Beyond Belief
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Chapter 1 – The Sin Problem

The gospel is God’s solution to the sin problem.  So it is important to begin our study of the gospel by first understanding sin.  Too often we try to understand the solution God has prepared for us in Christ (the gospel) without first recognizing the full extent of the problem (sin).  But that is to put matters backward.  Only when we truly understand our complete sinfulness in both nature and action will we truly understand God’s solution.  Not until we understand the depraved nature of sin will we lose all confidence in self and turn to Christ as our only righteousness.  The gospel becomes meaningful, then, only against the background of a full understanding of sin.

The Origin of Sin

Sin originated in heaven in the mind of Lucifer, the leader of the angels [see Ezekiel 28:14-15].  The Bible doesn’t explain how sin could arise in a perfect being, because sin is unexplainable.  That is why it is referred to as the “mystery of iniquity” [2 Thessalonians 2:7].

The essence of Lucifer’s sin was self-exaltation [see Isaiah 14:12-14].  Self-centeredness, the love of self, is the underlying principle of all sin.  It is in complete opposition to the principle of selfless, self-sacrificing love, which is the foundation of God’s character and government [see 1 John 4:7-8, 16].  Sin, then, is basically rebellion against God and His self-sacrificing love.

Lucifer’s sin eventually led to open warfare in heaven.  He and the angels who sided with him were defeated and cast out of heaven [see Revelation 12:7-9].  Although sin originated in heaven in the mind of Lucifer, God did not allow it to develop in heaven.  It was here on earth that Lucifer and his angels developed the principle of sin after they were expelled from heaven.  Let’s see how it happened.

The Development of Sin

God created this earth for man and gave him dominion over it.  All was perfect; sin did not exist in anything that God created [see Genesis 1:26, 28, 31].  Sin came into God’s perfect world through Lucifer, turned Satan.  He tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, to sin and caused them to fall from the perfect state in which God had created them [see Genesis 3:1-24; Luke 4:5-6].  Thus Satan took possession of this world and made it his own on the basis of the principle that “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” [2 Peter 2:19].

In the wilderness of temptation, Satan told Jesus that the authority and splendor of the world “has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to” [Luke 4:6].  Notice that Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim.  Since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan has been the “prince of this world” [John 14:30].  In fact, Paul calls him the “god of this age” [2 Corinthians 4:4].  As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are in slavery to sin and Satan [see John 8:34; Romans 6:17; 2 Peter 2:19].  We are born self-centered, and our natural inclination is to want to live independently of God [see Romans 1:20-23].  The whole world is under Satan’s control except for those who have given themselves to Christ [see 1 John 5:19].

Using fallen human beings as his tools, Satan has developed a kingdom that is based entirely on self-seeking; the Bible refers to it as “the kingdom of the world” [Revelation 11:15].  It is in complete opposition to God’s “kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 3:2], which is based on self-sacrificing love.  Everything that goes to make up this world system — politics, education, commerce, recreation, sports, social clubs, technology, nationalism — is founded on Satan’s principle of self-love.  At times this principle may not be obvious in the things we see around us, but “everything in the world ... comes not from the Father but from the world” [1 John 2:16].  Without exception, all that is in the world is based upon “lust,” or the principle of self-love.

Because Satan is a liar and a deceiver, much that is in the world appears to be good.  But at the end of the world Satan will be completely exposed, and all will see that he has deceived the entire world, both those elements that are obviously evil and those that appear to be good [see Revelation 12:9; 13:3-4].  All that is in the world is part of Satan’s kingdom of self-love.  For some 6,000 years, God has allowed Satan to have his way in developing sin on the earth.  But the time will come when Satan and his kingdom will be exposed and destroyed forever [see 2 Peter 3:10-13; Psalm 92:7-9].

Satan and his kingdom must be destroyed, but God has made a way of escape for the fallen human race held captive by Satan [see 2 Peter 3:9].  This is the good news, the gospel, that God wants everyone to understand and receive.  From the foundation of the world, He has prepared His heavenly kingdom for us [see Matthew 25:34]; the destroying fires of hell are intended only “for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41].  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16].  All those who respond in faith to God’s love, manifested in the gift of His Son, will be delivered from the condemnation that is resting on Satan and his kingdom [see Romans 8:1; John 5:24].

Sin Defined

The Bible uses some 12 different Hebrew words in the Old Testament to define sin and about five Greek words in the New Testament.  These can be combined into three basic concepts.  All three are expressed in Psalm 51:2-3: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (emphasis supplied).

  1. Iniquity.  The root meaning of this word is “crooked” or “bent.”  Scripture uses it to describe our natural spiritual condition.  The term iniquity does not primarily refer to an act of sin but to a condition of sinfulness.  As a result of the Fall, men and women are by nature spiritually “bent.”  Love of self is the driving force of our natures.  Paul defines this as “the law of sin and death” that is at work in our lives [Romans 8:2; cf. 7:23].  It is this condition that underlies all our sinning and makes us slaves to sin [see Romans 3:9-12; 7:14].  The following texts describe our spiritually bent condition.

    • Psalm 51:5.  “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Since David was physically handsome [see 1 Samuel 16:12], he is speaking here of his spiritual condition.  From his very conception and birth, he was shaped in iniquity.  We are born with a nature that is bent toward sin or self.

