Christians: How does God respond to sin?
…one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:18
As we study sin, it is incredibly important that we see things, as much as possible, from the vantage point of God so as to identify with him over and above sinners, including ourselves. Human beings are sinners who commit cosmic treason in rebellion against their Creator and King. Theologian R. C. Sproul reminds us:
God voluntarily created us. He gave us the highest privilege of being His image bearers. . . . We are not turtles. We are not fireflies. We are not caterpillars or coyotes. We are people. We are the image bearers of the holy and majestic King of the cosmos. We have not used the gift of life for the purpose God intended. Life on this planet has become the arena in which we daily carry out the work of cosmic treason. . . . No traitor to any king or nation has even approached the wickedness of our treason before God. . . .When we sin as the image bearers of God, we are saying to the whole creation, to all of nature under our dominion, to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field: “This is how God is. This is how your Creator behaves. Look in his mirror; look at us, and you will see the character of the Almighty.” We say to the world, “God is covetous; God is ruthless; God is bitter; God is a murderer, a thief, a slanderer, an adulterer. God is all of these things that we are doing.”1
What would you do if you were God and were treated as he has been by sinners, in general, and as by our first parents, in particular? Would your first instinct be to act in grace toward sinners by pursuing them, speaking to them, teaching them, covering them, and promising them that the second member of the Trinity would come as the Last Adam to suffer and die at the hands of sinners for their salvation?2 The stunning account of Genesis shows a God that no one would ever have invented, because he does what no one ever could have predicted.
Following their sin, in Genesis 3:15 God preached the protoevangelion (meaning “first gospel”) to our first parents and promised the coming of Jesus, who would be harmed by Satan but would ultimately crush him and bring salvation to sinners though the Serpent’s strike would cost him his own life as our substitute. The Serpent was cursed for what he had done and was told he would be defeated one day by the “seed” of the woman, who is Jesus, according to Galatians 3:16.
God then gave consequences to the parties involved as consequence for their sin.3 The woman was given increased pain in childbirth, and God notes that she will struggle with the sinful tendency to rule over her husband rather than submit to his leadership as God intended.4 The greatest pains for women henceforth have been in relation to men with whom they are romantically involved and with children.
The man’s work that God gave him before he sinned became pain for him because God cursed the ground. This means that as men seek to work their jobs and pay their bills, they will continually be as frustrated with that which is supposed to be under their dominion as God is with the rebellious man who is likewise supposed to be under God’s dominion. In this toil, men are continually humbled as they learn how they too are rebellious under God’s authority.
God then dealt graciously and kindly with the man and woman even though they had sinned. God came to them, called to them, promised his Messiah, and lovingly clothed Adam and Eve to protect them. God also lovingly banished the couple from the garden and the tree of life so that they would not live forever in a state of sin.
Later in the storyline of the Bible, we learn that Jesus did in fact come to save people from their sins.5 He did this by becoming the one who succeeded where the first Adam failed.6 He died in our place for our sins and rose for our salvation. Amazingly, God not only judged sin in righteousness but then bore its penalty himself as an act of love; he offers forgiveness and reconciliation by grace even though he is the offended person against whom we have all sinned. In so doing, he remains perfectly perfect, and we are more wicked than we ever feared yet more loved than we ever hoped.
When we understand our sin biblically, we understand why we are prone to great evil and know why the world is not the way it should be. But by knowing that God made us in his image and likeness, we find the source of our dignity, value, and identity. By knowing of the fall and our state as sinners, we understand depravity as the root problem with our life and world. And by understanding the work of Jesus in our place for our sins, we enjoy the depth of God’s love for us, work in us, and eternal future with us as he restores us to the holy state from which we have fallen.
What most surprises you about how God responds to our sin?