How we view God, and in turn what we think sin is determines what we think about the solution to sin.
There are two main competing views of sin and God in Christianity. The most pervasive and entrenched view is the legal approach, where God makes the rules and everyone else is expected to obey them. If we do not we expect Him to mete out appropriate punishments. In addition, there are rewards offered for those who do well and will be given proportionately to their achievements.
This model is based on a reflection of how the world operates in all of our systems of government and society. It is based on the control paradigm where those in power decide the rules and rely on force, fear and intimidation to impose those rules on everyone else. This is so familiar to our thinking that it is impossible to escape its influence on everything we assume about reality. But just because something is extremely familiar and feels normal in no way proves that it is right or reflects the ways of heaven. In reality this whole system is only a reflection of the principles of Satan's alternative government that he devised while still in heaven when he launched his original revolution and captured the minds and hearts of one third of the entire retinue of angels.
There is another view that is very unfamiliar to most and has been strongly attacked and discredited and misrepresented by those with vested interest or unwilling to examine it honestly. One reason it is so unpopular is because it cuts across the natural selfish desires of the human heart. Because we are born in sin, which is inherently selfishness and resistance to God's will, what feels normal and right to us is should be suspicious at best from the very get-go. Yet we allow our natural thinking, logic and desire for supremacy inherited in our sinful nature to have far too much influence on our religious beliefs and our opinions about God.
While it is true that God created the universe and everything in it based on principles that operate on formulas, the term 'laws' generally creates confusing implications in our minds. Because human laws and our systems dependent on those laws are all arbitrary in nature and are dependent on the whole system of imposed enforcement; thinking of God's principles as laws automatically introduces assumptions that bring in confusion. Thus, for me at least, I have found it extremely helpful to think of God's laws and refer to them as principles rather than laws. Mixing terminology can be a bit distracting for some when using biblical references and Ellen White quotes to examine these issues. But if we start out by clarifying the core issues from the beginning in our own thinking, then we can begin to see more clearly what many of the inspired writers were beginning to grasp themselves and what God has been seeking to convey through them to this last generation.
While living under systems of imposed law can be helpful to a limited extent for immature people in need of external discipline due to a serious lack of internal discipline; the problem comes in when we come to assume that this stop-gap measure necessitated by our extreme immaturity is actually God's intent for our long-term governance. It is easier to see this in the way we should raise our children, although even using that analogy is becoming less useful due to our dysfunctional families today. Yet most people would not feel very happy if their children remained completely dependent, compliant, immature and incapable of making decisions on their own or able to function independently in society without constant micromanagement by their parents.
Unfortunately many parents actually raise their kids this way, and as a result we see society filling up with adults dependent on others to control them while they generally do whatever makes them feel good at the moment with little self-control or internal morals to guide them. This fuels the rapid increase of ever more harsher laws meant to intimidate people into conformity to societal standards of behavior yet with less and less success. Making people dependent on outside control in place of actual maturity is a disastrous approach to raising children, yet this is just how religion has presented God's way of dealing with us. This is based on the principles of force which is opposite to God's system of perfect freedom.
When we look at the very first sin committed that brought ruin and disaster to this world by our first parents, there are a wealth of insights we can gain if we are willing to get past the typical explanations offered by religion. We have long assumed that the sin occurred when Eve and then Adam actually disobeyed God by physically eating the forbidden fruit from the tree He had explicitly told them to not meddle with. Because they disobeyed God's orders, this disobedience was accounted to them as unrighteousness and thus they had to be punished. Everything that came after constituted the imposed punishments of an offended God for their disobedience, and the promised Lamb of God was interposed to block the wrath of God that should have fallen on them in the form of summary execution.
