The Gospel (Part 2) – SIN

During the awful worldwide pandemic of 2020, my wife and I started a very good habit of walking every night after dinner. It has been a great way to get a bit of exercise and reconnect after a busy day at work. Cindy is a registered nurse who works at a facility that was caring for people of all ages infected with the virus. Even after her long, hard days, she is always up for a stroll.

One evening, on the way down Princeton Avenue, she turned to me and said, “Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?” I pondered for a minute and decided that I needed to hear an encouraging word before another undesirable one. I don’t think 2020 was a good year for anyone. Like everyone else, I was fatigued from the relentless onslaught of bad news.

“Give me the positive first,” I replied. She said, “The good news is that I am down to only five Covid-19 patients.” My wife is a saint of a woman, one of the front-line heroes in the fight against that dreadful disease. She regularly cared for fifteen to twenty people afflicted with it. As the person who loves her most in the world, this was very good news. Though I was extremely proud of her sacrifices, I was also anxious for her to be out of harm’s way.

“That is very good news,” I said, “so what is the bad news?” She responded, “Well, my boss told me we are no longer going to receive hazard pay.” About a month after infected patients filled up her unit, she received a bump up in her hourly wage. As much as it was helpful to get a little extra money, the bad news of that loss was significantly overwhelmed with the good news of her being on the trajectory towards safety in her job. So, my strategy of hearing the good news first worked perfectly. The bad news didn’t bother me at all.

But it turns out that the order I picked isn’t the order most folks prefer. Recent studies indicate that the vast majority of people want to hear the bad news first. There seems to be some sort of psychology to it. Apparently, human beings do not mind processing a negative outcome so long as it is followed by a positive gain. It is probably why we usually serve a delicious desert only after we have eaten our spinach.

Perhaps that is also why Christians are in the habit of speaking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this way. It is common to hear a preacher say, “I have to tell you the bad news before I can tell you the good news.” What he means by that statement is he has to tell you about sin (the bad news) before he can tell you about Jesus who saves sinners (the good news). He means that sin is not part of the Gospel, but rather an important preface to it.

The problem with that Gospel communication strategy is that it isn’t faithful to the teaching of the Bible on the actual content of the Gospel. Sin certainly precedes Savior in the presentation order of the message, but bothare key parts of the Gospel. Sin is not a preface; it’s a vital chapter. Consider, for an example, Romans 2:16, where the Apostle Paul wrote:

16On that day when, according to my Gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 

Romans 2:16

According to the Apostle Paul, the declaration of the Gospel includes judgment upon men’s secrets. The phrase ‘men’s secrets’ is simply an idiom that means the sins of people. So, the Bible clearly teaches that sin is not a pre-cursor to the Gospel. You don’t tell someone the bad news so that they can hear the good news. You tell them the good news which includes sin. There is good news about sin!

How is sin in any way good news? Think of it in these terms. The second main point of the Gospel is Jesus is putting the world right regarding sin. More specifically, he is going to right every wrong done to you and by you; he will deal with personal sin. He is also going to right all that is wrong within you; he will deal with your indwelling sin. And he is even going to right all that is wrong with creation; he will deal with original sin and all its effects.  There will be justice, purity, and glory. That is the good news about sin. It is indeed good news!

Let’s explore each of those three aspects of sin in order to deepen our understanding of how sin is part of the Gospel. First, Jesus is going to right every wrong done to you and by you. There will be justice.

Justice

On Monday Feb 13, 2017, Libby German and Abby Williams, two teenage girls, went hiking on the Delphi Historic Trail in Delphi Indiana, a very common activity for the kids in that community. When they did not show up to be picked up a couple hours later, informal, and then formal search parties were organized. Just past midnight, their two bodies were found in the woods. 

Those two little girls were wronged. Their parents and grandparents and families and friends were wronged. Lives were taken. Now, they are lost. And that loss will never leave those people in this lifetime. Someone did them wrong.

We all have had an experience of being done wrong, probably not to the extent of those two families, but each one of us has been harmed in some way:

  • A child bullied you when you were young. That harassment and intimidation created fear about just going to school. That was wrong.
  • A teenager talked viciously behind your back in high school. You were the victim of false accusations and gossip. That was wrong.
  • A man took advantage of you. That was wrong.
  • A colleague in business shortchanged you. The company cheated you out of what you deserved. That was wrong.
  • A loved one betrayed you. You were harmed by someone who was supposed to protect you. That was wrong.
  • A group of people rejected you. They treated you differently because of the color of your skin. That was wrong.

The list of the wrong done to us is long and diverse. No one is immune and everyone has felt the sting. It is a seemingly endless catalog of bad news.

So then, isn’t it good news that Jesus Christ is going to set it all right? Ponder that reckoning for a moment. The group that rejected you, the love one who betrayed you, the business that cheated you, the man who took advantage of you, the teenager who spread lies about you, the child who bullied you, the man who murdered those two little girls…nobody is going to get away with any of that. Jesus will right those wrongs. That is such good news!

