‘Sin,’ what is it? Every religion in the world uses the word ‘sin’. But, I think, it is true to say that in the minds of many human beings, who are religious, there is no understanding of what it is. Even those who read the Bible, if you ask them, ‘What is sin, really,’ they don’t understand. Just as when we understand the sickness, we can find the cure, so do we when we understand sin.
The Bible speaks about how the first man and woman, whom God created, sinned. Essentially, they sinned because they did not believe that God was a good God, who loved them, who gave commands for their good. God had placed them in a garden where He told them they could eat anything; they could do anything except one thing – they were not to eat of a particular tree. There God wanted to test their obedience. And not only to test their obedience but also to give them an opportunity to choose what was right; to say no to what was wrong, and thereby develop character. We read in Genesis 3 how that Satan came into that garden and tempted Adam and Eve to do what God told them not to. He tempted them by telling them that they could get certain advantages if they ate of that tree. They were told they would be like God – ‘you will develop your personality.’
That is how Satan always comes. When Satan tempts people to do something wrong, he never tells them about the consequences. When Satan tempts a person to take his first alcoholic drink, he does not tell him how he will finally become enslaved to alcoholic drinks; become a drunkard, waste his money, destroy his family, bring poverty into his home, and how his wife and children will suffer. He doesn’t tell him all that. He just says, ‘You will get a kick out of it.’ When he tempts some young person to take drugs, he doesn’t tell that person how finally he will destroy his mind, destroy his life. He will probably have a premature death, he will lose all his money, he will probably become a thief finally because he would want more and more money with his insatiable craving for drugs. The devil won’t tell him all that. He will just tell him how he is going to enjoy himself if he takes a little of these forbidden drugs and that he will get a kick out of it.
It was exactly like that when Satan came to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There we have an example of how he comes to all human beings today, telling them what they can gain. When he tells a man to steal, he doesn’t tell him about all the potential dangers; about how he could be locked up in jail, he could have children grow up following his example and be thieves, etc. No, he just tells of that immediate prospect of gaining some money. In the same way with adultery, Satan doesn’t tell people about the consequences, but only the immediate pleasure. Remember this thing: whenever you are tempted, temptation always offers a certain forbidden pleasure. But if you are sensible, you will think of the consequences. A sensible man always thinks about the future, not just about the immediate present. He thinks what is going to be the result of my action? And if you think about the results of your action, there are many things you will not do.
Animals don’t normally think about the results of their actions, though some animals do. There are many animals which are sensible, more sensible than human beings. But very often animals don’t know the consequences of their actions, but we do. We have seen around us so many examples of people who have destroyed themselves by wrong actions. Adam and Eve took a very important decision that day that produced lifelong consequences, not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren and all their descendants. From that we should learn one thing, that all the decisions we take in life produce consequences; we have to reap what we sow. That is what the Bible says. Many a times, it is not only we who will have to suffer, our children also will have to reap what we sow. The same works the other way too. If you sow what is good, your children are going to reap the good fruit of what you sow.
In Adam’s case, he and his wife were sent out of God’s presence from that garden for the rest of their lives. So don’t think that the little choices that you make in your life are unimportant, and that you will never reap a harvest in your future of what you are sowing today. It is not true. I mean, the devil will blind you and make you think that such things will not happen. But they will. We considered in an earlier study as to why does God want us to be tempted? – So that our character may develop. He doesn’t want robots. He doesn’t want inanimate beings that just go automatically according to certain laws of nature. He wants us to be moral beings that choose to do what is good. That is the only way we can be children of God. There is no virtue in choosing what is good unless there is an alternative choice which is also attractive.
See, when Adam and Eve were put into that garden, if God had made that forbidden tree ugly, repulsive, full of thorns and thistles, and in every way hideous, would Adam and Eve ever have been tempted to go near it? But we read in the Bible that the tree was very attractive. It made Adam and Eve’s mouths water; they longed to eat of it. Temptation has to be attractive for it to be a temptation. Otherwise, it is not temptation. If you find something in the world unattractive, you will never be tempted by it. Character is developed through temptation that is attractive and yet which you know is wrong and you are resisting and saying no to it. That is what it is to be a moral being.
That is why God has allowed many things in the world to be attractive. Some of those things are forbidden, for example, an attractive woman who is not your wife. You are not to lust after her, you are not to admire her beauty. It will destroy you. It will destroy your marriage relationship. Money is attractive, but if you place money above God and pursue after money to the exclusion of God – like many people do – your life will be destroyed. So everything we do, every decision we take is like sowing a seed from that comes the harvest.
Now let us look at the sin of Adam and Eve. God loved them. He gave them their bodies, gave them health, gave them life, gave them a garden, and gave them each other. They should have thought, ‘Well, God is so good. He will give everything good for us. If he forbids us from partaking something, it must be with a very good reason.’ If they had that faith, they would not have gone astray. But they lost faith in God. They did not believe that God was good when Satan told them that God did not want them to be like Him: ‘There is some reason why He did not allow you to eat from this tree; He doesn’t want you to develop.’ They believed that lie, and it is when people believe the lie of Satan that they fall into sin.
Sin begins with unbelief in the perfect love of God. That leads to disobedience. That is why, in the Bible, faith in God and obedience to his commandments are linked always close together. And unbelief and disobedience to God’s commandments also go together. Disobedience is the fruit of unbelief, just like obedience is the fruit of faith. If I believe, for example, that everything that God has forbidden will harm me, I will be very happy to avoid all of them. Why? Because I believe that God is a good God. And whatever God tells me to do, if I believe that it is really for my good, I would obey. So, when I don’t have faith in God’s love, I sin. That is unbelief which leads to sin.
Consider our children, for example, when we tell them to go to school. When they are small, say, 4 or 5 years old, they are not eager to go to school; we have to force them. And sometimes they go weeping to school, perhaps thinking that daddy and mommy are so hard; they are forcing me to go to school; they don’t allow me to sit at home and play. But we know what is good for them. They don’t know what is good for them. One day, when they grow up, they will realise that what daddy and mommy forced them to do was good for them. In the same way, if we can believe in God, we will realise that everything He tells us is for our good and then we will do it. So the first step to God is faith, and then comes obedience. That is what we see in the New Testament. In The New Testament, salvation comes by faith. You must believe in God, believe that He is good, that He is kind, that He is interested in you. Sin is unbelief. You don’t believe that God is good, and therefore you do the things which He tells you not to do; the things He tells you to avoid through the conscience within you. You don’t obey in the things which He tells you to obey. Why? – Because you don’t believe.
We can also say that ‘sin’ is choosing created things; ourselves, and our ways above God, instead of God’s way; seeking to please ourselves instead of pleasing God. That is what Adam and Eve did. There was this tree that would satisfy their longing and even though God had told them not to take part in it, they did it. Why do people commit adultery? It is because they want their own way, they want to please themselves. They don’t believe in what God says about the harm that will do to them.
Once our minds are enlightened to see this truth, that God is a good God, everything He forbids us from taking part of is for our good, everything He tells us to do is for our good, we will submit to God, we will submit to Jesus Christ. We will open our hearts to the teaching of Christ in the Scriptures, and say, ‘Lord, I want to obey your word.’ I want to encourage you to turn to the Bible and read it. When you pray, say, ‘Lord Jesus, help me to give up everything you tell me to give up and to do everything you tell me to do. I believe you are a good God.’
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.