You Asked For It #3: What is Sin & Why Do I Still Struggle With It?

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Here’s the audio for the message

On Sunday, January 24 we continued in our third You Asked For It message with the question “What is sin & why do I still struggle with it?” This blog post will go into more depth than we were able to on Sunday.  There also many additional resources for further study.

Let’s look at both parts of our larger question: (1) What is sin? and (2) why do I still struggle with it?  We’ll look at each question biblically by looking at appropriate passages in the Bible, doctrinally by exploring key theological idea or theme associate with the question and the bible passages, and then we’ll address each each question practically with how it relates to your life each and every day.

Question #1: What is Sin?

  • Biblically. As we address this first question biblically, we’ll look at two passages: Genesis 3:1-7 shows us the introduction of human sin into the story of God, and then in Romans 5:12, the Apostle Paul explains the dire implications and consequences of the sin that is introduced in Genesis 3:1-7.
    • Genesis 3:1-7.  The story has 3 scenes: (1) vv. 1-7: The serpent’s temptation and Adam and Eve’s tragic response; (2) vv. 8-19: The consequences of their decision – alienation with God, with each other, and with all of creation; and (3) vv. 20-24: Banishment from the Garden and separation from God.  For the purposes of exploring the introduction of sin into the larger story of God, let’s focus on Scene 1.
      • Scene 1 (vv. 1-7). Satan enters the garden in the form of a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to distrust and disregard the word of God, and our first parents take the bait and rebel against God by disobeying His command.
        • The serpent is Satan.  At some point in the story, after the creation of angelic beings and likely before the rest of creation begins, there is a war in heaven.  Lucifer (a.k.a., Satan) who was one of the chief angels, is extremely proud and wants to be God.  So he stages a cosmic coup with a third of the angels in heaven.  Revelation 12:7-9, in the last book in the Bible, strangely enough gives a picture of what happens at the beginning of the story. So Satan, disguised as a serpent, enters the garden, and begins the “disastrous dialogue” with Eve.  And here’s the bottom line on what Satan does as he tempts Eve and ultimately Adam to “sin.”
        • Genesis 3:1 – Satan in his accusatory question casts doubt on the provision and goodness of God. He tempts Eve (and quite possibly Adam if he’s standing there with her) to believe that there was some greater good that God was withholding from them.  He basically says, “If God really loved you, He’d be much more generous. He’s holding out on you!”
        • Genesis 3:4 – And then Satan blatantly calls God a liar! The bait is laid out… and the temptation and what will become the essence of sin is this… unfaith.  Eve’s choice right now is to trust and have faith in the full love, provision, and goodness of God or she can choose to believe that God is holding out on her or that she can do it better than He can.
        • Every temptation is a question of faith and trust. Will what is offered to me in this temptation satisfy me more than God can?  Will God really take care of me or do I need to take matters in my own hands?  Is God really good and will He do what is best for me?  Every temptation is a question of trust.  And every sin that results from failing in temptation is an expression of unfaith.  When we sin, we choose unfaith and we choose to do it our way. When we sin, we rebel from God… His character, His heart, His provision, His grace, His goodness.  We choose to think that something else other than God will satisfy us (we call that idolatry).  We choose to take matters into our own hands because we don’t think He’s fully and finally the highest good nor the greatest treasure.  Sin at its core is unfaith.
        • So back to the story… Eve chooses unfaith… the essence of sin.  She “delighted” in (lit., coveted) the fruit and thought that she knew better than God. And then she took the fruit and gave it to her husband. And Adam then chooses Eve over God… his move of sin and unfaith was that he believed that Eve would satisfy him more that God would.
      • Romans 5:12. All of Romans 5 is about the results of justification… the results of what Jesus Christ did for us on and through the cross so that we might be restored back into perfect relationship with God.  So as Paul explains the story, he’s got to go back to what Adam did to destroy the relationship.
        • “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”
