The Root of Sin
When teaching the gospel one of the most common questions I encounter is, “If what you are saying is true, that we should live by faith and the finished work of the cross, then what about getting free from sin?” I often have to spend a very significant amount of time answering questions related to sin, because for the most part modern Christianity totally revolves around getting free from sin. Because of this there is a hyperfocus on sin, and when I suggest focusing on something else it can be alarming. Teachings and discussions on sin are incredibly common. If someone were to listen to 100 sermons, probably 95 of them would be designed to give a knowledge of what is good and what is evil, so that they could do good and avoid evil. Paul often encountered these same kinds of questions about sin. Indeed the gospel, when taught properly will provoke many questions about sin. Consider how Paul starts Romans 6.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1 ESV
From the very beginning Paul was having to answer these kinds of questions because when someone realizes the freedom they have in Christ and other powerful truths of the gospel that Paul taught in Romans 1-5 they feel so free from the law that they wonder what’s going to keep them from living a life of sin. Paul anticipated this question and addressed it in Romans 6:1. In this article I hope to answer the sin question and also explain sin in much greater detail.
After receiving salvation people often ask the question, “What should I do now?” One of the most common answers to this question is that a new convert should attempt to get as much sin out of their lives as possible. Even though those exact words aren’t often used it doesn’t change the fact that this is the direction that many new converts are told they need to go and many discipleships are completely devoted to teaching what is good and evil. Although the pursuit of sinlessness can easily distract from the life giving pursuit of knowing God and building a friendship with Him, I still believe that reducing sin in a person's life is a good thing. Many people come to Jesus after experiencing the emptiness and destruction that sin causes so it makes sense that they would consider sin to be a serious problem, and want to reduce the amount of sin in their lives.
If there is a problem that someone wants to solve they must first understand the cause of that problem. For example, if someone’s car doesn’t start in the morning then they have a problem. Recognizing that there is a problem is important, however, seeing the problem does nothing to fix it. The root cause of the problem must be identified and repaired. In this example, the root cause is a bad battery. In the same way many people can see sin in their lives through the work of the law; they can recognize the problem. However, the real issue is not the sin itself, that is merely the fruit. The root of the sin is the real problem. Fruit can be trimmed off of a tree all day long, however, the fruit will only cease when the root of the tree is destroyed. Sin must be dealt with at the foundation of the heart, then whatever is built on that old foundation will begin to crumble.
In order to understand the cause of sin one must take a look at the history of sin. In the garden of Eden, man was presented with a series of lies that ultimately led to spiritual death. The first lie was that man could live in a different way than what God had designed. The second lie was that God was not good. The third lie was that man could be like God through a knowledge of good and evil. Let’s examine each of these lies in greater detail.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:1-5 ESV
In Genesis 2:16-17 God told Adam that in the day that he ate of the tree he would surely die. Since Adam did not die physically the day he ate of the tree, we can conclude that God was not speaking of physical death, but rather spiritual death. The day that Adam ate of the tree he died internally and physical death became a secondary reaction to this spiritual death. Evidence of this spiritual death is clearly seen in how Adam and Eve behaved around God after eating from the tree (Gen 3:8-13). The two trees in the garden represented two different paths that man could choose to follow. God told man that if he chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die. The Devil told man that if he chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would live. The Devil also promised man that through the wisdom of good and evil he could be like God. Finally, he claimed that God was not good and was actually trying to hold man back from reaching his true potential (Gen 3:5). All of these lies combined contributed to the spiritual death of mankind.
Mankind was designed to live by the spiritual life of God that He had breathed inside of him (Gen 2:7), and to live a life of total reliance and trust in the goodness of God, rather than trusting in the knowledge of good and evil. From the garden of Eden the root of sin can be clearly seen. Man doubted the character of God, rejected the life of God within him, and attempted to be his own God through the knowledge of good and evil. The resulting spiritual death and disconnect from the life of God allowed sin to reign freely in mankind. This pattern of doubting the character of God and attempting to live by the knowledge of good and evil can also be clearly seen in the children of Israel.
