A Universal Problem
Sin. What an unpopular word... three little letters, and yet they pack a powerful punch. The Bible says that we are all plagued by it’s curse, complicit in it’s rebellion, and imprisoned under it’s dominion without Christ. To put it bluntly, sin is a massive problem for the human soul. “All have sinned…” says the Bible. And, “The wages of sin is death…” The question at the doorstep of every human being is how are you going to deal with the problem? There are many ways that the world tries to create it’s own cure, to temporarily mask sin with external modifications, or to pretend that the problem simply doesn’t exist. But the reality is that all men will stand before God upon death. How will you stand before him? What will you say to the indictment brought against you for your willful rebellion? Will a muddled concoction of excuses hold up before the omniscient God? Will a comparison to our neighbor excuse our deliberate disobedience? Sometimes the problem of sin is obvious, like a three foot wide hole in our living room wall. Other times the problem can seem elusive and hard to pinpoint, like a a leaky pipe that is slowly rotting the framework of your home. The reality is this, sin is a universal problem and everyone is doing something about it. How are you dealing with the problem?
There are three basic ways that humanity attempts to deal with sin, and only one way that God deals with it. The world’s approaches can be found in many varying forms, but they all boil down to the same three ideas: Celebrating Sin, Hiding Sin, and attempting to Outwork Sin. All three of these are based on the strength, willpower and determination of men to be their own savior. God’s solution on the other-hand does not depend on men at all, but solely on his own strength, humility, and love. Lastly, before we dive in, take note that even christians can be tempted to turn back to old methods of dealing with the problem, or to try to intermix God’s solution with their own effort. Perhaps as you read through this you will notice some of the world’s attempts intermingled in your own life.
Man’s First Solution: Celebrating Sin
The first, and perhaps most obvious way is the boisterous celebration of beliefs, values, ideals, and actions which are in direct opposition to the truth of God’s Word. This is life on Man’s terms. The only moral rule seems to be that, "life owes me laughter and sex and drink and pleasure, whether by gift or by theft.” Or, the more polite may phrase it less bluntly by saying, “The real purpose of life is to be happy.” A gentler phrase, but the same goal is in view. In this approach nothing is absolutely wrong all of the time, rather the perception of each action is based on the fluctuating benefits it offers to the victim and culprit. For instance, if someone is breaking into your car and stealing your stereo this is obviously wrong in your eyes, but if you get a great deal from a friend on someone else’s stolen radio this is obviously right in your eyes. Morality is based on a comparison of personal costs and benefits, rather than the righteous standard of God. When sin is celebrated, pleasure becomes god, and the true God is quickly forgotten, or even thought not to exist. Thus, all of life is spent in a constant squabble of every man fighting for his own slice of the pie, making and breaking alliances based on the personal usefulness of each. Meanwhile no thought is given to the reality that every human soul will live forever somewhere. If you are wealthy, or brawny, you can usually contort a fallen world to function in your favor through coercion and force, but even if you end up with a mansion on the beach and all the sex and possessions the wicked human heart could desire, the problem of sin has only been temporarily masked. The question remains: How will you stand before God? Dealing with the problem of sin by outright rebellion and celebration can only offer a fleeting comfort at best. You will eventually stand before the omniscient God and your soul will live forever somewhere, either with God in heaven or away from him in hell.
Man’s Second Solution: Hiding Sin
The second approach is the inverted form of the first, and still life on Man’s terms. This view says, "Morality definitely matters, there is black and white, there is right and wrong, and I will always make sure that the watching world perceives me to be on the side of right.” From the outside looking in, this person’s life is neatly put together. They are a polite and upstanding citizen. They often serve on many committees and boards, coaching little league and running in charity races. They pay their taxes and decorate for the holidays. Everything looks great! But what happens behind closed doors? What are they addicted to in watches of the night? Why do the husband wife seem like they don’t even like each other anymore? Why do neither of the parents have any close friends? Intimacy threatens to expose the true identity of this individual, therefore everyone must be kept at a distance. The fear is ever present, “If anyone knew who I really am I would be ruined…” When sin is hidden, the approval of man becomes god, and the true God is quickly forgotten, or even thought not to exist. They conclude, "As long as everyone likes me and speaks a good word about me I am doing fine.” Man may be fooled by this charade, but God is not. “Nothing is hidden from his eyes…” says the writer of Hebrews, “all creatures are naked before him to whom they must give account.” All the applause and approval of man will not sway the scales of the Eternal Judge. Man’s approval does not equate to God’s. Trying to hide our sin from God is like the child who believes that by putting his or her hands over their eyes they are no longer visible. You may look like the next Nobel Peace Prize winner compared to your neighbor, but how does your life look in the light of God’s Word? You may have the applause of the people with the sinfulness of your heart strategically hidden away, but I ask you: How will you stand before God? Dealing with the problem of sin by hiding it beneath the visible surface of your life can only offer a fleeting comfort at best. You will eventually stand before the omniscient God and your soul will live forever somewhere, either with God in heaven or away from him in hell.
