Is a redeemed sinner a contradiction?
It is not uncommon to be confronted with questions about sin, especially with regard to the sinner. The normal argument is that Jesus died for sinners and believers – Christians – are effectively redeemed from sin. If they have been redeemed, they cannot be sinners any more. Christians who consider themselves to be sinners, the argument goes on, must not have been redeemed in the first place.
What follows here is an exposition of sin, from the biblical perspective, which may help to shed light on those questions. I believe a clear understanding of sin is essential before one can be certain as to how believers ought to see themselves. It is also helpful in understanding how a believer ought to relate to the Redeemer.
What is sin?
There are three aspects to sin: a).Disobedience to or breach of law, b). Violation of relationships with people, and c). Rebellion against God, which is the most basic concept.
The following are the most common words used for sin in the Hebrew Bible:
Hatta't This term means "a missing of a standard, mark, or goal".
Pesa: The breach of a relationship, or rebellion.
Awon: This means perverseness.
Segagah: Signifies error or mistake.
Resa: This signifies godlessness, injustice, and wickedness.
Amal means mischief or oppression.
In the New Testament, the following are the most common Greek words for sin:
Hamartia: This is the most common term and signifies offenses against laws, people or God.
Paraptoma is another term for sin signifying offenses or lapses.
Adikia is mostly a legal term meaning unrighteousness and unjust deeds.
Parabasis signifies trespass or transgression of law.
Asebeia means godlessness or impiety.
Anomia is also used for sin to signify lawlessness.
The Bible describes sin negatively: Lawlessness, disobedience, impiety, unbelief, distrust, darkness as opposed to light, a falling away as opposed to standing firm. It is unrighteousness, faithlessness.
The Biblical Theology of Sin:
The best illustrations of sin can be found in the historical and prophetic books:
Israel forsook the Lord who took them from Egypt and made a covenant with them. They followed and worshiped the gods of the nations around them. (Judges .2:10 -13). In the days of Ahab, Ahaz and Manasseh they served the Baals wholeheartedly and filled Jerusalem with idols. The sin of human sacrifice followed as a result (2 Kings 21:6).
The existence of human sacrifice underscores the depth and gravity of sin. People become so perverted, so self-deceived that they perform the most unnatural and heartless crimes, thinking them to be worship. Isaiah 5:20 says they "call evil good and good evil".
Many kings compounded their sin by rejecting and even persecuting the prophets who proclaimed God's covenantal claims. Ahaz, for example, even spurned God's free offer of deliverance from invasion and arranged for his own deliverance through an alliance with Assyria and its gods.
Many kings tried to serve the Lord as they chose, often in forbidden manners, such as Jeroboam I and Jehu. Others attempted to serve God and the Baals at the same time, such as Solomon and the final kings of Judah. The kings may have called it "diplomacy" but the prophets called it adultery.
Still other prophets decried the social character of sin, for example Amos who said, "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed" (Amos 2:6 -7).
The history of Israel illustrates how impenitence compounds sin. Saul magnified his sins by repenting superficially (1 Samuel 13:11 -12; 15:13 -21; 24:16 -21). David, in contrast repented of his sin with Bathsheba without excuses or reservations (2 Samuel 12:13).
God prompted Israel to repent by sending adversity: famine/hunger, drought, plague, warfare and other curses for disobedience.
In the New Testament:
Jesus continued the prophets' work of deepening the concept of sin in two ways: First, he said that God requires more than obedience to external norms. People sin by hating, despising, and lusting even if they never act on their desires.
People sin if they do the right things for wrong reasons. Obedience that proceeds from fear of getting caught, or lack of opportunity to act on wicked desires lacks righteousness (Matthew. 5: 17-48).
Second, Jesus' harsh denunciations of sin show that sin cannot be overlooked. It must be confronted, unpleasant as that may be (Matthew. 18: 15-20; Luke.17:3-4). Otherwise, the sinner dies in his sins (John 8:24; cf. James. 5:19-20).
Jesus also taught that sin arises from the heart. Thus bad trees bear bad fruit, blasphemous words spring from hearts filled with evil. So, evildoing, or sin, is not simply a matter of choice, rather, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34).
But then, Christ came, not just to explain but to forgive or remove sin. Thus he was a friend of sinners (Matthew. 9:9-13; Luke. 15: 1-2), bestowed forgiveness of sins, and freed those suffering from its consequences (Mark. 2:1 -12; Luke. 7: 36 -50).
The crucifixion is at once the apex of sin and the cure of sin (Acts 2:23 24). That the Son of God had to bear the cross to accomplish redemption shows the gravity of sin. That he rose from the dead demonstrates that sin is defeated. After his resurrection, Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the victory and forgiveness of sins through his name (Luke. 24:47; John 20:23).
Paul's theology of sin appears principally in Romans 1 -8. There is God's wrath or anger because of sins
humans commit against him and one another (1: 18-32). Unbelief is the root of sin. The failure to glorify or thank God leads to idolatry, foolishness and degradation (1:21-25). Sometimes God permits sins to develop unimpeded, until every kind of wickedness fills the human breast (1:26-32).
