our support and our prayer, not our condemnation and our disdain.
  • Is it true that America is a Christian nation? No, God has a Kingdom, not a country. The fact that our country doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God shouldn’t surprise us; it should make us seek to spread the borders of the Kingdom and look eagerly for our home with God.
  • Is it true that the direction in which America is heading is bad for the church? I don’t think so. The Bible teaches and history bears witness that when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, the church is blessed. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, or comfortable, but it should fill us with courage and purpose.

This post has talked extensively about the Kingdom of God; it’s God’s mission to save the world through His Son Jesus, and as Christians—as citizens of God’s Kingdom—we join with Him on that mission. Inherently, that means that we don’t live hidden and cut off from our culture, but rather, actively engaged in it. I know this is a complicated and emotionally-charged issue, but I think it is incredibly important that we get the truth about these myths straight in our minds if we are going to be salt and light and engage our world in the proper tone and from the right perspective.

Is All Sin the Same to God?

Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice Mosaic; photo by Flickr user eflon

During my years of ministry, I don’t know how many times I have heard someone claim, in one form or another, that “all sins are the same in God’s eyes”. Basically the idea is that we as humans distinguish between different types of sin and consider some to be worse than others, but that God doesn’t do that—He is holy, He doesn’t tolerate any type of sin, and therefore, to him one type of sin is just as bad as any other.

This idea has certainly become a basic tenet of pop theology, but is it biblical? I would humbly submit that it is not, and it’s an idea that I wish could be put to rest.

Why Isn’t All Sin Equal?

First off, we should mention that all sin is equal in the sense that it separates us from God. Romans 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death—we can’t have any relationship with God until we do something about the sin in our lives. So all sin, any sin, is a big deal because it damages our relationship with the Father.

So why, then, isn’t all sin equal?

(1) The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of sin.

There are a whole lot of examples that could be used here, but just consider the following:

  • In John 19.11, when speaking to Pilate in the context of his arrest and trial, Jesus  says,“You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” Here Jesus explicitly says that one sin is worse than another.
  • Speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.23-24, Jesus says that they had neglected the “weightier provisions of the law”—justice and mercy and faithfulness—and had instead focused on minor issues. To me, if some parts of the law were more important than others, then the implication is that neglecting those portions was a greater sin.
  • In Matthew 7.3, in the context of being careful about the way we judge others, Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The clear indication here is that the log is a bigger problem than the speck, and should therefore be dealt with first.
  • Luke 12.10 talks about sinning against the Holy Spirit, and how it is unforgivable. People debate all the time about exactly what this sin refers to (and I have my own thoughts on this), but if there is a certain sin that is unforgivable, doesn’t that mean that it is worse than others?
  • Ezekiel 23 compares the cities of Samaria (the capital of Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital of Judah), and clearly states that Jerusalem was more corrupt than Samaria (v.11) because of her greater degree of unfaithfulness.
  • When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32), Moses charged them with committing a “great sin”. If all sins are the same, why is this one specifically referred to as “great”?
  • In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he emphasizes how terrible it is for a Christian man to neglect his family. In 1 Timothy 5.8, he says, “But if anyone does not provide for his people, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” If one can be worse than someone else, doesn’t that imply greater sinfulness?

(2) Some sins have harsher consequences than others.

When you think of the earthly consequences of sin, do all sins seem to be the same? Committing lust in your heart is undoubtedly a sin, but does it have the same consequences as committing adultery? In one case, the sin is limited to yourself, while the other necessarily involves another person and could potentially destroy an entire family. Stealing a piece of gum is a sin, but it is unlikely that it will cause great damage to the person you steal it from. On the other hand, committing murder destroys a life and affects an untold number of people. In short, some sins might not have long-lasting temporal effects, while others literally destroy people’s lives.

This can also be seen in the Bible—if all sin is the same, why did God decide to basically reboot the whole system in the days of Noah and start from scratch? At no other point did God decide to do this, so the indication is that things must have somehow been worse in the days of Noah.

What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Undoubtedly every city on earth is plagued by a great amount of sin—why were these cities singled out for destruction? I would submit that it was because their sinfulness was so widespread—in just the small glimpse we get of Sodom, it appears that the majority of people were guilty of homosexuality, inhospitality, violence against strangers, and sexual assault. It seems that the sinfulness of Sodom was worse than in other places.

There is also some indication in the Bible that different types of sin may have different eternal consequences as well.

First, in Matthew 11.20-24, Jesus pronounces woe upon cities which had witnessed the signs He had performed but failed to repent (particularly relevant parts in the following scriptures are emphasized in bold):

“Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’”

Now, granted, Jesus seems to be personifying entire cities here and it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions based on passages of figurative language, but the implication is that condemnation will be worse for some in the Day of Judgment than for others. If some persons/cities merit greater punishment in the Day of Judgment than others, that certainly indicates to me that all sins are not equal.

