Creation 2.0: Sin

The word sin means literally “missing the mark.” It means the failure to be what one should be and to do what one should do.

Originally man was made to be the created image of God, to live in union with God’s divine life, and to rule over all creation. Man’s failure in this task is his sin which has also been called his fall.

Notice the subtle distinction. In Western theology, Adam and Eve sinned because they broke a law. The Orthodox, however, say they sinned because they failed to be like God. All agree that sin is to miss the mark. It’s just a question of what the mark is.

Of course, there is much common ground here if the law is that we should be like God. However, if we see sin as being about obedience to arbitrary commands issued to test our willingness to obey, we are very far apart indeed.

What does the Bible say?

(Rom 8:29-30 ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God cosmic purpose in Creation and redemption, Paul says, is that Christians “be conformed to the image of his Son.” “Image” translates eikon, the same word used in Genesis 1 of God’s image, and it’s unmistakable that Paul is referring to Genesis in this passage.

Indeed, God, through his Spirit, works to transform us into his image —

(2Co 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

(Col 3:9-10 ESV)  9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

The same theme is sometimes expressed in terms of union with God —

(John 17:20-23 ESV)  20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

(1Co 6:17 NAS)  17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

(2Pe 1:2-4 NAS)  2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;  3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

(1Jo 3:2-3 ESV)  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

There is a sense in which Christians are to become united with God.

However, we have to also consider such verses as —

(1Jo 3:4 ESV) Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

The verse has a bit more punch in the KJV —

(1Jo 3:4 KJV) Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

(The ESV is truer to the Greek.) In the KJV, John seems to be defining “sin” as violating “the law.” The translators of the NET Bible explain the Greek well —

The Greek word (anomia) is often translated “iniquity” or “lawlessness” and in the LXX refers particularly to transgression of the law of Moses. In Jewish thought the ideas of sin (hamartia) and lawlessness or iniquity (anomia) were often equated because sin involved a violation of the Mosaic law and hence lawlessness. For example, Psa 51:5 LXX sets the two in parallel, and Paul in Rom 4:7 (quoting Psa 32:1) does the same. For the author, it is not violation of the Mosaic law that results in lawlessness, since he is writing to Christians. The ‘law’ for the author is the law of love, as given by Jesus in the new commandment of John 13:34-35. This is the command to love one’s brother, a major theme of 1 John and the one specific sin in the entire letter which the opponents are charged with (1Jo 3:17). Since the author has already labeled the opponents “antichrists” in 1Jo 2:18, it may well be that he sees in their iniquitous behavior of withdrawing from the community and refusing to love the brethren a foreshadowing of the apocalyptic iniquity of the end times (cf. 2Th 2:3-8). In Mat 24:11-12 Jesus foretold that false prophets would arise in the end times (cf. 1Jo 4:1), that lawlessness (anomia) would increase, and that “the love of many will grow cold” (which would certainly fit the author’s portrait of the opponents here).

Hence, John is not saying that sin is violating a set of arbitrary rules or an elaborately constructed ecclesiology. Rather, he is saying that sin is a failure to love as should, and he later explains that we should love as Jesus loves. We see John’s theology clearly in such verses as —

(1Jo 3:2-3 ESV)  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

This hits the theme exactly. We are called to become more and more like God, and we’ll become very much like him in the afterlife because “we shall see him as he is.” But the process begins long before the Second Coming because we are to purify ourselves as we commit to become like God.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that we are to love as Jesus loved —

(1Jo 3:16 ESV)  16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Jesus is our example and hence the exemplar of the “law” that defines what is and isn’t sin. And this conclusion is well supported by such passages as —

(1Jo 4:16-17 ESV)  16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

If God is love, then to become like God is to love as God loves — which is to love as Jesus loves. It all fits together.

(Rom 13:8-10 ESV)  8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

(Gal 5:6 ESV)  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

(Gal 5:14 ESV)  14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We refuse to accept these simple truths because, well, we want Christianity to be complicated. We want lots and lots of rules that we can master and that will separate us from other Christians. We want to feel superior thanks to our superior knowledge of and obedience to rules.

