Matthew 26:27-28 (Summary: The Sin from Which Christ Saves Us)

We have seen that the issue with man’s salvation isn’t one of satisfying God’s justice in order to receive forgiveness, for death wasn’t a penalty imposed by God for violating His command, but the natural consequence of the deceitfulness of sin that leads to death, and from which God in His love seeks to save us.  Notice that the apostle Paul didn’t write that the penalty for sin is death, but the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  I.e., death isn’t the judicial punishment of committing a sin, it is the compensation we receive from sin as our master for serving in its employ; it is what we earn as our due for our labor in its fields, as soldiers in its army, advancing the kingdoms of the world and its prince rather than the kingdom of God.  Likewise, sin affected the entire human race with the result that death spread to all men, not because the penalty for Adam’s sin was imputed to his offspring so that they too must die for his sin (see Eze 18:1-4), but because the poison of sin that infected him through the sting of death was also passed on through him to them so that they too were infected with it and die as a result of their own sins.

We have also seen that the very nature of sin is deception; by appealing to the lust of our flesh, the lust of our eyes, and the boastful pride of our life it deceives us so that what we believe is life-giving and good is actually enslaving and destroying us.  So subtle is its deception that in spite of God’s warning we don’t see the danger until it is too late and we are sucked into its powerful current.  In this way sin is like the maelstrom in which a hapless sailor is caught, a vortex from which there is no escape, a whirlpool much greater than the power of our vessel to resist, a black hole of certain death.  And because its swirl is so large compared to our poor vantage, at its periphery it is barely perceptible and its danger unsuspected.  And yet, although its churn is so slow at first that one hardly suspects the danger, once entered, its downward spiral is inexorable, and only with time does its faster descent become increasingly noticeable as it carries its victims to their destruction.

Notice though that sin is much more than just the violation of a command given by God, because the deceptive nature of the serpent’s venom with which man is infected leads to death even when there is no commandment to violate.  For following mankind’s fall into sin, there was no law to define sin and the parameters within which men should walk in God’s creation to avoid stumbling in darkness.  For the law had not yet been given, and man’s relationship with God that would otherwise have guided him was marred by his nature that was now infected with the serpent’s poison—which again is sin, the sting of death.  As a consequence, men stumbled in darkness, not knowing the light, and became increasingly evil, dying as a result of their sin, but not necessarily dying with imputed sin after the likeness of Adam’s sin because specific commands such as that given to Adam or those in the Law of Moses had not been given; see Rom 4:15, 5:12-14; cf. Job 1:5.  As men stumbled in the darkness of sin, its deceitful nature inescapably and perniciously manifested itself in the multitude of bondages to the flesh that overcome men, whether to immorality, strife, violence, idolatry, addictions, or the bondage of serving other men, which have been present throughout man’s history and are still with us today.  And to be sure, such things are sinful, as are the more subtle sins of our spirit like pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony.  And although commandments can be issued against such things, all of these are only the fruit of sin, and not the poison of sin itself from which we must be saved, just as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the fruit of the Spirit but not the life-giving Spirit itself to which we must be saved.

We see then that sin is much more than just the violation of a commandment.  It is the bent of our poisoned nature that causes us to “miss the mark” (the underlying meaning of sin; cf. Jdg 20:16, Pro 19:2 NIV for the same word) that God would otherwise have us to hit not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of His whole creation.  It is the deceptive poison to our souls from the serpent’s venom that results in us exercising our own will as a god to ourselves in defiance to the will of our Creator, who as our heavenly Father seeks both our good and the good of all His Creation; cf. Gen 3:4-6.  It is the lie that manifests itself in sinful acts whenever we fail to do the Father’s will in any given circumstance, since God as the Creator of all alone knows what is best in every situation.[1]

