We must realize that a proper appreciation of one’s guilt before God is a gift. It is a gift that leads us to the truth, but without it we are lost. Those who do not look to God, but instead attempt to escape judgment, are likely to end up like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Having killed his king to take the throne, he finds himself moving further and further into evil in order to maintain his place, murdering ever more people in his bid for power. In Act 3, Scene 4, he laments to his wife, “I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” That is, he has tread so far into evil that it would be more difficult to pull himself out of it than it would be to simply continue down that wrong road.
In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.
Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.
Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.
I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way.
In the story of Cain and Abel, the Lord notices the older brother’s displeasure that Abel’s sacrifice was deemed more fitting. Within Cain’s soul, jealousy is aroused and quickly turns to hatred of his brother. The Lord senses this and warns him in no uncertain terms: “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sadly, Cain does not possess the will to master sin. Instead, he reverts to his sinful nature and becomes a murderer, bringing about the final fulfillment of his hatred. Cain may have created a victim that day, but sin itself claimed another. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last.Our attachment to sin as human beings is linked to our need for comfort. This word “comfort” can be defined as much more than a lack of physical pain. Happiness, pleasure, protection, and ease – both of body and soul – are included in the broader sense of the term. When Cain chose to give in to sin, he did so in large part because it felt comfortable. Its desire was for him, and his desire was for it. Sin offered him the chance to satisfy the longing of his soul and put to death that which had caused him shame.
Our attachment to sin as human beings is linked to our need for comfort. This word “comfort” can be defined as much more than a lack of physical pain. Happiness, pleasure, protection, and ease – both of body and soul – are included in the broader sense of the term. When Cain chose to give in to sin, he did so in large part because it felt comfortable. Its desire was for him, and his desire was for it. Sin offered him the chance to satisfy the longing of his soul and put to death that which had caused him shame.
The first question in the Heidelberg Catechism is rather famous: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The appropriate Christian answer is listed as follows. “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…” The text goes on to talk about the assurance that comes from this divine belonging. I bring this up to make the point that for the sinner, this answer provides no comfort at all. In fact, it is abhorrent.
Whereas the Christian finds the phrase “I am not my own” to be reassuring, the sinner sees it as a threat and denial of rights.