Just think of a few things that have been happening recently around the world. Civil unrest as a reaction against a law enforcement that’s considered to be corrupt or racist. Brutal executions of people who are of a different religious persuasion. Civil airline passengers being caught up as victims of warring factions on the ground. Threats and negotiations about the existence of weapons capable of mass destruction. Once respected entertainers and politicians whose reputations are now shredded and mired in infamy. And so on …
The most understated conclusion that we can draw from all this is: something’s wrong! There’s overwhelming, factual evidence that the human condition is corrupt. And this is not only something that affects everyone else. Here’s a biblically recorded statement of what the Apostle Paul once said: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19 English Standard Version). If we’re honest, we know that we can fully identify with that. The ‘evil’ Paul described there are the symptoms of what the Bible labels as ‘sin’. Let’s examine a few general symptoms of this universal disease which the Bible calls ‘sin.’
The symptom of moral weakness
The first I’d like to draw your attention to is the symptom of moral weakness. Here’s what we find written in the Bible at Romans 5 verse 6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). To take one example, a man known as Mel Trotter once sold his family’s only means of transport – which was a horse and buggy – so that he might support his drink habit. After one ten-day drinking session, he returned home to find his wife with their two-year-old son dead in her arms. Desperate and penniless, he promised his wife he’d never drink again, but within hours, he’d returned home drunk yet again – and one version of this testimony adds the detail that he’d even removed and sold the shoes taken from his infant son’s corpse to buy that drink. He professed that he wanted to do good, but he was morally weak when trying to turn those good intentions into reality.
The symptom of ungodliness
Another general symptom of sin which the Bible describes is ungodliness. In First Timothy 1 verse 9 it says: “… understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners …” (1 Timothy 1:9).The actual Bible word used there for ‘ungodly’ suggests a lack of respect or reverence. This can be expressed as a lack of respect or reverence for either the creator or the creature. Lack of respect for the creature will follow from a lack of reverence for the creator. It often comes down to failing to respect the sanctity of our bodies – which can lead to all kinds of sexual perversions. Or it can be a lack of respect for the sanctity of truth, resulting in all manner of lies. There again, it can be a lack of respect for the sanctity of life itself, which brings violent crime and bloodshed in its wake – the very sorts of things we began by listing as typical of the human condition on a world scale today.
The symptom of hostility
Then what about a third symptom – which is hostility. At first, that might seem like a strong word, as many people of no particular faith might say they’re not so much hostile to the notion of God, but simply indifferent. But doesn’t hostility start out as indifference? The Bible in Romans 1:28 says: “they did not see fit to acknowledge God” (Romans 1:28 ESV) and this, in turn, two verses later, led them to be described as “hateful to God”, as shown by their actions (1:30). In any case, we shouldn’t under-rate indifference as a problem. It certainly depends on what the topic under discussion is. Suppose someone says ‘I’m not interested in music’ – well, that’s their personal choice – there are no ethical or moral implications. We might feel it’s a shame: that they’re missing out on something worthwhile, but so be it. Now, suppose someone says: ‘I’m not interested in my husband – or I’m not interested in my wife.’ That’s quite a different matter, wouldn’t you agree? If we were to hear that sentiment, we’d have to conclude that something tragic has happened in their relationship. Such an indifference is wrong. Next, we can take it a stage further, suppose someone says: ‘I’m not interested in God.’ The Bible-based reaction to that has got to be to declare it as the ultimate tragedy. If that should happen to be your position right now – that you’re simply not interested in God – then a plain reading of the Bible would show that he’s interested in you.
When one listener to SFT radio discovered that while on Death Row in an African country, he wrote back to us and said that previously he thought nobody cared about him. But having heard of how God gave his one and only son, he said that he now realized ‘somebody cared … He is the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ – that’s exactly what he wrote in his moving testimony. Remember, we’re tracking down major symptoms of our fallen, sinful human condition, as revealed by God’s Word, the Bible.
The symptom of independence
Here’s yet another, our fourth: it’s the desire to be independent. The Bible reveals to us that this desire erupted early on, with our first parents. They were tempted to eat forbidden fruit as follows: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Eve and Adam imagined they could be masters of their fate by accessing something God had denied them. Whenever we try to act as if we are god, and do what we want, it’s an act of rebellion or defiance against God.
The symptom of lawlessness
Finally, one last general symptom of the sinful condition is lawlessness. The Bible says: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4 ESV). It’s easy enough to understand this. Even in the practical tasks of life, we learn that the same thing is true – for example, if we ignore electrical installation instructions, we may well get electrocuted or it can certainly prove costly. A plumber I recently employed wired up our central heating pump all wrong, and it cost me three days’ time and labour to rectify it.
TSo, we tend to explain ‘sin’ as being this wrong action or some other bad behaviour, but the reality is these things are symptoms of a deeper problem. Take the case of jaundice as an illustration. Having a yellowish tinge to the whites of your eye and skin is a sign that you’re suffering from jaundice. Jaundice is often a symptom of a liver problem. To try to treat a liver problem with an application of cosmetic make-up to cover over the skin colouration symptom, is like trying to treat sin with a dose of religion. Any religion can only treat the symptoms of sin. So what’s the answer? Is there one? There is indeed – and it can be found in the same verse we looked at when we spoke of sin’s first symptom – Romans 5 verse 6 which says: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (ESV).
The solution – God’s solution – applies at the point of us being ‘still weak.’ This is a realistic remedy that’s being described. It’s not one which requires us to have successfully overcome our own problems first. It’s not a self-help cure that God’s encouraging us to take. The patient always needs the medicine while they’re still ill – it’s of no use once they’re recovered. In the same way, God’s remedy for the disease of sin applies while we’re still trapped in our moral weakness, our irreverence, our indifferent hostility, our defiant spirit attitude of independence or our refusal to follow instruction. He doesn’t wait for us to change before saving us. The famous hymn correctly says: ‘Just as I am’ … ‘O, Lamb of God, I come.’ But we do need to be prepared to be changed by the work of God’s Holy Spirit – that’s where the only power which can transform our sinful human condition comes from. So, when the Bible calls on us to repent of our sin, it means we’re no longer to take pleasure in sin as we once did, but now instead to hate it since it was our sin which led Christ to die on the cross for us.
There’s nothing to pay for real, lasting satisfaction … it’s said through the Bible prophet, Isaiah, to be ‘without money and without cost’ (chapter 55:1). In Christ alone, the power of sin is broken. And in Christ alone no-one will ever be disappointed (Romans 9:33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6). But, they will be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).