I'm auditing this free online class on Genesis from Dallas Seminary. Each of the ten sessions includes a video recording of a class from several years ago and some light reading; it's also a chance for them to spam my inbox for fund-raising, but that's cool. How else would I get a chance to take a free online seminary class?
This being Genesis, one of the main themes is sin. I mean, the ink wasn't even dry on Eve's birth certificate before she and Adam ate fruit from the one tree God had warned them against. If you know the story, you know there's this whole weird theological dynamic going on. The serpent and Satan, Eve and being deceived, Adam and the sin nature. Being kicked out of the garden and protected from the Tree of Life. Because, seriously, can you imagine if they'd eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and then from the Tree of Life? We would live forever in these damageable bodies with no hope for a physical resurrection. We would have an infinite number of years to become more and more sinful — and more and more victimized.
We are a long way from Eden. We sin every hour of every day (and I'm being conservative, here). We justify it, cover it, excuse it, and ignore it. But it's through Genesis that we remember just how bad sin is.
One sin resulted in a death sentence for all of humanity.
One sin broke the perfect fellowship between God and Adam, God and Eve, and Adam and Eve. It reduced a perfect marriage to the anger/resentment/hope/misunderstanding/divorce/abuse we see around us today.
One sin devastated nature. I don't know if the animals of Eden could talk, but they could surely communicate better than my dog, who whines and points her nose in the general vicinity of her leash. Sin led to pollution and holes in the ozone layer and allergies. Viruses and cancer.
And there is no single sin that is any less than this. Cain killed Abel, not only improving on Adam and Eve's disconnect but adding violence and personal animosity to the mix. Lamech excelled in greed and arrogance and self-importance.
But this is every sin. Not every sin has the same repercussions on earth, but every sin breaks God's heart. Every sin drives another wedge between us and Him. The spiritual consequence of every sin, from murder to speeding, is expulsion from Eden, being forced to wander the earth, the Flood, a crucifixion, and eternity in hell.
We get a lot of questions from people basically asking us to tell them their favorite sin is okay. Or at least justified. "But I couldn't possibly be expected to go without ___." "But it's better than when I used to do ___." "___ is legal, so it's okay." It's hard; you're human; we understand; you can be forgiven; you won't lose salvation. And every time you do "___," you condemn yourself. You prove you deserve to be forced out of God's presence, drowned in a flood, crucified, and sent to hell for eternity.
That's a far greater truth than "I deserve it" or "I can't help it," especially in light of Philippians 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Something interesting that the Genesis prof says is that it is possible to sin while attempting to serve God. It is possible to be a Christ-follower, have faith in God, and in the course of serving Him, sin in the doing. In Genesis, Abraham is a classic example. God told him he will be the father of many nations. He will have a son who will sire a people who will bless the world. His Progeny will save mankind. Even though his wife is infertile.
So, in faith that God will make good His promises, Abraham has sex with his barren wife's handmaid and has a son (Genesis 16).
In the New Testament, Peter is a sterling example. He loves Jesus. He follows Jesus — even when he doesn't know what that means. He believes Jesus is King and will rescue Israel. So when the guards come to take Jesus away, Peter draws his swords and cuts off a servant's ear (John 18:10).
Before Peter, there were whatever scholars came up with the idea of the Oral Law. God gave Moses specific instructions as to how He wanted the Israelites to live. Some of these laws were a little vague. How far, exactly, could one travel on the Sabbath? The Jewish leaders were so devoted to the Law that they feared even approaching an infraction. These are the "burdens" that Jesus accused the Pharisees of placing on the people — unnecessary extra responsibilities that God never intended. In fear that people would break the Law, the leaders sinfully made new laws (Matthew 23:1-15).
We do the same thing. No instruments in church. Forced tithing. Excessive dress codes. Never drinking alcohol. Only having wine for communion. Overlooking sins for fear of making others feel unloved. Pronouncing that sinners should be killed.
These are not blatant sins. These are sins committed under the false illusion that the person is doing good — is doing what God wants. It often involves elevating a private conviction (or protection from weakness) to the status of universal law. Such sins often come from a real desire to do good. But these sins have two other characteristics.
First, they may be committed in faith, but not in trust. Abraham had faith that God would give him a son, but he didn't trust God's timing or method. We may have faith that Jesus saves and God forgives and the Holy Spirit works in our lives to guide us in what is appropriate, but we don't trust that in this moment when a friend is ordering a beer that God has the situation under control. Or that when a cousin invites us to her wedding with another woman, it is more loving for us to politely decline.
The second characteristic is that these sins are committed by hearts that are indwelt with the Holy Spirit but still young. Hearts that haven't lived long enough in faith to know how to wait on God. Until we are fully sanctified, we are still foolish.
Coming to an understanding of sin committed in an attempt to faithfully follow God actually made me relax a bit. It made me realize that I am going to mess up. Even if I have good intentions and try to get to the right place, I'm still going to sin. I'm going to say the wrong thing (often), jump ahead with the plan I think will work but is based on lack of information (often), be too hard on some people (often), and too easy on others (often).
In order to avoid such sins in the future, I have to relinquish control. I have to stop being so uptight. Stop planning and figuring and Arranging.The.Things. It's possible to arrange in faith, but it's not possible to arrange in trust.
So this is us. Sinning because we want to. Sinning because we don't trust God. Sinning in rebellion and sinning, strangely enough, in faith. And there are rare moments in our lives when we get it. When we catch a bare glimpse of who we really are and what we really deserve and what Jesus' sacrifice really means.
- His crucifixion means we can return to Eden.
- His crucifixion means we are safe from the Flood.
- His crucifixion means we can escape our own humiliating, excruciating cross.
- His crucifixion means our relationships, with God and each other, will be restored for eternity.
- His crucifixion means blessed access to the Tree of Life.
If we really understand how horrible sin is, we begin to understand the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. On the cross, Jesus took our estrangement from God, our expulsion from home, our place in the Flood.
If our hearts are young, immature, and foolish, our brains are far more. We can't wrap our heads around it. So we either minimize our sin, or we minimize God. We convince ourselves that our sins aren't that bad and God is overreacting. Surely the child-sacrifice wasn't bad enough for God to command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites! Surely the sacrifice of strange incense wasn't bad enough for God to strike down Aaron's sons! How does cursing your parents warrant execution? How is it fair that if you have an affair and divorce your husband, you're not eligible to remarry? How is it fair that I have to remain celibate if I'm single?
Or we minimize Jesus' sacrifice and convince ourselves that our sin is far too much for Him to carry. As if we're that powerful that our sin is outside God's authority and sovereignty. Jesus died for other people, but not for me, because in all of human history, I'm the only person who is more powerful than Christ.
Sin is powerful. Sin is so powerful that a single man's single sin altered his spiritual nature and condemned all his descendants to hell. Every lie, every lustful thought, every time you didn't trust God's timing or His method, earns you a crucifixion.
God is more powerful. God is so powerful that there is no sin great enough that Jesus can't cover it. Sin is infinitely bad, but Jesus is more than infinitely powerful.
On occasion, I get accused of a form of easy-believism. I assure you that is not my soteriology. But I follow in the experiential footsteps of Martin Luther in this regard. I am aware enough of my sin, selfishness, and foolishness to know that there is no way I could have any part in my salvation. There is nothing in the natural me that seeks after God. When I think about Christ and Him crucified, I don't think of the oh-my-goodness-sins I have to get rid of right now to assure the world I'm saved. For pete's sake, I was saved at the age of seven. Let me exult for a moment in the sacrifice of Christ who saved me from myself. Let me assure all the Luthers in the world that they can have this, as well.
Then watch as God takes that young, foolish, na´ve heart and makes it older, wiser, and more Christ-like. Watch the Holy Spirit use that appreciation as motivation for submitting to His work of sanctification because it's what my new heart wants. Trust that God will wrestle my demons, sins, and addictions in His way and His time for His purposes.
Many of us obey because of fear and anxiety and pride, but that way leads to exhaustion — and it doesn't even work. Don't let sin enslave you again, and don't let the fear of sin enslave you. God has the power, but we need to trust.