Sin. Sin is a condition that many people do not take serious enough. Humankind has had to live with and experience the effects of sin throughout human history. In the creation story of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, we can see that God created the world, and it was good. There was an intimacy between God and humans with God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day to be with Adam and Eve personally (Genesis 3:8). God was looking for Adam and Eve after they had tasted and eaten of the forbidden fruit. From this time forward, sin has left a mark of humanity and creation. The intimate relationship between God and humans was broken.
As we begin to look at sin, the Hebrew and Greek words used in scripture help to understand what sin is. One of the Hebrew words is chata (khan-taw’). The New Testament Greek has a word with a similar meaning as the Hebrew word. Hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah). Both words basically mean to “miss the mark,” or “failure to hit the mark.” Looking at sin with these two words could make it seem like sin is no big deal. These words show there is a “mark,” a bullseye we are all striving for to hit. Our next question would have to be “what is the mark we are supposed to hit?”
Adam and Eve has a perfect communion with God in the beginning. After the fruit was eaten, we can now begin to look through the scriptures to see how sin impacted and affected every part of creation. This is what is known as “original sin.” Throughout the centuries there have been different understandings and teachings on what original sin is and how we are effected by it today.
In the book, Responsible Grace, Randy Maddox describes a western viewpoint and an eastern viewpoint on original sin. “This term was used to refer to both the event of Adam and Eve using their self-determining power to turn away from God, and to the effects of this ‘Fall’ upon subsequent humanity.” (Maddox 74)
For most people within the Western Church, the teaching has predominantly been 1) all humans have “inherited” the guilt from the original sin and 2) God’s judgement will be upon us because we are depraved to the point that we can do little more than to sin. (MADDOX 74). Eastern churches have had a different understanding and teaching about original sin. Their teaching has been “the true significance of the Fall was our loss of the Spirit’s immediate Presence, resulting in the introduction of mortality into human life.” (MADDOX 74) John Wesley tended to favor the eastern church’s teaching on original sin, thus he began teaching about prevenient grace, grace that God gives to humanity even before we realize God’s presence with us and around us.
Now it is important to examine a couple reasons why people sin today. Two ideas seem to give good reasons why people sin and they come from two different people who lived roughly 150 years apart, Saint Augustine and Iranaeus. These two views also display the differences in the Western and Eastern Church teachings.
Justo Gonzalez and Zaida Maldonado Perez write about the differences in these two early church fathers. “The most common way of interpreting the story of the first temptation is that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be carried away by ambition when the serpent promised they would be ‘like God.’ In that case, pride is at the very root of evil.” (Gonzalez 69) This teaching is very much in line with the understanding of the Western Church today. This has been a dominate teaching since the time of Saint Augustine (AD 354-430)
Iranaeus (AD 200s) taught something that is in line with the Eastern Church’s understanding on sin. “Adam and Eve were already like God, who had made them after the divine image and likeness. Therefore, sin, is not in ambition, but rather in the lack of faith, in not believing what was already a reality, that they were “like God.” (Gonzales 69)
These two understandings and teachings help show how sin can come about in our day and age. If the root of all sin is pride, then the poor and oppressed people should stay exactly in the state they are in and should not aspire to have or be more. If the root of sin is forgetting the image of God in us, the poor and oppressed should demand respect and justice because they are like everyone else, made in the image of God. (Gonzalez 69)
In either case, the effects of sin are prevalent throughout all of creation. We see this throughout the Old Testament book of Genesis all the way through the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. The very next chapter after the Fall, in Genesis 3, we see the damage sin can do. “Missing the mark” for God’s perfect will for our lives can and does lead people down a path that they would not have gone. Pride and forgetting the image of God in humans is clearly evident when Cain murdered Abel over the offering sacrifice. Throughout the genealogical lines listed beginning in Genesis 4 through chapter 5, we see sin taking a stronger and stronger hold on the people.
The effect from original sin do not take away the free will Adam and Eve had in the beginning. People have had the choice to follow God or take their own path whether based on pride, or forgetting they are made in the image of God. The choice to follow God is evident within the story of Noah and is evident all the way through the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. With each story we read, God is gracious enough to find ways to cleanse the sin and give people chances to follow and know the One True God as their Creator.
The Grace of God came into full fruition through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God made flesh and dwelling among us. It was his life, death, and resurrection that shows us how serious sin is and how loving and gracious God is that our sin would be paid for through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
His was the perfect life that we should all aspire to live. Jesus lived and loved as God intended us to live and love like from the beginning. Lest we think this life was easy for Jesus, we can read of his life in the Gospels and remember the writer of Hebrews who wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
Sin does have lasting and damaging effects in our world. All we have to do is turn on the television to witness that. But, the beauty of it is, we do not have the last word on sin, God has the last word. God has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death that enslaved humans and makes us think we lack the freedom to not sin. Because of grace, we have the freedom to follow Jesus Christ and allow his grace and love to transform us.
Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.
González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print.
Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.
The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.