You see, no one can feel justified by a standard that says “imitate God” or “love as Jesus loves.” It’s too high and too hard. Such rules force us to rely on grace and prevent us from feeling holier than thou — and we love to feel holier than thou.

In fact, one reason Christianity so struggles to be attractive to the lost is our legalism — arising both from those who seek to impose arbitrary rules as tests of salvation and those who seek to do acts of righteousness to be lauded for their holiness. Both are forms of Pharisaism and both are extraordinarily unattractive — proving how very un-Christlike both attitudes can be.

But to seek to imitate God by following the example of Jesus, well, that would change the world.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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21 Responses to Creation 2.0: Sin

  1. Jerry says:

    Following these principles will also lead to the unity for which Jesus prayed. In John 17:20-23, Jesus said He had given His disciples “the glory that you gave me that they may be one” as we are one. I recently did a 4 part blog on this text beginning here. When Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18-19), He showed him his goodness, grace, and mercy. That is the “glory” that will make us one in Jesus.

  2. John says:

    Jay said”…John is not saying that sin is violating a set of arbitrary rules or an elaborately constructed ecclesiology. Rather, he is saying that sin is a failure to love as should, and he later explains that we should love as Jesus loves”.

    Wonderful statement! A truth we find in Paul’s writings. After all, it was Paul who said that he did not do the things he should have done, and did those things he should not have done. And his capper was “..the greatest… is love”.

    Where many legalist go wrong is when they make Paul’s admonitions for living by the Spirit into individual laws. But who can keep or live any of them perfectly?

    I see the heart of it as “Love creates deeds; deeds, in return, feed love, a love that forgives imperfect deeds”. After all, “…love covers a multitude of sin”, and a multitude is more than just a few.

  3. Amen … I must confess, that if my view and understanding of Christianity was based upon the common public perception of it, I would struggle with accepting it. From the general public perspective most Christians are guilty of all the things Jesus condemned the Pharisees for.

    I wish we could all truly grasp the idea of loving others the way Jesus loves us.

    It would truly change everyone and everything.

  4. John says:

    What comes to my mind after growing up in a legalistic atmosphere was the twisted thinking of so many that demanded more purity from others than from self. The pride of being a “member of the church”, and in other traditions, being “born again” that says “do as I say, not as I do” creates a disgust within the surrounding community. However, the disgust is not so much the failings of the Christian as it is the pride and judging.

    Lack of love usually manifests itself in the fear of what others are doing or not doing. Unfortunately, a legalistic tradition does not know how to be any other way. But when we let self preservation die and accept the struggles of others as our own then the love of Christ within us becomes for them what we desire for ourselves, a healing of self-inflicted wounds. For me, that is the definition of PURITY.

  5. Monty says:

    A group of people unite under perhaps the best of intentions and more or less based on their understanding of what the scriptures teach(or a leader says they teach) they begin practicing their “religion” and they generally vehemently oppose any threat to that practice. They begin the “our way or the high way approach”. Every religious group does it. Love doesn’t come first but adherence to the beliefs of the group comes first. We can love each other as long as there is conformity, just don’t make waves. Love is a great teaching but history teaches that most religious groups can’t tolerate, (not sinfulness), but differentness in ideas and understanding. It scares people to death. It threatens their security because their security is tied to the practices of the group, not to a Savior.

  6. Alabama John says:

    That is why the simpler we keep it the easier it is to obey and follow.
    Jesus said it best when asked.
    Our error is the competition among us to see who knows more than those around us.
    When really the supposedly dumb or ignorant ones just living and loving God and their neighbor are far ahead of the scripture twisting expert and debater.
    Folks see this and hear the preaching from those experts and are leaving in droves.
    People are seeking a personal relationship with God and not the scriptures. Too much division has and still is coming from the scripture experts. Folks are tired of it.
    Nowhere does the bible say there will be a written exam but it does say our lives as is seen by God will be judged.