Man’s Third Solution: Outworking Sin
Now we come to the religious approach to dealing with the universal problem of sin. This view masquerades as Biblical, as godly, as wise and true, but it is built on the sand not the Rock. In this view God is said to be loving, but no one seems to feel loved. God is said to be good, but no one seems to be happy. God is said to be forgiving, but no one seems to be forgiven. This view is often rooted in a confession of sin but not coupled with a receiving of God’s pardon. This response to the problem of sin agrees that there is a God, that there is right and wrong, that all have sinned, that all need to repent, but this is where they stop. They say to God, “I have sinned against you, please forgive me. I promise I will do better next time, I promise I will change.” Do you see the wicked nuance in the midst of this otherwise incredible confession? “I promise to do better next time, I promise I will change.” Their dependency is still on themselves. This is still life on Man’s terms. They understand that they have sinned, but now they look at the problem as a deep whole which they can eventually, by well-doing, climb their way back out of. They are looking for the stairway to heaven, that by the determination in their soul they might climb their way back to God and receive eternal life from him. They are trying to deal with the problem of sin by their own strength and by their own righteousness. But I ask you, can a crippled man carry himself to the bath? Can a blind man describe the colors of the sunset? Can a deaf person pick out the notes of the symphony? No. And neither can a sinner cleanse themselves and change their own heart. Confessing sin is only halfway to the truth, and we all know that a half-truth is a whole lie. If you are basing your eternal destination on your own moral ability to pull your life together and start living well before God, you will find a terrible surprise waiting for you upon death. Salvation is not based on your good deeds outweighing your bad deeds. The sinfulness of our hearts will forever outweigh the “good deeds” we attempt to muster. Even Man’s “godliest” solution to the problem of sin falls short. Even our highest religious aims cannot save. And so I ask you: How will you stand before God? Dealing with the problem of sin by trying to outwork your own sinful nature can only offer a fleeting comfort at best. You will eventually stand before the omniscient God, and all the heap of your earthly actions will only stand to confirm the reality that you and I do not deserve heaven. We will all live forever somewhere, and none of Man’s solutions will bring us into eternal life with God. If we would truly deal with the problem of sin we must let go of our own answers and cling to God’s.
God’s Only Solution: Nailing Sin To The Cross
Finally we come to the one true hope, the free gift that God offers to every human being to deal with the problem of sin. God does not celebrate our sin, he does not hide the problem from his eyes, and he doesn’t ask us to pull it together and try to fix it on our own. God acknowledges with perfect clarity that you and I have rebelled against him, that we have done wicked things, that we have turned our back on our Maker. God is fully aware of all our failures. And yet, he has responded to the world in love through Jesus Christ. Long before you and I had any care or concern for God he had already decided to provide everything we would ever need to be saved from our sins by nailing it to the cross. All of our failures, past, present, and future, have been justly punished in Christ. “The wages of sin is death,” and Jesus wrote the check in full with his own blood. And not only did he die for our sins but he also lived for our righteousness. For all the incalculable ways in which you and I have chosen to sin against God, Jesus acted in perfect righteousness. Faith in Christ unites us to his death on the cross, his death is counted as our death. And faith in Christ unites us to his perfectly obedient life, his life is counted as our life. This is God’s one solution to the universal problem of sin, the free gift of eternal life through faith in the work of his Son.
There are ultimately only two ways to stand before God: as your own representative, or under the perfect representation of Christ.
How will you deal with the problem?