Sometimes we object to this indictment, for example in 2:1 -3:8, but Paul points out that while not everyone sins so crudely, everyone violates standards they consider just (2:1 -3). If someone professes to belong to the covenant, have knowledge, and so enjoy special standing with God, Paul asks if they live up to the knowledge they have of God' law (2:17 -29).
Everyone is a sinner, Paul concludes, and stands silent, guilty and accountable before God (3:10J -21). Paul's lists of sins cover the gamut of transgressions, from murder to gossip. Despite his use of the term "flesh" ("sinful nature" in some translations), relatively few sins on the lists are sensual; most concern the mind or the tongue (Romans.1:28 -32; Galatians. 5:19 -21).
Like Jesus, Paul affirms that sin is an internal power; not just an act. It enslaves any whom Christ has not liberated and leads to death (Romans 6:5-23). The unbeliever is incapable of pleasing God (Romans 8:5-8). Sin continues to grip even the redeemed (Romans 7:14-25).
Deliverance from sin comes through justification by faith in Jesus, so there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21- 4:25; 8:1 -4). The Spirit renews believers and empowers them to work out that deliverance (Romans 8:9 -27).
The rest of the New Testament restates themes from the Gospels and Paul. James states that sin begins with evil desires (James 1:14; 4:1-4) and leads to death when fully grown (James 1:15). The suggestion in the bible is that iniquity gains its power through repetition. When a sin is committed it can become a habit through repetition; a vice and a character trait.
When one person imitates the sins of another, wickedness can be institutionalized. Governments can become corrupt, whole industries can be deceptive or abuse others. Societies can wrap themselves in a fabric of deceit. Thus one sinner encourages another and the wrong kind of friendship with the world makes an enemy of God (James 4:4-6).
The Book of Revelation also reminds us that sin involves more than individual people and acts. Satan reigns in some places (Revelation 2:13). In his attempt to destroy the church, the dragon prompts the wicked to persecute it (Revelation 12:1 -17). Both governments and religious leaders serve him in his wars against the saints (Revelation 12:17 -13:17).Revelation also depicts the end of sin. A day comes when new heavens and new earth, free of sin forever, will descend (Revelation 21 -22).
So, what constitutes sin? There are three chief aspects of sin: a). Breach of law, b).Violation of relationships, and c). Rebellion against God. The essence of sin, therefore, is not a substance but a relationship of opposition.
Sin is also a condition. The Bible teaches that there are lies and liars, sins and sinners. People can be filled – meaning, controlled – by hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew. 23:28). God gives some "over to sin", allowing them to wallow in every kind of wickedness (Romans.1:18 -32).
This far, we can say that sin is elusive; it has no substance, and no independent existence. It exists as a parasite of the good or good things. Sin creates nothing, rather it abuses, perverts, spoils and destroys the good things God has made.
Negative as it is, sin hides itself under the appearance of what is good. Indeed, someone can always make a persuasive defense for every offense.
Ultimately sin is most unreasonable. Why would Adam and Eve, well-cared for, and without propensity toward sin, rebel against God? Why would a creature want to rebel against the Creator? The Prophets found Israel's rebellion absurd; even animals know better: "The ox knows his master; the donkey his owner's manger", wrote Isaiah, "but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah.1:3)
Although negative and irrational, sin is also a power. It crouches at Cain's door, ready to devour him (Genesis .4:7). It compels Paul to do the evil he does not wish (Romans.7:14 -20). It moves and is moved by demonic and societal forces. Its stronghold is the all but instinctive tendency to put one's own interests and desires first. From the selfish heart comes rebellion, godlessness, cursing, lies, slander, envy, greed, sensuality, and pride (Matthew. 12:34 -37; Romans.1:18- 32).
Three factors compound the tragedy of sin: First, it pervades the whole person, no sphere escapes (Psalm.51:5; Jeremiah.17:9; Romans .8:7). Second, sin resides in the crown of God's creation, the bearer of God's image; the one appointed to rule the world for God. The remarkable capacities for mankind to think, plan, persuade, and train others enables sin and wickedness to become clever and strong. Third, sin is proud; hence it resists God and his salvation and offers a counterfeit salvation instead (2 Thessalonians.2:2 -4).
Despite all its dismal qualities, sin makes one contribution. Because God chose to redeem his people from it, sin has been the stimulus for God's demonstration of his amazing patience, grace, and love (Romans.5:6 -8; Galatians. 2:17 -20; 1 Timothy.1:15 -17). Thus the study of sin need not grieve Christians. From a post resurrection perspective, sin indirectly gives opportunity to praise the Lord for his gracious deliverance (Romans.11: 33-36).
Those who teach that a true believer – they emphasize "true" - is not a sinner, stress that the work of Christ on behalf of sinners is undermined by any teachings to the contrary.. On the other hand, failing to acknowledge the sinfulness of believers can also be seen as undermining the full significance of God's grace. What is clear from scriptures though, is that sin is very much present in the world. The important point to grasp is that Christians are no longer under the dominion of sin They are not slaves of sin since they now have a new Master.