Taking the Emotion out of Sin: A Study in the Substance of Death and Life


Let’s put aside the issue of morality, take the emotion out sin and see what we have left.


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“[T]he wages[1] of sin[2] is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.

We tend to view sin in moralistic terms, but I wonder sometimes if we might look at sin in non-moralistic terms. The adage, “we are what we eat”, is an apt description for sin. How we eat is a moral issue for some people, but most people (or many at least) don’t view eating that way.

We tend to view sin in moralistic terms, as in reaping what we sow. [3] What if we try to take the morality out of the discussion? What would we have left?

Although sin is a moral issue at heart, the emotion of morality in this modern, post-Christian age in the US may obscure how we view sin and the relationship between sin and death.

Men have tried to hijack morality and claim it as a product of their own making. If God exists, however, He is the author of morality. God, Himself, is the moral standard. I would say that, without God, there is no such thing as objective morality.

If God doesn’t exist, we create our own morality, and your morality might be different than my morality. The morality that is predominant in my community, may not be the morality to which your community subscribes. No one is ultimately right, and no one is ultimately wrong, except that those with the power and influence get to set the standard.

But that’s not what this piece is about. Let’s put aside the issue of morality and take the emotion out of the equation. Let’s take the emotion out of sin and see what is left.

If we view sin simply as a natural progression, death flows from sin like the oak grows from the acorn. Sin and death go together because they are of the same substance. Sin leads to death, and Death is the natural and inevitable result of the progression of sin.

From a different angle, the Greek word translated as “sin” means literally “no part of” or “not part of” and conveys the idea of losing out, forfeiting or missing the mark. God and right relationship with God is the mark.

God’s is eternal. He is, was, and always will be. God exists outside of time, space and matter. Our substance, however, is temporal. We exist within time and space and are comprised of matter. We are created, and God is uncreated.

Further, we read that God created us in His image[4] and put eternity into our hearts[5]. We are made in the image[6] and likeness[7] of God, but we are not God. We are like God in some respects, but not in all respects, the most fundamental of which is that we are the creature and He is the Creator.

What that means in very fundamental terms is that God is the standard. He is the mark. Though we are like God, we are not like God in all respects. We are made in God’s image, but we miss the mark, and, as a result, we do not have eternal life within us, though God has put it eternity in our heart.

Missing the mark means more than shooting an arrow and falling wide of the mark. It means, if God is the mark, we are not the mark. If God is the mark, we are merely an image of the mark – we are not the real thing. But that is obviously an imperfect analogy.

Forget about moralism for a moment, or the idea of original sin. That we are sinful is merely to say we are who we are, and the natural product of who we are is that we will die.

It is not that God created us imperfect and corrupted. This is where we get confused. We speak in terms of sin (something we have) and sinlessness (something God does not have), but it is really the opposite! Sin is actually a state of missing something God has!

We are creatures, not the Creator. We are made of time, space and matter, while God, the Creator, exists outside time, space and matter. We are limited in our substance because we are a creation and do not have all the attributes of God.

God is not limited in His substance. That is to say that God’s substance is eternal, while man’s substance is temporal. The substance of man and death go hand-in-hand.

Another way to say it is that our natural state leads to death. Though we bear the image and likeness of God in some respects, we are not of the substance of God – we are simply an image. That we are sinful is simply to say that we are who we are, and the natural product of who we are is that we will die.

What we are missing is God’s substance/character – God is who He is[8]. God cannot be anything but who He is, and we are “other” than God.

This is not as difficult as we make it out to be. If we want what God has (which leads to eternal life), we must receive that substance (eternal life) from God who has it. We do not have it in ourselves; we can only get it from the God who has it.

Amazingly, God “put eternity into our hearts”. Why would He do that?

I have written many times on the subject of eternity in the human heart. God put eternity in our hearts so we would seek Him. I am not the only one who has come to that conclusion.

Paul says that God subjected the world we live in to futility … in hope. (Romans 8:20) In hope of what? In hope that we might seek Him out! (Acts 17:27)

He could have (theoretically) created us programmed to respect and obey Him, but He didn’t do that. Instead, He created us with the capacity and ability to reject Him and the capacity and ability to accept and embrace Him. Not because we have to, but because we want to.

We are overjoyed to find out that God offers His substance freely to us! He created us so that we can receive it/Him. But He leaves us some small part in the transaction – we must be willing to receive what God offers.

