I. The Reality of Sin
Sin is a tragic reality. It is not an illusion; it has actual existence. This fact is recognized by the Bible, conscience, religions of mankind, histories of nations, governments, and literature.
The Bible is a book written largely about sinners. It relates the story of the first man's sin, the terrible consequences of sin in human history, and the final triumph over sin and its removal from the universe. The Bible describes the individual man and the total human race as being in sin and under condemnation.
Photographers sometimes touch up photographs to remove scars, wrinkles, and warts, but the Bible pictures man just as he is. It does not attempt to hide the faults of its heroes. It records Noah's drunkenness, Abraham's lie, David's murder and adultery, and Peter's denial. It shows men just as they are.
The Bible is a book written for sinners. The gospel message of repentance and salvation is addressed to sinners. It points men to the Lamb of God, who gave Himself to save the lost. The Bible everywhere pictures sin as something real and tragic.
The fact that sin is a reality is acknowledged by the testimony of conscience and the general judgment of mankind. Most people realize that they are not what they should be. In moments of complete honesty they know themselves to be sinners. Man judges himself and finds guilt and condemnation.
The religions of mankind presuppose the existence of sin. This truth can be seen from the fact that blood sacrifices, priesthoods, and penances have always been important factors in the great religions of the world. The recognition of sin can account for the great sense of sadness that characterizes heathen religions. The heathen know sin but not its remedy.
Is sin something real? Ask historians. The history of nations is largely a record of human sinfulness and sin's dreadful consequences. The fact that war has existed at all indicates that someone has sinned. If one removed from historical records every incident that was related in some way to human sin, little history would remain.
Human governments know that sin exists. They recognize the sinfulness of man's nature. Accordingly, they enact laws and impose penalties in efforts to curb sin's influence in social relationships. If there were no sin, there would be no need for laws, locks, policemen, or prisons; there would be no need for self-protection against crime.
Literature depicts sin as a reality. The general sinfulness of humanity is portrayed in fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. Some human sin is associated with the plot of almost every drama or story. It may be greed or jealousy. It may be murder or lust. It may be selfishness or revenge. The fact of sin is recognized by every type of literature, whether it be Greek mythology, Shakespeare, or modern fiction.
The reality of sin, moreover, is an observed fact of daily life. One can look almost anywhere at any time and see some evidence or result of sin. Sin is a tragic reality.
II. The Universality of Sin
Sin is universal. All men are sinners; all of man is sinful. Sin is universal among men; it is total within man. If one drew a circle to indicate the righteous, it would be empty. All would be excluded. If one drew a circle to indicate sinners, it would be filled. All would be included.
The universality of sin is clearly taught by direct statements in the Bible. All men by natural birth are sinners. It is apparent, of course, that Jesus is an exception. "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isa. 64:6). "The whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19).
The fact that sin is universal is implied in the Bible teaching that all men outside of Christ are under condemnation and wrath. "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). "By nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3). "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself ; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (Rom. 2:1). All men are under condemnation before God because all men are sinners.
The need for repentance is universal because sin is universal among men. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). The fact that God commands all men to repent reveals that all men are sinners.
The truth that Christ died for all men shows that all men are sinners and need the atonement He provided. Jesus is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "Who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). The fact that the gospel was to be preached "to every creature" (Mark 16:15) shows that all men are sinners and need to hear the gospel.
III. The Guilt of Sin
Sin involves guilt. As sinners all men are guilty before God. Sin is a factor in their lives for which they are responsible and chargeable. They deserve condemnation and punishment. They are "worthy of death" (Rom. 1:32).
Guilt, therefore, designates the transgressor's relation to God's moral government. It refers to the sinner's position and condition in view of the fact that he has violated God's moral standards. Moral laws are expressions of God's own moral attributes: holiness, love, and truth. Sin contradicts the very nature of God. The divine attitude toward sin must be condemnation and wrath. God's holy government of the universe, therefore, requires that the penalty of sin be death.
To say that a sinner is guilty before God is to say that he is subject to God's disapproval and condemnation. He is exposed to the wrath of God that is revealed from heaven through the gospel against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. (Rom. 1:18.) He deserves punishment; he is obligated to satisfy God's justice.
The sinner's guilt can be removed only through the payment of sin's penalty which is death. Sin's penalty can be paid personally by the sinner's being destroyed in the second death, or it can be paid vicariously through Christ's sacrifice.
The first death does not remove the sinner's guilt. The complete payment for sin's wages will be effected by the sinner when he is destroyed in the second death. Raised to life in the final resurrection, sinners will still be under God's condemnation and wrath. The fact of their guilt will not have changed. They still will be chargeable for the sins they committed in this life. They will be judged according to the sinful works they have committed today. In the second death sin's penalty will be paid, but the sinner will have been destroyed.
IV. Forgiveness of Sin
Through His plan of salvation, God provided a means whereby sin's penalty could be paid and the forgiven sinner could live for eternity. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, voluntarily became the sinner's Substitute. Being without sin, Jesus was without personal guilt. The fact that He is the perfect Son of God gave infinite value to His sacrifice. His death, therefore, could be a substitution for not merely one sinner, but for an infinite number of sinners. In other words, the Lamb of God potentially bore the guilt and paid sin's penalty for the entire human race. The benefits of His sacrifice actually, however, become effective in the sinner's life only when he becomes properly related to Christ through conversion. Christ's sacrifice provided the basis whereby God could remove our guilt and declare us righteous. When we become united to Christ, God actually removes our guilt and imputes Christ's righteousness to us. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
God's forgiveness of sinners is based upon Christ's sacrificial death. Sin's penalty must be paid before sin can be forgiven. "Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). Forgiveness is found through the sacrifice of Christ, the sinner's Substitute, whose blood was shed for the remission of sins. Paul explained, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7'). God can retain His holiness while forgiving sinners because the penalty of sin was paid through Christ's vicarious sacrifice. (Rom. 3:24-26.) God was under no obligation to provide a sacrifice, for sinners; forgiveness of sins, therefore, results from God's love, mercy, and grace.
Forgiveness of sins is related to Christian baptism. The sinner's conversion is the condition upon which forgiveness of sins is bestowed. Conversion, which includes repentance, faith, and baptism, is the means whereby the sinner enters into a redemptive relationship with God through Christ. Through repentance, faith, and baptism, remission of sins becomes effective in the sinner's life. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
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