February 2010 Issue
~ In Desperate Need of a Savior
by John Revell
The topics of "sin" and
"sinners" are not particularly popular in most settings
or seasons, but especially not at Christmas. My wife and I have
the incredible privilege of leading a weekly, home discipling
group of about thirty teenagers and college students. Two weeks
before Christmas we considered the topic "Out of Place Ornaments."
Using the illustration of how each family's Christmas tree may
have ornaments that don't seem to fit, I referred to the family
tree of Christ as presented in Matthew. I pointed out that the
genealogy of Christ includes four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and
Bathsheba (Matthew 1:3-6). Then I explained that for Matthew to
include women in the genealogy of royalty would have been unusual
in itself, but even more bizarre was the fact that each of those
women would have stood out in the genealogy because of negative
connotations. Two of the four were linked to specific accounts
of sordid sinful activity, another came from a background of prostitution,
and three of the four were from outside the covenant family entirely.
Each one had a dark cloud over her because of personal background,
or heritage, or both. How odd and out of place or so it
would seem. Women some might have deemed as "out of place"
in the Lord's family tree, God used specifically and wondrously
to prepare the way for His Son's birth through a particular young
From there, I stressed to them that although He was entirely
sinless (Hebrews 4:14-16), Jesus came from sinners (Matthew 1:1-17),
to sinners (Luke 5:25-30; 19:5-7), for sinners (Luke 5:31-32;
The three months between Christmas and Easter bridge that gap
between our churches' focus on Bethlehem and Golgotha, on the
cradle and the cross. Each time we approach Good Friday and Easter
Sunday, an excellent question for consideration is, "Just
why did He come and die?" Not so much from the standpoint
of His motivation Paul, in Romans 5:8 declared, But
God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us! We recognize that His motivation was love.
The question for us is, "Why was it necessary
for Christ to come and to die?" which brings us back
to the matter of sin. In his letter to the Romans, Paul addressed
sin and deliverance extensively through the first eight chapters,
but in 5:12, he stressed a critical and pivotal point when he
stated, Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one
man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men,
because all sinned. In this passage, Paul set forth the monumental
crisis every human must face, and with which every person ultimately
must contend. The Bible says much more about sin than what is
contained in this passage, but we will confine this study primarily
to this verse, because here we find a foundational answer to our
Romans 5:12 brings us face to face with the entrance, the essence,
the effects, and the extent of sin.
The Entrance of Sin
Paul began this passage, sin entered the world through one
man. From the context we know this man is Adam.
Most of us know the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of
Eden all too well. When God created Adam and
Eve, He gave each a perfect body, a perfect home, a perfect diet,
a perfect spouse, a perfect career assignment, and a perfect,
loving relationship with the Almighty God of the universe
the One Who had given them life (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:18-25). The
only restriction was identified in 2:16-17, where
we find, And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are
free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat
from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day
you eat from it, you will certainly die." This was a
reasonable expectation from the One Who, in love, had lavished
them with perfect provisions and a perfect existence on every
Yet, they were not satisfied with perfection they wanted
In 3:1-6 we read of Eve's encounter with the serpent and her
explanation of the prohibition and warning regarding the fruit.
Scripture says, "No! You will not die," the serpent
said to the woman. "In fact, God knows that when you eat
it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing
good and evil" (3:4-5). The following verses indicate
that both she and Adam ate, and that part of their motivation
was, it was desirable for obtaining wisdom (3:6).
Up to that point, the world had known no sin; but through Adam
and Eve, on that fateful day at that dreadful instant, sin made
its hideous entrance into our world and it has afflicted
and beleaguered Adam's descendents every moment since.
The Essence of Sin
So, what is the real essence of sin what does it really
boil down to? Some have suggested that Jesus died to take care
of our "sin problem." From that terminology, the person
in the pew could easily conclude that sin is basically the list
of vices that trouble or harass us, and that Jesus died primarily
to deliver us from lying, or from cheating on our spouses, or
from various addictions. Some could further conclude that our
greatest need is victory over these vices because such
things make us bad people, and of course we want to be good people
and that Jesus died to give us that victory.
But while it is true that the Lord provides victory over sinful
activity, our need and our condition stretches far beyond merely
conquering unwanted and destructive behavior patterns. A brief
examination of the key word for sin in the passage, as well as
corresponding words in the immediate context, demonstrates that
the matter of sin goes past a particular behavior to the very
core of the problem. Of course the synonyms and corollaries for
sin extend far beyond these immediate verses to the whole book
of Romans, the Gospels, all of the New Testament, and all of the
Old Testament but space restricts this consideration to
three words in the immediate context.
