"The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankindHumans are born at war with God. How did we go from the image of God to enemies of God? The answer is the fall.
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:2-3).
In Genesis 2 we learn that God put his humans in a beautiful garden that supplied their every need, then he gave them one rule. In chapter 3 we see them break that one rule. Some people want to deny that those events are literal history, but in some way or another, human beings learned to sin. More than that, they rebelled. And when they did, the image of God was broken.
Nature was designed such that everything reproduces after its kind, and for humans that meant passing on that new, fallen nature. Now, the human heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). So sin comes naturally to us. We don’t have to teach children to sin; they figure that out on their own. It’s often said, we aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. This is called “original sin” — what GK Chesterton called “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”1
So what exactly is sin? Erickson defines it as “any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God.”2 It is the things we do and the things we don’t do. It can be found in our actions or our intentions. It’s anything in which we deviate from God’s character. And we do it as easily as breathing.
The result of our sin is alienation. We are alienated from nature, from God, from other people, and from ourselves.3 The world is broken because of us; we were cast out of paradise into a world that wants to hurt us. We cannot have peace with other people or even ourselves for very long. And we are at war with God. This is the second truth we have to grasp. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
All of this doesn’t mean that we’re completely wicked. But it does mean that everything about us is tainted. Theologians call it the doctrine of total depravity. It says that there is no part of us that isn’t touched by sin. That doesn’t mean we are only terrible all the time. We can follow God’s law when it seems like a good idea to us. But doing “good” for our own reasons isn’t honoring God; we’re still rebelling. That is why even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God (Is 64:6).
It gets worse. When we sin, we join in the devil’s rebellion. We are committing treason. And the penalty for treason is death. When Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), he wasn’t being melodramatic. Sin introduced death to the human race, spiritual and physical, and eternal death is the just penalty for treason against an infinitely holy God.
These are hard truths, but they are truths we need to embrace. People don’t go to the doctor unless they think they’re sick. But once they know they’re sick, the treatment is precious to them. Human beings are desperately sick, and they need to know it.
But this isn’t just for lost people. Christians are still sinners, and we have the same problem. When we lose sight of our sin, the cross loses its beauty. Meditating on our sinful condition helps us appreciate the gospel. It also yields the humility that the Lord desires in us (Is 57:15). And it makes the cross shine forth in all the glory of the grace of God.4
People have never liked hearing they are sinners, but it’s probably even worse now. We cannot be ashamed of this truth. Refusing to tell a sinner he’s a sinner is no different than a doctor refusing to tell someone with a tumor he has cancer. We have the cure for the disease. They need to know they’re sick.
For more on this topic, I recommend “The Nature and Source of Sin” in Millard Erickson’s Introducing Christian Doctrine.
1 GK Chesteron, Orthodoxy
2 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine
3 RC Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian
4 Richard Phillips, What's So Great About Total Depravity?
image credit: Fractured Sand, Brian Williams
Part of Christianity 101