The Truth About Sin
COULD a sick man prove that he has no fever by breaking the thermometer? Of course not! Similarly, just because many reject God’s view of sin, it does not mean that sin does not exist. His Word, the Bible, has much to say on the subject. Exactly what does it teach about sin?
All Fall Short
Some two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul expressed frustration over the fact that ‘the good that he wished he did not do, but the bad that he did not wish was what he practiced.’ (Romans 7:19) If we are honest, we have to admit that our personal situation is similar. Perhaps we desire to live by the Ten Commandments or by some other standard of conduct, but like it or not, we all fall short. It is not that we deliberately choose to violate a norm, but we are simply weak. What is the explanation? Paul himself gives the answer: “If, now, what I do not wish is what I do, the one working it out is no longer I, but the sin dwelling in me.”—Romans 7:20.
Like Paul, all humanity is afflicted by innate weaknesses—evidence of inherent sin and imperfection. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” said the apostle. What is the cause of this condition? Paul continues: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 3:23; 5:12.
Although many reject the idea that transgression on the part of our first parents alienated us from God and caused us to lose original perfection, this is, indeed, what the Bible teaches. Jesus, by quoting from the first chapters of Genesis as authority, showed that he believed in the account of Adam and Eve.—Genesis 1:27; 2:24; 5:2; Matthew 19:1-5.
One of the pillars of the Bible’s message is that Jesus came to earth to redeem from their sinful condition those exercising faith in him. (John 3:16) Our future life prospects depend on our accepting Jehovah’s means of rescuing appreciative mankind from a predicament over which they have no control. But if we do not have a clear grasp of what sin is from God’s viewpoint, we cannot appreciate the means that he has established to save us from it.
Jesus’ Sacrifice and Why It Was Needed
Jehovah gave the first man the prospect of living forever. Only if he rebelled against God would Adam lose that marvelous prospect. Adam did rebel, and when he did, he became a sinner. (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:6) Adam acted in a way that was contrary to God’s will, fell short of perfection, and marred his relationship with God. When he committed sin by breaking divine law, he began to die. Sadly, all of Adam’s descendants—including us—were born in sin, and we are destined to die because of it. Why?
The reason is quite simple. Imperfect parents cannot produce perfect children. All of Adam’s offspring were born sinners, and as the apostle Paul notes, “the wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) The second half of that verse, though, gives us hope: “But the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is to say, by means of the sacrificial death of Jesus, it is possible for obedient, appreciative mankind to be cleansed of the effects of the sin that Adam committed.* (Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18, 19) How should that make you feel?
Christ’s Love “Compels Us”
The inspired apostle Paul gave God’s answer to the above question. He wrote: “The love the Christ has compels us, because this is what we have judged, that one man died for all; . . . and he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15) If a person appreciates that Jesus’ sacrifice can potentially free him from the effects of sin—and he desires to show gratitude for that provision—he should strive to live his life in accord with God’s wishes for him. This includes acquiring an understanding of what God requires, training his conscience according to Bible standards, and then living his life in harmony with them.—John 17:3, 17.
Wrongdoing damages our relationship with Jehovah God. When King David recognized the seriousness of his adultery with Bath-sheba and the murder of her husband, he no doubt felt great shame. But what concerned him most—and rightly so—was that his sins had offended God. He contritely admitted to Jehovah: “Against you, you alone, I have sinned, and what is bad in your eyes I have done.” (Psalm 51:4) Likewise, when Joseph was tempted to commit adultery, his conscience caused him to ask: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?”—Genesis 39:9.
Sin, then, is not just a question of feeling bad about ourselves because we may have lost face. It is not just a case of having to answer to public opinion or to society because we may have fallen short of some ideal. Violating God’s laws on sex, honesty, respect, worship, and so on, damages our personal relationship with him. If we deliberately practice sin, we are making ourselves God’s enemies. This is a truth that demands sober reflection.—1 John 3:4, 8.
So whatever happened to sin? The fact is that nothing happened to it. People just began calling it by other names in hopes that it would appear less serious than it is. Many either dulled or ignored their conscience. All who desire God’s favor must resist such a tendency. As we have seen, the wages of sin is, not just a bruised ego or embarrassment, but death. Sin is a matter of life and death.
The good news is that forgiveness through the redeeming value of Jesus’ sacrifice is possible if we sincerely repent of our sins and leave them. “Happy are those whose lawless deeds have been pardoned and whose sins have been covered,” wrote Paul. “Happy is the man whose sin Jehovah will by no means take into account.”—Romans 4:7, 8.
For a full explanation of how Jesus’ sacrificial death has the power to save obedient mankind, see What Does the Bible Really Teach? pages 47 to 54, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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A Theological U-Turn
For the majority of Catholic churchgoers, the idea of Limbo has always been somewhat foggy. In recent decades, it has been gradually fading away—to the point that the notion no longer appears in catechisms. In 2007, the Catholic Church officially signed Limbo’s “death certificate” in a document mentioning “theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness.”—International Theological Commission.
Why this change of position, this theological U-turn? Basically, it allowed the church to free itself from what French columnist Henri Tincq called “a burdensome inheritance, defended, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, by a manipulative Church, only too happy to use the threat of Limbo to incite parents to baptize their children as quickly as possible.” But the demise of Limbo also raises other issues.
Tradition or Scripture? Historically, belief in Limbo resulted from 12th-century theological debates relative to purgatory. The Catholic Church taught that the soul survives after death, so it had to find a place for the souls of children who could not go to heaven because they were not baptized but who nonetheless were not deserving of hell. Thus was born the idea of Limbo.
The Bible, however, does not teach that the soul survives after death. Instead, it clearly states that rather than being immortal, human souls who sin can be “destroyed” and “shall die.” (Acts 3:23; Ezekiel 18:4, Douay-Rheims Version) Since the soul is mortal, such a place as Limbo cannot exist. Moreover, the Bible speaks of death as being a state of unconsciousness, similar to sleep.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14.
The Bible indicates that God considers holy the young children of Christian parents. (1 Corinthians 7:14) Such a statement would be pointless if the baptism of infants were necessary for their salvation.
The teaching of Limbo was truly an insult to God, depicting him as a cruel tyrant who punishes the innocent, rather than the just and loving Father that he is. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Matthew 5:45; 1 John 4:8) No wonder, then, that this unscriptural teaching has always run counter to the common sense of sincere Christians!
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Living in accord with God’s Word results in a healthy relationship with God and men