Lent is a time of inward reflection and yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit as he convicts us of sin. But what is sin, exactly? The Bible gives us specific vocabulary for sin, and some of that vocabulary relates to things we do that we ought not (e.g., idolatry, murder, adultery, betrayal, etc.) or failing to do things that we ought (e.g., care for the poor, make disciples, love God and neighbor, etc.). Other biblical terms for “sin” (e.g., avon), however, speak to our bent towards sinning, or a sinful condition that gives rise to sinful behaviors, thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
Paul talks about this in Romans 7 when he says that though he knows what he ought to do he can’t, and even though he knows what he ought not to do, he can’t help but do it. We can all identify with what Paul is talking about here: enslavement to sin. Paul summarizes the human condition that is plagued by sin in saying that he is “of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14b).
God reveals in Genesis 1-2 that his intention for humanity is to embody his likeness in the world. God is pure, good, righteous, just, kind, gracious, and faithful. Ultimately, God is love (1 Jn 4:7-21). These attributes generate and sustain life; we were to embody those characteristics as his representatives. You and I were supposed to be able to say, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
The thing is that our fulfillment of the calling to faithfully embody the moral attributes of God is entirely dependent on fellowship with God. God’s very presence is the essential element for activating and sustaining the divine image. His plan and design was for the human heart to be his home. Because of human rebellion, however, death entered in and fellowship with the Giver of Life was broken. The divine presence was lost in Genesis 3.
The sin condition—the disease that enslaves us to sin and prevents us from sharing in God’s likeness—results from the loss of God’s presence. Absent of God’s holy presence that enlivens and sustains his holy life in us, who we are becomes devastatingly distorted. We are plants with no sun or water. We are dry, weak, decrepit, disease-ridden shadows of God’s original intent. It’s no surprise that we can’t help but sin when we are far from the Triune God! We have been separated from the Person, who is the very source of life itself!
Understanding the sin condition this way sets up for understanding what Christ accomplished on the cross. First, Jesus is the true image bearer. He reveals what humans are supposed to be. The divine presence has not been lost in Jesus. He is, therefore, the person—the Adam—that the human race was always supposed to be. This is why Jesus can say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Moreover, the death and resurrection of Jesus is not the final act of God’s great salvation of humanity. Jesus died, resurrected, then sent the Holy Spirit to his followers. The Holy Spirit in believers is the presence of God restored! Because of Jesus, what was lost in the Garden is restored to us. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive the antidote to our disease of sin, which is precisely why we are no longer enslaved to sin once we are born again (i.e., regenerated) when the Holy Spirit is restored to us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is God’s therapeutic power and presence restored.
The natural outcome of this? Freedom from enslavement to sin!
The good news is that sin is not a part of our human nature. It is a disease that has an antidote. It is a condition caused by the loss of fellowship with God.
The gospel is not just about being declared innocent. It’s about the reverse of the curse of sin. It’s about freedom from the condition that enslaved to sin. Be restored to God and be free!