The Discrete and Destructive Work of Sin
The effects of sin on the world are heinous and ubiquitous. Since the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), except in the case of a select few (Gen. 4:24; 2 Kings 2:11), every person in the world has suffered its penalty, death. Along with bringing mortality to humans, sin has brought corruption to work, marital relationships, and childbearing. The ramifications of sin are so dire that Paul declares, "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth" (Rom. 8:22). The promise of Genesis 2:17, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.", is then realized in the testimony of scripture and experience of all humanity. Sin brings death.
Understanding the consequences of sin is integral to healthy Christianity. Yet, merely understanding the effects of sin leaves Christians with a truncated understanding of its complete and perpetual nature. To only see sin as something that leads to death places Christians in a vulnerable position, for they will not understand their opponent's nature or devices used to lure them to death. They are then left in a position with little ability to fight back, as they do not know where or how sin is working. It is like a man attempting to remove wasps from his house without understanding where their nest is and what it takes to kill them. And even though he understands their painful stings, his efforts will be vain. Therefore, Christians must gain a comprehensive awareness of the discrete and destructive work of sin to battle against the world's temptations.
The Formula of The Flesh
Recognizing an exact formula for sin from the scriptures can be difficult and potentially pretentious, as the biblical text is vast and deep on the topic. Yet, recognizing uniformity in the process by which transgressions and temptations function is not impossible. There is a clear correlation between three texts, one being descriptive and two being prescriptive, on the subject. When read in light of each other, the texts (Genesis 3:1-8; Romans 1:20-32; James 1:12-15) point to a four-step process of sin--deception, desire, disobedience, and death--by which believers can analyze their iniquities. This structure, which will be expounded, offers a concise framework for recognizing and fighting sin. It is noted that these are not the only texts that recognize this functional method of sin (Matt. 4:1-11; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). Yet, they are the most congruent and transparent. Therefore, they and their truths will be the focus of understanding.
Deception of Sin
The first sign that something is wrong in the world appears in the question, "Did God really say?" (Gen.3:1). Apart from its context, the question, asked by a talking serpent, appears sincere. Yet, the reader can detect something mischievous is at hand, as God warned Adam not to eat from the tree of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Furthermore, Satan, who is the serpent, after being corrected on his faulty assumption, tells Eve, "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4), which outrightly denies God's word. Satan is then acting out of his nature as the deceiver (Rev. 12:9), as he seeks to distort Adam and Eve's belief. Deception is then the ground of Satan's plan to plunge humanity into death.
Since Adam and Eve's exile from the garden, the effects of sin have altered the moral landscape of the world, but interestingly, the tactics of sin are still the same. Just as Satan initially sowed seeds of doubt in Eve's mind to entice her to abandon God, humanity consistently exchanges God's goodness and wisdom for their own. Paul recognizes this to be at the heart of man's rebellion, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened...and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Rom. 1:21,23). Notice the key phrase, "they knew God"; humanity is much like Adam and Eve, having an understanding about God and even knowing him to an extent. Yet even though they have obtained an understanding of God, something has gone wrong; they have exchanged God's glory for man's. They no longer recognize God as God, instead, they see humans as God. Humanity is then deceived into believing the very same lie that Satan told Eve, "you will be like God" (Gen. 3:5). This deceptive lie, humanity is the chief of all beings, is the foundational tool that the flesh uses to lead people away from their creator. This is the same reason James calls on his audience to "not be deceived" (Jam. 1:16). He desires his readers to believe the truth about God; that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jam. 1:17). Having a true understanding of who God is is key to not being manipulated by the lies of the flesh. For both Paul and James, deception is at the heart of sin. Sin begins with exchanging God's truth for a lie.
Reflection Question: In what areas of your life are you believing a lie from the world over God's truth? How do you know this and what can you do to fight against this?
Desires for Sin
The greatest obstacle in Satan's quest for destruction was to lead Adam and Eve into doubting their omniscient, omnibenevolent God. Once this was hurdled, the tactics were simple; show them the fruit and allow their desires to lead them out of the garden. Of course, this is exactly the occurrence of events that followed Satan's lie; "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise," (Gen. 3:6). While Eve, at this time, did not have fallen nature, there is a delight and desire to eat the fruit to become like God. The very thing she is desiring is the lie, "you will be like God" (Gen.3:5). It is then the deception of Satan that misleads and fuels Adam and Eve's desires to be like God. Their desires, which are to be inclined towards God, have inverted towards themselves. No longer are they desiring to be in a loving, submissive relationship with God. Instead, they desire to steal his crown and make it their own.