  7. David Brent says:

    Jesus followed the KISS method.
    Many times our best intentions lead us away from KISS.
    We should walk in his steps.
    KISS KISS!

  8. David Brent says:

    KISS
    Keep It Simple Stupid!

  9. laymond says:

    “But to seek to imitate God by following the example of Jesus, well, that would change the world.”

    That is the reason I am a “Tree hugging” “people loving” democrat.

  10. David Brent says:

    I was reading this post and didn’t get very far when I found Jay had written:
    “God cosmic purpose in Creation and redemption, Paul says, is that Christians “be conformed to the image of his Son.” “Image” translates eikon, the same word used in Genesis 1 of God’s image, and it’s unmistakable that Paul is referring to Genesis in this passage.”

    Our English word “image” translates the Greek word “eikon”. Drop the “e” from eikon and you have “icon”. For what it is worth (obviously I’m not authoritative) I wrote a little about icons previously under Creation 2.0: Investigation of the Orthodox Perspective (7/31) and Creation 2.0: Kings of the World. (8/7). Here are a few more thoughts.

    As stated previously, icons are physical reminders of the “cloud of witnesses”. They are also visual representations of the image of God. The icons are physical in the sense that we can touch them but not in the sense that they represent the physical appearance of The Creator.

    Rather, through the visual depiction of Jesus, Mary, the Church Fathers, martyrs, the other saints, and angels, the icons provide a glimpse of God. In the person depicted in the icon, one can see an attribute that is godly . . . an image of God . . . of Jesus. It may be patience. It may be sacrifice. It may be love, or faith, or hope. The icon is painted in such a way as to display an image of God. If God’s image isn’t present when viewed, if his image doesn’t come across, then the painting is not an icon. Only those paintings that display godliness are treated as icons. If the painting has a hint of evil, it is not an icon.

    All that is good in this world . . . is sign and symbol . . . icon . . . bearing witness to The Creator and displaying an image of The Creator himself. We, Christ’s followers, have each been called to be an icon to the world around us . . . a candle that is not hid. Our neighbors, coworkers, friends, family, and enemies should look upon us and see us as icon . . . they should see an image of God . . . the image of Jesus. If others look at us but do not see an image of Jesus . . . if we are not “conformed to the image of his son” . . . then we are not an icon.

    May each of us bear the image of Jesus for all to see. Be an icon.

    Okay . . . now I will finish reading Jay’s post.

  11. Terry says:

    Don’t disagree, just contemplating the meaning of Romans 5:20 (NIV)

    20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Interesting question, Terry. Let me take a stab.

    Paul was speaking retrospectively of the Law of Moses, and he points out that as Israel became more aware of God’s will, they become accountable for more violations of God’s will. But God covered these increased violations with his grace. Otherwise, all of Israel would have been damned for having the blessing of the Law! (Covered in detail in the “God Isn’t Fair” series from late last year and early this year).

    But as discussed in the recent series on “Faith that Works,” for Christians, the Law of the Spirit of Life (Rom 8:2) is the Law as fulfilled in Jesus and prompted by the Spirit. Ultimately, it’s what Paul says in Romans 13, that is, “love your neighbor” or Gal 5:6 “faith expressing itself through love,” or as Jesus said, Love God and Love your neighbor. After all, love is the nature of God. To be like God is to love in remarkable ways.

    Another way of looking at it is found in John Walton’s book Covenant, in which he points out that in the Ancient Near East, law codes were written not so much to enact the laws themselves but for the king to demonstrate to his people and surrounding neighbors his justice and compassion.

    God was king of Israel per the Torah, and thus we should look at the Law of Moses as not merely law but as a demonstration of the justice and righteousness of God.

    The ultimate point of the Law, therefore, is not the particulars of the Law but the character of God as revealed by the Law.

    It appears that the rabbis took exactly this view. Therefore, during the Babylonian exile, they invented the synagogue and replaced temple sacrifices with Torah study. After all, God had used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple, but God was still the God of Israel and his laws should be studied, even if partly impossible to obey due to there being no temple.

