Excusing Sin

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Who is the most evil person you can imagine? Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) obviously comes to mind. He was perhaps the most brutal, creative, and intelligent dictator of all time. He was primarily responsible for the Holocaust and the Second World War. Hitler believed the Jewish people were the principal cause for all problems, and sought to eliminate them. His actions resulted in the death of more than 50 million people.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) is likely the next thought. He was dictator of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death. He was an assassin and robber in his youth. Stalin reigned with terror and violence for nearly 30 years. His decisions led to a famine that killed millions. Under his regime, more than a million and a half German women were raped (girls under 18 and old women included), and estimates are that he is directly responsible for the murder of more than 20 million people.

Exodus 20:13 commands, “‘You shall not murder.” God did not forbid killing per se. He did authorize capital punishment; for example, He commanded the entire destruction of the Canaanite population. The Mosaic Law demanded that Israelites execute murderers and other people. Nevertheless, the Lord prohibited taking a human life without His authorization (a primary distinction between jihad and what can be termed “Yahweh war”).

Hitler and Stalin are just two individuals that can be identified as wicked. The sad reality is that every murderer can provide supposed justification for their act of violence; and thus, if not a crime then not sin. One explanation for Hitler’s animosity toward the Jewish people is that he believed they were responsible for Germany’s loss in World War I. Stalin rationalized the rape of German women as innocent fun and a mere trifle for soldiers, who had crossed thousands of kilometers through blood, fire, and death. He also believed the famines and resulting death were a worthy sacrifice for a better Soviet Union.

In his book Whatever Became of Sin (1973), Karl Menninger lamented the near disappearance of the word “sin” from the modern vernacular. He warned that any hope or thought of a moral society would inevitably vanish, should the concept of sin become eliminated from public discourse. When he proclaimed a National Day of Prayer and Fasting in 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln said, “And whereas is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”

In 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a joint resolution by the United States Congress declaring an annual National Day of Prayer. The following year, Dwight D. Eisenhower borrowed the words for his proclamation from Lincoln, which urged confessing “sins and transgressions.” The year 1953 is the last time a President has referred to sin as a national failing. Perhaps individuals may believe something is wrong in the world, yet few would call it sin. Some words certainly need to be deleted from one’s vocabulary, while others such as “sin” desperately need to return.

Defining Guilt and Sin
Humanity has attempted to disassociate itself from guilt and sin for thousands of years. Adam blamed Eve, who then faulted the serpent for her deception. Human nature is to blame, deny, and rationalize when sin is the issue. Consequently, sinners who refuse to confess their guilt become entangled in a vicious cycle of repeated offenses. Those who commit themselves to lies are unable to attain the freedom of salvation and to experience the liberty of truth.

How does the Bible define guilt and sin? Guilt is a judicial and legal term that expresses criminality before a court of law, and how the convicted bears responsibility to satisfy the demands of justice. Sin is the fallen state of all humanity, which has resulted in both alienation and separation from God; it is manifested in disobedience to the revealed will of God, by either concrete action or thought. The judicial and legal aspect of guilt is inseparable from the reality of the inherent and universal sinfulness of humanity; it is a permanent condition. The guilty are responsible to satisfy the demands of justice. God’s justice must be satisfied; therefore, complete fulfillment of His justice must be made personally or vicariously.

The guilt of Adam was imputed to all humanity, since all have sinned. The substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, wherein God imputed sin to His own Son, was necessary to propitiate the demands of God’s justice. The guilt of the sinner incurs responsibility to satisfy the justice of God; by either bearing the punishment personally, or by a substitute assuming the guilt vicariously. The substitute bears the deserved punishment and frees (or justifies) from the guilt of sin. Christ the victim was the substitute for the guilty. Those who are declared righteous by faith are such in the sight of the law, in the sense that justice or the law is satisfied.