When Paul stated that sin entered the world through one man,
the word he used for "sin" was hamartia. This
is the most common Greek word for "sin" in the New Testament,
and the one used most often in this passage and the surrounding
passages. In secular Greek usage it literally meant "to miss
the mark."2 Now, if all we had as
a reference was its ancient usage, we might conclude the problem
is that man may have made a sincere attempt to hit the mark, but
just didn't quite make it. An extension of the idea is that God
requires perfection of us, and no matter how hard we try we just
will not measure up, so Jesus died to bridge that gap between
our imperfection and God's expectation.
However, in New Testament usage its meaning takes us to a much
lower and wholly unflattering level. Vine pointed
out that "this etymological meaning ['missing the mark']
is largely lost sight of in the NT. It is the most comprehensive
term for moral obliquity."3 He goes
on to point out that its use not only referred to a particular
action but the "inward element producing acts" and that
the seat of sin is in the will.4
In this sense, sin is not merely an action; it expresses the
heart and attitude of the person who is acting a heart
that is defiant and hostile toward God.5
In John's use of the word, it is even identified with hatred toward
the Father and the Son (15:18-25, especially 23-24).6
In Romans 5:14, Paul uses the word parabaseos, which
is translated "transgression" in the HCSB. It conveys
the idea of violating God's command.7 In
5:14 the reference is to Adam's specific violation of God's specific
command regarding the fruit. Interestingly, Paul uses this same
word in 1 Timothy 2:14 with reference to Eve's sin in the Garden.
Concerning these verses, Gunther observed, "In all of these
passages [including Genesis 3: 1-6] the original fact of human
sin is presented as rebellion against God and His commandment."8
In Romans 5:15 Paul identified Adam's sin as a paraptoma;
the HCSB translates it as "trespass." Bauder indicated
that the picture behind the word, "emphasizes strongly the
deliberate act" of sin against God, which in turn negatively
impacts man's relationship with God.9 So
Paul uses parabaseos in verse 14, indicating the violation
of God's command, and paraptoma in 15 to signify the corresponding
disruption in man's relationship with God.10
In these three words we see hostility toward God that is rooted
in the heart, leading to defiance of and rebellion against His
commands, resulting in a break in the relationship with Him. Earlier
in Paul's letter to the Romans, he painted an appalling picture
of sin when he identified specific illustrations of defiance,
such as, evil, greed, and wickedness
envy, murder, disputes,
deceit, and malice
gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant,
proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning,
untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful (Romans 1:29-32).
Later, he lamented the abysmal state of sinners, observing,
they deceive with their tongues. Vipers' venom is under their
lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet
are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of
God before their eyes (Romans 3:13-18).
From these descriptions we can appreciate Paul's emphasis in
Romans 5:9-10, where he indicates that sin places the sinner among
the dreadful ranks of God's enemies, fully deserving
of His wrath.
These passages plainly demonstrate that sin goes far beyond
merely being trapped by a set of unfortunate, unpleasant, and
undesirable behaviors, despite how much we might like to be
and attempt to become free of them. Sin is a willful rebellion
against, and defiance of, God and His commands.
But it is more. Paul's reference to Adam takes us back to the
garden where Adam and Eve rebelled against God and His command.
But look at the serpent's lure he suggested that eating
the fruit would make Adam and Eve like God
and they bought the lie. As Quell pointed out, "The root
of sinful action is
exalting man to be lord and God in
his own personal life."11 Sin is indeed
defiance of and rebellion against God, but at its root is the
desire and attempt to usurp God's position of ultimate authority,
and to replace His with our own. Sin is indeed rebellion, but
it is the quest for individual autonomy that drives rebellion
even more, the quest for absolute individual autonomy
incites our rebellion against our Creator, our Sovereign, our
From these verses it becomes obvious that the heart of sin
is the rejection of, and the corresponding rebellion against,
God and His absolute authority, prompted by our incessant longing
to usurp His authority and assert our own.
