Have you ever stopped to wonder what sin really is?
You sure hear a lot about it. Some people dismiss it as archaic and outdated. While others hold picket signs protesting the existence of sin in other’s lives. But what exactly is sin?
Of course, we know what some sins are. We could probably come up with a pretty good-sized list of sins. Most who grew up in church could also articulate semblance of a phrase they’ve heard about sin, it’s missing the mark or doing something outside God’s will. More theologically minded people might use words like total depravity or original sin to grasp at its meaning.
But still, most of us are left with a deficient view of what sin really is.
So, what is sin?
Before you think that this is just a theological exercise, it’s not. How you answer this question (or don’t) affects your view of God, your ability to love those around us, your understanding of the cross, how you tell right from wrong, and how you interact with the world around you. This question is important.
To get to the bottom of this question we need to go back before sin entered the picture. We need to look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. But before we get there we need to define what a union is, because that’s a central theme in the garden.
What Is A Union?
This significance of union is largely lost on us today. We simply don’t value it, or frankly understand it. But we are created with an impulse to it. We crave connection with others, and not just a passing conversation, but genuine connection. Because we were made for union. Why? Because we were made in the image of God.
God lives in an eternal state of union through the trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). They are not three separate beings that live near each other. Rather an interpenetration of three persons in one being. Confusing? That’s why the Bible calls it a mystery. The point is that God created humanity, us, in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27) Thus we were created with this desire for union at our core.
So what is this union? It’s somewhat of a mystery, as is the trinity, but we catch glimpses of it. A union is two becoming one flesh. It’s extending and preserving oneself by giving yourself and receiving another. A union is when two things becoming joined together in such a fashion that they cannot go back to their original state.
Think of the last meal you ate. In a way, you entered into a union with that food. You and the food were joined together and became one. You cannot go back to the two separate states you were before. Even if you threw it up… I know gross, but hang with me… Parts of you would come up with the food and parts of the food would stay in you. Because a union is the intertwining of two separate things into one. And you cannot separate them the same afterward.
We were created for union. Union with each other and union with God. And in the beginning, in the garden, we existed in perfect union.
So what happened in the garden that disrupted this union?
What Happened in The Garden of Eden?
You’ve probably heard the story before (Genesis 1 – 2). God created the world, formed man and women, and released them to live in the Garden of Eden in perfect harmony (union).
I know we know what happens next… But stay here for just a minute. Think about this, like actually dwell on what this would have been like. Humanity existed in perfect union, with each other and their creator. With the absence of sin, insecurity, and jealousy there was nothing that could break that union.
Except… Eating from the tree of good and evil.
This act of disobedience was more than a simple infraction. It was a breach of union that changed everything and not just for them, but for all of humanity. That day in that garden we became something new. Something altogether different. On that day, we moved from union with creation (life) and entered into a union with death.
Shane Wood describes this moment in his book Between Two Trees like this, “When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were not merely disobeying a command, although indeed they were. They were not just committing an indiscretion, although indeed they did. The action was more dire, the result more severe. For sin is willful union with something or someone other than God.”
On that day, we entered into a union with death.
For more about the creation story check out: We’ve Missed The Point Of The Creation Story
Union With Death
Sin is much more than making a mistake. It’s willingly choosing to enter a union with something, or someone, other than God. And through our sin, we have entered into a union with death and the results are everywhere.
It should be no surprise that following the new union the first act recorded in Genesis 4 is jealousy that led to murder. This is the fruit of our new union.
The evidence of this is seen all over today. This is why we retaliate rather than forgive. Why we isolate rather than seek community. This is why we seek our own needs and not the need of others. This union has caused marriages to crumble, greed to run our lives, parents to abandon their kids, addictions that destroy, self-harm to be the norm, and makes love, true love, seem impossible.
We are united with death.
And remember the implications of a union. It’s becoming one flesh, giving yourself to another, it’s a bond in which both parties are joined in a fashion in that they cannot go back to their original form. We are one with death.
So what are we to do?
Why Doesn’t God Just Obliterate Sin?
Here’s a question I see a lot. Why doesn’t God just kill off, obliterate, all sin? Like a precision laser, just cut it out of our lives.
But our union with death presents a problem. Because we are one flesh, so to kill one is to kill the other.
Again let me turn to Shane Wood who says it better, “Union stands at the center of the remedy, revealing the original problem in greater clarity: In Christ, divinity united with harmony; in Adam, humanity united with Death. Humanity union with death, then, presents a formidable problem if God is still intent on recovering his creation. He could not merely obliterate death after the fall, for we had become one flesh with Death. Thus, to destroy death is, to some degree, to destroy humanity. After the union, the two can’t be torn from each other any more than ingested poison can be extracted through a syringe.”
God cannot just destroy the sin in our life because we are one with it. We have been joined together with death.
Our culture vastly downplays the seriousness of sin. Our sin is not a simple mistake, it’s choosing someone or something other than God to enter a union with. We are one with our sin. That should cause us to pause and maybe have a moment of panic. The severity, the consequences, of our actions are dire.
So, What’s The Solution?
The Sunday schooler in me wants to yell Jesus. And in this case, that would be correct; to a certain extent. But still let’s take a deeper look.
God’s desire is that humanity would enter back into a union with Him. The problem is man entered into a union with death and we continue to run recklessly toward death, even after following Jesus. We can’t help ourselves, we are drawn to death, the darkness appeals to us.
To redeem humanity, to restore union with his creation, God entered into our union with death. He honored our choice by becoming one with flesh and embraced the consequences that came with it. He took on the wages of sin and death… And conquered sin, death itself. The union with death that once held us captive no longer has power over us. He didn’t just die for our mistakes (He did that too). He broke the bonds of our union.
The solution to our union with death is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But it goes beyond, way beyond, just the forgiveness of our sins. Our redemption through Christ doesn’t erase our past. Rather it redeems it so it now exists in a totally different way. What once separated us from God can now be used for good.
We are being transformed from what we once were into a new creation. It’s not a one-time event, rather a life long transformation. We are being united from union with death and recreated to our original state.
That’s the beauty of the Gospel. It’s not a get out of hell free card. It’s an opportunity to re-enter into a life-giving union and rid ourselves of our union with death.
So, What Is Sin?
What is sin? Sin is our decision to enter into a union with something other than God. It is to become one flesh with death. This union is the result of evil we see in the world. And the evil we see in ourselves.
But our union with death doesn’t end our story because God won’t let it. He won’t give up on his pursuit of us. He is working to redeem us. He’s conquered sin and death so that our old union no longer has power over us. He doesn’t obliterate it, he doesn’t erase it. Rather He redeems it. He takes what was once used to harm, destroy, and separate and uses it for His good.
Because of this, we are now in a state of transformation. We are in the process of becoming something new. We aren’t there yet. Our prior union with death still evident. But one day, we will be a new creation unshackled from the consequences of sin. We live in the in-between. In process. Being transformed. We are entering back into the union with Life.
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