Gen. 4:1-16, Rom. 7:1-6, Mk. 15:16-39
As we continue to lay a biblical foundation for carrying out the mission of Jesus in this world, the world around us continues to give us reason to ask the question: How should we carry out this mission? What are we to think and believe? And what are we to do? This week, our nation has been rocked by a series of violent acts in Baton Rouge, LA, Falcon Heights, MN, and Dallas, TX, and other cities as well. Before that fifty were shot dead in Orlando. These are all symptoms of a deep cancer in our culture, the same dead rot that has filled the human race since sin entered the world. It is sometimes tempting, perhaps especially at times like this, to shrink back from telling the truth about sin and about Jesus. But God has entrusted to us a ministry of reconciliation, through the death of Jesus for sin; we cannot be silent.
What is the Problem?
Sin is the problem, and we need to fearlessly, cheerfully say so. In many ways, the biblical doctrine of sin really does “make sense.” All the other explanations on offer don’t go deep enough: poverty, addiction, ignorance, hatred, etc. Of course these factors can play a part, but they don’t explain the depth of human depravity, the depth of the human capacity to do evil. Don’t be afraid to name sin as sin because when the questions come (e.g. “huh?”), the Bible’s description of sin actually maps with history and human experience. In Romans 7, Paul describes the way sin rears up in our hearts, especially how we naturally respond to the law and rules (Rom. 7:7-11). Paul says that this is why we often don’t understand our own actions: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing” (Rom. 7:15-19). What human being does not resonate with Paul? This internal chaos flows directly out of our rebellion against God. The story of Cain and Abel illustrates this well. Adam and Eve sinned against God, and He promised them that there would be animosity in their family as a result (Gen. 3:16). And right on schedule we see jealousy, anger, hatred, and ultimately violence and murder, and then even indifference (Gen. 4:1-9). But notice it is the blood of Abel that cries out to God from the ground (Gen. 4:10). Cain’s sin and crime against his brother is not merely a human phenomenon; it is a cosmic phenomenon. And this, by the way, is the only basis for true justice in the world: there must be a transcendent standard.
Sin as Isolation, Despair, and Self-Loathing
Because God is the source of all goodness, to turn away from God is to turn away from goodness. We’ve said this before, but this is why sin is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Sin doubts the goodness of God. Sin says that God is withholding some good from us, and then when we turn away from God to seek “good” on our own, we find ourselves further from the good and we say, “See? God isn’t good.” In this sense, sin really doesn’t make sense. Fundamentally, this rebellion against God creates isolation and loneliness. We see this in Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23), and then we see it again when Cain goes even further away from the presence of God (and his family) (Gen. 4:16). Many recent studies of poverty and addiction affirm that human brokenness results from broken relationships. Material solutions can be part of the means of restoring relationships, but if we do not address sin we are not getting to the heart of human brokenness. The isolation of sin is the root cause of despair. People were made for communion with God and other people. We were made for fellowship, stories, laughter, and love. But when our communion with God is broken, and our communion with other people fragments, the isolation we feel turns to despair (e.g. Gen. 4:13-14). And frequently despair turns to self-loathing. When people come to believe that there is no hope, they frequently come to believe that they deserve to be mistreated. This is why if we only speak to a battered woman about gaining freedom from an abusive situation without speaking to her at all about the way sin has abused her, we have failed to show her true compassion. This is like breaking open the front door to the prison and refusing to open up her cell. Satan is the worst, most insidious thug, and Hell is the most abusive situation of all. True compassion holds all of this together.
Sin as Slavery & Blindness
Isolation, despair, and self-loathing work together to enslave men and women in cycles of sin. This is why the Bible describes sin as a kind of slavery: Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34, cf. Rom. 6:6-14). Scripture also describes sin as blindness. “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn. 2:11). “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” (2 Cor. 4:4). In addition to despair and self-loathing, sin also causes deep fear and anxiety because when you are blind, everything is a threat, and therefore we suspect everyone is out to get us, and we hate one another. And once again, it is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, putting millions of sinners together in the same world: hating and being hated, they harm one another, and run further away from God and one another.
The point of this message is simply the old, glorious truth that we cannot save ourselves. In fact, if all this weren’t already enough, we can take one step further: sin is death. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and apart from Christ all are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). The fundamental compassion of Christ is the courage to diagnose sin for what it is. This is not a little infection. This is not a mild disease. This is willful, arrogant, spiteful rebellion against the God of heaven. We have all sinned. All have turned aside; together we have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom. 3:12). The solution to addiction, abuse, poverty, racism, and all human brokenness cannot be anything less than dealing with our sin. It is not the compassion of Christ to fail to talk about Jesus crucified for the sins of the world. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation, and the central tool, the central means is announcing Jesus who became sin for us, in order to become our peace and take away all the hostility (2 Cor. 5:18-21, Eph. 2:14-16, Col. 1:19-22).