This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our “You Asked for It” summer series by examining a couple of very complex questions about the nature of sin. One of my students submitted two questions that we rolled into one study – Was sin already in the world before Adam and Eve’s actions at the fall (since they were already tempted and had thought about sinning), and did God create sin? To answer the questions, we spent the bulk of our time in James 1:12-15, but also moved around a bit to see the surprisingly complex answers to these questions.
In James’s passage, he makes some very plain statements (as he does so well!) about the nature of sin and temptation. In verse 12, we’re told that temptation is not purposeless. James says that there is blessing in remaining true under trial, and his follow up comments in verse 13 indicate that when he says “trial,” he at least partially has temptation in view (and of course, what are trials but opportunities for temptation? – temptation to doubt, to reject God, etc.). Yet James says that temptations are part of the process that builds us into the image of Christ, preparing to receive the crown of life. Many times when I’m facing temptations of various kinds, I wonder to God why he can’t just remove the desires altogether and make life easier. However, his words to Paul keep ringing in my ears – “my grace is sufficient for you.” God does things in and through us during times of trial and temptation that simply wouldn’t be the same in ease and comfort.
After establishing that God uses temptation to build and strengthen us, he makes certain to clarify explicitly that temptation doesn’t come from God, but from us. Did God create sin? The short answer is an emphatic and conclusive no. When we feel tempted to turn away into sin, we’ve got no one to throw the blame at but ourselves. James says we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own desires. We already have everything we need to be the worst sinner imaginable inside of us. As one of my favorite college professors, Dr. Charles Draper, said, “There is nothing that you are not capable of given the right circumstances.” My students agreed with me that James really couldn’t have been clearer in verses 13 and 14. God is in no way tainted by or responsible for sin and temptation. Thus the short answer to “did God create sin?” The long answer was more complex, and we’ll return to it shortly.
In verse 15, James gives us a look at the process of sin’s generation, allowing us to see that temptation itself is not sin. Basically, temptation is when we come to the fork in the road and see multiple paths before us, one of which we know to be wrong. Seeing that path isn’t sin. Seeing its temporal appeal isn’t even necessarily sin. Sin happens when we make the decision to walk down that path and reject God’s truth. I say “make the decision” because Scripture is very clear that it’s entirely possible to sin with no outward actions whatsoever (see Matthew 5:21-30). I don’t have to actually act on sinful desires to sin, I just have to dwell on them. This helps us to understand the first question asked, “Where does sin begin?” Sin begins in between temptation and action when we seek that which is wrong.
Finishing here, we’ve gotten at least basic answers to both of the questions. However, to say emphatically that God didn’t create sin requires some more careful thought. After all, if we say (as we often do at Sola5) that God is in total sovereign control of all things (even human actions), and sin is a part of the world, isn’t he somehow responsible? To understand why we can say no, we looked at three different relevant Biblical examples – Genesis 50:15-21, Isaiah 10:5-19, and Acts 2:22-23. In each of these examples, we’re told that God has ordained the ultimately evil actions of people (selling of Joseph into slavery, Assyria’s destruction of Israel, the crucifixion of Christ), but that the responsibility for these evil actions is fully and totally upon the ones who willingly committed them (Joseph’s brothers, the Assyrian king, the “lawless men”). It was God’s plan from before the world began that Christ would be killed to save his people from their sins. This is not plan B, and God’s not thinking on the fly. However, the people who mocked, beat, and executed Christ were acting wickedly, and they alone are responsible for their actions.
Now, do I understand how these two realities (God’s sovereign plan and true human responsibility) can both be true simultaneously? Nope. I don’t understand the fullness of who God is or how he operates, and I never fully will. Think of it this way. Do you have a dog? Guess what – your dog will never fully understand what it’s like to be you. Doesn’t matter how carefully you explain it to him, he’ll never fully understand. Why? Because you’re an exponentially more complex being than he is. Now, of course he can understand some things about you – that you care for him, enjoy his company, and will provide for his needs. How does he know these things? Because you’ve revealed them to him in a way he can understand (you feed him, play with him, etc.) Now, if you’re an exponentially more complex being than your dog, God is an infinitely more complex being than you. There are some things about him that you will never fully understand – but what he does reveal to us we should believe and celebrate. Thus, my willingness to accept as true realities I can’t necessarily reconcile in my mind.
Perhaps after such a deep doctrinal exploration, you’re wondering why this stuff even matters at all. You’ll never fully figure out God, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we love him like we say, we should want to know all that we can about him and celebrate that deepening relationship. Why dwell on sin? Because the cross of Christ is about sin, and if we have a cheap and shallow view of our own sin than we’ll have a cheap and shallow view of the cross. If your sin is small, your savior will be small. Don’t be afraid this week to look your own sin in the face and rejoice in the grace that God has given to finite, fallen creatures such as us by his great love.