        • The key phrase in this verse is “so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  Sin and death spread to all humanity because in Adam we all sinned.  Paul is not talking about sin as an action or a pattern of behavior.  Paul does address our sinful actions in other places in Romans where he clearly says that we commit actions of sin and that none of us are “sinless” (cf. Romans 3:10-18, 23)
        • Two interpretations of what happened when Adam sinned: Realism or Representative
          • Realism. When Adam sinned, we really sinned along with him.  We are all “co-sinners” with Adam.  John Murray writes, “In brief, the position is that human nature in its unindividualized unity existed in its entirety in Adam, that, when Adam sinned, not only did he sin but also the common nature which existed in its unity in him, and that since each person who comes into this world is an individualization of this one human nature, each person as an ‘individualized portion’ of that common nature is both culpable and punishable for the sin committed by that unity.”
          • Representative (also known as Federalism). The Representative view does not see a common human nature exemplified in Adam, but it sees Adam as our “covenantal” or “federal” head.  Because he represented humanity, his guilt is imputed (charged to our account) to us. Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ  favors federalism over realism. Our sin was charged to Christ’s account, and once he paid the price for our sin, His righteousness was imputed or charged to our account.  Because of Adam’s sin, we have inherited guilt.  However, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have inherited righteousness through salvation.  S. Lewis Johnson writes, “Since we have fallen in a representative, it is much easier to see why we may be restored through a representative… We fell through no personal fault of our own;  we rise through no personal merit of our own.”
          • Some of us will undoubtedly say, “that isn’t fair… Adam sinned and rebelled against God, and I get the consequences.”  Here’s how I respond to that (and perhaps I’m evading the question some here)… we don’t like having Adam’s sin and death charged to our account, but we sure like the idea of having Jesus as our “representative” on the cross, dying in our place, freely receiving His righteousness and perfection which is charged to our account… more on that in a moment.
        • A Brief Historical Excursion on Augustine & Pelagius.  In the fifth century AD, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, and Pelagius, a British ascetic monk, had one of the Church’s most heated debates.  Pelagius believed human nature was not affected when Adam sinned.  Since man was unchanged in his nature after Adam’s sin, there is no such thing as “original sin.”  All persons are capable of holy behavior apart from the grace of God.  Pelagius wrote, “We do either good or evil only by our own will; since we always remain capable of both, we are always free to do either” (Letter to Demetrius 8). Even if a person struggles with sin, it is to be seen as an issue of will, not nature.  Pelagius agreed with Augustine that God had made humans free and that this freedom was the source of evil.  Pelagius went further though by suggesting this freedom made it possible for one to overcome sin by their own merit. Augustine on the contrary, saw the Fall in Genesis 3 as a watershed in human history.  He believed that human nature was changed dramatically and now fallen (i.e., depravity) because of Adam’s sin.  Augustine’s view was that left to ourselves, we will not obey. Fallen people, he argued, have a bent toward evil, and they will perform evil unless moved by God to do good. Pelagius’ views were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.  For further study (if you’re brave enough), read B.B. Warfield’s extensive “Introductory Essay on Augustin and the Pelagian Controversy.” You can also access many other articles on the controversy here.
  • Doctrinally. So as we’ve looked briefly at two biblical passages on sin, let’s take a moment to talk about the implications of sin from a “doctrinal” viewpoint.  When we address the question “what is sin?” we come to the doctrine of total depravity. The doctrine of total depravity says that we are as bad off as we can possibly be.  The doctrine of depravity has to do, not with our estimation of ourselves, but rather with God’s estimation of us.  The doctrine of depravity tells me that sin is not something that is outside of me… it is a power and principle that is at work inside of me… and it affects and impacts every part of my being… my mind and intellect, my heart and emotions, my will and choices, and my physical body.  It means that apart from God’s gracious intervention, my default will be to choose myself and my desires every time.  Here’s how Jesus put it in Mark 7:20-23.

For further study on the Doctrine of Total Depravity:

“Total Depravity – Is is Biblical?”

