When we, as sinners, get concerned about our standing before God, we usually think first about our sins. We’ve broken laws, transgressed commandments, trespassed forbidden boundaries, omitted obligations and in many ways “missed the mark” (the literal meaning of sin in the Bible, from how poorly aimed arrows miss targets). This initial concern is natural for humans, and God may use it to get our attention. In John 8:24, Jesus told those who doubted that He was God’s Son, “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” But earlier, in the same chapter, His words to a woman caught in adultery clearly expressed His Father’s attitude: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Because God is gracious to repentant sinners, He forgave sins and transgressions in the Old Testament, long before Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb of God. But, while guilt for sins was one problem the Cross addressed, God’s major target was the sin nature: our disposition to sin. Because God created us with an intrinsically united body-spirit nature—the human body created to be spiritual and the human spirit created to be incarnate—Adam and Eve could not help but genetically pass on to all their descendants this bent toward sinning. We all inherit it, and receiving pardon for sins doesn’t eliminate it. Genesis 3:1-7 tells how Satan strategically worked to get this functional source of sins inside of us as a race. But 1 John 3:8 proclaims that the Son of God showed up on earth to destroy “the works of the devil.” This was His pragmatic purpose, but not His motivating goal.
The motive of His heart was revealed when Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We lost much in the Fall of our first parents, but the most crucial loss was in the memory of our created identity. Personal sins, whether in thought, word or deed, do not cause this spiritual amnesia. Sinning is a developed habit, bred and fed by deeming ourselves independent from our Creator. Yet this way of thinking seems to come naturally to us. We are born with no memory of our absolute and total dependence on God. Complaining that this ignorant situation isn’t our fault will change nothing. The effects of this missed mark on the human condition are universally persistent. The personal multiplication of sins, in acts or attitudes, continues to confirm this race-wide matrix of sin, which functions in this absence of an authentic, dependent relationship with our Maker.
Mark 1:4 states that “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (plural).” But when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular) of the world!” (John 1:29). Oswald Chambers explained this theological difference between sins and sin extremely well:
The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin; but that the disposition of sin . . . entered into the human race by one man, and that another Man took on Him the sin of the human race and put it away (Hebrews 9.26)—an infinitely profounder revelation. The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god. This disposition may work out in decorous morality or in indecorous immorality, but it has the one basis, my claim to my right to myself. (My Utmost of His Highest, October 5th)
By a preoccupation with sins instead of a focus on sin, many have misconstrued what happened in the beginning. We know from Genesis 1:31 that after completing creation, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” This divine evaluation included “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9), even though its early misuse derailed its “good” purpose from being revealed. God merely told Adam to take care of it, to guard it, but not to eat from it, warning that, if he did, it would kill him. When Adam and Eve ignored this warning and ate that tree’s forbidden fruit, they immediately died spiritually, and afterwards, physically. What they took into themselves had the deadly effect of making them morally independent from God. Once ingested, it gave them their very own “knowledge of good and evil”—an ability to determine right and wrong for themselves. This laid the groundwork for humans to develop a myriad of conflicting personal and cultural moralities down through history, each relying on a knowledge not directly received from God.
When a father warns his child, “Don’t play with the gun . . . it can kill you,” and the child disobeys and dies, the disobedience may have led to the death, but a bullet killed the child. Similarly, when Satan duped Adam and Eve into ignoring God the Father’s warning, they disobediently consumed something that had the power to separate them spiritually from Him and from the divine life He wanted for them. The ultimate effect of imbibing moral independence from God was to kill themselves and us, their descendants. Incorporating this spiritually lethal fruit into their lives and into the human race was the precise point where “sin entered the world, and death through sin,” as described by Romans 5:12-19. But in that same passage, God’s gracious solution to the sin problem is also explained.