The desire that overtook humanity's parents now lives in everyone. James makes this point after pleading with his audience not to believe lies about God, "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (Jam. 1:14). In an effort to guide believers in truth, he reminds them that God is not the author of sin, rather, it comes from humanity's desires. Once their minds excuse the truth for a lie, their passions, lusts, and flesh take over their actions to defy the living God. Humanity is not repulsed by sin but enticed and attracted to it. Paul picks up this theme of desiring sin after people exchanged God's truth for a lie, "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves" (Rom. 1:24). The lusts of human hearts produce sin and desires for sin. Like a fish being lured in by its desires for bait on a hook, people are pulled by the lusts of their hearts to sin. The combination of a deceived mind with sinful desire is then a recipe for disobedience and death.
Reflection Question: How have you see your desires move away from the things of God? What are they towards, and why do you believe this is? What steps can you take to align yourself to the truth of God's word and fight these desires?
Disobedience is Sin
What was a slippery slope of deception to sinful desires has turned into an avalanche of disobedience. With the mind buying into a lie and the heart set on rebellion, disobedience to God appears inevitable. At least it was for Adam and Eve; "when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate" (Gen. 3:6). The battle for Eve's mind and heart was lost before this. All that was left was blatant defiance, and this is the event of the fall. What is made known in verse six is something that was planted back in verse two, when the serpent whispered words of doubt in the woman's ear. The effectiveness of sin is alarming, as a mere question raised concerns, provoked lusts, and led to disobedience. The fall of man can be understood in these separate categories, yet they string together, almost as an inseparable chain leading the soul away from life.
James, as if he was commenting on the garden narrative, writes, "after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (Jam. 1:15). For him, there is no cut-off between desire and sin. Once the sinful thought is lodged into the human mind, it grows as a human child in a mother's womb, which inevitably brings birth to sin. There is no stopping the mind that is set on sin, a person's actions will follow. Once again, this is the case for Paul, "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves" (Rom. 1:24). Not only are their lusts in love with impurity, but their bodies are given up to dishonoring. Disobedience is then the physical act of defiance, which is always in correlation with the deception of the mind and desires of the flesh.
Reflection Question: Where are you currently seeing disobedience in your life? How does this correlate with deception and sinful desire? How can you work through these past three categories to bring yourself into faithfulness to God?
Death from Sin
The product of sin is the ultimate end of humanity, death. It was immediately laid upon all of humanity the moment Adam and Eve ate from the tree. And it was felt in the words of God to his children, "where are you?" (Gen. 3:8). This experience of death is something everyone is susceptible to, even as people live and breathe, they practice an ethic that leads to unavoidable death. James writes, "sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (Jam. 1:15). Paul adds, "they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die" (Rom. 1:32). Sin is inescapable. And for those who live by it, its consequences are certain. The death of sin is tied to the full chain of sin's destructive nature. It tears away first at the mind and heart leading to outward rebellion and ultimate death. Death is only the consequence of a pattern of life that was conceived in original deception.
Reflection Question: What thoughts do the consequence of sin provoke within you? How should this truth change the way you live?
Be Killing Sin
John Owen, the great English theologian, once wrote, "be killing sin, or sin will be killing you". The admonishment is a plea for believers to understand the gravity of their sin while also attending to an aggressive fight against it. As shown above, the act of mere sin is not what leads to death, but rather it is the deception of the mind and heart's desires. Only after these two conditions are met will the flesh be led to disobedience. Therefore, to be killing sin, one must take a holistic approach in their war against the flesh. One must investigate the root cause of their struggle to obtain a cure. This would reflect Jesus' teaching, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matt. 5:29). Jesus wants his followers to get to the root of their sin, not literally gouge out their eyes, or else there would be many disciples with eye patches. The root of sin is then where the believer must dig to find the source of their disobedience. As articulated above, the source stems from deception. The deception must then be cut out of a believer's life in exchange for the truth of God. Once deception is cut out of a believer's life, it may be replaced with a truth that leads to faithfulness and fruitfulness in the Lord. "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jam. 1:16).