What is even more interesting to me is the realization that many of us in Adventism hold to a concept of sin which is based on the same approach as Catholicism takes and not surprisingly, this results in the same solutions as those adopted by Catholicism. When we regard sin as being primarily an action, or a lack of self-control, we inevitably approach the problem of sin in a legalistic way. The solution to the sin-problem becomes a matter of a change of habits, a change of actions, a matter or self-control and discipline. It is true that these factors become evident in the renewed life of the person who is victorious over sin, but it is a mistake to believe that victory over sin is the result of changed behaviour. Changed behaviour is the result of victory, it is not the reason for victory.
The root of sin
The sin-problem is primarily a problem related to the nature which carnal humanity possesses, and not so much to the actions or attitudes demonstrated by mankind. This is plainly taught by the Scriptures.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (8) So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Rom 7:14)
Man's primary problem is not what he does, but what he is. The problem is that the unconverted man is “carnal,” he has a fleshly nature, his mind is at enmity with God, his nature is in constant conflict with the will of God.
Victory in Christ
The Bible tells us that those who are in Christ become new creatures, they become partakers of the divine nature, the carnal mind is put to death, they are in the spirit and not in the flesh, and consequently, sin no longer has dominion over them. The biblical testimony concerning this change which takes place is overwhelming. In 1 John 3:9 we read:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)
Again we read in Romans 6:1,2,
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (2) God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom 6:1-2)
Notice where the emphasis is placed in these two verses: We do not commit sin, we do not live any longer therein. We do not indulge in the actions of sin, but why? It is because we are born of God, it is because we are dead to sin. The actions of sin no longer dominate our lives because the root of sin, the carnal nature, or the body of sin, or the old man, has been put to death and we are born again by uniting with Christ in His death and resurrection. The nature of sin is dead, therefore the actions of sin have no more place in our lives. As Paul puts it,
For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom 6:7)
This is the truth of the word of God. Over and over we see this emphasis in the Bible and especially in the New Testament. We do not overcome sin by attempting to do battle w ith sin, no, we overcome sin by finding our place in Christ. In Him, the carnal mind which is the root of sinful actions, is put to death and is replaced by the mind of Christ, thus, sin is defeated in one stroke.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (1 John 3:6)
All of this is wonderfully true. Yet, some of us may have found that in spite of these wonderful promises and assurances in God's word, in spite of the fact that the way is so clearly and unmistakably outlined in the Bible, in spite of the understanding which has come to our minds, we still find ourselves from time to time falling into acts of transgression and dishonouring God. This may have caused discouragement and confusion. How is this possible? If so much is promised by God, who cannot lie, and if we have accepted His word, why is it that we do not always see the power of Christ manifested in us, in constant victory over sin?
The Deadliest Sin
In examining the experiences of the first sinners, Lucifer, and Adam and Eve, some thoughts came to my mind which helped me to see more clearly that there is an underlying factor behind all sin. I don't mean the actions of sin, or the nature of sin in this case – I mean all sin, no matter how we define it. There is a most dangerous attitude which really lies at the foundation of all sinful actions and this is what I regard as the most deadly sin of all. It may not be sin in the commonly understood sense of the word,” but I am classifying it as sin, because it is indeed the cause of all sin.
God has given us all things in Christ. This is a most wonderful and indisputable truth. The apostle Paul speaks of this provision in the following words:
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (10) And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (Col 2:9-10)
In Him we lack nothing. All victory over sin, all the power of the holy spirit, all are ours in Christ. There is no place for Satan to overcome us, no room for the actions of sin to manifest themselves in our lives. Yet, we sometimes fail! Why? We find the answer as we consider the following truth:
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) (2 Cor 5:7)
All the abundance, all the fulness of Christ is indeed ours, but the one condition to receiving and walking in all these blessings is that we maintain our place in Him by faith . We walk, we live, we exist by faith, and only by faith. In other words, all that Christ has made available is ours, already ours in the fullest possible sense, but only accessible to us as we maintain our place in Him by faith. It is not that God turns off the channel of blessing if we don't exercise faith, no, it is that faith is the hand that takes hold of the benefits of the spiritual realm. It is like breathing, God does not say, “if you don't breathe I wont give you any air. No, the air is provided and we inhale it with our nostrils and so partake of its benefits. In a similar way, all God's blessings are available in Christ, and are received by the faith of the believer. When we stop believing, stop trusting, it is like a man who chooses to stop breathing, we cut off the channel to the blessing. It is not God who withholds the benefit, but we who reject it.
