How Deep the Problem

The results of Genesis 3 are evident every day.  This world is a sin-stained place.  Yesterday in church we were praying for some friends 7000 miles away who were robbed and shot.  Of course crime is not only a foreign problem, it strikes closer to home too.  Sin is lawlessness, and crime will remain an unsolvable problem this side of Christ’s return.

But sin goes deeper than that.  While many have avoided overt acts of lawlessness at some level (usually pointing just to the “worse” sins of murder, adultery, etc.), it is stunningly convicting to read the sermon on the mount and discover that sin thought, or sin pondered, is sin committed. How many crimes have been committed in our minds?  Sin is lawlessness on a level no human court can ever prosecute.

But sin is more than that.  We used to live in a small complex of apartments in America.  At times I wondered if we’d stumbled into a religious commune.  Five major religions and cults represented in six apartments! Now if sin is just about criminality and lawlessness, we would become uncomfortable with biblical teaching on the exclusivity of Christ.  These people were the best of neighbours!  But the Bible calls them sinners.  Why?  Because sin is also Christlessness.  Apart from trusting in Christ all people are continuing to trust in something else, and that false trust may not be manifested in crime and gross sin, but rather in pseudo-righteousness and nice-ness.

It is important for us to realise and to teach others in our churches that sin is not just the obvious and bad stuff.  The many manifestations of sin are the diverse fruit of a root problem.  It is not merely a matter of action (or non-action . . . as in sins of commission or sins of omission), or even a matter of secret thoughts, sin is a matter of placed trust.

I find it helpful to recognise what happened in Genesis 3 was not simply the taking of forbidden fruit.  It was the pondering of rebellion.  Deeper than that, it was the distrust of God’s word, of His character, of His heart.  What happened there was not just the seminal crime, but the absolute breakdown of relationship.  It was about the orientation of our innermost being.  At the fall, humanity went from being like God, completely others’-centred, to being fatally flawed.  We became in-curved.  Our world became a world of sin because of lawlessness, because of Godlessness, because of me-ful-ness.

When we journey a little from the surface issues of sin to the root issue we discover, as I think Randy Alcorn put it, “The heart of the human problem is the human heart.”

Surely this leads to several applicational thoughts:

1. It helps us to see that the good-doing religious neighbour is as lost as the perverse criminal being sensationalised in the newspaper (“righteous” acts can genuinely be as filthy rags).

2. If sin, at its core, is me-ful-ness, then it brings a sobering conviction on me for the “righteous” sins in church world – wanting things my way, pursuing my own desires, building my own reputation, competing with others to look spiritual, desiring my own comfort.

3. If the deep problem of sin is pondered biblically, then it must stir a response from deep in my heart to the grace of God demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross.  Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine . . .


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4 Responses to How Deep the Problem

  1. paulD November 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Wow. Great post. I think of this doctrine so often and sometimes have had the following thoughts –

    -Praise God that every breach of God’s law does not incur the punishment by man’s law enforcement. I would have been in prison years ago and still there now.
    -How can people say they haven’t sinned in x amount of months or years. Obviously this reveals a gross misunderstanding of this doctrine.
    -How can God be so gracious with me as I, in thought, word or deed, constantly break his law and sin, even IN CHRIST!

    He is good, His love endures forever!

  2. Shannon Cockrell November 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    Great Post! Very thought-provoking

  3. Esther Dexter November 23, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    Thanks for provoking post and thought. I look at Romans 7:14-25 and read the conflict Paul had with sin and we know what a man of God he was and how wonderfully he was used by God. I don’t have to look any further than my own heart and sometimes it seems the older we get the more of a struggle it is! I’m glad God knew it would be such a deep problem and we have a moment by moment way of escape – confession – and One who speaks to the Father in our defense. Oh for greater love and appreciation for all that God has accomplished and provided for us!

  4. DUANE WATTS November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    A good and timely reminder Peter, as understanding the depth of my sin and the greatness of His sacrifice, because of His love for me, I have to be grateful to Him.
    My favorite nontraditional rendition of this English hymn also comes from your UK.
    Not known in the US, Iona’s long version of “When I Survey” opens in “While my guitar gently weeps” fashion,
    to me, very well dramatizes your last sentence: