“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity” Series
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
Thus begins mans need. Up to that point God has proactively supplied every necessity of man because he was made in the image of God to inhabit and rule the earth. God wanted man to enjoy His creation, rule over it and tend it. Then sin enters into paradise. Adam and Eve find themselves at odds with their Creator, and they cannot solve their own problem. They need God’s help. They need reconciliation. They need to be saved from their own sin.
To Miss The Mark
The most common word in the Bible for sin is the Greek word, harmatia. This word, by virtually all dictionaries, means to “miss the mark.” The idea is of an archer who misses his intended target. This helps us understand both the missing and the mark. We recognize that there is a target, a goal, and when sin occurs the target is not hit; the goal is not met.
The first Hebrew word indicating sin is the word Ra’, which is translated, evil. This word occurs first in Genesis 2:9 when God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Therefore the idea of evil existing came directly from God, not man, as man would up to that point have had no way to understand the concept. One wonders what Adam and Eve thought when God used the phrase, good and evil. Did they understand then, at the outset, that they could do evil and sin against God? As we read the Text it appears they only contemplated evil when the tempter aroused their appetite. But once man tasted sin, he craved it, and missed the mark continually (Genesis 6).
The Hebrew word translated iniquity is `avon, and it means perverse and depraved. This word is used over 200 times to indicate that which is not right or something that is crooked or inappropriate. It is also used to describe the punishment which results from sin, as in Genesis 4:13, when Cain said, “My punishment is too great to bear!” The idea in this expression of guilt is, “The sin I committed brings with it perverse results, much greater than I anticipated, and I do not want to endure it.” That is an idea with which we can all relate. Sin, iniquity and depravity produce for us the most unnatural results; punishment and consequences beyond what we imagined, and yet exactly what we deserve.
This word also brings to mind the post-Eden circumstance of Adam and Eve. The perverseness of their missing the mark is extreme. They are cast out. Paradise is no more, and they must now go it alone. These words provide a clear picture of the crookedness of failing to meet God’s expectations.
The Hebrew word pesha’ is translated transgression. This word carries the idea of not merely missing the mark, but of outright rebellion. When Joseph’s brothers spoke to him in Genesis 50, they asked him to forgive their transgressions against him. There they admit they intentionally hurt him. They rebelled against Joseph and their father. They transgressed against God and their family.
In Leviticus 16:16 an interesting and oft used combination occurs. As instructions are given for the sin offering, The Lord tells Moses that Aaron shall make atonement for the holy place, “because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins…” This combination of “sin words” helps us see the different meanings in each. Their “transgressions” indicates their rebellion and resultant sin. As we examine our own lives and choices, we may see a combination of concepts at work as we miss the mark.
This one is easily understood at first glance because the root word is righteous, and we have a good idea of what that is. God is called “righteous” in 1 John 3:7 and Jesus is referred to as the Righteous One in Acts 3:14, 7:52 and 22:14. We therefore understand that righteousness is a characteristic of God, and a goal for man. God is right in His dealings with His creation, and when we as His creation miss the mark, the goal, we are in that same moment unrighteous. We become not right, not like Him.
Understanding that God is the Righteous Standard, we then can compare ourselves to Him and His will to see how we measure up. Pharaoh did that in Exodus 9:27 and said, “I have sinned this time; The Lord is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.” Although Pharaoh acknowledges the truth about himself and God, Moses indicates in verse 30 that he does not yet sufficiently fear the Lord God.
Just simply seeing God as righteous and ourselves as unrighteous is not enough. We must be moved by His righteousness to a state of respect for Him and fear of Him. It is by seeing ourselves in His bright light that we come to the reality of what is truly righteous and unrighteous. When we get to that point, unrighteousness becomes a thing we cannot tolerate in ourselves any more that He can.
The word debt is a transliteration of the Greek word, opheilema, and this word gets us closer to understanding our own need regarding sin. Jesus, when teaching us to pray in Matthew 6, says we should ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” When we ask God to forgive our debts, we are acknowledging to Him and to ourselves that we owe Him something we cannot pay. And so it is that we see clearly our need for Him to provide a solution to our problem.
Getting a handle on the magnitude of the debt is very difficult for us. We tend to think in terms we can grasp and ways to which we can relate. A debt, to us, is generally repayable. That is, few of us are willing to pile up a negative account to a degree we cannot ever hope to repay. We refuse to even imagine owing more to someone than a lifetime of work could satisfy. And yet, one sin creates such an account with God. It is an obligation that will always remain. It is indebtedness to a degree we cannot fathom.
Jesus discussed this type of debt in Matthew 18. When a debtor was brought before his King, the amount owed was a very large sum, and the debtor was unable to pay. The appropriate thing to do would be to throw the man into prison until he had repaid the debt, but the King refused. His simply forgave the debt, knowing the man could never repay.
That simple story shows us the relationship we have with our King regarding the debt of sin. But as we consider the monumental amount we owe, our plight becomes so much more desperate, and His forgiveness becomes so much more valuable.
