Robert Jeffress - What Every Christian Should Know About Sin
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". The world, as we know it, is a far cry from the Garden of Eden. Corruption and greed run rampant on a global scale as each individual battles hardship and tragedy. How did it come to this? Well, today I'm going to share how sin entered the world and took residence in every human heart. My message is titled "What Every Christian Should Know About Sin," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Have you ever noticed how words have changed in their meaning over time? For example, it may surprise you to know that the word "naughty" used to mean "without financial resources". "Although he was wealthy, because he was reckless in his spending, he became naughty," hah. Or the word "awful", actually used to mean "awesome," "to be worthy of all". "Helen of Troy possessed an awful beauty". It might surprise you to know that the word "nice" used to mean "unintelligent," "ignorant". "I would never trust him to make a right decision because he's too nice". But perhaps no word in human language has been transformed more over time than the word "human". The word "human," for a brief moment in history, used to mean "the pinnacle of God's crowning achievement".
That was Genesis 1 and 2. Then came Genesis 3. Suddenly, the word "human" became a catchall phrase for every human weakness you can imagine. "I should've resisted her invitation to go back to her place, but, after all, I'm just human". "Sorry, I unloaded on you with my anger, but it was just my human nature". "Don't put me on a pedestal. Don't put him on a pedestal. After all, we're only human". The poet Alexander Pope said, "To err is human". How do you explain that drastic, sudden change in our understanding of what it means to be human? It's through an event we're going to look at today.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis chapter 2. We're in a series called "What Every Christian Should Know," and we're looking at the ten core beliefs of historic Christianity, and today we've come to the study of what theologians call "hamartiology," "the study of sin," and you're gonna hear me say this several times: What you believe about sin determines what you believe about salvation. And that's why this sixth pillar of Christianity is so important.
Now, I wanted to divide up today's message in a way that perhaps you'll remember. We're gonna, first of all, look at the way we were, the way things used to be in God's plan. Then we're gonna talk about the way it ended, and now the way it is for each one of us, and then we're gonna end on a note of hope about the way it can be. Now let's look, first of all, at the way we were. In the first two chapters of Genesis, you see God's creation firing on all cylinders. Everything's working perfectly. God created the earth and the stars and the planets and the birds and the animals, and he said it was good, and then, on the sixth day, he created man, and he said, "It is very good," and then he created woman and said, "It's even better", uh, well, that's in the Hebrew text. You probably don't know that. But it's close to that. That's the idea. Everything was good.
In Genesis 1:28, Moses writes, "God blessed them, Adam and Eve, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.'" May I point out to you that God created man to subdue the earth, to be Lord over the earth. He never meant for creation to be Lord over man. Now, that doesn't mean we don't take care of the environment and be good stewards of it. In fact, in Genesis 2:15, then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it, to keep it. We're to be good stewards of the environment, but we never forget the environment is for our benefit. We're not here for the benefit of the environment. God said, "I want you to be partners with me. I created the world. Now you keep it". And there was just a perfect ecosystem going on between creation and man. Everything was in balance between man and nature and God.
How did it end? Genesis chapter 3. Before we get to chapter 3, I want you to notice in chapter 2, verses 16 and 17, "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die.'" Some people say, "Well, wait a minute. Why did God put that tree there as a temptation if he knew man was going to fall? Why would he do that"? It was in order to glorify God, to honor God. One writer uses this analogy: "Imagine you're walking down the beach with your mate, and you see somebody of your same sex who has a great physique and is scantily clad, and you notice other people are looking at him or her, and you're interested in what your mate's response is going to be. And your mate gives a glance to that person of his or her opposite sex, and then she directs all of her attention back to you. He or she has honored you and your marriage by refusing temptation".
It was the same way with Adam and Eve in the garden. Every day they walked past that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and every day they didn't stop and disobey God. They honored God, until they didn't. And that's what we find in Genesis chapter 3. Here's how it all happened: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made". You know, Satan was the original magician. You know what magicians do? Their whole shtick is based on distraction, and that's what Satan did. He said, "Instead of focusing on all of God's blessings, let's focus on this one restriction". "And so he said to the woman, 'Indeed, has God said, "You shall not eat from the tree of the garden"?' And the woman affirmed that, 'Yes, that's what he said, "You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die".' Then the serpent said, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you'll be like God, knowing good from evil.'"