Yet, we live in a world which breeds unbelief. It fills the atmosphere all around us, pressing in on us and squeezing the life from us at every opportunity. It is not just that the public media is full of evolutionary and atheistic expressions, but the evidence of death, pain, sickness, injustice, suffering all around us, contribute to this miasma of unbelief. Every time we hear that a baby dies in a fire, or somebody is tortured to death, or some natural disaster sweeps away hundreds of people indiscriminately, sparing neither age, sex nor class, the temptation comes to ask, “God, where are You? Are you really there?” Even our friends contribute to this atmosphere of unbelief for there are few people who are able to resist the temptation to speak frequently of the negatives which are happening around them every day.
As I contemplated these facts, it occurred to me that neither Lucifer, nor Adam and Eve faced any of these problems, yet they lost faith in God! I mean, Adam and Eve were in the perfect atmosphere. There was nothing anywhere to encourage unbelief. Everywhere they looked there was evidence of the love of God, evidence of the goodness of their Creator. There were no atheists, no evolutionary theories no television, no injustice, no pain, no death – all they could see on every side was, “God is good!! You can trust Him with all your heart!” Yet still, they stopped trusting God!
We consider that the sin of Adam and Eve was the taking the fruit, but it is evident that sin began even before they took the fruit. The real problem was that they stopped trusting God – they came to believe that God was a liar! This was exactly the problem. If somebody tells you that if you touch something you will die, why would you touch it? Either you want to die, or you believe the person is a liar. Would you dare to touch it if you truly believed that there was even a chance that touching it might lead to your death? Eve came to believe that God was a liar, this is the reason why she took the fruit, it was not a desire to commit suicide. Amazing as it seems, Eve came to the conclusion that God was such a liar that she was willing to take the terrible risk of instantly dying on the spot if she was wrong.
It was the same thing with Lucifer. What atmosphere could have been more conducive to faith and trust in God than the one in which he existed for, possibly, ages? At every moment the goodness of God was on display before his eyes. He was privileged in a special way to behold the workings of God as he stood constantly in His very presence and saw how He interacted with His creatures. Yet the staggering testimony of the word of God is that … iniquity was found in him! He stopped trusting God.
What hope is there for us then? If these perfect beings with their perfect minds, in the perfect atmosphere of paradise with all the evidences of God's love and goodness, stopped trusting God, what hope is there that we can maintain our trust and confidence in God, enabling us to lay hold on all His strength, when we are so bombarded by unbelief on every side, every single moment of the day? As I considered this question it became clear that there was one underlying factor in the experience of Adam and Eve as well as that of Lucifer, which we must be aware of and avoid at all costs. This is the factor which I refer to as this “Deadliest Sin of all.”
Consider this question carefully: What was the reason why Eve came to the conclusion that God was a liar? The Bible tells us plainly, it was because she listened to the serpent. This is an amazing fact and it is full of instruction and warning for us. How much time did Eve spend with the serpent? Possibly, no more than a few moments, maybe five minutes at most. Yet in five minutes Satan was able to destroy all the evidences of God's goodness and love, all the certainty of God's faithfulness which existed in Eve's mind and which had been developing in her since she had been created. Amazing! How was it possible that in just a moment, all the accumulated evidence of many days could be so completely wiped away. There is a powerful lesson and warning here for all of us. All the evidences which we have of God's love and good-will can be eroded in just a moment if we choose to turn our attention from the evidences of the truth. This is the fact, it is as simple as that. Five minutes of listening to the wrong thing, of talking to the wrong person, of looking in the wrong direction and all the evidences of a lifetime will be destroyed! This seems very unreasonable, but it is a fact and it emphasizes the truth of the great principle that “by beholding, we are changed.” The evidences which we have accumulated over years, will not suffice to preserve us in the moment of challenge. We are not kept by accumulated knowledge, no, and here is the critical point: We are kept and preserved only by constantly beholding Christ, only by a constant union with Him which is based on keeping the eyes on Him. Knowledge about Him has its place, but knowledge is not the key to the Christian's strength. This is why a person who knows only a little about Christ can be a very strong Christian, while another person who has studied and understands a lot about Christ and the way of salvation, may be a very weak Christian. Our strength is not in knowing the facts about Christ, our strength is in keeping our eyes fixed on Him.