Secondly, in Luke 12.35-48, Jesus tells a parable about the importance of being ready for the (second) coming of the Son of Man:

“‘Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he wold not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.’”

Again, Jesus is speaking in a parable here, but the parable does deal with His unexpected return and the accompanying judgment. Once again, the indication is that in the Day of Judgment, some sins will have worse consequences than others, as some who are guilty and bound for punishment will receive “severe beatings” while others receive “light beatings.”

Finally, Hebrews 10.26-29:

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”

Here the Hebrew writer suggests that those who had come to know Christ and then subsequently forsaken Him would merit worse punishment than others. Furthermore, to underscore why such persons would receive harsher treatment, the author uses extreme language to emphasize the severity of such an action, describing it as trampling the Son of God, profaning His blood, and outraging the Spirit.

Perhaps none of these three passages are crystal clear, but taken together, they suggest at least the possibility that there will be different “levels” or “degrees” of eternal punishment for different people.

(3) Some sins are harder to repent of than others.

Biblically, repentance isn’t just being “sorry” for sin, it’s a conscious turning away from the sin in your life. From that perspective, some sins are harder to repent of than others. It’s one thing to turn away from a sin that you commit by accident; it’s another thing entirely to repent of a sin that you plan out ahead of time and intentionally commit—in other words, it’s easier to turn away from sins we are already trying to avoid than those we seek out.

Hebrews 6.4-8 conveys a similar message, saying that for those who have “tasted the good word of God” and then fallen away, it is “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” This is a much-debated passage, but at the very least, the indication is that the sin of these people places them in a category that makes repentance more difficult than for others.

Furthermore, sinful addictions that destroy people’s lives are much harder to repent of than single, isolated sins.*

(4) Simple logic tells us that not all sin is the same.

To reiterate what I said above, all sin is the same in the sense that it separates us from God, but if it was the same in every sense, then that would mean that stealing a piece of gum is just as bad as stealing a car, which is just as bad as killing someone, which is just as bad as killing 20 people. Does that really make any sense?

Put another way, that would mean that in God’s eyes, Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler are exactly the same, because they both committed sin at some point in their lives. If it’s so easy for us to see the difference in the goodness of those two people, does it make any sense at all that God would look at them in exactly the same way (where do you think our moral code comes from in the first place?)?

Then Why Do So Many People Believe This?

If the idea of all sins being equal didn’t come from the Bible, where did it come from? I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect it came out of the desire to emphasize two ideas about sin that are very true:

(1) Every sin, no matter how small it seems, is a big deal and requires forgiveness.

Sometimes, in an effort to emphasize the grace of God and His willingness to forgive, some people effectively minimize the magnitude of sin. The idea here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of language you use, it doesn’t matter if you live a sexually immoral life, it doesn’t matter if you are a chronic gossip, because you can just ask for forgiveness and it’s that easy.

The thing to remember is that while grace is free, it isn’t cheap. The sin of mankind is such a big deal that it required the death of the sinless Son of God to make grace possible. Sin—all sin—is a big deal.

(2) Even the “big” sins that we think of as being terrible can still be forgiven.

Sometimes, when people commit very public, very damaging sins, we tend to write them off. A girl gets pregnant out of wedlock or a man divorces his wife, and too often, they are treated like their lives are over and that God has no use for them anymore. The idea here is that only especially saintly people who avoid all “major” sins can ever hope to have a relationship with God.

As mentioned above, it cost God a lot to forgive sin, but thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, He is able and eager to do just that, regardless of how “bad” your sin is (Prodigal Son, Apostle Paul, etc.).

With these two ideas in mind, it’s easy enough to imagine where the “All Sin is Equal” idea came from: simultaneously wanting to underscore that even the “worst” of sins can be forgiven but that even “minor” sins are a big deal and separate us from God, it’s not a huge jump to just declare that all sins must be the same from God’s perspective.

Hopefully, as I’ve explained above, that idea doesn’t make sense logically, and it doesn’t square with the teachings of Scripture either. As we move forward, let’s emphasize that all sin is a big deal, but that it can still be forgiven.

I want to be clear that my intention in this post is not to maximize or minimize any specific sin, or to encourage active reflection on how some sins “rank” in comparison to others. Instead, I am simply calling for people to quit saying, “All sin is the same in God’s eyes”, because biblically, that just isn’t a true statement.


*I’m not intending to debate addiction as sin vs. addiction as illness. Really, I think it’s a moot point—even if addictions affect the body and mind like illnesses do, they still begin with sinful behavior.

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