First of all, he causes the woman to doubt God's word. "Has God really said"? He uses the same tactic today. We'll look at that in a moment. But then he caused Eve to doubt God's character. "There's a reason God told you, 'No,' to this tree. He's trying to withhold something good from you. God is a cosmic killjoy, and the ultimate party pooper. He will do everything he can to make your life absolutely miserable". He's successful in doing it, and verse 6, says, "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and it was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate".
Have you ever wondered why Adam gets blamed for this sin when it was his wife who committed the first sin? Have you ever wondered why Scripture credits this to Adam and not to Eve? It's interesting. Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, makes a distinction between Eve's sin and Adam's sin. They were both sins. They both sinned. But Paul said it was not Adam who was deceived but the woman, being quite deceived, fell into the transgression of the devil. Eve was wrong. She sinned, but she was deceived by the serpent. Adam knew better. His sin was a blatant rebellion against God. And in Romans 5, verse 12, we find the result of Adam and Eve's sin: "Therefore, just as through one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned".
Sin entered the world. Death came through sin. That word, "death," "thanatos," means "separation". It's not only physical death, the separation of the body from the spirit, but spiritual death. Man's spirit, because of sin, was forever separated from God, "and so death spread to all men because all sinned". From one man, Adam, sin spread to everybody. Everybody who's ever lived has inherited this sin virus. You know what the proof of that is? The fact that we die. Death, physical death, is proof we have inherited the sin virus.
Now, let me ask you, who dies? Only the unrighteous? No. What we consider righteous people. Do only mature adults die? No. Babies die. The fact is, all of humanity dies because all of humanity has inherited the sin virus, and why did we inherit the sin virus? Because he says, "all sinned". When Adam sinned, we all sinned. Notice, it doesn't say, "because we all sin". We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we're sinners. We all have inherited that defective operating system, if you will. Now, other people say, "It's just unfair. It's unfair, because of one person's sin, everybody should be counted as guilty. That's just not fair".
Paul has an answer to that so-called unfairness in Romans 5:16-17. He said, if you wanna see something more unfair than that, just think about Jesus Christ. The only thing more unfair than all people being held guilty for one man's sin is for everybody's sin to cause one innocent man to be found guilty. The only thing more unfair than being held responsible for Adam's sin is to be made forgiven by Christ's righteousness. That's what he's saying in verses 16 and 17: "For the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned, Adam, for on the one hand the judgment arose from the one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification". Now get this verse 17: "For if by the transgression of the one, that is, sin, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign through Jesus Christ".
You know, you don't have to do anything to inherit Adam's sin. You just have to be born. But the gift from God is not like the curse. You don't automatically become a Christian by Christ's death for you. Notice, verse 7, says that gift is for "those who receive", underline that word, "who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness". This is the picture of how sin entered the world, how we became separated from God. Remember what I said, what you believe about sin determines what you believe about salvation. The Bible says we're not just defective or diseased. We are spiritually dead. We are in horrible shape, and because of that, we need a radical solution to our problem. Let me show you just how bad it is, the way it is because of the way it ended. What is the spiritual condition of every person who's ever lived?
Look at Romans 3, verses 10 through 12. Paul says, "As it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together, they have become useless. There is not one who does good, not even one.'" Paul uses the phrase "no one," "none," six times in three verses. He's talking about the utter depravity of the human race. The theologian J. Dwight Pentecost has a good word on this. He said, "The total depravity of man doesn't mean that we're all as bad as we could be. It means we're all as bad off as we could be". We're all separated from God because even the good things we do have been corrupted, polluted by sin. If you want a manifestation of what God thinks of our goodness and how he views us, listen to God's description of the world right before the flood in Genesis 6:5. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually".
That's how God looks at mankind. Everything we do, everything we think is only evil continually. Let's look in depth at the spiritual X-ray, what Paul says. First of all, he says, "No one is righteous, not even one". Now, that word, "righteous," means "to be in a right standing with God". He said, "There's not one person who is righteous in a right standing". Again, we have trouble with this because we say, "Well, you know, there's a great difference in human beings". Yes, on page six of the newspaper, we read about a man who murdered his three small children and his wife, but then we turn to page seven, and here's a fireman who heroically saved a group of children from a burning building. There's a great difference between human beings. That difference between human beings is considerable, but in God's eyes, it's negligible. "Not one righteous". Secondly, there's nobody who understands. There's no one who understands the things of God.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, "A natural man doesn't accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him". The smartest people in the world stumble over the gospel because they're natural. They do not understand. And then, thirdly, "There's no one who seeks for God," Paul said. "There's none who seeks for God". Now, if ever the Bible is wrong, surely, it's here. "Pastor, how can you say nobody seeks for God? People everywhere are searching for God. There are thousands of religions in the world. That is a proof of people searching for God. It's a proof of man's inherent righteousness, right"? Not what the Bible says. The fact that there are many religions, many approaches to God, is not a sign of man's righteousness but a sign of his unrighteousness.