And all you have ever done wrong will be made right as well. This is good news too! After all, don’t we all live with some regret related to the pain that our sin has caused others? You wish it wouldn’t have happened, but it did. You would love to turn back time and take it back, but you can’t. Be comforted Christian. Jesus will right those wrongs too. He is going to deal with everyone’s personal sin.

In the Bible, personal sin is defined as an offense against the righteousness of God. It is a failure to conform to his moral law in the realm of thoughts, desires, words, or deeds. For example, theft is a sinful deed. Gossip is a collection of sinful words. Covetousness is a sinful desire. Thoughts can be sinful as well.  

These failures to conform to the moral law of God can be by commission—an action that has been done–or by omission—something one does not do that one should do.  Consider Jas 4:17: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” People can sin by what they do and sin by what they do not do. 

So, contemplate this staggering truth. Every immoral thought, desire, word, and deed from every human being who has ever lived will be adjudicated. Every moral thought, desire, word, and deed that should have been thought, desired, spoken or done, but wasn’t, by every human being who has ever lived, will be brought to account. Jesus is going to right every wrong done to you and by you. He will deal with everyone’s personal sin. There will be justice. That’s the first part of the Gospel as it relates to sin.

The second way sin is included in the good news is: Jesus is going to right all that is wrong within you. There will be justice and there will also be purity.

Purity

Most of my life, I have lived about 25 miles from downtown Chicago, Illinois. It is not uncommon for people in the suburbs to complain about the violence in the city, particularly on the South side. Certainly, that complaint is not without warrant. After all, in 2016, 4,380 people were shot resulting in 722 homicides. That’s a pretty shocking number. To put it in even more specific perspective, it means that, on average, someone was shot every two hours resulting in two people being killed every single day. Tragic.

The heart-breaking reality of that violence creates both complaint and compassion in suburbanites, but it also leads to a temptation to think wrongly about sin. People in safe middle-class neighborhoods are tempted to think that the fundamental problem with the world isn’t in their safe middle-class neighborhoods, but rather in the city or down on the South side. In other words, they think of sin in geographic terms, rather than as a universal biographic reality.

The truth is that human nature itself is at the center of what’s wrong with the world. So, whenever you see a human being, any human being, in some measure, you are looking directly at our problem. There is something wrong, not only out there on the South side of Chicago or not just with us sometimes when we are having a really bad day in the suburbs or not simply inside the worst people in the world, but within all of us at all times. Sin isn’t merely personal. It is indwelling. 

We have all had experiences when we realized this was true: 

  • For example, you are going about your normal routine on a typical day when all the sudden an immoral thought just pops into your head. You don’t want it there. You want it to leave. Yet, there it is. How did it just jump into your brain without your permission? Where did it originate? 
  • Or how about when a corrupt desire suddenly bursts through your soul. You really want to do something wrong, but at the same time you don’t. You find yourself having internal conflict. 
  • Or, remember a time when you used insensitive words and later wondered, “Where did that outburst come from?  Why did I say that in that way?  The situation didn’t call for that.” You were almost unconsciously harsh.
  • Or, have you found yourself doing something you told yourself you would stop doing or at least do much less frequently? We all know what that downward spiral feels like.
  • How about when you wake up in a funk and can’t shake it all day long?  You have a bad attitude and you don’t know where it came from and you don’t know why it’s there and you don’t know when it will leave.  

The Bible teaches that all these human experiences point to the reality of indwelling sin affecting our mind, dividing our heart, and influencing our will to respond to situations in ways we later regret. In the Scriptures, sin is not merely our personal moral failures.  It isn’t simply to miss the mark of good behavior. Sin is also a powerat work in our very nature. Everyone sins, but more importantly, everyone is a sinner.

So then, isn’t it good news that Jesus Christ is going to right all that is wrong within you? That promise of the Gospel is well articulated in 1 John 3:2:

2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:2

That phrase ‘we shall be like him’ is a reference to Christians becoming like Jesus. We won’t become the infinite, eternal and perfect 2nd person of the Trinity, nor will become a Jewish man in his 30’s. The context of this verse is about purity from sin. 

In Christ, there is no sin. He is pure. In us, there is sin now. We are not pure. When we see him upon our death or his return, we will become like him; that is, we will become pure. In us, there will no longer be any sin. 

How incredible is that! Rejoice in that reality because it means that on that day:

  • The pollution in your mind will be gone.  You will only be able to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy.
  • The sickness of your heart will be of 100% cured. You will only want love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness. 
  • The struggle with your will will end. You will only want the virtue of Christ and you will always do what you want to do. You will never again do something you regret.

