What a Question!
Jesus and the disciples are walking through Jerusalem. They see a man, a blind beggar. None are surprised. They were used to his asking alms; born blind, that was his space. The disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
What a question!
Remember, the wages of sin is death. Sin is the transgression of the law. God’s law tells us what sin is; to sin is to act in the very opposite of God’s likeness. Whatever Jesus is like, sin is the opposite. There is antisin and sin, there is antirighteousness and righteousness; in other words, there is a controversy between Christ and Satan. There are two modes of behavior and only two: self-service or serving others.
If we misunderstand what sin is, we will misunderstand the controversy. If we comprehend what sin is, we can understand the controversy. When we better understand why Jesus died for us, we will better understand how to live for Him. The fundamental question in the controversy is, Can fallen men not sin?
If the Bible answers this question, all other questions will sort themselves out. If Jesus answers this question, we can prepare the way for His return. If the Scripture answers the question, we can all understand it. If the Bible does not answer the question, we’re left to rely on the theories of theologians and men trapped in idea-systems imposed onto the Scriptures.
Let’s begin today at a remarkable chapter in the gospel of John, John chapter nine.
Jesus Gives Sight
It was then widely believed that sin is punished in this life. All afflictions were understood to be the fault either of the sufferer himself or of his parents. For the man to have been born blind as a punishment, he would had to have been guilty of sinning in the womb. This raises the specter of not-yet-born-babies being guilty of sin.
Jesus’ answer to this question surprised His hearers. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (vs. 3). The cause of his blindness is not attributed by Jesus directly to the man’s parent’s or to his own sins. Jesus rejects personal guilt from those parties as the cause of this man’s malady.
The narrative in John nine has three main parts. Verses 1-12 have the question about sin and the man’s being born blind, Jesus anointing and curing the man, and clarifying who he is. Verses 13-34 include three interviews, first with the man born blind, then with his parents, then an additional interview with the man born blind. Finally, verses 35-41 have Jesus seeking out the man He had healed, finding him, revealing Himself to him, and a comment concerning revelation and spiritual blindness.
Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” There were, as usual, Pharisees, spies present, who were listening, and they asked Jesus, “Are we blind also?” Jesus replied, “If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘we see,’ therefore your sin remains.” Jesus came for judgment. But there is no judgment without facts to judge on. Jesus came to give sight to the blind, like the man He had just healed. But more particularly, He came to give sight to the blind who would be willing to see.
The blind do not always wish to see. People become trapped in dogmas. These can be our views about the way things work in the world or even theological dogmas. God could have left us with our dogmas. Don’t cast your pearls before pigs, right? Instead, He chose to call us up higher. He challenges us; He seeks to deliver us from our dogmas because truth sets free and He is a God of truth. He sends His Spirit of truth to interact with us. The Pharisee who asked, “Are we [we Pharisees] blind also?” was not speaking of literal blindness, but spiritual blindness. Jesus’ answer made him think, and it should make us think.
Jesus said, “If you were blind you would have no sin.” This is a very important statement. Sin that condemns does not bring guilt to us unless there is an acting-out against God. If you don’t know something is opposed to God’s will, you are not condemned for doing it. But Jesus came to this world for judgment. So He came with the mission of revealing what truth is. Once we know what is truth, then we have a choice; do the truth, or rebel against the truth. Jesus came to clarify for us what God’s will is. The Pharisee rightly guessed that Jesus was speaking about spiritual truth.
“But now you say we see, therefore your sin remains.” The Pharisees claimed to have God’s spiritual insight. They claimed to be conduits for His spiritual truth. But they weren’t doing His spiritual truth. They rejected Him as Messiah. And so, Jesus was clear, “therefore, your sin remains.” Not, “You’re mistake remains,” but “your sin remains.” They should have known the truth, they were spiritually responsible to teach truth. They were not at fault for a simple misunderstanding, but for being clearly shown the truth and then intentionally rejecting that truth. Therefore their sin remained. Their reaction to God’s truth was to rebel against it. They were making a choice; they were sinning. They were choosing blindness. Jesus says it over again at John 15:22:
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
Jesus came to show who chooses to see and who chooses to be blind. In the gospel of John, John told us something important right near the beginning of his book. He said that Jesus was, “that true light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). I say again, blindness--spiritual blindness--is chosen.
Men aren’t normal any more; they haven’t been normal since the Fall. We need to be reborn from above; until then we have a strange love of darkness. We love darkness in the personal area and in the impersonal area. God wants to cure us of both.
There is personal sin; Jesus often tells people “go and sin no more.” But there are also broader effects of sin--diseases, maladies, warped creation. Every venomous snake and insect, every disease and thorn and thistle, exists only because Adam and Eve sinned and the creation was warped. When they chose to rebel against God, the human race was impacted. The relation between our faculties of desire, will, and the rational thought process was disordered. Now humans were fallen, damaged goods, not operating as designed. Created outward-focused, men were now inward or self-focused.
Sin impacts lives both directly and indirectly. The results of our choices impact entire communities. If a man carelessly lights a cigarette in a chemical factory, he may set off an explosion that kills himself and hundreds of coworkers. He might be the only negligent party; 200 others might have scrupulously observed safety precautions, but after an explosion all may be dead. Why would anyone smoke? It’s a practice in the fallen world. Why would anyone smoke in a chemical factory? This would only happen in a fallen world. There is personal guilt from intentional choices to rebel, and there are other phenomenon which result as damage in a fallen world.
Adam and Eve in their humanity lacked nothing. There was no blindness or genetic defect. God gave them everything they needed in physical equipment. The one thing He could not give them was authentic personal experience. Experience is gained only by the execution of a series of choices made across time--something Adam and Eve, due to the fact that they were only recently created, had not had opportunity to accomplish.
The Contest: Unfallen or Fallen Obedience?
Not only is it interesting that Adam and Eve unfallen fell, but that when Satan came among the sons and daughters of God, in all his smirking and trouble-making, God confronted him with the claim that a fallen man--Job--was able to obey God and do right. Satan countered with the argument that no, Job could not obey him (Job 1:11, 22; 2:3-4, 10).
It is equally important that when Jesus took human nature, He “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Jesus came sharing the same flesh and blood as us (Hebrews 2:14), the seed of Abraham (a fallen man) (2:16), and even as one who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15).
Clearly, Jesus came to show obedience in fallen flesh which is exactly our case. How we understand what sin is impacts our entire view of the controversy between good and evil, the atonement, what is possible, what is expected, and for what the universe presently is waiting.
Making Yahweh Hard to Trust
At every turn Satan’s goal is to paint God as capricious so that we will not trust Him, so that we will fear an arbitrary and hard-to-love deity. Jesus came close and this the devils cannot abide, so they make obedience hard and God harder. They make perfection an impossible goal so that God is viewed as harsh and unfair.
This is what the question of what sin is is about. How can we trust a God who condemns us for elements which are outside our control? How can we trust a God who demands obedience when fallen men can only sin?
Sin in the New Testament
Here are four lists of words used in the New Testament. In each case I have listed every usage by the eight authors of the New Testament. If we have time at the end we can look at any of these passages you may choose for added insight:
All New Testament Occurrences
Matthew 1.21; 3.6; 5.29-30; 9.2, 5-6; 12.31; 18.6, 8, 9, 15, 21; 26.28
Mark 1.4-5; 2.5, 7, 9-10; 3.28; 4.12; 9.43, 45, 47
Luke Luke 1.77; 3.3; 5.20-21, 23-24; 7.47-49; 11.4; 17.3-4; 24.47
Acts 2.38; 3.19; 5.31; 7.60; 10.43; 13.38; 22.16; 26.18
John John 1.29; 5.14; 8.7, 11, 21, 24, 34, 46; 9.34, 41; 15.22; 16.8-9; 19.11; 20.23
1 John 1.7-9; 2.1-2, 12; 3.4-6, 8-9; 4.10; 5.16-18
Revelation 1.5; 18.4-5
Paul Romans 3.9, 20, 25; 4.7-8; 5.12, 13, 20, 21; 6.1, 2, 6, 7, 10-18, 20, 22, 23; 7.7-9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 23, 25; 8.2-3, 10; 11.27; 14.23
1 Corinthians 6.18; 7.36; 8.12; 15.3, 17, 34, 56
2 Corinthians 5.21; 11.7
Galatians 1.4; 2.17; 3.22
Ephesians 1.7; 2.1; 4.26
1 Thessalonians 2.16
2 Thessalonians 2.3
1 Timothy 5.22, 24
2 Timothy 3.6
Hebrews 1.3; 217; 3.13; 4.15; 5.1, 3; 7.27; 8.12; 9.7, 26, 28; 10.2-4, 6, 8, 11-12, 17-18, 26; 11.25; 12.1, 4; 13.11
James 1.15; 2.9; 4.17; 5.15, 20
Peter 1 Peter 2.22, 24; 3.18; 4.1, 8
2 Peter 1.9; 2.14
Matthew 15.2-3, 28-29
Luke Luke 15.29; 22.37
John 2 John 9
Paul Romans 2.27; 4.15; 5.14
Galatians 2.18; 3.19
1 Timothy 2.14
Hebrews 2.2; 9.15
James 2.9, 11
Luke Luke 13.27
Acts 1.18; 8.23
Paul 1 Corinthians 13.6
2 Timothy 2.19
Peter 2 Peter 2.16
Matthew 5.11, 37, 39, 45; 6.13; 7.11; 9.4; 12.34, 35, 39; 15.19; 20.15; 24.48; 27.23
Mark 3.4; 7.21;-23; 9.39; 15.14
Luke Luke 6.9, 22, 35, 45; 7.21; 8.2; 11.4, 13, 29; 16.25; 23.22
Acts 17.5; 19.1, 9, 12-13, 15-16; 23.5, 9; 28.21
John John 3.19-20; 5.29; 7.7, 15; 18.23
1 John 3.12
2 John 11
3 John 11
Paul Romans 1.19, 30; 2.9; 3.8; 7.8, 19, 21; 9.11; 12.9, 17, 21; 13.3-4; 14.16-20; 16.19;
1 Corinthians 5.13; 10.6, 30; 13.5; 15.33
2 Corinthians 6.8; 13.7
Ephesians 4.31; 5.16; 6.13
1 Thessalonians 5.15, 22
2 Thessalonians 3.3
1 Timothy 6.4, 10
2 Timothy 3.14, 18
Titus 1.12; 2.8; 3.2
Hebrews 3.12; 5.14; 10.22
James 1.13; 2.4; 3.8, 16; 4.11, 16
Peter 1 Peter 2.1; 3.9-12, 17; 4.4
2 Peter 2.10, 12
Jude 8, 10
I’ve addressed several of the main Old Testament texts which help us understand sin in other places, but I thought today we would put some focus on His New Testament revelations.
The first thing to notice is that the New Testament begins (Matthew 1:21) with the fact that Jesus’ whole mission is to save His people from their sins. They are not Jesus’ sins but their sins, and that means they are our sins, and that means that my sins are my sins. And Jesus comes freely to save us from ourselves. He offers this gift to everyone, but He does not enforce its acceptance. He will not act for me, choose for me. He offers His atonement for me, but He does not force me to embrace it.
We are free to make our own choices about sin. I know there are those who teach that we cannot overcome, but the Bible teaches us differently. I agree with this author, Ellen White, who writes that, Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ, there is the highest sense of freedom. The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself (The Desire of Ages, p. 466).
So there is a power source and a decision source. The power source is God. The decision source is the individual. The same question confronts all of us: will I surrender to Christ, or will I not? Will I choose freedom in the highest sense, or will I refuse freedom in the highest sense?
God gives the choice to me, and the expulsion of sin, if I choose it, is my act. I’m not saved because I act, but I am saved because when I choose, God’s power acts for me. I am saved by His power, but because the choice to sin or not is my choice, its expulsion is my act. He lets me own that act.
Acts 3:19 and 26:18
Here is another interesting New Testament text on sin. Acts 3:19:
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
When God forgives sin, He blots it out. When people repent and are converted, sin is removed. Jesus came to save His people from their sins--completely. In the work in the wilderness sanctuary the work of the priest did not end at the altar just inside the courtyard. The sinner confessed his sins with his hands on the sacrifice. The priest caught the blood of the sacrifice and took it into the tent, the holy places. And at the end of the year when the sanctuary was cleansed, sin was atoned for in the most holy place and its record transferred to the scapegoat and removed from the camp. The sin was blotted out, the camp was cleansed.
God’s plan was always to utterly remove, utterly blot out, utterly eradicate sin. Refreshing comes from the presence of the Lord Jesus, our sacrifice, our great High Priest.
Luke tells us more in Acts 26:18. His plan is to
Open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.
The “Me” in this statement is Jesus Himself. Luke is repeating what Jesus told Paul at his Damascus road conversion. Jesus did not just come to sign someone’s legal papers. He came to “open their eyes,” the eyes of everyone willing to give up their blindness. He came to turn them from darkness to light. This fits in again with Jesus giving sight to the blind. The blind are in literal darkness, and the spiritually blind are in a mental and emotional blindness. Jesus came to give mental and emotional sight.
He came to turn men from the power of Satan to the power of God. Men who are under the power of Satan are slaves to sin. Men who are under the power of God are slaves to righteousness. Look it up at Romans chapter six. A man who is under the power of God fights against sin; he resists in God’s power. When a man resists in God’s power, He is victorious in God’s power.
Those who receive forgiveness of sins receive also an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. Sanctified means made holy. Men and women are made holy by exercising faith in Jesus. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Getting close to Jesus means getting holy.
Have you thought about the promise in Revelation 1:5b-6:
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This is a doxology, a giving of glory and praise to God. What it says about sin especially helps us. He loved us and washed us. What happens when you wash? You remove dirt and other substances which made you dirty. We are even told what He washed us from: our sins. What solvent did He use? His own blood. What stems from the cross is sin removal, nothing less. He died on the cross. He gave His life an offering for sin. He accomplished there a perfect offering of atonement. He is the sacrifice; He is the priest ministering the sacrifice. He is the great Atonement Maker.
What solvent could there be in the universe stronger to cleanse from sin than the blood of Jesus?
Can fallen man not sin? The Bible is clear. Jesus came to save us from our sins. He told people to go and sin no more. He blots out our sin. He changes us from the power of Satan to the power of God. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He washed us from our sins in His own blood. How could the Bible be any clearer that fallen men need not sin, cannot sin when they stand in the power of Jesus. Times of refreshing are available from the Lord. We are in the time for the outpouring of the latter rain. That time is now. We can receive the refreshing, the cleansing, of God.
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