Monday, February 8, 2010

The Effects of Sin

Galadriel, a character of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, remarked that, "The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it."[1] Similar to the perilous times of the change in Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the change that took place in our world when sin entered the garden of Eden. The world has changed dramatically as a result of sin. How exactly has this world changed, and what has been lost? Have the effects of sin rendered our situation hopeless?

Before exploring the changes that resulted from sin's entrance, a definition for sin is in order. The Apostle John explains that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). In this definition, sin is seen as a transgression of law, more specifically, God's law. Wayne Grudem defines sin as "any failure to conform to the moral law of God."[2] while Cornelius Plantinga gives a more detailed defenition, "Sin is not only breaking the law but also the breaking of covenant with one's savior. Sin is the smearing of a relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by a holy bond."[3] I believe Plantinga's definition fully captures not only sin but the effects that resulted when sin entered the world via man's conscious choice to rebel against a holy God.

Working off of Plantinga's definition, what exactly changed as a result of sin? In order to answer this, the fall of man, as found in Genesis, needs to be examined. It is here that the change can be clearly seen. The change in man's vision was followed by his realization of his nakedness and fright (Gen. 3:7). Ultimately it was man's relationship that was broken and left beyond repair unless God intervened. Man's perfect relationship with God, along with his relationship with his fellow man, was shattered. Sin changed the world of man from the inside out and upset the balanced harmony that existed between God and man. Sin's entrance brought forth an alien world opposed to both God and man.

After man's rebellion, the first thing to change was his vision. Genesis 3:7 states that, "the eyes of both of them were opened." The opening of their spiritual eyes revealed a world gone wrong. In a sense, man's eyes were opened, but clouded. Sin revealed to man that his relational fall obscured the beautiful vision he once had. But how much obstruction had taken place? Did man totally lose sight of his capacity to see God? I believe John Calvin had it correct in saying, "there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of deity."[4] In other words, our vision is clouded concerning God, but not to the extent that we can't know him or find him. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God, "has set eternity in the hearts of men." Underlying man's fuzzy vision is an unshakable realization of God's existence. Concerning Romans 1:20-21, Calvin further states, "God as presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having manifest himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know that there is some God."[5] Though our eyes have been opened to a cloudy and dark world, we are not without excuse in knowing God and the world that He truly intended for us.

Following man's clouded vision was the realization of his nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Nakedness implies man's loss of God's holy covering. Man was able to see his isolation from God's perfect standard. Being uncovered in his relation to God next brought about man's fear. In Genesis three, we see man trying to hide from God, and when found, man replied, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. (Gen. 3:10). The sting of sin had produced fear in the heart of man as he clearly saw a new world of danger in his isolated state from God. The perfect relationship that God had produced was broken by man, causing guilt to enter his heart (Rom. 5:12). Man knew, as he does now, that something was awry. The world had forever changed.

Much more had changed in the world, including physical aspects of life. Life would no longer be easy for mankind. Physical pain was brought to woman along with subjection to man (Gen. 3:16). Man was also given to pain and suffering as a result of his sin (Gen. 17-19).

The physical change, along with the emotional, relational, and spiritual change filtered down trough history. Man could not escape his sinful nature after his choice to rebel (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23). The initial harmony that once existed had been severely damaged, but not to the point where divine repair could not take place. Man's sin brought a permanent death sentence, and without Christ, results in eternal, "weeping and gnashing of teeth," in isolation from the presence of God (Matt. 8:12; Rom. 6:23).

Sin upset the good world that God created, but the biggest change that resulted was the broken relationship with God. Isaiah sums up the relational problem by saying of man, "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you (Isa. 59:2)." Sin marred this once harmonious relationship that existed. Sin's ugliness put man in a position where he could not fully please God (Ps. 14:2-3). Man finds himself running and hiding as opposed to walking with God in the garden's past. His nature as the image-bearer of God was upset, but not unrecoverable. The spiritual mirror no longer revealed God's beautiful image, but reflected instead the disfigured vision of man's corrupt heart.

Man's relation with God was tarnished, but also his relation with humanity. The history of the Bible is full of sin's divisive nature starting from Cain and spanning the corridors of time. Not only were relationships damaged, but sin, left unchecked, unleashed a fury of negative results. Like a snowball running down hill, sin has the capacity to utterly destroy as it picks up momentum when left alone. Sin unchecked and uncontrolled leads to deception, lust, lying, envy, pride and a host of other demonic outcomes (Gen. 4:7; Rom. 6:12). Pride, the original sin, produced idol worship, and more specifically, worship of self. The unbridled sin of pride leads right down the path to outright rebellion against God. The effects of sin are observable through such atrocities as murder, rape and the actions of Hitler.

Sin, however, does not start with action, but with mind. It is the mind where the seed of sin is watered (James 1:15). Sin that is birthed in the mind is not only rejection of God, but can bring about devastating consequential actions. Sin brings about separation and ultimately total destruction of the individual (John 10:10). Sin breaks down the world for which man was originally made.

Given the bleakness of sin, what hope does man have? In the garden, we find that hope emerges right after the entrance of sin into the world. God assured man early on that sin and evil will be overcome (Gen. 3:15). In fact, before the creation of the world, God's plan was in effect to provide a way of escape from the problem of sin (Eph. 1:4-5). God's plan was not a plan B to be put into effect by a desperate God, but instead God foresaw man's need for redemption. The darkness of sin was rebuffed in the light of Christ (John 8:12). The devastating effects of sin can be overcome by following the light of Jesus. Man brought about sin's entrance into the world through his free choice to rebel against God's perfect standard, but he was not abandoned to the grave as an eternal slave of sin. One transgression is all it took for man's condemnation, but one man's perfect sacrifice brought about the redemption of all mankind that comes to God (Rom. 5:18).

The horrific results of unchecked sin will one day be defeated. The image that was lost can be regained through God (Col. 3:10). The relationship that was severed can now be restored. Sin's curse was broken by the shed blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14). What once appeared to be a world without hope has been restored to hope through the perfect sacrifice of God's Son.

C.S. Lewis remarked, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."[6] The world that was lost through sin's entrance into the garden has been regained by God's entrance into our sin-marred world. This world of sin is not our home. It is not the world for which we were created. One of the final prayers of Jesus here on this earth reminds his followers that "they are not of the world, even as I am not of it (John 17:16)." We were made for another world. We were made to live in harmony with God. Our choice to rebel and unleash the ugliness of sin was not the end of the story, nor the way God intended it to end for us.

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R., The Fellowship of the Ring
[2] Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, p. 490
[3] Plantinga, Cornelius, Not the way it's suppose to be, p. 12
[4] Calvin, John as quoted in Norm Geisler's, Encycopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 541
[5] Ibid, p. 541
[6] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, p. 40-41

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