“Total Depravity” by John Piper & the Bethelehem Baptist Church Staff

  • Practically. We are in desperate need of a Savior! We are helpless and hopeless without the grace and mercy of God.  And that grace and mercy, that help and hope, comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The rest of the story is in Romans 5:18-19.  In the same way that death entered through the disobedience of one man, Adam, life enters back into the story through the obedience of One Man, the God-Man Jesus Christ.  Jesus through His death on the cross rescues humanity from death because He died in our place… as our representative (and once again, we like that kind of representation).  There’s no way back to God without God taking the initiative to bring us back to Him… through Jesus Christ.  He is the Rescuer… He is the Redeemer who purchases us from death, the penalty and wages of sin

For further resources and study about the doctrine of sin:

Dr. Wayne Grudem’s lectures on the Doctrine of Sin

John MacArthur – “What is Sin?” (exposition of Genesis 3:1-7)

Question #2: Why Do I Still Struggle With It?

  • Biblically. We believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  We believe (at least intellectually) that we are a new creation, seen as blameless and righteous because of what Jesus did to “impute” or charge righteousness to our life account.  But many days, it just doesn’t feel like it… we struggle with temptation and sin.  We struggle to do the “right” thing… and most of us feel horrible when we do the wrong thing and engage in sin.  Listen, you’re not alone… here’s how Paul explains the tension, confusion, and desperation of this struggle with sin.
    • Romans 7:14-25. This passage is set within a much larger discussion of the struggle with sin and the reality that Jesus Christ has died in our place, as our representative, and how we understand and live in this new life.  I highly encourage you to regularly read, study, meditate, and pray through Romans 6-8.  Back to 7:14-25.  Paul’s bottom line is this… when we try to overcome the power of sin and our flesh in our own effort, we will always experience failure and frustration.  Paul goes back to the reality and doctrine of depravity. Verse 15 sums it up for me (and here’s my paraphrase): “as a follower of Jesus, I want to do the right thing, but I don’t.  And the sinful things I do, I absolutely hate!”  Paul talks about the power of sin and the flesh inside of us that thwarts us living rightly and righteously.  v. 18 – “nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh.”
      • The flesh is a built-in law of failure, making it impossible for the natural man to please or serve God. It is a compulsive inner force inherited from man’s fall, which expresses itself in general and specific rebellion against God and His righteousness. The flesh can never be reformed or improved. The only hope for escape from the law of the flesh is its total execution and replacement by a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
      • David Dockery’s “Romans 7:14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life”
    • Romans 8:1-4. And this tension causes us to feel helpless and hopeless… it causes us to cry out in desperation, “wretched man that I am!”  But there’s a transition coming in the passage… a hope glimmering on the horizon… help has come!  There is not merely defeat because of sin, there’s condemnation and death because of sin… my condition and my actions.  But because of Jesus’ death acting as my representative, I am no longer condemned.  And now Paul starts talking about Jesus’ provision and power for us to move forward in our new life with Him… the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, God Himself, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the one who empowers us, changes us, takes up residence within us, so that we might walk in this newness of life.  We cannot experience victory and freedom from sin it in our own effort… but we can through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Doctrinally. So when we talk about greater victory over the power of sin within us and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, doctrinally and theologically, we are talking about sanctification.  The word sanctification means “to be set apart, to be holy” and by implication “to be and live rightly and righteously.” There are several aspects to sanctification.
    • Positional. 1 Corinthians 1:2. Here is a completed work… we have been set apart as God’s possession.  There is a finality to the work.
    • Experiential (or Progressive)Romans 12:1-2. John 17:17. 2 Corinthians 3:18.  Dwight Pentecost in Things Which Become Sound Doctrine writes this, “Our position before God is that we are sanctified, set apart unto God; our experience is that we are being sanctified in daily life, by the Spirit’s power, as we grow in grace and in knowledge, and as we are controlled by the Spirit.”