    Similar changes were made due to the diaspora and the destruction of the Second Temple.

    And Jesus did not so much repeal the law as fulfill the Law.

    (Mat 5:17-18 ESV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

    That is, Jesus lived the Law by being the personification of God’s righteousness and justice, and so Christians are called to do the same — to personify the character of God as revealed in the Law and so to fulfill and honor the Law.

    (Deu 10:14-19 ESV) 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

    Lord willing, I’ll delve more deeply into Walton’s book in a near future.

  13. George Morgan says:

    As I said all we need is what Jesus said but we have to make it so complicated by adding more

  14. Terry says:

    Jay, thank you for providing more insight and more to study. Your posts and books give me much to meditate upon and to live. God Bless you for helping us on the journey to love like God loves.
    Terry

  15. Ray Downen says:

    It’s good to realize that our goal should be to live and love as did Jesus. It’s also vital that we realize that Jesus not only loved God but also obeyed God. We also are called to obey the gospel. When Jesus offers salvation, it’s by way of more than just loving God and all who are loved by God, important as that is. We are informed by what John records that Jesus told Nicodemus in a private conversation, that only those will enter His kingdom who are born again of water and spirit. He could have said only those will enter who love, but that is not what he said. And when the apostle was asked by seekers what they should do about their sin, they were given instructions which did not mention loving but did call for turning to Jesus as Lord and being baptized. Some today are teaching that sinners are saved and later as Christians can be baptized. But apostolic teaching is that we are baptized INTO Christ. I urge that readers of this blog should also read the study available at my web site on baptism “by the Holy Spirit.” It’s at http://missionoutreach.org/OwensMaxey.pdf. In case that link is not shown the site is missionoutreach.org and the file is OwensMaxey.pdf. That’s a pdf file, by name OwensMaxey.

  16. Norton says:

    Yes, realizing that what God wants out of us is to be like Him and become love personified, is the first step away from legalistic thinking. It was for me anyway. Love is not one of the commands, it is the command. I spent the first forty years of my Christian life thinking love was just another command like attending church every Sunday, but not quite as important.

  17. Dickey says:

    Jay, I love this blog and I love that you are so blessed with His Spirit to bring forth these messages so clearly from the scriptures. As I excitedly read this article, I rushed to the Genesis account to gain some background and was somewhat perplexed by the text. Much of Genesis is troubling to me, and the fall of man is no less so. Below are my thoughts as I wrestled through this passage to come to some harmony with the rest of scripture…

    “The Orthodox, however, say they [Adam and Eve] sinned because they failed to be like God.”

    The scriptures are replete with this theology… man in God’s image, man’s dominion over the earth, man’s procreative mission, the church as Christ’s body… but I find it hard to reconcile the above statement with the actual Genesis 3 account… This is simply not what the text says.

    God placed many trees in the garden for man’s enjoyment but He chose to create one particular tree with a strict prohibition… no eating of its fruit or you will die (Gen 1:9). This is about as arbitrary a law as one could imagine. It is poetically arbitrary! There is no universal law of love outlawing the tree, there is just law. The tree was created for the law… God could have placed the tree outside the garden, out of man’s reach, but he placed it in the very middle of the garden, right next to the very tree of life, and then He outlawed it!

    Often in the scriptures, as pointed out in the article, we see sin characterized as a human lack of God’s love and a ‘missing of the mark’ of His image (the violence of Cain, Lamech, and the people of Noah’s day… the law of Moses… Jesus’ teachings) but the original sin was clearly something else.

    In fact, in the garden, BREAKING the command actually made them, in some way, MORE like God (Gen 3:22). Moreover, Eve’s sin was that her desire to be more like God was greater than her desire to follow God’s command (Gen 3:5-6). God kicked her and Adam out of His garden and His presence, cursed their lives, and denied them access to the tree of Life because of it.

    This is not an isolated case (Gen 11:6)… God demands subjection, now and always. His ways are not our ways and often requires of us obedience to strange and arbitrary commands. Obedience to baptism may seem like foolishness to man, adult circumcision of proselytes seems morbid, prohibitions against unclean animals seems somewhat arbitrary, and the Sabbath laws are certainly arbitrary, but all these were nonetheless required points of obedience.