We must want Him more than the world He created for us. He doesn’t hit us over the head; He desires that we seek Him and desire to know Him. He put us into a world that demonstrates His beauty and glory, but which He subjected to futility so that we would want to seek Him.

Receiving God ultimately means accepting what we lack in our natural state. It means exchanging sin (our natural state) for God’s character, which is sinless, so that we might have the product of God’s character, which is life.

We cannot have what God has and remain as we are. We must repent, which means to turn from sin, our natural tendency. We also cannot do this ourselves because our substance misses the mark (the character of God). We must obtain this character from God.

That is why Jesus said we must be born again.[9] Whatever is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of spirit is spirit.[10] The spirit is the substance of God that we lack. The spirit is the seed from which eternal life grows as its natural product, and we receive this seed by believing in the only Son of God[11] who is Jesus.[12]

God is spirit[13] who animated us when He created us. He also reduced Himself to flesh in the man Jesus, who also was God (in character). In doing this, God was born in the likeness of man![14]

Notice the parallel to the creation of man! God did not become exactly the same as us, but He took on the likeness of us (the flesh, the natural substance of who we are). In doing that, God was perfectly God in character (spirit) while taking on the form of man (with the limitations of time, space and matter). He was not like man in the sense of sinfulness.

Jesus did not miss the mark. He was sinless, as God is sinless, which is to say that Jesus had what we do not have – the very character and spirit of God.

This character (spirit) of God in Jesus is what God freely offers to us along with the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23), because the natural product of the character, essence and spirit of God is eternal life! He showed us that his character and life is available to us through becoming one of us and demonstrating it – not only the sinless character, but the transformation of the body from death to life!

When we believe in Jesus, we accept into our lives the Spirit of God, which is the very character of God that Jesus demonstrated for us in His life – the life He offers to us. This Spirit of God will come to dwell in us if we are willing to receive it![15]

When we take morality out of the equation and look at what is left, we may get a clearer picture. Sin is simply the substance of who we are in the absence of the character and spirit of God. In our natural state of sin, we fall short of God’s substance and character.

God offers us freely His substance and character which we only need to accept by believing in His only Son who is God inserted into the time, space and matter of the world in which we exist. By believing and submitting to God, He will come to dwell within us – his character and substance will take root in us – causing us to be born again, and the natural result of this is transformation culminating in eternal life.

Like the acorn becomes the oak, we become sons of God when we receive Him and are born of Him in Spirit. In doing so, we will begin to become like Him as He works in us.[16] It isn’t us, but God, who authors this change, and God will finish that work He begins in us as we fix our eyes on Jesus.[17]

“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”[18]

The result of this work that God does in us is that we die to sin, and we are transformed into the character of God, the character of Christ. From there, God works to grow His character and Spirit within us, the natural product of which is eternal life.

Now read 1 Corinthians 15:35-55. It really isn’t about morality as we tend to view it; it’s about the immutable laws of reality. Within ourselves in our natural state is lacking the seed that grows into eternal life. That seed is offered through Jesus, and His seed, if we receive it, inevitably grows into eternal life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Opsōnion – in the Greek (from opson, “meat” and onemoai, “purchase”) – meaning literally, the purchase of meat (food) and later, “ration-money paid to soldiers”; hence, wages (“fitting compensation”).

[2] Hamartía – in the Greek (a feminine noun derived from A “not” and méros, “a part, share of”) – meaning literally, no-share (“no part of”); loss (forfeiture) from not hitting the target; sin (missing the mark).

[3] Galatians 6:7 (“…whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”)

[4] Genesis 1:27 (“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female….”)

[5] Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“[God] has also set eternity in [man’s] heart….”)

[6] Elem – in the Hebrew, translated as image, meaning “something cut out” – a representation.

[7] Demuth – in the Hebrew from other Hebrew words meaning suddenly, out from (out from within), and meaning likeness, similitude (or pattern, resemblance).

[8] Exodus 3:13-14 (“Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?’”) 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

[9] John 3:3-8

[10] John 3:6

[11] What it means that Jesus is the Son of God.

[12] John 3:16

[13] John 4:24

[14] Philippians 2:7

[15] John 14:15-31

[16] Philippians 2:13 (“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”)

[17] Hebrews 12:2 (“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith”)

[18] Philippians 1:6

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