Sin and salvation
By Earl Creps
Editors note: This is the third in a series of eight monthly
articles on the 16 Foundational Truths of the Assemblies of God, written
by faculty of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
"Man was created good and upright; for God said, Let us
make man in our own image, after our likeness. However, man by
voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical
death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God."
"Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith
toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of regeneration and renewing
of the Holy Ghost, being justified by grace through faith, man becomes
an heir of God, according to the hope of eternal life."
Sin has a bad name. Even using the word seems to imply ignorance and
bigotry in contemporary culture. Its fine for an individual to
have strong feelings about values, but it is definitely not fine to
"impose" those preferences on others.
Despite these objections, moral sensitivity does seem to be hardwired
into the human soul. While no culture has cornered the market on personal
standards, every person has the ability to sense when things are not
right. Anyone who did not believe that on September 10 was converted
on September 11. Individuals who lose this ability are considered sociopaths.
Sin is for real.
Three realities of sin
To appreciate how God can rescue us from this force, we need to
understand what it is and what it does. Three complementary views of
sin help us grasp the scope of its destructive nature.
Legal: Sin as crime. God has established certain "laws" of
conduct (e.g., the Ten Commandments) and we commit sin by disobeying
them. In this sense, transgressing Gods law is a spiritual "crime" that incurs punishment. This may be the most widely held view both inside
and outside the church.
Indeed, we have all "fallen short" of the character of God
(Romans 3:23). The Bible uses the metaphor of sheep to describe us as
wayward and self-willed. And thats the point my stepping
over the boundaries God has provided for my welfare and peace of mind
says that I have decided to replace Him as the sovereign of my life.
One commentator describes this as living as though God does not exist.
The offense is not just in the deed, but in the rebellion it represents.
Our deeds reveal who we are, fallen beings mired in selfishness and
Relational: Sin as alienation. The peace and joy that flow from knowing
God intimately are simply unavailable when we demand control of our
lives. This breakdown with our Heavenly Father distances us from Him
and makes the human race the ultimate dysfunctional family.
Jesus illustrated this with a story about a young man who demanded
his inheritance prematurely and used it to abandon his family for a
life of self-gratification (Luke 15:11-32). With everything he could
ever want in hand, he walked away, preferring control over a pittance
to a fortune gained by loyalty.
Alienation leads to deprivation. The young man started off feasting
with rented friends but ultimately found himself feeding with the pigs.
Eventually the consequences of our separation from God will catch up
with us as well. If I refuse to be reconciled to Him, He will allow
my condition to become permanent in the form of eternal separation.
Volitional: Sin as slavery. The self-centered life promises freedom
but delivers the opposite. One of the most destructive aspects of sin
is its ability to dominate us, to take away our choices, our volition.
Sin is much more than discrete deeds such as holding up a convenience
store. The Bible also describes it as a dark force that controls our
hearts and reinforces our selfishness. In its most overt forms, it manifests
itself as addiction, violence or injustice. Paul describes this bondage
in stark terms: "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not
submit to Gods law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the
sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:7,8). Ironically, the
more I grasp for freedom, the stronger the chains that bind me. Sin
and self-centeredness feed on each other.
If sin can be an act of transgression against God, a state of alienation
from God, and a form of spiritual slavery, where do we turn for hope?
The good news of the gospel is that there is salvation larger than our
Three realities of salvation
Gods love for us is so profound that He simply refuses to
abandon us in this condition. We can know this because He sent His Son
Jesus to bring us "salvation" in many forms.
Let off: Salvation as pardon. Sin and judgment have a cause and effect
relationship. In His mercy, the Father sent Jesus to pay the price for
all our violations of His divine law. First John 2:1,2 describes Him
as "the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but
also for the sins of the whole world."
By dying on the cross as a substitute for us, Jesus has made it possible
for God to extend a full pardon to all those who trust in Him.
This is the essence of forgiveness. God supplies it by grace, giving
us what we need rather than what we deserve. We receive this gift by
giving up on our self-governance (repenting) and reaching out to God
with whatever faith we have. Any believing heart will find forgiveness
in God through Christ.
Coming home: Salvation as reconciliation. Our Heavenly Father recognizes
that personal alienation is a recipe for heartbreak. He is grieved by
the distance we maintain from Him, and, like the father who was deserted
by his son in Jesus story, God longs for us to return home.
The wayward sons road trip did not prove to be permanent. He
came to his senses and returned home. Instead of confrontation, his
father ran to meet the son, clothed him, fed him, and invited the rest
of the family to celebrate his return. Alienation was at an end!
It also ends in Christ. Faith in Jesus allows the Father to "adopt"
us into His family as His own sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5). Even
our alienation from other people can be healed in Christ as He becomes
"our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier,
the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with
its commandments and regulations" (Ephesians 2:14,15a). On the
cross, Jesus demolished the walls of human alienation as well as the
sin barrier that separated us from our Father in heaven. When my faith
meets Gods grace, He receives me with the same joy as the father
who welcomed home his rebellious son.
Set Free: Salvation as deliverance. All of the things we do to take
control of our lives, to gratify our wants, are subtle forms of slavery.
These bondages are so severe that rescuing ourselves from them is impossible.
The power of sin is so great that Paul cried out, "What a wretched
man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans
He went on to answer his own question: "Thanks be to God
through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the
law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 7:25 through 8:2).
Jesus has come to break the power of every kind of darkness that holds
the human heart captive. In Christ, God "has rescued us from the
dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves"
(Colossians 1:13). Jesus death on the cross has broken the power
of sin and His resurrection has provided us a new life of freedom and
Pardon releases us from the guilt of sinful deeds. Reconciliation restores
our broken relationship with God and others. Deliverance frees us from
bondage to sins power. All of this is possible because of the
Cross and is available to us by faith. "How shall we escape if
we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).
Earl Creps is director of the Doctor of Ministry
program at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo.