What is sin? I’ve often heard sin defined as missing the mark, as if one were missing a target he is aiming at. Those whose lives are centered on sin not only offend God, but utterly miss the precious gift of His eternal purpose. The Bible says that sin is lawlessness. And it makes perfectly clear what the sins of the flesh are—often warning that those corrupted by a lifestyle of sin have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
But we see in Scripture conflicting opinions about what causes sin, and thus its remedy. The Jewish leaders viewed sin as being the product of a person’s outward behavior. So they attempted to manage sin through a system of rules which grew more and more burdensome as time went by. Jesus, on the other hand, realized that sin is rooted in man’s heart. God was about to deal with the problem of sin in a whole new way.
God has provided the remedy for all our sin—past, present and future. But even so, it’s obvious that He intends for us to be holy, and thus commands us not to sin. So how is it that He can overlook the sin that so easily flows from our nature? Even though we know that through grace God forgives our sin, we need a better understanding of Christ’s provision.
It’s important, because a complete awareness of both our human condition and how we now relate to our Creator is the key to walking in the total freedom God always meant for us to experience. God forgives our sin through Christ as a free gift. Yet even more important to understand is that this free gift of forgiveness and righteousness is rooted in the fact that He has caused us to die to sin altogether. But just exactly what does it mean to die to sin? I don’t feel very dead to sin!
The Bible says that God’s law obligates us to obey it completely. But God knows there is no way that we can do that. And since the punishment for failing to obey is separation from God, He had to provide a way to overcome this barrier. God’s solution was to simply release us from the requirements of the law. Freedom from law means that punishment for breaking it is no longer charged against us.
In Christ we are no longer subject to the realm of the flesh, even though our flesh continues to oppress us. Romans 8:9 – 10 says: “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you….If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Unbelievable as it may seem: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Scripture tells us that God is righteous. We commonly define righteousness as being in right standing with God. But what does it mean for God to be righteous? It would be silly to think that He achieved a moral excellence that allowed Him to be good enough to be God. No, God doesn’t need to meet a standard of righteousness; He is that standard. God’s righteousness means that He is by nature the essence of all that is good and just.
Now since God’s righteousness is the benchmark by which He will ultimately judge the world, He had to provide mankind with the means to relate to His perfection. He revealed that standard through law. Law gives us our sense of right and wrong—a moral awareness at the very core of our being. This is why a good understanding of biblical law is so important. It helps us appreciate God’s amazing provision for our own righteousness.
Why did God allow us to be born into a world of sin? The only possible outcome of life here is enslavement to sin. Still, human existence is an incredible gift of God, since It gives us the opportunity for intimacy with Him—all culminating in a personal joining with God eternally. God’s justice demanded that something be done about sin. That’s why Jesus came as a man to take our sins upon Himself through His suffering and death.
This radical step was equitable in God’s eyes because it allowed God to credit us with His own righteousness, thus paving the way for relationship with Him. It was the only answer to our tainted human condition. Crediting us with His righteousness is the very foundation of God’s redemptive plan in bringing “many sons to glory.” Our redemption means that God has purchased us, much like one would buy a slave for the purpose of setting him free.
God wants good for us while here on earth, but His plan revolves around our union with Him later. His purpose is fulfilled only as we receive Christ, and then enter into a lifelong pursuit of God, in spite of our bent toward choosing self in place of Him. This is why God allows sin such power in our decision-making. Our ongoing battle with the flesh, as we’re relentlessly confronted by a world steeped in sin, boils down to just one thing: radical choice—decision with real meaning.
But how could a good God give evil the right to exist at all, much less allow it to have such destructive power over us? Again, choice is the answer to this age-old question. In His eternal wisdom, God ordained that His children choose Him freely. And the more difficult the choice, the better He seems to like it. It makes the value we place on Him all the more meaningful.
As Christians, wouldn’t it be wonderful if sin was no longer a problem? If sin wasn’t an issue, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to wholeheartedly live for Jesus? Great thought!—just not within the realm of reality. Still, what could possibly be wrong with wanting complete freedom from sin’s influence so that single-minded devotion to God might be a bit less stressful?
Well, we need to think about what letting us slide through life in the comfort and security of sinlessness would ultimately achieve. Its only possible outcome would be a good life here, with the added hope of even a better eternal life in heaven. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? The trouble with this notion is that, while nice, it doesn’t line up with God’s plan. He has a much greater purpose for our lives, because our destiny with Him in heaven is so much more than just a wonderful place to spend eternity.
How do you feel about yourself? Are you happy with who you are? Or do you sense the need for change in your heart? Most of us do. It’s frustrating, though, when change doesn’t come quickly. It causes us to lose hope that it ever will.
It’s different with God. He has a purpose in allowing painful circumstances. That’s because He needs to deal with the weakness of our flesh. He must go deep within our nature to rebuild our character—a true change of heart. And this is a process He can accomplish by no other means than time and suffering.
God’s purpose for creating us as He has, sheds a lot of light on why He allows sin to be a problem. Understanding our freedom from the power of sin is so important! Why? Because through it, God offers us unfettered relationship with Himself—in spite of ourselves—the true source of transformation.
Is our heart capable of genuine change? I can see how I truly have changed, initially through my born-again experience, and then more slowly over the many years since. But in many ways, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I see it when I’m confronted by something that challenges the self-will still residing at the deepest levels of my being. Our flesh seems to be incapable of fundamental change—controllable maybe, but not entirely changeable.
Paul agrees that this is so in his teaching in Romans 7. On the other hand, The Bible implies that we have the power to change our heart by our choices. Can both be true? I think they can. The transformed lives of millions of Christians prove that the heart can indeed change. But unfortunately, there are millions more whose attitudes and behavior shed doubt on it. What’s the difference between the two? Choice. Decisions made in response to our circumstances hold the key.
Self-interest, ugly as it may be, is actually a gift of God. It helps us make our way in this world. Having a healthy sense of self-worth—feeling significant—motivates us to reach toward God’s purpose for our life. It’s rooted in the fact that we truly are valuable.
God showed me this in an unusual way. Next door to us lived a child with Down Syndrome. He functioned at the level of a three-year-old, though he was much older. But his condition allowed him to speak freely from the heart—totally without pretense. Every time I saw this young man, he asked, “Do you love me?” Now we wouldn’t dare express ourselves like this, but isn’t this need at our very core? “Am I significant to you? Am I deserving of your love?” Self-interest—a gift of God? Yes! Because an inconsequential life is tough to bear, and one that is meaningless is practically a death sentence.