Notice too that although the consequences of sin are always death and all men die as a result of the sin with which they are infected, because of the deceptive nature of sin it isn’t necessarily clear in man’s darkness what the sin is that is killing him without God’s presence to guide him, but from which his sin has separated him.  Consequently, from the very beginning fallen man has sought to understand the laws that govern God’s creation and enacted his own laws in order to preserve and extend his life, but always with very imperfect results because of the darkness of sin, his limited understanding, and his separation from God.  In his fallen understanding man supposes that if only he had a perfect law with all the right commandments it would lead to life, even as the pride of many Jews mistakenly believed the law of Moses to be, and many conservative Americans believe the United States Constitution to be.  And to be sure, with the giving of the law and its many commandments, men did become more aware of the requirements for life, and to the extent that they observed its commandments they found rich blessings and length of days upon the earth, just as we have in America.  But rather than being the law leading to life for which men hope, even God’s most holy and perfect law could not deliver them from the maelstrom of sin in which they were caught.  What it did though was expose the deceptive nature of sin.  For instead of providing the way of escape, the light of the law actually aroused the passions of sin and led even more firmly and certainly to death as men became aware that they were in clear violation of its commands; see Rom 7:5,7-13; cf. Rom 7:14-25.  Hence the law only exposed sin and made man aware of its deceptive nature, but it gave no solution for how to overcome it and escape its fearful consequences of death.  Nevertheless, throughout His revelation God did provide signposts pointing towards redemption from the power of sin in order that man might be able to escape its bondage and find forgiveness for his sin and be delivered from death; see for example Job 19:25-27, Isa 49:1-10.

We see then, again, that redemption from the power of sin is what is all important for our salvation, for it isn’t as if God can’t forgive.  It’s just that even though He forgives, so long as man is in bondage to sin, the wages of that sin is still death[2].  Man needs to know what sin is, but even having a list of commandments is not enough, for so powerful is the deception and bondage of sin that even a list of righteous and holy laws can be mastered outwardly and yet degenerate inwardly to just mindless Pharisaic rules, even as we see the original intent of our U.S. Constitution has been twisted today to justify a completely opposite morality.  What he needs is God’s law written on his heart, His royal law of love that was demonstrated by the life of Christ that always and in every circumstance subjects itself to the will of the Father, even unto death, knowing in faith that God is able to raise him up from the dead.  And this is exactly what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did for us, through His eternal Spirit; see 1Jo 3:16, Heb 9:14.

Hence the sacrifices in the law also pointed toward Christ’s sacrifice.  Unlike the sacrifices of the pagan nations that in their darkness of sin they understood as a penalty they had to pay in order to satisfy or appease the wrath of their gods, the sacrifices of the holy law of God were an act of contrition or repentance.  And these were not only for the cleansing of their flesh to bless them in their remaining lives upon the earth, but also pointed them in faith to Christ’s sacrifice that would be for the cleansing of their conscience from the dead, ritualistic works that also held them in bondage in order that they might serve the living God in establishing His kingdom on earth in order that they might receive the promise of their eternal inheritance in that kingdom.  See Heb 9:13-15; cf. Gal 4:1-8.

[1] With this understanding, we can see why there are circumstances when someone could even violate a general commandment of God without actually sinning, because they fulfilled its spirit even if violating its letter.  Thus, David could eat without judgment the bread of the presence that was not otherwise lawful, the priests could minister on the Sabbath without profaning it, and Jesus could heal on the Sabbath without sinning, because in doing so they still hit the mark of doing the will of the Father; see Mat 12:1-12.  Although not necessarily following the letter of the law, they were being led by its Spirit, which is what it means to use the law lawfully; see 1Ti 1:8.

[2] It is for this reason Paul writes that if Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is worthless and we are still in our sins (1Co 15:17), for it is the power of His resurrection that raises us up to walk in newness of life free from the control of sin.  Thus, if Christ died to ransom us from our captivity to sin, but we have no power to turn from those sins, His death alone is of no avail, because we would still fall back into sin and its consequences as its powerless captives.