This is the reason why I have chosen to represent the greatest sin as being, the attitude which causes us to turn our attention from Christ for even one moment. We may think, “what harm is there in a moment?” But the entire destiny of our planet was changed disastrously because Eve took that attitude. This change of focus is the root cause of unbelief (distrust in God), which separates us from God's spirit, which is the reason for disobedience, which we define as sin. The real problem is not the end-result, the real problem is the source from which originated all the subsequent steps which led to the end-result. So the point is, never take the eyes from Christ and we are permanently safe. Take the eyes from Him for even a moment, and we have committed the deadliest sin, the root and the source of all evil.
Peter knew of Christ's power, trusted in Christ's power, to the point where that knowledge and trust set him to doing the impossible feat of walking on water. But was it his knowledge which sustained him? Was it his knowledge of Christ's ability which enabled him to defy the laws of nature? No, when he turned his eyes from Christ, he still had the knowledge of Christ's power and good-will in his memory, but with his focus changed, memory was not enough to keep him from sinking. His stored information was not enough for the present crisis. He needed a present interaction with Christ, maintained by the look of faith. When this was broken by the diverting of his attention elsewhere, he was beaten. What a striking lesson!
So the point is, victory over sin is not dependent on us living in perfect surroundings, having an abundance of information concerning what is true, and having perfect minds. The most perfect persons lost their way, not because they were lacking in the right environment, it was because they chose to look away from God and to spend a moment with unbelief. This was enough to bring disaster upon them, and the entire human race. But the converse is, we, with imperfection and negatives all around us, may yet maintain a life of perfect harmony with God, of total victory over sin, not because we have a flawless environment or are more capable than others, but simply because we learn the lesson and learn it well, that we dare not take our eyes from Christ for even a moment. Those who learn this lesson are safe, no matter what their circumstances or how feeble their intellects. Those who don't learn this lesson are doomed to continual failure and are in danger or eventually losing their souls.
None of us is strong in himself. Our strength is Christ and only Christ. Outside of Him, we can do nothing. This is what He tells us very plainly (John 15:5). Therefore, God has given us this capability to choose where we will keep our eyes focused. We all can do this irrespective of our intellect, our environment or our circumstances. We do not have the strength in ourselves to do what is right, but we are able to choose what we look at, and we have the assurance that as we keep our eyes on Christ, all His strength becomes ours. We are enabled in Him to do all things, victory over sin, the world and the devil becomes our constant experience.
So, let us guard carefully and uncompromisingly against the influences which daily seek to obstruct this vital bond between us and Christ. Resist the inclination to indulge in discussions with unbelievers who attempt to erode our faith, guard against the temptation to spend a few moments listening to, or watching something unwholesome. As the saying goes, “we can't stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from making a nest there.” Let us fill our minds with the presence of Christ, read His word at ever opportunity, when we can't read, listen to it, make opportunities to speak of Him with all who will listen. Keep your minds sensitive to His direction, look for Him and His leadings in all we do at every moment. Make the time to speak with Him frequently throughout the day. In fact, let our love and need for Him impel us to pray without ceasing.
There will be a people who become all that the Lord wants them to be. Even now God is preparing them. Yet these people, when they finally appear, will be essentially, no different from anybody else in the world What will make their experience different from all the others, including the generations of Christians who have gone before? It will simply be this: They will have learned the lesson which God has always wanted us to learn, the lesson that Christ is everything , and that we dare not let Him go for even a moment, for in ourselves, we are nothing and can do nothing . Christ is all in all. This is the message of Christ our Righteousness and is the message which even now, God is once again lifting up in its beauty before all who will open their eyes to see.
When we truly know, from the depths of our hearts that we truly can do nothing of ourselves, that Christ is truly in an absolute sense, our entire righteousness, that all our hopes of goodness and right-doing are in Him, then the consequence of this understanding will appear in a single-minded devotion to Him which will produce the results God has long-desired. God help us to learn this lesson quickly.