Sin is a huge topic. We will certainly not be able to do more than scratch the surface in these posts. And of course part of the problem is when you make a list of sins, some people will see this as a ‘to do’ list, or at least a ‘to attempt’ list. Such is fallen human nature, I’m afraid. Sin, is by definition an action that is taken against God and is a violation of God’s will. This is precisely why sin has been ‘declassified’ by those who either don’t believe in God or don’t have more than a nodding acquaintance with the real God. Those folks want to talk about errors of judgment, or mistakes, but not ‘sins’. Sin is a theological category for sure. Having just done a short series of posts on temptation, it seemed only logical that we would do one on sin as well. But as I said, it’s a huge topic.
In this post let us first of all consider the condition of sin, before we start talking about sinful actions. Sometimes you hear the nonsense about ‘there is no theology of the Fall in the Bible’ or ‘there is no theology of the Fall in the OT’. So let’s review the evidence. According to Gen. 1-3, once Adam and Eve broke the one commandment God gave them, they became self focused, self-aware, self-centered, self-conscious. The most primal sin is not pride, but in fact narcissism, the heart turned in upon itself, and no longer fixed on God, which is how God made us— in his image for ongoing personal relationship with God.
Once, Adam and Eve had sinned, then there was necessarily moral consequences, (and this word just in— sin always has negative consequences whether sooner or later. Sin may be even pleasurable at the moment it is committed, but the consequences never are). The consequences are described in the scene where the ground is cursed, the snake is cursed, and both Adam and Eve experience gender specific labor pains. And as soon as we get outside the garden, human beings start killing one another (see the story of Cain and Abel). This is not an accident, it is a result of human fallenness beginning to take hold on humanity. This is also why we begin to have death records, otherwise known as genealogies. The wages of sin was indeed death, and more death, and did I mention death. Human falleness involved all human faculties being distorted, warped– the mind, the heart, the will, the emotions. The image of God was effaced, though not erased in human kind. In male female relationships to love and to cherish degenerated into desire and to dominate, leading to the fallen human condition known as patriarchy. It is an interesting fact that God nowhere in the OT commends or commands patriarchy, nor does he ever say things in the OT about how women necessarily should be subordinate to men. These things happened as a result of human fallenness, and we are still dealing with the fall out from the Fall in this and many other ways.
Sometimes, you hear the notion that the OT after Genesis doesn’t much affirm innate human fallness. I have to say they must be reading a different Bible than I’ve be reading. Take for instance Ps. 51, David’s famous mea culpa song after he was confronted about his sin with Bathsheba and against her husband Uriah the Hittite. He says he was conceived in sin, and born guilty! (vs. 5). If that’s not a reflection on original sin, passed down from one generation to the next, I don’t know what it is. Of course ironically, the phrase original sin (referring to Adam and Eve’s) set in motion an infinite string of very unoriginal sins.
I love the scene in Shakespeare, when the king is sitting up late for Prince Hal who has been out carousing and sowing his wild oats, and the king upbraids saying you think you are so original and so unique but actually “you are just committing the oldest kind of sins in the newest kind of ways!” He was a wise king. Sin, if there really is a God, doesn’t make much sense honestly. It is a form of irrational behavior, not to mention and act of narcissism.
If you want to see what happens when sin becomes structured into a society itself, you can either go visit some of the countries formerly part of the Soviet Union and talk to the people there about structured evil and sin, or you can read the Book of Revelation and hear about demonic governments, or you can reflect on the institution of human slavery. My point is that the Bible doesn’t just talk about private sins or the sins of isolated individuals, it also talks about cultures, societies, kingdoms, governmental sins— sin structured into the very way the world works. The Book of Ecclesiastes is a good place to read about that sort of malaise and how conventional wisdom like ‘work hard and you will prosper’ doesn’t work in dysfunctional and evil societies like that. Fallenness doesn’t just affect individuals, it affects people groups, and their institutions.
I probably don’t need to point you to Rom. 5.12-21 where we hear that when Adam sneezed we all caught the cold, but Paul was not the person who came up with the notion of original sin, it’s already there in the OT, and other early Jews reflected on it. Consider the words we find in 4 Ezra 3.21-26 written in the last decade of the first century A.D.:
“The first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him.
Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the people’s heart along with the evil root, but what was good departed, and the evil remained.
So the times passed and the years were completed, and thou didst raise up for thyself a servant, named David.
And thou didst command him to build a city for thy name, and in it to offer thee oblations from what is thine.
This was done for many years; but the inhabitants of the city transgressed,
in everything doing as Adam and all his descendants had done, for they also had the evil heart.”
Finally it will be well to talk for a minute about the notion of original innocence in infants. This is not a Biblical idea, nor for that matter is the notion that infants are automatically saved if they are the children of believers, should they die in infancy, on the assumption that they are covered by Christ’s death, with or without faith. We need to unpack the problems with this whole line of thinking: 1) firstly notice the reference to sin ‘in utero’ above. That even includes pre-birth. All have inherited the tendency to sin, and frankly, if you’ve spent any time around infants, you’ll know they are the most narcissistic me, me, me creatures on earth– ‘hold me, change me, feed me’ etc. They most certainly do manifest the primal sin. 2) innocence is one thing, purity is another. Infants are innocent of conscious active sin, they lack sinful experiences. This doesn’t make them pure as the driven snow. It’s a good thing they are so cute; 3) I assume that our God is compassionate and merciful, so we can safely leave in God’s hands the fate of deceased infants or the still born etc. We do not need a separate non-faith theology for babies, that doesn’t apply to others when it comes to salvation. We can note that 1 Cor. 7 says that the child of even one Christian parent is set apart for God (i.e. hagios, which does not mean pure or holy in a moral sense here). We should leave it at that; 4) the close connection in the NT between believing and the new birth, believing and salvation, believing and everlasting life, believing and sanctification needs to be stressed always. By believing, I mean in the case of the young a basic trust in God, Jesus, and the Spirit, not a divinity school understanding of the faith. Debating how much one needs to know and affirm to be saved is a fruitless exercise. See for example the case of Abraham, he simply trusted God and followed his directions and contemplate the examples held up to Christians in the ‘Hall of Faith’ in Heb. 11.