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The Nature of Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 4, 2023 12:01 am

The Nature of Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 4, 2023 12:01 am

When God created the world, He called it good. But when we look around today, it's clear that something has gone terribly wrong in creation. What happened? Today, R.C. Sproul identifies sin as the source of the pain suffering in the world.

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You can't really understand what godlessness is or ungodliness is unless you first have an understanding of godliness. You can't understand unrighteousness unless you first have a clear understanding of the norm of righteousness. If you were to ask someone on the street, are you a good person?

They're most likely going to say yes. Maybe they'll admit to some mistakes or failings, but they would probably say that their good outweighs their bad and they never would say that they're a sinner. Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham and thank you for joining us today on Renewing Your Mind. The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 23 says, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So why is it with this universal condition of sin that there is so much confusion and even a denial that we are by nature sinners? Well, this is such an important topic for us to understand because as we're going to hear today from Dr. Sproul, if we get sin wrong, then we're going to get the gospel wrong.

So here's Dr. Sproul as he begins a study on the doctrine of sin. When we looked at the doctrine of divine creation, we noticed that when God made the world and everything in it, when He was finished with each stage of the work of creation, as a painter would step back to admire His work, so God gazed upon the work of His hands and pronounced His benediction saying, and it is good. But when we look at nature today from our perspective, we don't see the same goodness spreading throughout the universe as God beheld after the immediate work of creation, because the world that we observe today is a fallen world, and indeed we observe it through the eyes of people who are also fallen.

And we know that there are things that are desperately wrong with the world in which we live. And I remember many, many years ago when Billy Graham was at the height of his public ministry, he frequently made reference to sin, and he would say again and again in his sermons, the problem that we face in life is sin, S-I-N, and then he would say, and it comes from here. So I remember hearing that as a young man and saying, that is right on the money, that so many of the problems that we encounter in this world are a direct result of the fall of mankind. In fact, I think it's rare that we contemplate the measure, the full measure of the scope of the impact of sin upon the world, because when we look at Scripture, the Scriptures tell us that sin is not merely a human problem or an isolated problem or a problem that is restricted to our interpersonal relationships, but that sin has resulted in cosmic upheaval.

As the Scriptures say that the world or the universe, the cosmos groans in travail, awaiting for the redemption of the sons of men. And the reason for that, if we recall again our study of creation, that when God made Adam and Eve, He placed them in the role of dominion over the rest of the earth. And so when they became corrupted, their corruption affected the whole of everything within the boundaries of their domain. We notice that when God placed His curse upon Adam and Eve after the fall, that that curse affected the ground.

It affected the experience of the growth of produce in the farming industry, because the world itself would now become resistant to the hands of this fallen creature that we call man. And so what happens in this cosmic upheaval in one word is alienation. Or if we can choose another word of the same ilk, it would be estrangement. And these two words are very important to the biblical understanding of salvation, because salvation is articulated biblically in terms of reconciliation.

And for reconciliation to be necessary, there must first be some kind of estrangement or alienation that makes reconciliation necessary. So much of the opening chapters of the Old Testament is devoted to telling us of the historical roots of this problem of alienation and estrangement. And we see that as a result of the fall of man, first of all, there is estrangement or alienation between man and nature, as I mentioned a moment ago, that the whole created order has been affected by sin. Secondly, there is the alienation between man and God.

Just the other day I was doing an interview on the radio in Boston, and the director of the studio there asked me to give a brief statement of the meaning of salvation. And I reminded him of a message that I gave several years ago at the Christian Booksellers Association that startled some people when I said that ultimately what we are saved from is God, because the immediate problem that salvation addresses is our estrangement and alienation from God, who is righteous, who is holy, and who has decreed that He will judge the world, and He would pour out His wrath upon those who remain impenitent to the end. And so we find ourselves by nature, as the Scriptures say, at enmity with God, that that fallenness that has taken place has provoked an estrangement between human beings and their Creator. And that is often overlooked in our society with the somewhat rose-colored view that we have of the relationship, the natural relationship of God to the world. We hear people saying that God loves everybody unconditionally, and when people hear that they say, well, I don't have anything to fear from a Creator who loves me unconditionally. And that tends to ignore the clear and present danger of the reality of this estrangement.

In fact, so much of the whole scope of Scripture is devoted to revealing to us the steps that God has taken by His initiative to cure this problem. This is what redemption is all about. This is what salvation is all about, to bring about the reconciliation of estranged parties.

But if those parties are not reconciled, they remain estranged. And again, by nature we are born in a state of alienation and estrangement from God. Then we see the alienation of man from man.