Many today are beginning to challenge that harsh view of God's attitude toward sinners and are beginning to see that there was much more involved than simply eating fruit in disobedience to direct orders. The reason they ate the fruit involved believing direct and implied lies about their Creator; eating the fruit was simply a logical outworking of acting on those lies. This is much closer to the real truth of the matter, but still too often we remain confused about the origins of the results for that sin. Was it in the actual act of eating the fruit or in the choice to believe the lies about God?
What produced the consequences of sin that were talked about by God? It is true that God told them they would die (in dying you shall die in the Hebrew), but the real question remains – what causes that death and where does it come from? Is God the one standing ready to impose penalties for disobedience, or do consequences for sin come from some other direction?
This issue is vital to examine if we are to ever to grow past the extreme immaturity of our childish thinking about sin and God and growing in grace. Just because people have for thousands of years lived in varying stages of immaturity in their thinking and writing about God does not excuse us from listening to God's Spirit sent to lead us into all truth in these last days, a people upon which the ends of the world rest. God is ready to pour out His Spirit in a marked way on people in these last days, and He longs to do so. But while we cling to immature views of truth and cherish lies about God still infecting our beliefs about Him, it is too risky for God to pour out His power in our lives, for that would only empower us to promote false ideas about Him with even more potency and He has no interest in participating in that kind of slander against Himself.
Let me say plainly here that it is more useful to grasp the nature of our situation if we apply the analogy of sin as a sickness of the mind, heart and soul rather than a problem of being in trouble with the law. Viewing our problem in this way changes all the assumptions and allows things to fit together much more clearly. Many biblical concepts that have long confused us or made us afraid of God all our lives suddenly find their proper perspective when we begin to see that sin is the real problem, not God.
One thing that is important to note is the progression that takes place both in falling into sin and also in the process of salvation rescuing us out of the trap of sin. On the one hand, we are exposed to lies about God, about how He feels about us as well as lies about ourselves and how we should relate to God. At this point we are faced with a choice as to what we will do with those assertions or how much we will rely on what we already know about God from His perspective. It is difficult for us to relate to the latter part of this given that we are born sinners with built-in propensities predisposing us to distrust God. Adam and Eve did not have that problem, but on the other hand they may not have had a long history of interactions with God that would have increased their own maturity and strengthened internal habits of self-discipline. Yet they did have plenty of evidence based on God's instructions to them and in the interactions they did have with Him. The preponderance of evidence was in favor of trusting Him.
We cannot explain why they chose to believe Satan's insinuations about God or why the appeal of pride connected to their thinking given they did not have propensities to evil like we have. That is the nature of sin; it is a choice made in the context of a freedom that God has designed for all of us to have. This freedom to either love and trust Him or to not trust Him is essential for any true obedience based on love to even exist. There is no excuse for sin, but it does help to understand more clearly the subtle process that leads one into embracing it and being overcome by it.
Sin at its core is distrust in God's heart which leads to disbelieving the words of God. This sets us up for the final step that plunges us into Satan's tyrannical prison. That final step is acting on our unbelief.
It is here that I want to point out the stark difference between viewing God as primarily a lawgiver and enforcer of law through threats and punishments, or seeing sin as a problem of distrust and disconnecting from the only source of life that exists. When Eve chose to eat of the forbidden fruit, it was because she had already made choices to believe lies about God. That led her to externalize those lies through an action of open disobedience. But in taking that final step of acting out the lies she had internalized, that action was like breaking open a container from which spewed deadly viruses that immediately began to circulate in her systems both physically and spiritually. It was like being exposed to an injection of the deadly AIDS virus and that infection immediately began to affect her being permanently altering the condition of humanity forever.
What is interesting is to see this same principle in the reverse process that God has in place to redeem humanity from this tragic fall into our sickness of sin. The inherited sinful, fallen natures we have predispose us to distrust God from our inception. We are not like our unfallen parents who faced temptation in the garden. God has provided a way of escape, and that route involves steps that parallel what led us into our desperate condition in the first place, only now in the other direction.
