We must be real clear about what sin is:
I recently wrote a piece on how we can view sin via the new book by Christopher Watkin. And I more recently looked at a chapter from a newish book on biblical doctrine by Paul David Tripp. The former book is Biblical Critical Theory, and Tripp’s book is Do You Believe? Those two links are here:
This will not be some quid pro quo, back and forth thing here, comparing the writers and what they have to say about key biblical themes. However I now have two articles looking at chapters from each book, and I hope to do more from both. The authors differ of course, with Watkin being an academic and a philosopher, while Tripp is a pastor and a writer.
But their books are somewhat similar in at least one sense: they both discuss biblical theology – that is, the biblical story line. Watkins looks at it more in terms of a biblical critical theory, while Tripp offers it as a sort of systematic theology.
As I mentioned in my earlier piece, Tripp looks at 12 key Christian doctrines, and offers two chapters on each one: a doctrinal chapter and a practical chapter. Here I will look at his two chapters on the issue of sin. As in my previous piece, I will offer some key quotes which might interest you in getting the book and reading it for yourself. He says this about sin in the doctrinal chapter:
The biblical truth that we are considering here lies at the very epicenter of Christian doctrine. Along with the existence of God, it is a significant worldview watershed. If you believe there is no such thing as sin, in the way the Bible describes it, you then see no need for God’s moral law, the wisdom of Scripture, dependency on God, the rescuing grace of the Redeemer, the ministry of the church, or the bright hope of eternity. There are really only two groups of people when it comes to the human drama: those who put their hopes in human systems of redemption and those who see that human hope requires a Redeemer….
If you do not believe in the tragedy and universality of sin, then you will think that humans have the power to fix humans. So you put your hope in education, politics, philosophy, psychology medicine, and so on. All of these things are beneficial, but they have no power whatsoever to rescue us from the darkness, deceit, destruction, and death that sin has rained down on us all. If, however, you believe that the deepest problem for every human is sin and if you believe that no human being is able to escape it, then you know that together we cannot save ourselves. If there is such a thing as sin, living in the heart of everyone, then our only hope is divine intervention.
Sin is very serious stuff indeed: “Sin is the ultimate bomb, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Sin is the ultimate pandemic, infecting everyone, leaving everyone sick. Sin is the ultimate curse, sentencing everyone to death. Sin is the ultimate deceit, telling you endless lies and making promises it can’t keep. Sin is the ultimate interruption, changing the human story forever.”
In the chapter on sin by Watkin, he made much of the issue of autonomy. Tripp also speaks to this in his discussion of the fall of Adam and Eve: “What attracted Eve was not just wisdom but autonomous wisdom, that is, wisdom that did not require reliance on and submission to God. The only one who has ever existed who is independently wise is God. He alone has never needed a teacher, counselor, mentor, or guide. He alone knows everything about everything.
And sin is personal, not just theoretical: “Transgression is choosing to disobey God because there is something more important to me than loving, serving, and obeying God. What this means is that sin is much more than breaking an abstract set of regulations that has been passed down to us from God. Sin is a breaking of relationship with God that then leads us to break his commands. Sin is a relational transgression that always produces a moral transgression.”
Some crucial biblical passages are examined, including Jeremiah 3:6-10 which is one of many texts that speak of sin as spiritual adultery. Says Tripp: “Every sin is an act of vertical unfaithfulness. Sin is adultery at the most profound heart level. We were created to live in a lifelong, committed love relationship with our Creator that would then shape everything we think, desire, choose, say, and do. Sin is about forsaking our allegiance to God and offering the deepest allegiance of our hearts to other lovers.”
Finally, he speaks of how all pervasive and destructive sin is:
The damage of sin reaches to every aspect of our being and personhood. Sin has left us lame and limping. Sin has left us blind and deaf. Sin has left us irrational and foolish. Sin has left us sick and dying. We do not have the power to help ourselves. We cannot reverse sin’s damage. We are as unable as the crippled man languishing by the pool of Bethsaida, who had been there thirty-eight years. He had no hope of getting up without divine intervention. If Jesus hadn’t said, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk,” he would have languished on his mat for many more years (John 5;1-15). Just as he desperately needed the grace of physical healing, we need the grace of spiritual healing. Because of sin, we are not well. It has left us morally weak, unable to be what we are supposed to be and do what we have been created to do.
And let me finish by offering a few of his thoughts from his application chapter. He writes:
Sin is an evil monster masquerading as your best friend. Sin is slave trader masquerading as your liberator. Sin is grim reaper masquerading as a life-giver. Sin is destruction masquerading as fulfillment. Sin is darkness masquerading as light. Sin is foolishness masquerading as wisdom. Sin is disease masquerading as a cure. Sin is a trap masquerading as a gift. No matter how it presents itself to you, sin is never what it appears to be and will never deliver what it promises.
Moreover, we must always remember where our real problems lie:
Your biggest problem in life is not your spouse, neighbor, friend, parent, children, church, culture, government, physical disease, financial stress, boss, fellow workers, godless professor, or seductive media. Your biggest problem lives inside you. It is remaining sin, with its power to deceive. But your Savior hasn’t left you alone. He has given you his insight-giving word. He has given you his convicting and empowering Spirit. And he has surrounded you in his church with instruments of seeing. Open your heart to his gracious provisions so that you’ll have a defense against the blinding power of sin.
As I said in my previous piece, there are plenty of great systematic theologies out there. However most would be heavy in doctrine and theology – which is a good thing. But not many also offer very practical application. Tripp gives us solid doctrinal meat, but he also gives us real help in applying these truths to our own life. It is well worth the read.