Original sin affects humanity in terms of the corruption of the entire nature. However, humanity’s depravity does not mean that every human being is as morally bad as they could be; the potential, however, is such that sin is comprehensive and pervasive in all humanity, so that every part of the human person is completely affected by it. The effects of sin were devastating upon humanity. Adam’s sin is imputed to all humanity, who is condemned in terms of guilt and corruption (Rom 5:12-14). Condemnation affected all humanity through Adam, for in him all sinned.

According to Romans 5:12, all humanity was seminally present in Adam; hence, when he fell into sin, all humanity sinned in him. When Adam sinned, all humanity participated in the sin. When Adam came into the state of condemnation, all humanity came into condemnation, and is born into that state (5:18; cf. Ps 51:5; 58:3). Humanity is affected in terms of total depravity, which binds one’s moral and spiritual being, so that none can please God apart from His grace. The will is in bondage to sin, which makes humanity inclined to rebel against God.

Humanity is not born with a disposition toward good, but a sinful disposition received from Adam. Throughout the Old Testament, sin is disobedience to God’s moral law. Sin was clearly deliberate rebellion against God’s revealed will. Throughout the New Testament, sin is also rebellion against God. It is the failure to obey the holy standard of God (Rom 3:23; 14:23), defined biblically as transgressing the law of God (1 John 3:4).

Responding to Guilt and Sin
Menninger’s concerns are not only relevant to the prevailing culture, but also to mainstream evangelicalism. “Health and wealth” preachers declare promises that the Bible does not; while the minister who always proclaims a “positive” message to increase self-esteem, or the “Christian” counselor who attributes adultery, anger, or anxiety to “mental illness” or unresolved psychological issues, rarely, if ever, gives serious consideration to sin. Many would rather succumb to the temptation to take a drug that will artificially improve one’s feelings regarding self as opposed to accepting personal responsibility (and for the believer to learn faith and perseverance). Psychology has been a primary reason for the minimizing of sin. For instance, “mental illness” is used to excuse sin as sickness, thereby neglecting moral responsibility and seeking to “treat” sin as an unresolved psychological issue that requires therapy, as opposed to repentance and divine grace.

The medicalization of moral values, which treats sins as illness, has consequences. A person regarded as sick is certainly exempted from some, or all, moral responsibility, because an ill person cannot help being unwell, and thus cannot attain wellness by decision or an act of the will. Why is there such an avoidance of the concept of sin? The Bible reveals the answer as people shunning the concept of biblical morality. To discuss sin, one must have an objective standard of right and wrong by which human behavior is evaluated. More importantly, there has to be a person against whom sin is committed. Sin is personal because it is rebellion against a personal God. To remain silent regarding sin is devastating, because it also means being unspoken as to the reason why Christ Jesus died. To be unspoken concerning Jesus prevents a person from any possibility of overcoming what enslaves.

Sin must be discussed, for it brings substance to the conversation of what is wrong in society. Furthermore, the acknowledgement of sin encourages the humble awareness of the human need for redemption. Having understood the biblical definition of guilt and sin, what occurs to a society that loses these concepts, yet continues to practice sin? Asked differently, what occurs when sin is rampant, yet people do not confess their sins and transgressions? The answer is that the culture, society, and nation begin to deteriorate. The Bible reveals the remedy to this deterioration, when the remnant of Israel returned to their own land from the time of captivity.

The Jewish exiles had been living several years in their land, during which they experienced crop failure, drought, hostile neighbors, and increased apathy in rebuilding the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. The purpose of the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah was to remind the people of their primary task, and to warn them of the ongoing consequences of disobedience. The prophets identified the people’s sin, and the Jewish exiles acknowledged their guilt and recommitted themselves to the worship of God. Haggai 1:12 declares, “all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…. And the people showed reverence for the LORD.” Additionally, the exiles acknowledged their sin as the reason for God delivering them “into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” nearly one hundred years earlier. The exiles confessed, “…our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath” (Ezra 5:12).

The Jewish remnant experienced salvation when they devoted themselves to the truth, confessed it, and committed themselves to it. God then declared Himself to be present with them. The guilt of the people was absolved by the grace of God’s righteousness, and by no longer denying their sin.

Midnight Call - 07/2020

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