    • Isaiah 53:6.  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  This verse makes two points.  First, everyone of us has gone astray because we have all followed the natural bent to our “own way.”  Second, this bent to follow our own way, this self-centeredness, is the iniquity that was laid upon Christ, our Sin Bearer.  When He “condemned sin in sinful man” on the cross [Romans 8:3], it was his bent to sin that He condemned.  Hence, in spite of our sinful state, there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1].

    • Isaiah 64:6.  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  Because we are “sinful at birth” [Psalm 51:5], all the righteousness we produce through our own efforts is like a filthy rag before God; it is polluted with self-love.  In contrast to the filthy garments of our own self-righteousness [see Zechariah 3:3-4], Christ offers us the white robe of His righteousness so that we may be truly clothed and that “cover [our] shameful nakedness” [Revelation 3:18].

    • Matthew 7:22-23.  “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’” The judgment will expose as iniquity our self-righteous acts, even those done in the name of Christ.  Jesus will clearly identify such works motivated by self-love as works of iniquity.  Do our works originate from Christ and, therefore, spring from the motive of self-sacrificing love?  Or do they originate from self, “to make a good impression outwardly” [Galatians 6:12]?  Are they works of faith, the result of a genuine relationship with Christ?  Or are we working in His name without really knowing Him?

    Once we understand all that is involved in iniquity, we will realize that nothing good dwells in us [see Romans 7:18].  We will then begin to hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ offered to us so freely in the gospel.

    Iniquity, therefore, is simply the desire to seek our own way.  We are born with this bent.  It is this condition that makes it impossible for us, apart from a Savior, to be genuinely righteous, because God’s law requires even our motives to be pure and unselfish [see Matthew 5:20-22, 27-28].

  2. Sin.  This is the second term the Bible uses to describe our failures.  Its actual meaning is “to miss the mark.”  Spiritually, this means falling “short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23] or failing to measure up to His ideal of selfless love.

    Since we are all born spiritually bent, it isn’t difficult to see why “there is no one righteous, not even one,” and why “there is no one who does good, not even one” [Romans 3:10, 12].  Our sinful condition (iniquity) makes it impossible for us to do anything but miss the divine mark (sin) unless we have a Savior.  That is why the gospel is our only hope of salvation.  Although we have a free will to choose to accept Christ’s righteousness or to reject it, we do not have a choice whether to sin or to be righteous.  We are born in slavery to sin, and no matter how hard we try or how much we will to do right, we will fall short of the divine mark [see Romans 7:15-24].  For further study on this point, read Job 15:14-16; Psalm 14:2,3; Isaiah 1:4-6; Jeremiah 17:9; and Mark 7:23.

  3. Transgression.  This word means a deliberate violation of the law, a willful act of disobedience.  It presupposes that we have a knowledge of what the law requires.  In the spiritual realm, transgression is a deliberate violation of God’s moral law, which is His measuring stick for righteousness [see 1 John 3:4].  It is knowing God’s law that turns sin (missing the mark) into transgression (deliberate disobedience).  Note the following texts.

    • Galatians 3:19.  “What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.”  The law was given to make sin into transgression.

    • James 2:9.  “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”  The law convinces us that we are transgressors.

    • Romans 3:20.  “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”  Through the law we have knowledge of sin.

    • Romans 5:20.  “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....”  The law did not solve the sin problem, but made it “abound” or increase all the more.

    • Romans 7:7-13.  “What shall we say, then?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.  For apart from law, sin is dead.  Once I was alive apart from law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.  So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.  Did that which is good, then, become death to me?  But no means!  But in order that sin must be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”  The law exposes our sinful condition and reveals our total bankruptcy as far as righteousness is concerned.

    Since sin is a deceiver, it is impossible for us in our sins to fully realize our condition unless God reveals it to us.  This is what He has done by giving the law.  He never intended the law to be a means of salvation or for it to deal with sin.  Because of our sinful condition, the law cannot produce righteousness in us [see Romans 8:3].  We are sold under sin, and the only way we can be saved is in Christ.  “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law...”  [Romans 3:20; cf. Galatians 2:16; 3:21-22; 5:4].  God gave the law to us to teach us.  “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” [Galatians 3:24].

    That justification by faith will be the subject of the following chapters.

Key Points in Chapter 1
• The Sin Problem •
  1. Sin originated in heaven in the mind of Lucifer, the leader of the angels [see Ezekiel 28:14-15].

  2. Through tempting Adam and Eve into sin, Lucifer (Satan) took possession of this world [see Genesis 3:1-24; Luke 4:5-6; 2 Peter 2:19].

  3. As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are all in slavery to sin.  We are born self-centered, and our natural inclination is to want to live independently of God [see John 8:34; Romans 1:20-23; 6:17].

  4. The Bible defines sin in terms of three words or concepts:

    1. Iniquity.  This does not primarily refer to an act of sin, but to a condition of sinfulness; by nature, we are spiritually “bent” [see Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 53:6; 64:6].

    2. Sin.  Literally, “to miss the mark.”  This refers to our failures to measure up to God’s ideal [see Romans 3:23; 7:15-24; Isaiah 1:4-6].

    3. Transgression.  This is a deliberate violation of God’s law, a willful act of disobedience [see 1 John 3:4; Romans 7:7-13].

  5. God gave His law to reveal to us our sinful condition.  He never intended for the law to be a means of salvation or for it to deal with sin [see Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 3:21-22; 5:4].

  6. The law is to bring us to Christ so that we can be justified by faith [see Galatians 3:24].
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