Monday, October 06, 2014

The Importance of Understanding Sin

In this clip, Dan Barker, a former Christian pastor turned atheist, expresses his conception of the Christian message, and I think he captures what many people feel when they think about the message of Jesus Christ. However, Barker grossly mis-characterizes of the Christian message.

What Barker fails to acknowledge is the foundational premise of the Bible: that human beings are sinful and deserve judgment from God. Instead, in this portrayal they are presented as innocent pedestrians walking by a complete stranger who is mad at them for not recognizing him; but the Almighty God cannot be compared to a human, equal to other humans, calling to them from the porch. God is the holy uncreated Creator of heaven and earth, the fountainhead all things, and the giver of life to all people. We owe our very existence to Him and all that we enjoy. Furthermore, all nature testifies loudly and clearly to His existence, power, wisdom and goodness. We are therefore greatly evil for not recognizing God and giving Him the glory and reverence that is due Him. It is perfectly good and right that we should, but we do not, for no good reason. Our treason against God stems from nothing other than our stubbornness and pride. Since we are offending, not an equal, but one who is infinitely above us and who is infinitely worthy, we are guilty of a crime of infinite evil. The stature of the offended party determines the stature of the crime and consequentially the stature of the punishment. For example, the first degree murder of a human being deserves a greater punishment than the first degree murder of a dog. So also our offense against Almighty God is ineffably heinous and is therefore worthy of an infinite punishment. Jonathan Edwards truly observed: "If there be any such thing as a fault infinitely heinous, it will follow that it is just to inflict a punishment for it that is infinitely dreadful."

It is only in the light of our deserving of judgment that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins becomes meaningful and beautiful. Christians have always seen in the death of Christ the most beautiful revelation of God's grace and love for humanity. This is because, foundationally, Christians see the seriousness of their sin and their own deserving of judgment. What a staggering thought that even though we humans have sinned so evilly against God and justly deserve His judgment, God has responded with forgiveness and mercy by giving His Son to the be propitiation for our sins! But if we make God's wrath arbitrary, then the death of Christ becomes arbitrary and senseless. All intellectual problems with the Christian message stem from the failure to recognize sin as the evil that it is.

"Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet." (Thomas Watson)

For an excellent essay on the Biblical understanding of sin, see A God-Centered Understanding of Sin by Stephen Witmer.

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