If asked to define sin, how would you respond? For most people, their minds would rush to Romans 3:23 and state without hesitation that sin is falling short of the glory of God. Of course, those people would be completely right—sin does involve missing the mark of God’s standards for humanity. However, there are other ways that the Bible talks about sin as well. Not only is sin talked about as missing the mark, but the Bible also talks about sin as transgression, sin as rebellion, sin as idolatry, sin’s relationship to death, and our enslavement to sin because of our inherited sinful nature. In other words, the Bible has quite a lot to say about sin and the effects of it for both ourselves and the world in which live.
But why is that? Why is it important to know the various aspects of sin the Bible describes? Wouldn’t a general understanding of sin suffice for us and our students?
To help answer this question, consider the words of Tim Keller when he wrote: “Without a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform us.” In other words, you need to fully understand the bad news in order to fully appreciate the good news. If we don’t have a healthy knowledge of what we are being saved from (sin), we will never fully appreciate what we are being saved to (Jesus).
In light of that, I want to spend the remaining time focusing on one aspect of sin that we discuss in the upcoming quarter of The Gospel Project for Students this summer and why this is so important for students.
Sin as Selfishness. Here is how we define it: “When we sin, we are acting out of a selfish attitude and mindset that assumes our action will lead us to more happiness than if we were to obey God. Because sin is manifested in our tendency to be “curved inward” toward self, it is the opposite of love. Love looks outwardly to place others before oneself, operating from the mindset that others are more important (Phil. 2:3). Where sin selfishly seeks personal gratification and happiness, love works for the joy of others in the hopes of making others happy in God.”
- Sin is selfish because it places the self before God. We see this temptation play out early on in the biblical storyline, beginning with Adam and Eve’s temptation in the garden. The serpent, in his temptation, played to their individual selfishness by telling Eve that she will be like God by eating the fruit. In other words, instead of enjoying God and being satisfied with all God is for you, put yourself first and become like Him. This is the same type of independent selfish thinking we see in Isaiah 14.
- Love is the opposite of selfishness. One of the biblical characteristics of love is that it seeks joy in the joy of others, and not only for itself. For instance, when we find something enjoyable, we often desire to share it. We want others to listen to this new band we like or watch this new movie we saw because we want them to share in our joy of that thing. That’s what love does; it finds its joy in the joy of others. Consider how Jesus emptied Himself for the joy of seeing His people saved and happy in Him (Phil. 2). Consider how 1 Corinthians 13 specifies that love is patient and does not seek its own; it seeks others’ joy.
- Love is not selfish, but it does profit the self. While selfishness seeks happiness, the actual path to happiness is through love. There are several examples of this in Scripture, some of them being 1 Corinthians 13:3 (where Paul indicated that if he did something with love, he actually gained profit) and 1 John 1:4 (where John wrote his letter (a loving act) so his joy could be made complete by seeing his readers happy). Thus, unselfish love is actually the path to happiness!
There are several other truths and points of application we can pull out of this one aspect of sin that the Bible describes. In the end, however, I’ll go back to my original statement and argue that apart from such a deep and growing knowledge of sin, there will only be a superficial appreciation of the good news of what God has done. If we want our students to be overwhelmed at the reality of grace and mercy found in the cross, the weight and gravity of their personal sin must first be pressed upon them. And one of the ways to see that happen is by internalizing the essential doctrines of the Bible.
This post was written by Andy McLean, Editor of The Gospel Project for Students