Any possibility of having restored human bodies, souls and spirits with clear memories of our original role in servant-leadership required a new humanity. This hope materialized when God’s Son became a body-spirit human being. Christ’s unique conception (Matthew 1:20) from one of Mary’s ova and from the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing (Luke 1:35) combined both the necessary genes of the sin nature, which Mary inherited from Adam, and the essential “seed” of a new human race, which the Holy Spirit’s breath freshly created from earthly matter (as God had first done in Genesis 2:7).
God’s Son becoming a human being is the greatest of all cosmic and celestial miracles. This marvelous Incarnation initiated a new human genome, one with an intrinsically divine nature. But the genetic presence of the sin nature in Jesus, and its utter defeat throughout His earthly life, allowed Him to take this disposition for sinning to the Cross. Paul describes this incredible fact in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” It’s the theological ground for his insistence that “our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,” (Romans 6:6). This amazing facet of the Incarnation enables both Paul and us to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20).
Because it’s our self-life of sin that produces sins, God’s goal in salvation was not just forgiveness but renewal. The DNA of the old Adam was nullified by Christ’s bodily death. But the new human genome, the immortal DNA in His resurrected body, made Jesus “the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18), with many others to follow. Resurrection introduced a new order of human life, a new humanity destined to reign forever over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), led by Christ the Savior and King.
Our upbringing in a world alienated from God’s will and ways confirms and nurtures our sin-bent false self in sinning. God’s plan for us is that we stop being sinners and remember our true selves. Christ’s saving gift of new birth begins a new creation in us that reinstates our lost memory. By indwelling us through the Holy Spirit, He facilitates our growth in remembering and living out our true identity as servant-leaders, created “in the image of God,” the Supreme Servant-Leader (Genesis 1:26-27).
If you’re not a Christian, you’re still suffering from spiritual amnesia. God wants to remedy that, but He will not override your personal will in order to do so. You must freely choose to surrender yourself to Him, the Lord of heaven and earth Who came to restore your spiritual memory loss. Heed Christ’s warning in Mark 8:36, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Nothing is more eternally precious than the true self God intended you to manifest in creation. He calls you to forget your false identity of a self-directed self-sufficiency, so you can discover your forgotten identity as a uniquely designed servant who depends on divine guidance. Your success in that holy remembering is enabled by the special grace that accompanies your choice to obey Christ’s familiar invitation, “Follow Me.”
If you’re already a Christian, but have been so preoccupied by worldly concerns or distractions that you have forgotten “your first love” (Revelation 2:4), then you also must surrender. Choose to remember who you really are. Don’t let the world define your identity. Only your Maker and Lord can tell you who you are. If you wake up each day with your Christian memory foggy or fading, then realize your need for forming new habits. Start spending more time talking to God in prayer, more time reading His Word, more time focusing your mind on Christ and listening for His voice in your daily activities. Memorizing Scripture is one of the best habits to develop, and modern technology has brought modern help in that area (Google “the Verse-Locker app”). There’s really no such thing as a once-for-all surrender. The NKJV of Luke 9:23 records Jesus instructing each disciple to “take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
The following verses offer a concluding summary and poetic reinforcement of these finals exhortations.
Never wait until disaster
wraps your body in a ball,
or your limbs get set in plaster
after feeble flight and fall:
cease today to flee the Master,
slowing down to heed His call.
Boast no sinful self-reliance
to disparage Heaven’s Throne;
wave no scepter of defiance,
proudly claiming, “I’m my own!”
or you’ll drown in dark compliance
to a demon’s rule alone.
Inner conscience is observant,
when away from God we swim:
our Creator is a Servant,
calling us to image Him
with devotion full and fervent,
waylaid not by wish or whim.
God won’t confiscate decision . . .
we must relegate our will
to His radical excision
of the sin that made us ill.
Dream no shallow, quick revision:
we’ve a void He longs to fill
When a sinner’s heart is willing
to become a saintly soul,
Christ indwells by Spirit filling,
making broken places whole.
Even angels find it thrilling,
watching Jesus meet His goal.
— David L. Hatton, 10/17/2020