What is sin? People talk about sin, but they don’t very often understand what it is. When we realize that sin is what makes us distant from God, it is important that we understand it.
Why do some men often behave like animals? Don’t you feel sometimes that perhaps you yourself, your behaviour – if you are honest – is just like that of an animal? The way some human beings behave towards each another is the way dogs bare their teeth at one another. What is the answer? The answer is: such men are only interested in their bodily needs and their own existence on this earth rather than in things related to their existence on earth.
What is an animal interested in? An animal has no spiritual values. There is no animal in this world who thinks about God. You never find a religious monkey or a religious dog kneeling down anywhere or doing any such thing, any act of worship. But when it comes to man, even out there in the jungles, barbarians, who know nothing about any religion, who have never been educated, they have a sense that there is a god whom they have displeased in some way. And that is why they make sacrifices. Maybe they worship the sun or a tree, or something else, some created thing. Man has that sense that they are answerable to some supreme being. Now no animal has that.
What is an animal interested in then? Food, sleep, sexual satisfaction, taking care of its little ones and that is all. You see animals with their head always bent down to the earth. They are all interested in the things of earth. There is no future for them. When they die they become dust; that is all. But man is created primarily to be a child of God. We have a body of course. We need food, God has created us with sexual desire, and we need to sleep. All these things are okay. There is nothing wrong with any of these provided they are fulfilled in legitimate ways. If we are hungry we shouldn’t steal in order to eat food. There are legitimate ways of earning our living. It is proper to sleep, but not to sleep when you are on duty and doing something important. In the same way with sexual satisfaction, God has ordained marriage for the fulfilment of that. There are lawful ways in which God has planned for man to fulfil these legitimate needs of food, sleep, and sexual satisfaction.
Now animals don’t think like that. They have no laws. They try to fulfil these longings in any way possible. Even if it means fighting with other animals and tearing them to pieces, it doesn’t make a difference. When a man behaves like that, we can say that he is reduced to the level of an animal. When man has no spiritual values and he is only interested in earthly things, we can say he has descended to the level of the animals. But God didn’t create us to be like that. He has created us to be like Him – moral, upright, with character and self-control – and not to be a slave to animal passions. I mean the mere fact that we, as human beings, are cleverer than animals; that we are educated and we can solve mathematical problems, unlike a dog or a monkey doesn’t make us necessarily better than them. I mean there is a lot of difference between being cleverer and being better than them. Because we find that even clever educated people are often slaves to greed, sexual lust, anger, bitterness, and selfishness. And very often their behaviour, in spite of their being PhDs and intelligent and clever, is exactly like that of animals. Do you know why? Because they haven’t dealt with the most important problem in their life; and that is sin.
There is a part of us that is much deeper than our mind. Many people think that man is just body and mind or body and soul, with the soul consisting of our mind, our emotions, and our personality. No, man is deeper than that. There is a part of man which is much deeper than the soul. That is what the Bible calls our spirit. Our spirit is what makes us aware of the fact that there is a God. No animal has it. So all the chaos, confusion, diseases, and evil in this world, are the direct result of man disobeying God; ignoring what His spirit is prompting him to hear – the voice of God; ignoring that, and listening to the devil.
Now in an earlier study we considered that God gave man a free will. If we didn’t have freedom of choice, as I said in that study, we would be like robots. We would obey God automatically like a robot obeys, but we could never become children of God. A robot cannot be your child. God took that risk, we can say, of the possibility of man disobeying Him, of bringing chaos and confusion into this world, by disobeying Him and listening to the devil, being deceived by the devil. But He was willing to take that risk because He wanted children. He wanted those who would obey Him out of voluntary choice freely, not out of compulsion. The first man and woman that God created, Adam and Eve, they were created innocent. And they had to make a choice, if they wanted to be holy. They had the freedom of will and, in order to make that choice, they had to be tempted.
How do you know, for example, whether your child will obey you if you put him in a room with freedom to do whatever he wants to? Supposing you are going away from home and you tell your son, your little boy, ‘You can do anything you like till we come back,’ you will never discover whether your son is obedient or not. If you want to find out whether your son is obedient or not, you should say something like this: ‘well, you can do anything you like in this house except one thing. You should not open that tin of biscuits and eat any biscuit while daddy and mommy are away.’ When you make one restriction like that, you can at least find out whether he is obedient. He can do anything; he can play, he can read books, he can do anything. But there is one thing you have told him not to do. When you come back and see that he has done that one thing which you told him not to, you discover that he is obedient or not. That is why temptation is necessary for man to prove his obedience; for man to make a choice and say, ‘I say no to something and yes to God.’
When God created Adam and Eve, we read in the Bible, that He placed them in a garden and they could eat of any tree in that garden. There were beautiful trees with plenty of good fruit, and God said you can eat anything. It is like you telling your son you can do anything you like, except one thing. And that is what God told Adam and Eve too. ‘There is one thing I don’t want you to do: there is one particular tree here which I don’t want you to eat of.’ It wasn’t very difficult. There were a thousand other trees which had excellent fruit, which they could have gone to. There was another tree called the tree of life, which they could have gone to also. It was not that God planted one thousand trees and told them that they were not to eat from 999 of them and they could only eat from one. Then we could say that that would have been tough. I mean, if you left your son at home and told him 999 things he could not do, he probably wouldn’t even remember them. If you just allowed him to do only one thing, it would have been difficult. But it wasn’t like that. You left your son at home saying he could do anything he liked, except one thing he should not do. In the same way, God told Adam and Eve that there was only one tree that they should not eat of.
There we see the purpose of temptation. It is for man to become holy. As he says no to that temptation he could become holy. But, on the other hand, if he says yes to that temptation then he would sin. That choice was necessary. We already saw the reason for freedom of choice. We read about this temptation that Adam and Eve had to face, and the results in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 2 and 3.
Now there is a lot of difference between being innocent and being holy. Innocence is what you see in a baby. You know that a baby is ignorant of good and evil, neither holy nor perfect. But if a little baby, as it grows up, has to become a man of character, it has to make choices. Adam, though he was physically like a grown man, was in a sense like a baby. He was innocent and he had to make a choice of refusing evil and choosing God in order to become a mature, spiritual man, which is what God wanted him to be. There we understand the reason why God permits us to be tempted with our passions, with things that we know are wrong, and why God allows Satan to come and tempt us. When we refuse to yield to temptation in our minds, you know what happens? Every time you say no to a temptation, you are developing character. The type of person you are today is the net result of all the decisions that you have made in your life so far. If others around you are better, it is because they made better choices, and if you are evil, it is because the choices you made were evil.
We can’t do anything about our past, but we can do something about the future. It is sin to choose evil, and holiness to choose God. Jesus has come to show us this, so that we can know what is good for us. He has not only come to show us what is right, He has come also to help us. Will you pray a little prayer right now, and say, ‘Lord, I can’t do anything about the past years of my life, but I want to do something about the future. I want to choose what will please you. Lord Jesus, help me.’ He will help you.
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.