What is sin and how did it enter into the human race?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
Sin is all the ways we rebel against God and resist his work in the world. However, sin is not ultimately rooted in our disobedience to a set of commandments. Sin is, at its root, the sign of a broken relationship. We were created to live in perfect harmony with God and our neighbor. Sin manifests itself in a wide array of broken relationships—with God, with our neighbor, and even with creation itself. In one way or another, sin is rooted in putting ourselves first, resulting in our inability to properly love God and our neighbor.
According to Scripture, the first man, Adam, was a representative man and had the capacity to either love and serve God as he was created to do, or to rebel against him. We might wonder why God gave such a choice to Adam. God could have created Adam without a free will. However, we all know even from our own experience with relationships that people with power and position can make us obey them, but cannot force us to love them. Love is one of the greatest capacities we have, but it is rooted in free will and choice. We have already demonstrated that God created us in his own image and desired that we have a relationship with him rooted in love. However, this cannot be possible unless we also have the freedom to go our own way, reject God, and pursue our own path. For love to be the nature of our relationship with God, it must be freely chosen.
Adam chose to disobey God and rebelled against him, asserting his own will in place of God’s will. This is known as the Fall of Man. The reason Adam’s disobedience was so grave and his sin is known as the Fall of Man (not merely the Fall of Adam), is because Adam acted as a representative man on behalf of the entire human race. The Scriptures teach that when the one man Adam sinned, sin spread to the entire human race. It was like a virus on a computer system which spreads to the entire network. We are now born with a sin nature and a natural bent towards sin. There is a classic saying about this which every Christian should learn. It goes like this: “We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.” Adam’s rebellion made us sinners and we are now born with a sin nature. In a thousand ways we confirm Adam’s sin in our own lives by our own sinning. However, we must not forget that our sins are the result of the presence of sin which has been unleashed into the world. Children do not have to be taught to disobey or to be angry or selfish. They must be taught to obey, to share, to love, and so forth. We all know which way the twig is bent. The depravity of humanity is probably the most experientially provable doctrine of Christianity.
It may, at first, seem unfair, but, as we will explore later, God provides another representative man, Jesus Christ. He becomes our Second Adam, and through his one act of obedience makes us righteous in the same way that Adam acted and made us sinners. In Christ, all our broken relationships are restored and all the effects of sin are reversed. The last symbol of sin is death itself, and in Christ, even that is overturned. In the resurrection at the end of time our bodies will be raised and all the effects of sin will finally be defeated. What a great hope we have, knowing that our formidable enemy—sin—has been vanquished, and eventually all its spoils will be lost.
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