    We must make no mistake, we are slaves… either of sin leading to death or God leading to righteousness. And the message is clear that we must follow faithfully regardless. Were are His special workmanship, His special people created for good works, He has called us His friends, and love is our greatest commision… but at the same time His ways are not our ways, he demands our subjection, humility and obedience (however arbitrary it may seem)… what is the clay to question the maker!

  18. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dickey wrote,

    In fact, in the garden, BREAKING the command actually made them, in some way, MORE like God (Gen 3:22). Moreover, Eve’s sin was that her desire to be more like God was greater than her desire to follow God’s command (Gen 3:5-6). God kicked her and Adam out of His garden and His presence, cursed their lives, and denied them access to the tree of Life because of it.

    Interesting comment indeed. Thanks for making me think through this some more. Let’s see —

    1. Jesus is the image of God.
    2. We are told to follow Jesus’ example of service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering.
    3. Therefore, to be like God is to serve, submit, sacrifice, and even suffer for his sake — for the sake of righteousness and justice.
    4. Adam and Eve sought to be like God, but the path they chose was rebellion — the very opposite of the character of God. You cannot become like God by rebelling against his nature.

    Just the same —

    1. A defining characteristic of God is covenant faithfulness, sometimes called “righteousness” (Daniel 9, e.g.).
    2. To become like God is to be faithful (Rom 3:3, 1 Cor 1:9)
    3. Jesus was faithful to the covenant, as shown by his sacrifice. Rom 3:22,26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22.
    4. Therefore, to be united with God and Jesus, we must have faithfulness (= pistis = faith).
    5. Adam and Eve were not faithful.

    That’s all an elaborate way of saying that, of course, violating a known law of God is sin that is charged against us, but not merely because it breaks a law. It also breaks relationship. And so much more …

    This of it this way. I’m a parent. I have a son. My job is to raise my son into a mature young man in Christ.
    I tell my son to cut the grass, even though I could pay for the grass to be cut. It’s for his own good, a form of disciple and equipping, to learn to obey and to learn the value of work.

    He refuses to cut the grass. I have to hire someone else to do it for $20, because I’m old and decrepit. Do I make him pay the $20? Is that all there is to it? Is this really about breaking the law?

    Yes and not at all. Yes, he broke the law and should suffer consequences, but it’s about so much more — a rebellious spirit, a lost opportunity to grow that will result in bad habits and attitudes if not corrected. The law was a means to an end — not just to cut the grass (far easier to hire it done!) but to transform him into the person I want him to become — maybe even a little like me, although I aim higher than that!

    Therefore, yes, he sinned against me by breaking the law. But he really sinned against me by failing to attain to the image of who he ought to be — not a grass cutter per se but someone who obeys and submits and enjoys hard work and serving others.

    Hence, Adam and Eve sinned against the only law, but why the law? Well, to cut to the chase, there must be a law so they could be faithful and submissive. How else could they walk with a faithful, submissive God?

    Did knowledge of good and evil make them more like God? Yes. And no. Yes, because God also knows good from evil. No, because they subjected themselves to a standard they could not meet — more known laws means more accountable sins (Rom 5)– and being guilty of so many sins made them even less united with God.

    Hence, Adam and Eve hide from God and cover themselves with fig leaves. Their behavior reveals their separation — not so much by God’s edict as the natural result of sin, which destroys our unity with the Divine.

  19. Terry says:

    Appreciate the discussion on this, helped me understand the purpose of the “cutting grass” laws and how they are tied to becoming more like God.

  20. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Terry,

    My parents assured me that there was nothing was closer to heaven than grass cutting — or maybe it was that nothing would send me straight to the grave faster than failing to get it done. Very profound on a two-acre lot with so much Bermuda that the grass over the septic tank grew faster than you could cut.

  21. Alabama John says:

    Good thoughts and comments Jay.
    Thanks

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