Contemplating Corruption: Why Study the Biblical Doctrine of Sin?
Perhaps the most universally acknowledged reality apart from death is the presence of moral evil in the world. Virtually every religion, philosophy, and society acknowledges some defect in the nature of man. This defect is often discussed in literature, on the 6:00 news, and in the coffee shop. It’s not only found in prisons, but it’s also found on elementary school playgrounds. It’s committed by young and old, by male and female, by rich and poor, by atheist and religious. I’m speaking of the universal reality of what the Bible calls “sin.” According to Scripture, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
I plan to write a few brief posts on the subject of “sin.” In particular, I want to reflect on the nature of sin. What is sin? How shall we describe it to others? First, however, I’d like to underscore the importance and relevance of such a topic for our consideration: Why should we study the biblical doctrine of sin?
Our Society Is Losing a Proper Understanding of Sin.
In 1973 a psychiatrist named Karl Menninger published a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? In that book, Dr. Menninger describes the subtle replacement of the word “sin” with such words as “crime,” “short-coming” or “sickness.” Menninger writes,
It was about the turn of the century that a new social philosophy and a new code of morality, as it seemed, began to manifest itself all over the earth…. Sins had become crimes and now crimes were becoming illnesses; in other words whereas the police and judges had taken over from the clergy, the doctors and psychologists were now taking over from the police and judges (pp. 38-45).
Do you see his point? Society has taken sin out of the ethical-religious realm and transferred it to the physical-genetic realm. We no longer need preachers calling men to repent. Instead we need doctors and psychiatrists who can prescribe the right pill. As Menninger’s book demonstrates, our society desperately needs to recover a biblical concept of sin.
Even Believers Can Lose Sight of the Nature of Their Sin.
Even as believers, we still have that remaining tendency to excuse our sin—perhaps not on a doctrinal level but on a more practical level. On a doctrinal level, we sing with great conviction, “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” We confess that “all our righteous deeds are but filthy rags.”
However, when a brother takes us aside after the service to address some particular sin in our life, then our theology seems to change! All of a sudden, we’re not so wretched after all. On a more practical and personal level, we tend to view our sin too lightly. We tend to find excuses to minimize it. For this reason, we need to go back to Scripture and occasionally remind ourselves of how God’s word depicts our sin.
The Better We Understand Our Sin the More We’ll Appreciate God’s Grace.
Why did most of religious leaders of Jesus’ day fail to recognize Him as their Messiah and Savior? There are many ways we might answer that question. But one way we might answer it is to say that the Pharisees rejected Christ because they did not see the true nature of their own sin.
When Jesus tried to convince them of their spiritual “blindness,” they assured him that they could see. Therefore, Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore, your sin remains” (John 9:41). In other words, they did not experience the power of cleansed heart because they did not think their heart needed to be cleansed.
So it is with you and me. We will never appreciate God’s grace in the gospel until we first appreciate our desperate need for God’s grace in the gospel. The more we appreciate the nature and gravity of our sin the more glorious and attractive will be the grace offered to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These are some reasons we should contemplate our moral and spiritual corruption. In a subsequent series, we’ll consider some biblical perspectives on the nature of sin.