And I'm using the word here purposefully generically when I use the term man. I don't mean just men because there's an estrangement and an alienation that is between the sexes. There's the battle of the sexes, the war between the sexes that we're all familiar with. But we also see the hatred and the violence that takes place between human beings, not only on a personal and individual level of broken relationships, but also again on a grand scale where we see nations rising against nations and so on. And so, before I go any further, let me just say that already we see the radical impact of sin on the world.

It affects nature. It affects our relationships with God. And it affects our relationships with each other. When we sin, we not only disobey God and dishonor God, but we violate each other. And in this dimension, we see all of the sins heaped up by which human beings are injured by other human beings, the obvious ones such as murder and of theft and adultery and things of that nature.

But also, when we slander each other, when we hate each other, when we envy each other's possessions and so on, the whole gamut of sin describes the way in which we violate other human beings and injure other human beings and are injured by other human beings. And finally, we see in this alienation and this estrangement the alienation of man from himself. So much is written today about self-esteem and human dignity and the desire in the school system to avoid punitive measures for wrongdoing and so on, because we don't want to injure the fragile egos of children and destroy their self-esteem.

And this has gone, I think, to an extreme. But behind this whole movement for self-esteem is a realization that human beings have a problem with self-esteem. And the reason is because with sin we become alienated not only from other people, but from our own selves.

And we hear the statement many times out of the lips of people when they say, I hate myself, or I hate myself, or I poor myself, I despise myself, because it's very hard to lie to ourselves so convincingly that we completely deny and erase the wickedness that we find not simply in others but in ourselves as well. So I might add to this parenthetically that Karl Marx, not speaking from a Christian viewpoint, but from his vantage point, saw that one of the biggest problems with the human race was the estrangement or alienation of people from their labor, where there's so much pain and struggle involved in the working out of our lives in industry and whatever our vocation happens to be. And again, we can trace the roots of that back to the Garden of Eden where the curse of God came upon man in his labor. Labor itself wasn't a curse. Man would put the work before the fall, and God works, and he finds fulfillment and blessedness in his own labor, and that was the intent for us in our labor. And in Eden, nobody said, thank God it's Friday, because there was a real fulfillment that people had in the work of their hands. But because sin now attends the marketplace, sin attends the workplace.

Again, the curse of our labor has brought to us even further alienation. So I just outlined this in brief so that we could pursue each one of these in greater detail, and I'm just trying to paint the big picture here to see that sin is a very serious matter, and it has devastating effects upon us. But let's spend some time now asking the question, what is sin? What is this thing that we call sin? Now, in the Scriptures, in the New Testament, the Greek word that is translated by the English word sin is the word harmartia.

And in the original language, that word was used in the arena of archery, describing the situation when the archer missed the bull's-eye of the target. Paul tells us, for example, in Romans 3, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Again, that expression there of falling short would be that metaphor drawn from archery, where somebody aims their arrow at a distant target, but the aim is awry so that the arrow falls short of the intended mark.

It fails to hit the target at the right place. Now, in a sense, the target becomes the standard or the norm of measurement, of accuracy. And so when we miss the mark, what it means biblically is that we fall short of a standard or we violate a norm. And of course, the norm by which Scripture measures righteousness and its opposite sin is the norm of God's law. So, it's when we fall short of the law of God, when we miss the mark of the law of God, when we violate the norm or the standard of the law of God that that defines sin for us. Now, the catechism defines sin in this way, that sin is any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God.

Now, if we notice that definition in terms of want of conformity on the one hand and transgression on the other hand, we see one of these words, the word want is expressed in negative terms and transgression is in active or positive terms. Now, remember when I went to school in Holland that I was immersed in a foreign culture and couldn't believe the sheer number of particular laws that defined every aspect of life. At that time, if you broke a pane of glass in your house in a village outside of Amsterdam, you couldn't repair that single pane of glass in your house without getting the written permission from the central government in The Hague. And as one born and raised in an atmosphere of free enterprise, I found that very, very stifling. And, of course, now it's the same thing in this country just about.

But in those days, the idiom, the expression that I heard again and again in Holland was, Minir, you have to vet overchastreden. You've overstepped the law. And the laws were everywhere. Everywhere you turned around, you bumped into a law, and it was pretty hard not to step over it because there were so many of them. But that's the idea here of transgression, where you cross a line.

You step over a boundary, and the boundary again is defined by the law. Now, that's the positive sense of a transgression. God says, don't do something.

Stop here at this line. You walk over the line. You violate that law. You have transgressed against God. It's a trespass. Isn't it interesting that in our nomenclature we equate the word sin with a trespass, and yet outside of the church you may see signs in various building sites and so on where the sign says, no trespassing. And they say that the sign doesn't say, no sinning. There's not an equation there, but we see the link between a trespass and a sin means stepping across a border illicitly.

And the want of conformity calls attention to a lack or a failure. Sometimes we make a distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. Sin of commission is when we do something we're not allowed to do, and a sin of omission is when we fail to do something we are responsible to do. And so, with respect here, we see that sin has both a negative and positive dimension to it. Now, this can be tied into historic theological and philosophical speculation to a degree on the nature of evil itself. And that's, of course, perhaps the most difficult question that we face as Christians philosophically. It's been said that the origin of evil is the Achilles' heel of Judeo-Christianity because the obvious question we face is how can a God who is altogether righteous and altogether good bring into being a world that is now fallen? How can God, if He is the Creator of all things, coexist with a world that has sin present? Did He cause it?

Did He do it? Did He employ it in His purposes? And the question ultimately becomes, is there something wrong with God Himself?

Because there's obviously something wrong with the world that He made. Well, in the speculation about this historically, the philosophers and theologians have used two words to define the nature of evil, which are important to this discussion. Both of them happily or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, come over from the Latin. One of the words is the word provatio, and the other one is the word negatio. And, of course, the Latin provatio comes into English in the word privation, and the word negatio comes into the English with the word negation. So, we have a privation and a negation.

Again, sin is defined chiefly in biblical terms in negative categories. A privation is a lack of something. A privation is a want of something. Something is missing when there is privation.

We've heard the term deprivation and the word to be deprived. Well, what we are deprived of in our present fallen condition is holiness and righteousness. What is lacking in our souls is perfect righteousness.

We are born in a corrupt condition with a lack of the original righteousness that Adam and Eve possessed. And so, we speak of sin in terms of lacking a certain level of righteousness or goodness that we ought to have but do not presently have. The negation means that sin or evil is defined over against the polar opposite of righteousness or the good.

Evil is the opposite or the negation of good. Notice how the Bible speaks so often about evil and about sin. It uses words like ungodliness or unrighteousness or irreverence or the antichrist, so that these words unrighteousness and ungodliness, these sins are defined over against the positive norm by which they are measured. You can't really understand what godlessness is or ungodliness is unless you first have an understanding of godliness. You can't understand unrighteousness unless you first have a clear understanding of the norm of righteousness.

The term antichrist is meaningless apart from first understanding the meaning of the term Christ. So, there's a sense in which evil is dependent upon the prior existence of the good for its very definition. Evil in this sense is like a leech.

It is like a predator who lives from its host and is dependent upon its host. And as Augustine said, we have a difficult time explaining the origin of evil but only because we have a prior understanding of the good. And those who would deny the existence of God have to explain both good and evil.

They don't even have a norm by which they can complain about the problem of good. So, even though we don't solve this problem ultimately, it's at least ameliorated by realizing that you can't even speak about the problem of evil without first affirming the existence of the good. Now, the one danger in defining sin purely in negative terms is that it might lead us to the conclusion that it's therefore an illusion.

No, no, no. That's why the Reformers added another word, actuosa, that sin is or evil is providio actuosa. It's active.

It's real. And though it may be mysterious, nevertheless, we all understand that there is a reality to evil that we participate in and that evil is not just something that intrudes upon us from outside, but it is something in which we are deeply, intimately, and personally involved ourselves in our own hearts and in our own souls. And we know this to be true, don't we, as we see sin in our own lives and as we give in to temptation. And we echo the words of Paul in Romans 7 when he says, oh wretched man that I am. But this understanding of the seriousness of sin grows an appreciation and affection for God in us, thankful for the work of Christ on our behalf. And honestly, it's not just the study of the doctrine of sin that helps us appreciate the work of Christ, but it is the study of theology that should lead to doxology, praising God, which is why I'm so thankful for Dr. Sproul's series Foundations, an overview of systematic theology.

Not only is it practical, but it does lead to a greater understanding of who God is, of this world, the church, and the Christian life. And we're making this complete series, 60 messages in total, available to you for your donation of any amount. And included in this special edition set is an MP3 CD that not only has the audio messages, but also a digital study guide. And when you donate today, we'll add all of these messages into your learning library so that you can stream them on and inside the free Ligonier app. So make your donation today at Join us next week as we continue this study with Dr. Sproul. And if you're listening to the podcast edition, I would encourage you to leave a rating or a review, because it really will help other people discover Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-04 05:06:42 / 2023-03-04 05:14:56 / 8

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