God miraculously delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He promised to bring them into the land that He had promised to Abraham and He fully intended to keep His promise. However, the children of Israel continually doubted God’s character and openly accused Him of trying to kill them (Ex 14:10-13; 15:24; 16:2-3; 17:2-3,7). They rejected God as their salvation and rejected Him as faithful to fulfill His promise. This provoked God to anger, and He change the covenant that the children of Israel were under (Ex 19:4-5,8). Up to this point the children of Israel were under the Abrahamic covenant. In the covenant that God made with Abraham there were no curses, and the covenant was completely based on God. In fact, when the covenant was ratified God put Abraham to sleep so that he could not partake in the ratification of the covenant (Gen 15:9-20). Abraham's only option was to accept that God would bear the entire burden of the covenant and fulfill His promises. When Abraham accepted this and believed God it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). The word righteousness was used in ancient times to describe a person that had completely fulfilled their covenantal obligations. Therefore, it is clearly seen that faith is all that was required of Abraham and the fulfillment of the promise was completely on God’s shoulders. When the children of Israel refused to walk in the faith of Abraham they broke that covenant, so God disregarded it and initiated another covenant. He gave the children of Israel the Mosaic covenant. In Deuteronomy 28 we see the terms of this covenant. If the children of Israel obeyed all of the commandments they would be blessed and if they disobeyed they would be cursed (Deut 28:1-2,15). This covenant was based on them and their obedience. Unlike the Abrahamic covenant, it was not based on God and had nothing to do with faith (Gal 3:12). Through the law, God gave the Israelites the knowledge of good and evil. They no longer depended on the goodness of God they depended on their own goodness. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it’s exactly what happened in the garden of Eden when man turned away from God and turned to the knowledge of good and evil, and that is exactly what is happening today.
Much of modern Christianity is not operating in a covenant of faith based on the goodness of God and what Christ has accomplished for mankind. Rather, many Christians today are trusting in their own goodness and obedience and relying on that to give them life. They believe that if they can just increase their knowledge of what is good and what is sin, it will enable them to overcome sin. This is why so many sermon's, books, and articles today are devoted to giving people a knowledge of good or a knowledge of sin. Christians trust in their obedience to the knowledge of good and evil, believing that it will provide them with sanctification, blessings, life, and the promises of God. This is exactly what it means to be self-righteous. Self-righteousness means self-fulfillment of the covenant. It means that a person's Christian life is based on what they do, it's not based on God or His accomplishments. God provided the law because He wished to contribute to this effort of self-righteous. Why would God wish to contribute to this effort? God knew that if people actually tried to live by the knowledge of good and evil they would utterly fail (Rom 3:20, Gal 2:16). God wanted people to fail in their obedience and their own efforts so that they would reject the law and the old covenant, and by faith enter into the new covenant. If a person tries to live by their obedience they should feel like a failure because they are (Gal 3:10-14). Man was designed to live by the life of God dwelling within (i.e. the Holy Spirit), and to walk with God by faith and trust.
What is the root from which sin is produced? It’s refusing to believe God. It’s the rejection of the truth of God’s nature. It’s trying to be your own god by being righteous through your own efforts. It's rejecting the righteousness of God in favor of your own righteousness. It’s exactly what Adam and Eve did and what the children of Israel did. God’s solution for this problem was to give man the law. In doing this, God gave man a way of seeing just how much of a failure he really is. After a person comes to the point of failure and hopelessness they can then turn to Christ. They can receive the complete forgiveness of their sins and have the life of God restored to them.
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5 ESV
This renewal of the life of God within is what salvation is all about, and it’s the only thing that a person can live by. Through faith the unseen is clearly seen; what Christ accomplished for us in the spiritual realm is clearly seen. Through His cross we have been washed, sanctified, justified, and made righteous (1 Cor 6:11). Living according to this truth by faith, is the new life that can be found in Christ. The knowledge of good and evil never gives life, in fact, it perpetuates the death in which sin finds its strength (1 Cor 15:56, Rom 7:5). Many people are completely focused on getting free from sin, however, I would suggest focusing on the new life that you can have in Christ. I believe the real problem is not the sin, but rather the unbelief and spiritual death that comes when we reject God and attempt to be our own source of life. Sin is the product of doubting God’s goodness and being spiritually dead. The gospel is the solution to both of these problems.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:4-8, 11 ESV
Notice it says, “...you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.” This means that you must believe it. This new life in Christ is received by faith. When the Holy Spirit is dwelling within a person they literally have the life and nature of God within them (2 Pe 1:4). Therefore, there is no longer a source of death within them (Rom 6:6). Their new spirit doesn't desire sin, rather, it desires God (1 Jn 3:9). All that is left, is for them to renew their mind in the truth of the gospel and the love of God (Rom 12:2). With the root of sin destroyed and replaced by the life of God, what remains undone is growing in faith and love. The healing power of faith and love will then begin to remove the dead branches of sin that still remain in a person’s life.
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