The Necessity of Sin and Guilt

After writing my article, The Truth About Truth, I felt that something was missing. There were a small number people upset with the article, but as might be predicted, they were people who had trouble with the idea of absolute or objective truth. Since I’ve brought it up, let me touch on one aspect of objective truth verses subjective truth. I read a Buddhist blog entry this week where the writer protested the notion of “objective” truth. He reasoned that since all truth has to be perceived by someone, therefore no truth is truly objective. The writer asked, “How can one posit an objective absolute without a subjective perceiver?” I respect his point of view, understanding where it comes from, though I disagree with it for a very simple reason.

Objective, absolute truth really does exist apart from the perceptions of an observer – no matter how subjective that observer might be. If there were no people in the universe to observe truth, the truth would still exist because as I explained in the article, God is the ultimate, first and final source for all that is truth. Truth is part of God’s nature and as the Creator of all things; He stands alone as the sole, truly objective observer to all things in creation. God’s view is not subjective since God sees, hears, and experiences all things in all times, at all moments, forever, consistently, and without interruption or end. God is both the objective Creator as well as the objective observer since He and He alone is the source of truth. Therefore, our perceptions and subjectivity, while interesting to debate, have only a small degree of value when it comes to really understanding truth. When we think about reality apart from God’s influence and control then we can only have a partial understanding of truth. But when we begin to think as God thinks we can begin to see and experience truth for what it really is. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” was a warning given by God through the prophet Isaiah in 55:8. But now that Christ, the incarnate Son of God has come the Apostle Paul reveals in I Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.” Therefore when we think according to that “mind of Christ,” then we can begin the journey to understanding the full nature of truth.

I don’t want to rehash the “truth issue” further since I’ve already dealt with it in my previous post, however, it is important to note that disagreements over concepts of truth happen because of something else, also mentioned in that same article: Sin. Man is sinful; and the dark stain of that nature colors our understanding, and perceptions. Therefore, when we look at truth only through the limitations that sin forces upon us, our perceptions are not God’s perceptions, but the faulty misunderstandings brought about by our darkened hearts. We can understand some things about truth, but the deeper issues, which belong to God, will be forever out of our grasp.

Recent public ministry events in Mongolia, and my personal re-examination of the Word of Faith movement have figured significantly into this issue. As I’ve intimated in my previous entries, the Word of Faith movement is so focused on health, wealth, and prosperity, the good life, feeling good in Jesus, and so on, that some of the most important and fundamental teachings of historic Christianity are either forgotten or so de-emphasized as to not even be brought to mind. Let me provide an example.

Earlier this year I went through between 40-50 interviews about Christian ministry and basic Bible doctrines with people who were interested in joining our field ministry. In every interview I asked a specific question that required a specific answer that is fundamental to the faith. The question was, “What did Jesus save you from?” Admittedly there are a lot of answers that people can and do give to that question. But a Christian must be able to express this fundamental principle, demonstrating that he truly believes and understands it. Sadly, the overwhelming number of people interviewed, even when coached, pressed, and obviously lead in a certain direction, could not come up with the answer.

“What did Jesus save us from?”

Our sin.

With a few people I provided the answer for them and when they heard it their response was something akin to, “Oh yeah, sin, that too.” That sad truth is that this isn’t much different in the American church as it is in the Mongolian church except that the American church doesn’t have a good excuse. At least the Mongolian church is young, having not yet achieved all the benefits of maturity, and is without many resources. However, I can’t very well commission someone to take the Gospel somewhere unless they demonstrate from their own expressions that they have a good grasp of the basics. That man is sinful, and that Jesus died for sin, is a fundamental basic of the Christian faith. Without “sin,” so to speak, the Gospel falls. It is in fact, impossible to express the Gospel of Jesus Christ apart from concepts of absolute truth and sin. This is because sin is real, pervasive, and evil. Sin is man’s single greatest problem. It clouds our perceptions – especially about truth and who truth is.

As I was writing some notes over lunch at Irish Pub today it hit me that the issue of sin is also only part of the problem. These recent events and other issues all have the telltale sign of de-emphasizing sin, but it actually goes deeper. The problem of ignoring sin is exacerbated by our refusal to acknowledge that which sin brings about: Guilt. We de-emphasize sin because we don’t want guilt. But if we avoid guilt, then we can be sure we are avoiding the truth about our sin. If we are avoiding the truth about our sin and guilt before a Holy and loving God, then we stand condemned. Jesus died for our sin in order to remove our guilty standing before God. I’ve heard some remark that since Christ has forgiven us we should not focus on our sin or feel guilty anymore. How shortsighted such a perspective is! When we come to the full realization of what our sin costs us, and Christ, when we fully understand what had to be done to remove our guilt, we should agonize before God who expended Himself at such a high price for us, who are unworthy of the love and sacrifice He made. Keeping our sin before our eyes helps us come to a true appreciation of how great “grace” really is in the Christian life. There can be no experience of forgiveness and grace without the agony of guilt brought about by the realization of how sinful we really are.

Now that I’ve gone so long-winded on my introduction to the issue let me address some basic bullet-points about the necessity of sin and guilt, and provide references from the Scriptures for your own study.

What is Sin?

  • ”Sin is the failure to conform to the moral law of God.” [1]
    (Exodus 20:1-17, I John 3:4)
  • Because the moral law is based upon God’s character, sin is a violation of God’s character that he wants man to emulate.
    (Leviticus 19:2, Romans 8:29)

Without Understanding the Concept of Sin we Cannot…

  • Understand our true nature.
    Man is sinful, meaning, his nature is filled with the propensity to think thoughts, feel feelings, and commit acts which violate God’s moral law and character (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:18, Titus 1:15).
  • Understand or experience God’s grace.
    Since we cannot please God in any way through our own thoughts or efforts (Romans 8:8), we are completely and in totality dependent upon God’s loving grace for the forgiveness of our sins and removal of our guilt (Ephesians 2:8-10).
  • Become truly good or moral people.
    If morality is based upon God’s character, then goodness without God can only fall short of its ultimate model. In exposing this truth, even about Christians the Apostle Paul said, “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:9-12). But through Christ we have the ability to live a new life (Galatians 5:16-26).
  • Have completely open and trusting relationships.
    Understanding our sin nature makes us vulnerable to others. We understand that we carry the same weaknesses of an evil nature as those whom we love, so that we may sympathize with them, and behave toward them with the same forgiveness and grace that God has given us.

A society whose people are without an understanding of their own sinful nature cannot help but be disordered, corrupt, and unjust. What is societal corruption except for the sinful behavior of the masses? If we understand society’s problems first as a problem of sin, the most pressing issues of corruption and injustice can be solved more efficiently. A people or a society that understands sin and repudiates it is a society that seeks truth and justice.Finally…

Without Sin the Gospel Loses…

  • The reason for Jesus coming.
    Jesus did not come to relieve us of bad lives, or bring us “the good life,” or come to solve all our personal problems or make us feel good about ourselves. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost,” Luke 19:10. When did Jesus say this? When Zachaeus repented of his sin of corruption. We are lost because we are in sin. If there is no sin, and we did not need redemption from sin, then the Gospel is meaningless and Jesus would be a fraud (I Corinthians 15:17).
  • The Gospel loses its authority.

No matter where we are on our spiritual journey we cannot be assured of being on the right road unless we understand our own nature – our sinful nature. If we believe that we are on the road to reason, or enlightenment, or righteousness before God, but don’t deal with the ever-present issue of sin, then we are on the wrong road, going the wrong direction, leading to a dead end.

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