Christian, you are not going to live forever in your current corrupted state. Almighty God will transform you with enduring effect. You will be you, but a metamorphosis will take place. There will be continuity of your personhood, but everlasting discontinuity of your nature. You will become like Jesus. He will make you pure as he is pure. Your mind, heart, and will, your entire inner self, will be made right. He will deal with your indwelling sin. That’s the second part of the Gospel as it relates to sin.

Lastly, there will be glory. Jesus is not only going to right what is wrong with humans. He is putting the entire universe right.

Glory

Awhile back, I went to breakfast with a friend. Upon entering the restaurant, he held the door for a caregiver in charge of an older couple. The husband was blind, and the wife had dementia and struggled severely to walk. And so, the caregiver walked them to breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day from their apartment, one on each arm.  They hobbled slowly and painfully, afflicted, and struggling…sadly, it was not hard to see death looming over them. As I watched them walk away when they were done, I thought, “I hate sin. And I love Jesus Christ!”

That might seem like an odd response to you, but it comes from a Biblical understanding of sin. Now, to be crystal clear, I am NOT at all suggesting that the elderly couple’s specific maladies were caused by their specific moral failures. I don’t think his blindness was caused by his character defects. Likewise, I don’t connect her dementia to a pattern of rebellion earlier in her life. I am not advocating for the idea of a tit for tat view of immorality and physical suffering as if there is a direct line from personal sin to bodily ailments. That is not the Biblical understanding of sin to which I am referring.

Rather, the Scriptures teach original sin is the root of all that is wrong with the world. That is, the initial rebellion of humanity against God has corrupted the entire universe resulting in all the problems that plague humanity. About this aspect of sin, Romans 8:20 states, “The creation was subjected to futility,” and Romans 8:21 references “its bondage to corruption.”

We all know the world is not right. A tornado rips through a nearby town. Every family holiday has some sort of argument. A friend is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As soon as you get your life and house organized, someone messes it up. A person close to you dies. All the sudden you cannot see words on a page clearly when it is close to you. Your hairline is receding, and your muscles are drooping, and belly is growing, and your car is breaking down. 

The Bible’s explanation for all those experiences is original sin. The first people sinned. That sin wasn’t just harmful to their relationship with God. It was catastrophic for the entire created order. It unleashed the power and the presence of sin into the world causing disease, disability, discord, decay, disorder, disaster and even death. 

So, sin is personal. It is moral failure. Sin is also indwelling. It is the power at work in our nature causing moral failure. But, it is also original. It is a presence that has shackled the right functioning of the world.

I find that most people struggle with this aspect of sin, finding it hard to believe or difficult to understand. Strangely enough, I think there is help for us in middle school chemistry combined with some home economics. The difference between a chemical change and a physical change provides a clarifying illustration for this topic.

A physical change is change that can be undone. Consider a tossed salad. You take lettuce and whatever other ingredients you like out of the refrigerator and the pantry. You grab a large bowl and those big wooden utensils. You set them all out on your kitchen counter and you mix them together. The result is a tossed salad. A tossed salad is a physical change because it can be undone by human beings. In other words, you can un-toss it, separating the croutons from the carrots from the lettuce from the bacon, etc. You can even wash off the salad dressing! It can be undone.  

On the contrary, a chemical change is a change that cannot be undone. Consider the act of baking a cake. You do the same as you did with tossed salad. You get all the ingredients you need: flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate, etc. You mix them together, put them in the cake pan, and slide it into the oven for baking. Several minutes later, it comes out as a cake. Unlike a tossed salad, a baked cake is a chemical change, not a physical one. You cannot undo it. You can’t un-bake it and un-mix it. If I came over for dessert and asked you to get the eggs out of the cake because I’d prefer to eat them instead, you would look at me sideways and say, “That’s impossible!” And you would be right.

Think of original sin like a chemical change, not a physical one. Sin is a defiling presence that has mixed itself inseparably into the human being such that human beings cannot separate themselves from sin. We cannot undo it. Furthermore, through us, sin has been unleashed into the world such that its presence has fundamentally changed the world. The cake has been baked and it is impossible for us to un-bake it! 

But, the good news is that Jesus Christ is going do that which seems impossible. He has promised to undo all the effects of original sin. Isn’t that incredible news? Think about it. That means cancer, confusion, rusty and crumbling bridges, still born babies, town engulfing earthquakes, ethnic tension, cerebral palsy are NOT going to be forever experiences. All of that and more will be permanently eliminated from Christian existence. The universe is in bondage to corruption now, but one day it will be set free and transformed. Glory is coming! That’s the third part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to sin. There is good news about sin.

So, the next time you think of sin as the bad news that must precede the good news, remember that the Bible teaches that sin is part of the Gospel. Namely, Jesus is putting the world right regarding sin. That is good news. The Gospel starts with LORD. It continues with SIN. Next, it explains the only means capable of saving sinners while putting the world right with SAVIOR.

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