The Effects of Sin
Paul stated in Romans 5:12 that, sin entered the world through
one man, and death through sin. In this passage, Paul indicated
that the result of sin is death, which correlates with God's warning
to Adam and Eve in the garden. The concept of death in this passage
includes both physical and spiritual death, but the notion of
spiritual death is expanded in 5:9 where Paul refers to God's
wrath. The effect of becoming God's enemy is being subject to
This may seem harsh, especially to those who would prefer to
think of God only in terms of His love. Faulty logic would lead
to the erroneous claim that a loving God would not have enemies
and, certainly, would not pour out His wrath on His enemies. However,
throughout Scripture God is identified as King, not just of Israel,
but over all the earth. Similarly, Jesus is identified as the
Messiah/King. Accordingly, we realize that rebellion against the
King is a capital offense!
There is nothing contradictory in a King holding out wrath
for those who would wage war against Him especially when
He Himself has paid the penalty for their rebellion, when He has
offered a total pardon for their rebellion, and when they still
refuse to repent of and turn from that rebellion.
The Extent of Sin
Romans 5:12 ends with Paul's conclusion, in this way death
spread to all men, because all sinned; thus sin extends to
all men. The context of the verses following this passage demonstrates
that all men sinned in Adam, but also that every man sins independent
of Adam. Unfortunately time does not permit a treatment of "original
sin" or corresponding implications,12
but Baptists have stated their convictions on this matter in "Article
III. Man" of the Baptist Faith and Message, where
"Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the
command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his
posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward
sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they
become transgressors and are under condemnation."
The simple reality is that every person who has ever lived
to the point of being "capable of moral action" has
rejected and rebelled against God and His absolute authority.
So we find ourselves in a dilemma: following Adam's introduction
of sin into the human race, everyone "capable of moral action"
is guilty; not merely of having some undesirable and unpleasant
vices that need to be cleaned up, but of rebelling against the
King and attempting to usurp His authority. Although we know better,
we attempt to replace His authority with our own. Therefore, each
person stands before God fully deserving His judgment and corresponding
This is not merely a "sin problem," this is a crisis
of unimaginable proportions in fact it is THE ultimate
crisis of all time for every person. This is why it was necessary
for Jesus to come to Bethlehem and to die on Golgotha it
was because of our desperate condition brought about by our rejection
of and rebellion against God. For that reason, the verses surrounding
Romans 5:12 offer incredible hope, because they indicate that
His death on that cruel cross paid the penalty for our rebellion
and opened the door for reconciliation with the Father.
In the next issue of SBC LIFE we will consider further
what Jesus accomplished for and in our salvation; but let us not
trivialize, and thereby insult, His incarnation and crucifixion
by suggesting that He came merely to assist us in traversing some
moral bump in the road of our lives. It was because each of us
has chosen to reject and rebel against God and His authority;
each one of us has aspired to replace His rule with our own. As
a result, each of us has positioned ourselves as an enemy of God,
fully deserving the fullness of His wrath. Furthermore, in our
presentation of the Gospel, we dare not communicate anything less.
But the good news the GREAT news is that in His
love, He chose to provide the ultimate and permanent remedy through
Christ's sacrifice on the cross. For this reason, I am personally
ecstatic and eternally grateful for the truth mentioned at the
outset, that Jesus, our Sinless Savior, came from
sinners, to sinners, for sinners.
And for that reason, with Paul we can all shout in joyful celebration,
To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
1. Paul made the
similar point in Romans 8:3-4: For what the law could not do
in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His
own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account
of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement
of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according
to the flesh but according to the Spirit (emphasis supplied).
2. W. Gunther, "Sin," The New International Dictionary
of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown editor, Volume 3, (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1977), 577 (hereafter cited
as DNTT) .
3. W.E. Vine, "SIN", Vine's Expository Dictionary
of New Testament Words, Unabridged Version, (McLain: Macdonald
Publishing Company), 1055.
5. Stahlin, "hamartano," Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament, Volume 1, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1977), 295-296 (hereafter cited as TDNT).
6. Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, "hamartia," Analytical
Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books,
7. Gunther, Ibid, 583-585.
9. Bauder, DNTT, Ibid, 586.
10. Michaelis, TDNT, Vol VI, 172.
11. Quell, TDNT, Vol 1, 282.
12. For a comprehensive treatment of the subject consider C.E.B.
Cranfield's comments on this passage in his commentary on Romans
in the International Critical Commentary series, published
by T&T Clark; and Douglas Moo's comments on this passage in
his commentary on Romans in the New International Commentary
series, published by Inter-Varsity Press.
John Revell is a member of Long Hollow Baptist
Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, interim discipling pastor
at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and editor
of SBC LIFE.
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