The man owed, according to verse 24, ten thousand talents. Now if we use the generally accepted understanding that one talent was equal to approximately 15 years wages for the laborer, we can quickly calculate that the debtor owed so much that if he were to apply his total salary to the debt it would have taken him 150,000 years to repay is Master. Did you catch that? One Hundred and Fifty Thousand years! The first thing that comes to mind as we read that part of the story is how in the world did that man accumulate so much debt? And why would the Master allow such an amount to be piled up? What had he done to owe that much? How foolish was he?
The answer to those questions is, he sinned. He is us and we understand that. He sinned. We sinned. And we owe. We owe a staggering amount. It’s an amount we can never repay. Our debt cannot be satisfied with our money, there’s not enough of it in the world. It can’t be repaid with our life. It is now a sinful life, worth nothing in its sinful state. What can we do? How must we proceed?
We, like the debtor in Matthew 18, can only continue to live by the grace of our King. Only by His willingness to forgive our debt can we have a relationship with Him.
And that gets us back to our greatest need: A solution to the sin problem. It is our responsibility to acknowledge our sin, and God has taken upon Himself the task of removing our sin. But we must remember that only those who truly understand their own spiritual brokenness can be helped, and God’s redemptive plan in Christ only benefits the one who will turn to Him for salvation. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:3, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these humble hearts; it belongs to those who will seek Him and His forgiveness. It belongs to the penitent, those who are ashamed of their sin, those who know only He can save. It belongs to those who know what they need.
We Need Grace
The first mention of grace in the Text is in Genesis 6:8, when Noah finds “favor” in the eyes of the Lord. This favor is the Hebrew word hen also translated, grace. Contextually, it isn’t that Noah is perfect and therefore is saved from the Flood; it is that he comes into contact with God’s grace, His unearned favor, and upon that he then can be saved from the torrent.
To help us get a better understanding of that concept in the Old Testament, consider Exodus 33. God indicates Israel is an obstinate people. They are stubborn, hardheaded and strong-willed. But Moses finds favor with God, and God says, “I have known you by name.” Moses enjoys a special relationship with God because he receives favor or grace from God. Upon what basis does Moses receive this grace? Well, understanding that it is unearned or unmerited, Moses enjoys God’s grace because of his effort to please God, his willingness to try to obey God’s laws. It is when we strive to please Him by doing His will that he lavishes His grace upon us.
Paul, in Ephesians chapter two, gives us a beautiful look at grace in the New Testament. He sets the stage for grace by showing our default condition: dead. He begins in Chapter 1 by showing the rich blessings to be found in Christ, ending with the body of Christ being the fullness of Him Who fills all in all. Then immediately he lays out where they (and we) used to be. We were dead in trespasses and sins. We were living according to the whims of the world. We were like everyone one else, indulging the desires of the flesh.
But God - two of the most precious words to be found - but God, because of His grace, saved us. Consider the phrasing of verse 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Unmistakable is the grace/gift relationship. Anytime grace is received, it is a gift, and any time sin is pardoned, it is a gift of grace. We didn’t do it, we didn’t earn it and we didn’t deserve it. Grace is His gift to us as we endeavor with our might to please Him.
Now back to the debt concept. Like the debtor in Matthew 18, we cannot pay the debt of sin. We were dead in our sins. We were stuck there without the ability to overcome. He responded in a way we could never deserve. The debt is too great for forgiveness; yet He forgave. The debt is orders of magnitude beyond our ability to repay; yet He paid it all.
“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Elvina M. Hall, 1865
We Need To Be Cleansed
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51:2
Spiritual cleansing is a prominent part of the Bible. Being “washed” and “cleansed” is always understood to be necessary because sin stains us, and the stain of sin lingers until it has been removed by the “washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). This washing or cleansing takes place when the word of God is believed and obeyed, culminating in the waters of baptism. It is so that baptism is much more than merely an outward sign of an inward conviction. Baptism, according to Acts 22:16 is the “washing away” of our sins. No word picture could be stronger or move vivid! It is the act of baptism that cleanses us, initially, from our sins. It is after that initial cleansing that confession and repentance allow for continued cleansing, as John says in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
How the Bible-believing religious world has become so confused on this subject is a thing of wonder. To be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) and to have our sins washed away (Acts 22:16) are both Bible principles joined together by a common purpose: the cleansing of the sinner. Consider also Hebrews 9:14, which makes clear the blood of Christ works to cleanse us from dead works. That combined with Hebrews 10:22 where our hearts are sprinkled clean and our bodies are washed with pure water makes clear to us that baptismal cleansing is cleansing from sin. It is cleansing from all unrighteousness, and it is a cleansing we must have.
Paul told the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilements of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The emphasis for us at this point is “Let us!” We possess control over applying the means of cleansing. We can choose to be cleansed by the pure water of baptism, or we can choose to remain stained by iniquity. We need to be cleansed!
We Need To Be Reconciled
The Apostle Paul’s plea in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Be reconciled to God,” stands as a universal plea to all of humanity to get back into a right relationship with God Almighty. It harkens back to the garden, the time when man and God coexisted in peace and tranquility. It reminds us of the time before sin. As brief as it may have been, what a wonderful time it was! Perfect harmony, unfettered access and commonality the likes of which mankind today cannot even imagine. And then sin.