    • Ultimate (or Prospective). 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. Philippians 1:6. 1 John 3:2. Our experience of being transformed to live, look, and love more like Jesus (i.e., learning more and more to be imitators of Christ), will finally, fully, and forever be conformed to our position throughout eternity in heaven.
    • More great audio resources and lectures on the Doctrine of Sanctification
  • Practically. So as we have looked at the doctrine of sanctification, what does this mean for us practically, as we live life daily in, with, and through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit?
    • We are in desperate need of the Spirit! Sanctification, transformation, and a growing victory over the power of sin in our lives happens in this “collaborative” and “cooperative” process as we yield, submit, and surrender ourselves to the authority and power of God the Spirit.  Even Paul couldn’t overcome the power of sin and his flesh through his own strength… through trying to be a good person… through trying to obey the righteous requirements and expectations of God.  So he gives us the answer… the power of the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in and through us… sanctifying and transforming us to be more like Jesus Christ.
    • The Process of Freedom. Here are a couple of key aspects for us to consider in the process of sanctification… what I have called “the process of freedom.”
      • Confession. It begins with confession, as I am honest before God and honest with myself.  It begins as I confess and admit my sin, my rebellion, my desire to have things my way… my continual desire for control… always believing that I can do it better than God… confessing my “unfaith” in Him.
      • Repentance. Confession must move to repentance: a 180º turning from my sin and turning to Jesus and His Holy Spirit.  Repentance requires taking in a whole new point of view… a view of looking at life God’s way. It’s a complete reversal of my attitudes, actions, and values.
      • Transformation. And as we regularly keep short accounts with God through confession and repentance, then transformation begins to happen. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is all about inviting us into the process of transformation in, with, and through Him.  And I believe that transformation is evidenced by an increasing desire for Jesus… an increasing desire to treasure Him above all else.
    • The treasure of Christ is greater than the pleasure of sin. In my relationship with Jesus, this is the only way that I’ve had an increasing victory over the power of sin in my life… through a growing desire to treasure Jesus Christ more than the pleasure of sin.  I’ve talked about this many times before, and I’m all about accountability in my struggles with sin… but it is only as I am enjoying Jesus more and more that I enjoy my sin less and less.  As I see Jesus for Who He fully is and I understand more and more what He has fully done on my behalf, as my representative, through His cross and resurrection… as I understand and experience more and more His great love for me and that He has given me the power and provision to change through the presence of the Holy Spirit… I begin desire Him more.  I long to see and savor Him above all else.  I treasure Him more than I treasure my sin.  And it is through begging Him to allow me to see His glory and greatness that I am transformed.  Hear me on this… I still struggle with sin… I’m far from perfect… but I taste victory more and more in my struggle with sin as I long through the Holy Spirit to see more and more of Jesus.  This is my prayer for you… that the treasure of Christ would be greater than the pleasure of sin!

If you’re “stuck” in patterns of destructive, sinful behavior, I want to encourage you to get help!  Northshore Baptist Church has a great ministry to help people move forward in their vision and experience of Jesus Christ.  You can confidentially contact our LIGHT Ministries to get help (via web or phone – 425 216-4432).  Please don’t let another day pass without getting some help.

Here are some books that I highly recommend for further ready and study about sin and sanctification

God is the Gospel by John Piper

Humanity & Sin by Robert Pyne

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin by Cornelius Plantiga, Jr.

The Voice of Jesus by Gordon Smith

Secret Power by D. L. Moody

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges

Follow Me by Jan David Hettinga

Repentance by Richard Owen Roberts

One Reply to “You Asked For It #3: What is Sin & Why Do I Still Struggle With It?”

  1. Another great week, Jonathan! I have always struggled with the concept of Original Sin and have never fully “bought into” it. Besides, I have little doubt that even without Adam’s fall, I would fall just as hard and just as often on my own. However, you really helped me understand the Biblical perspective. You statement about accepting Jesus as propitiation for all means accepting Adam’s fall as staining all is quite compelling.

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