Chapter 17: The Nature Of Sin

If the nature of God's law is love, and if obedience to that law is love, and if the works of true love include our worship and praise of God and our self-denying ministries to the needs of others, then the next logical question to ask ourselves is, What is the nature of sin?

Having come to the conclusion that obedience is a matter of character, then it does not take any amount of genius to deduce from this that sin, which is the opposite of obedience, is also a matter of character. Like obedience, sin is more a matter of what we are than it is a matter of what we do or do not do. This is why . . .
'We need to understand that imperfection of character is sin.' (COL330)
Sin, therefore, is not just a matter of stealing, it is a matter of a character that desires to steal. Sin is not just a matter of committing adultery, it is a matter of a character that desires to commit adultery. Sin is not just a matter of murder for . . .
'Murder first exists in the mind.' (DA310)
Thus sin is a heart/mind or, if you like, a character problem. The sinful act is only ever a symptom of a deeper cause, and the cause, in all cases, is an unconverted, sinful mind or heart - which boils down to a corrupted character.
As Jesus told us:
'Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.' (Matthew 15:19)
The heart, or character, therefore, is the source of and the root cause of sin; the things that we do, say, or think, are only symptoms. This is why . . .
'If the law extended to the outward conduct only, men would not be guilty in their wrong thoughts, desires and designs. But the law requires that the soul itself be pure and the mind holy, that the thoughts and feelings may be in accordance with the standard of love and righteousness.' (1SM 211)
Thus we must conclude that sin is a matter of our deepest inner make-up. This is why we do not have to perform a sinful act in order to commit sin, we have only to desire to do the act in order to sin, for the act, in all cases, is only a product of our sinful inner desire. This is why Jesus said, . . .
'Anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' (Matthew 5:28)
Sin, therefore, is something far deeper than mere actions, for all of our actions have their roots deep down in our hearts. In this regard, . . .
'[Jesus] taught His hearers that the law was transgressed by the thoughts before the evil desire was carried out in actual commission.' (2MCP658)
And this is why, in the judgment, our intentions, our deliberations, our motives, and even our most private inner feelings and yearnings will all be brought into consideration - along with our actions. This will most certainly be the case because . . .
'The law of God takes note of the jealousy, envy, hatred, malignity, revenge, lust, and ambition that surge through the soul, but have not found expression in outward action. These sinful emotions will be brought into the account in the day when "God shall bring every work into judgment." ' (1SM217)
This all makes us realise how vitally important it is that we understand the true nature of sin - and there are at least least two good reasons why this is so:
1 So that we will realise our great need and feel more inclined to flee to the Great Physician for healing.
2 So that when we do come to the Great Physician for healing, we will not present to Him just our wrongful acts, but also our "wrong-full" hearts. Only when we do this is there hope of restoration, for only then will we be able to co-operate with God in the removal of the true cause of our problem, and not just focus His attention, and ours, on a mere series of symptoms.
Our Great Need

The greatest need of the human heart, therefore, is to realise how great is the need of the human heart. In fact, this realization is essential, for we will only ever take full advantage of God's provision for sinners when are we fully aware of the depth of our sinfulness. Then, having a right understanding of our great need, we will realise that, in our own strength, there is not much that we can do to meet that need.
'Of ourselves we are no more capable of living a holy life than was the impotent man capable of walking. Man cannot transform himself by the exercise of the will.' (DA203; COL96)
Yet even this realization is a source of hope, for 'what is impossible with men is possible with God' Luke 18:27. God has made abundant provision even for the abundantly hopeless.
'In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul.' (DA98)
While we cannot even begin to change our characters, we can nevertheless rejoice in the knowledge that . . .
'It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure.' (Philippians 2:13)
God is able to change our characters, but the sad truth is that for as long as we have not discerned the spirituality of God's law, for as long as we do not understand that sin is primarily a matter of what we are, and not just a matter of what we do, we will not realise our desperate need, and we will not come to Him for healing. This is the great danger of what we might call "pulpit flattery."
Once we realise that sin is a matter of a defective character, we will be rather reluctant to tell our congregations that they are 'the commandment-keepers of God,' for who in any congregation has a character that can stand in the light of God's law of perfect love?
'We call ourselves commandment-keeping people, but we do not comprehend the exceeding breadth of the far-reaching principles of the law of God; we do not understand its sacred character.' (1SM402)
In like fashion, when we understand that obedience is love, we would also be somewhat hesitant to declare to our congregations that they are . . .
'A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.' (1 Peter 2:9)
In Scripture, the above verse actually starts with the word 'but,' which means that it must be read in conjunction with the preceding verse or thought, and we will notice that the preceding verse is speaking about a people who are disobedient. The thought that Peter is getting across here is that the chosen people are not like those who disobey.
Therefore, if obedience is love, if obedience is a matter of character, are we doing our congregation any favors by telling them that they are a royal priesthood, a holy nation? Chosen we may be? But perfectly obedient to the perfect law of love . . .?
'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory (character) of God.' (Romans 3:23)
God wants His people to understand that they are not saints but sinners, and this because Jesus did not come to save saints but sinners. The great problem with "saints" being that they feel no need of a Saviour and, as such, they are in a more dangerous situation than an infidel, for . . .
'It is only when the sinner feels the need of a Saviour, that his heart goes after the One who can help him.' (5BC1111)
'The soul must first be convicted of sin before the sinner will feel a desire to come to Christ.' (FW31)
This is why Jesus wishes that His Laodicean church were either cold or hot, and not just lukewarm, for the problem with lukewarm Christians is that they 'do not need a thing.' (Revelation 3:15,16)
Thus the special need of God's church today is messages, preached with great tact and kindness, that highlight our sinfulness and our great need. Such messages, provided they gently point us to our Saviour, will answer to the needs of the soul and bring us to an understanding of our spiritual vacuum, a vacuum that God alone can fill, and one that He can only fill when we acknowledge our need to be filled.


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