“And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). Our need to be reconciled has been met, and now being back in a right relationship with God is possible, not because of what we have done, but in spite of it. It is all because of what He has done for us. We are reconciled on the basis of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19, God worked through Christ to reconcile the whole world to Himself. He then provided to us His will, the Bible, which makes known the plan and details of reconciliation. In other words, God wants us back, and He was willing to do the unthinkable in Christ to make it so. He bought us back at an awful price, and He reconciled us to Himself.
We Need Forgiveness
A key part of God’s grace is His offer of Jesus to pay our sin debt. Paying that debt allows us to become pure again, which means reconciliation is possible. Behind all of this, though, is the fact that our God is willing to forgive us for sinning against Him. He is “a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
Jesus said in Matthew 26:28, “… for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Greek word translated “forgiveness” is aphesis, which literally means, “to release from bondage or imprisonment.” It is His blood, provided by His grace, which brings about forgiveness. We are released from the bondage of the consequences of our sin by His grace, manifested in the pouring out of His blood.
Forgiveness is a hard thing in our world today. All of us want it, few of us are willing to grant it to others, and because of that we limit God’s ability to lavish it upon us! Yet He is a God of and characterized by a forgiving heart. When Zacharias received back his ability to speak he said God made a way to “give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). That is, we can now envisage what salvation really means when we acknowledge our own sins being forgiven by a God who is compelled to do so only by His love for us.
Romans 3:21-26 shows the price at which our forgiveness comes. In order for God to remain just, Jesus had to die; a terrible price for the terribleness of sin. And because of the price paid, the debt is cancelled and the sins forgiven. God therefore remains just, and the Justifier of all those who have faith in Jesus. All because we needed forgiveness, for without forgiveness there could be no reconciliation.
We Need Deliverance
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)
Paul’s exclamation of wretchedness is everyman’s exclamation. Working through the process of redemption, He rightly concludes that all have sinned, including him, and something must be done! As he indicates, even when he knows what is right and wants to do it, sometimes he chooses wrong. Can you relate to that?
The whole process of salvation from sin is represented here by sin being committed, then sin being admitted, then sin being removed through penitence. It is only when we come to fully understand our sinfulness that God can deliver us, and His deliverance is full, complete and everlasting.
But our own wretchedness is sometimes hard to escape. The Psalmist said, “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3), and we get it. We remember our sins. Sometimes we are wont to doubt the prospect of forgiveness because we see so clearly our sinful lives. So did Paul when he asked the question, “Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul knew he needed deliverance. He knew what lasting consequences sin brings.
Spiritual death is the reality for us all. Because all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), it logically follows that all deserve spiritual death. In reacting to this truth, Paul’s question of deliverance becomes a compelling imperative. We are mired in sin. We are stuck here, unable to extricate ourselves. We need to be rescued. But who is able? Who is willing?
Only God can deliver us from our inextricable circumstance, and so the most beautiful words ever heard are found in Romans 7:25, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Through Christ we are delivered out of the bondage of sin. Through Christ we are rescued from the mire of sin. Through Christ we have hope of something better than spiritual death.
We Need Love
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
All who profess Christianity know and quote this passage; it is the bedrock principle for why God chose to redeem us. It sums up His motivation and tells of His intent: He wants to provide eternal life for us because he loves us.
But what kind of love is this? As John says in 1 John 3:1 “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” The kind of love the God has for us is the kind of love a father has for his children. He wants to nurture and care for us. He wants to provide for us. He is our Father, we are His children, and He wants what is best for us.
This relationship is stressed in the Text to help us understand His love. Our God is not a far-off dictator content to dwell by himself and be served by his minions. He is a Father, a loving Father, who has freely given of Himself to all His children. He has made us His own, even while we were His enemies in sin. He is patient and trustworthy, He listens to our requests and answers each one appropriately. He grieves when we grieve and knows our every care. He loves us. And we need His love because without it we would surely perish.
We Need Jesus
“Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The lamb symbolizes the sacrificial animal given for the sins of the people, under the Old Law. In Exodus 12:3, God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel to take an unblemished male lamb, one year old, and kill it at twilight. Then they must spread some of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their home so when the destroyer comes, he would pass over their house. It was the blood of the lamb that saved them from destruction. Also in Leviticus 4:32 a female lamb may be used for a sin offering, to make atonement for sins. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18-19 we were redeemed, not with perishable things, but with the precious blood of a lamb, unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
Jesus is our Lamb. It is by the shedding of His blood that we received His grace, are washed clean, can be reconciled to God, receive forgiveness of sins, are delivered from death, and see His love. The Lamb of God takes away our sin by offering Himself in our place. He paid the debt of sin for us and saved us from eternal death. We need the Lamb of God because we need the salvation only he can offer. We need the cleansing only he can provide. We need Jesus.
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Robert Lowry, 1876
By Todd Hales From Expository Files 21.9; September 2014