Before God, we all have a problem. No one is exempt (Rom. 3:20-23). We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is one of those teachings of Christianity that we would rather avoid than address. But unless we understand what Scripture, God’s word to us, says about our natures we cannot fully appreciate the glory of God’s grace.
We Were Not Created Sinful
Sin is not how things are supposed to be. Sinners is not the description we were created to have. God created Adam and Eve in His image and they were created good (Gen. 1:26-27; 31). Indeed, God said everything He created was very good (Gen. 1:31).
God gave Adam and Eve one prohibition in the Garden of Eden which was to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Sinless creatures given one prohibition with the whole garden available to them except this one tree. But then a serpent shows up on the scene (Gen 3:1).
The serpent sowed seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind so that eventually she took fruit from the tree as did Adam and ate and the first sin was committed. Since then everyone born has been born a sinner because of Adam’s sin (See Rom. 5:12-19).
What is Sin?
“Sin is any transgression of the law of God and this is directed principally against God.” (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 366)
There are two important parts to this definition. The first is that sin is any transgression of the law of God. This is the tone that is set in Genesis 1-3. Adam and Eve broke the law of God, they could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We also notice that there is not a particular amount of sin we need to commit to say we have broken God’s law; it only requires one.
The second part of this definition tells us that sin is “principally against God.” David teaches us this in Psalm 51 when he says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” (Psa. 51:4)
This is an interesting statement from David. David wrote this Psalm after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. His sin was not only directed against God but even Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. David set it up so that Uriah would be killed (2 Sam. 11:14-17). He sinned against Bathsheba when he committed adultery with her. But David knew his sin was ultimately against God. He broke two of the ten commandments, he murdered and committed adultery. David broke God’s law. He sinned and it was primarily against God. When we sin against God, we are not loving Him which means we will also not be loving our neighbor, so we sin against them.
All Are Under Sin
Romans 3 is the New Testament’s most extensive teaching about sin. Remember, sin is bad news, there is no way to get around that. We see that in the negative descriptions Scriptures uses for it.
But as we see when we read and study Romans 3 without the bad news of our sin the good news of the gospel is not as good as it is. God’s grace shines brightest against the blackness of our sin. Grace is even more amazing when we understand the depths of our sin.
What does the Apostle Paul teach us about sin and its nature in this passage?
All Are Under Sin
First, we learn that all are under sin. No one escapes its reach. “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” Jews and Gentiles (Greeks) are under sin. We live under its condemnation and its power. Everyone who has ever lived has lived under sin’s dominion.
To prove this Paul reaches back to the Old Testament. We see this in the phrase “it is written.” First, he quotes from Psalms 14 and 53. No one is righteous. No one seeks to keep God’s law but breaks it. We are all lawbreakers. To heighten the statement Paul says, “None is righteous, no, not one.”
The Effects of Sin
How does the reality that all are under sin and that no one is righteous show up in our lives? What effects does this reality have? The effects of sin are all encompassing. It effects every part of our being and our lives.
- No one understands. Sin effects our thinking. We are given up to a depraved mind (Rom. 1:18-32; Eph. 4:17-19).
- No one seeks for God. By nature, we do not want to be around God which is shown by our consistent breaking of His law. Therefore, we do not seek God. We do not go after Him. Instead, we “all have turned aside.” All of us have “become worthless.”
- No one does good. Because we are lawbreakers by nature, we are not capable of doing good. Now, does this mean that we are as evil as we could be, and we are not capable of helping the proverbial old lady across the street? In God’s sight when we are His enemies and consistently breaking His law nothing, we do is good in His sight.
Paul now is going to drill down even further into how the effects of sin manifest in our lives. Our throats and tongues are corrupted by sin. We use our tongues to deceive. We use our speech in ways that do not build others up but tear them down. Our mouths are full of curses and bitterness. If we could put it this way because we are sinners, we have a dirty mouth. We use it to our own advantage and not to build others up.
Next Paul moves to our feet. From head to toe. Our feet are swift to shed blood and we leave ruin and misery in our path. Because our feet are swift to shed blood, we do not know the way of peace. We may not literally murder someone, but Jesus tells us that when we hate someone in our heart, we are guilty of murdering someone in our hearts. Sin leaves a path of ruin, misery, and discord.
Look at the life Paul describes here. It is not pretty, and this is so because “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” When we are under sin, we do not fear God because we do not seek God.
Because of our sin, we cannot earn God’s grace through works of the law. We would have to keep the law perfectly to be made right with God but because of sin that is not possible. Outside of Christ, this is who we are. But we must remember that is was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Rom. 5:6-8). God’s grace is seen as glorious when we understand the depth of our sin. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) but God sent His Son to die the death that we deserved. God’s grace will be the theme of our next study together.
- James 1:13-15
- Where does temptation come from?
- Are we enticed by internal or external factors?
- What progression does James outline in 1:15? What role do our minds, affections, and will play?
- Why can God not be the source of temptation? (James 1:13;16-18)