Romans 1, says every person has been given an instinctive knowledge of the one true God, but when they reject that knowledge, they create their own gods, gods to their liking that they can follow after. What does all this mean about our human condition? Let me get it down to where it affects you and me. Tip O'Neill said, one time, "All politics is local". So is all theology. What does it mean, to me, the fact that I am utterly depraved, and I am unrighteous before God? Leaves us with a problem. First of all, on one hand, we have a holy God. The Bible describes God, Isaiah 6:3, as "Holy, holy, holy". That word means "separate," "different," "a cut above". God is a cut above. He is different from all of his creation. He has no sin in him. Habakkuk 1:13, says about God, "For Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor".
Now, let's be honest. Sometimes, we think, "What's the big deal about sin with God? Why does he get so exorcised over sin? Why can't he chill out a little bit? Why can't he be more loving and forgiving as I can? I mean, I can tolerate sinners. Why can't he"? Again, our tolerance for sin is no mark of righteousness. It's because we're unrighteous. We're sinners. We don't mind hanging around sin. In fact, in some ways, we feel more comfortable around sinners. God's not like we are. He can't turn the other way. He cannot allow sin to go un-judged. He cannot look on wickedness with favor, and that means a holy God, sinful man, there is a great chasm, a separation between God and us.
Again, Isaiah talked about that in Isaiah 6:59, verse 2, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God. Your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear". There's this chasm, this separation between God and us. Now, again, we try to write that off. We'll say, "Okay, I admit I'm not perfect. I'm not as close to God as the apostles, Peter and James and John. I'm not as close as Jesus's mother, Mary, or even maybe Saint Teresa. I'm just not that close, but I'm not as bad as these other people over here". Again, it's an illusion. We don't recognize how vast that gulf is between God and us. That's what Paul meant when he said in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God".
What does this all mean? It means only God is capable of spanning that chasm between a holy God and a sinful man. Again, going back to Alexander Pope, "To err is human, to forgive is divine". Forgiveness is a part of the heart of God. Romans 5:8, says, "But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, He sent Christ to die for us". And you see that heart of forgiveness in the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 3, verse 7, after Adam and Eve sinned, what happened? "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings". They felt that guilt immediately, and their first instinct was to cover over it themselves. They sewed together fig leaves to try to hide their nakedness. It didn't do the job. They still felt guilty, and so they went, and they hid from God. There's nothing we can do to cover our guilt. No matter what we do to cover over our guilt, there's always a draft blowing that we feel. We always feel the guilt. And so what happened? God met them in the garden, and verse 21, of chapter 3, says, "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and he clothed them".
Did you know this is the very first death in human history when God killed an animal to take the skin and to cover Adam and Eve? He was teaching all of us two important lessons: First of all, only God can provide a covering for man's sin, and, secondly, that covering involves something innocent dying for something guilty. It was a picture of what the Lord Jesus Christ would do for us one day. You know, outside of the Bible, I think the most vivid description in the literature of the power and reality of sin is found in Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart". Do you remember that, studying that in school? It was a short story about a man who thought he had committed the perfect murder. He took the corpse of the old man he had murdered and hid it under the floorboards of his house and thought he had gotten away with murder.
One small problem: He kept hearing the faint beating of a human heart. At first, it didn't bother him. The police came. The beating heart didn't bother him at first. He was able to ignore him, but that beating got louder and louder and louder until that heartbeat drove him to madness and to confession. Every one of us, whether we're Christians or non-Christians, we have that realization of our guilt, our sin. It's not through a beating human heart. It's the beating of God's Holy Spirit. He keeps reminding us, we have sinned, we have sinned, we have sinned, and the purpose of God's Holy Spirit, his relentless beating, is not to drive us to madness. It's to drive us to confession and God's forgiveness. That's the truth about sin.