Since the core problem of sin is believing lies about God and how He relates and feels about us, God must first expose those lies through the presentation of truth about Himself. This is referred to using the analogy of light and darkness. But real truth is far more than simply intellectual facts or doctrines. This truth must be felt at much deeper levels of the heart and the soul for it to have saving effect. Becoming aware of truth is the first step and is why Jesus came to this earth to reveal the truth about the Father.
But the second step is parallel to the act of disobedience that Eve and then Adam committed by physically eating of the forbidden fruit. It is not enough for us to just come to a knowledge of the truth about how God feels about us or to correct false beliefs we have about certain doctrines. Unless we choose to take actions based on these truths we are receiving from God, the healing antidote to the virus of sin will never be released into our hearts and we will remain in the deceptions of sin, slowly wasting away while talking about how wonderful the antidote is and trying to convince others to take it.
Unless we are willing to act on the truth about God and about ourselves as the Spirit convicts us and reveals it to us, we cannot benefit from the healing power of the truth as it is in Jesus. It is not enough to learn about the truth, to only discover principles of God's kingdom if we are unwilling to open our hearts and become vulnerable and honest about our true condition and get real before God as well as those in His body here on earth. If we are unwilling to become transparent about our desperate condition and become willing to face the shame, the fears and the faults that are destroying our souls, we cannot experience the remedy that Jesus came to provide for our salvation. Only as we choose to act on the truth about God's goodness and grace as well as our own true condition can the healing power inherent in these revelations begin to counteract the deadly effects that sin is wreaking within our souls.
Legal thinking focuses on the need for actions of obedience but fails to emphasize the necessary cause of those actions. Legal thinking puts the focus on the external symptoms of belief but cannot provide effective motives needed for true obedience to release healing power into our souls. Legal thinking assumes that simply obeying God's rules or obtaining pardon is what we need to put us into good standing with Him. The problem with this approach is that sin is not a legal predicament with God but rather a terminal illness that has so infected our thinking and feelings and perceptions that only an infusion of healing grace and revelations of truth about God can save us. Obedience is the choice to open the container and take the medicine each day so that the power of God can begin to restore our systems to wholeness again. But if we have not first grasped the real truth about God and simply try to go to the step of obedience, we may find ourselves ingesting from mislabeled bottles that promise salvation and deliverance but in the end prove to be just as fatal as our original sickness to start with.
It is a real temptation for those coming into a fresh knowledge of the truth about God's goodness to simply remain at the stage of excitement over all the revelations exposing the lies of Satan. This is certainly an important stage for those serious about salvation and being restored to wholeness. But when it comes to experiencing the truth of the gospel, the good news about God in our own situations, our own marital relationships, our own family lives, our own dysfunction, addictions and dealing with our sordid past, it is all too easy to turn back and simply remain in our intellectual ecstasy believing that it is enough to just believe in God's goodness while not becoming willing to be accountable to the light of truth shining into our lives.
Light has a sometimes troubling property of exposing everything hidden in the dark. Because sin has left all of us with a lot of ugly baggage, nasty habits, deeply embarrassing memories and sorry stories of bad choices in our past, most of us are too intimidated to allow all of that garbage to be exposed in the light. One way we avoid having the light of God's glory expose our sordid condition is to compartmentalize ourselves internally to keep the light of truth in only part of our mind while fiercely shielding the uglier parts of our lives from any exposure to that light. But this is a very dangerous choice, for it can deceive us into thinking we are being saved while in reality we are only living in denial. In reality we are still distrustful of God while claiming to believe in Him. This dichotomy is actually a betrayal of the very gospel that we claim to embrace. If we will not allow God full access to every part of our life, letting Him expose all of the ugliness from both our past and present and come to trust Him fully to deal with all of that in His way, then we will still not be living in the light as we must to experience the kind of healing we so desperately need.
God is not interested in transporting people to heaven who have only done a good job of spreading truths about Him while resisting His work in their own hearts. They must receive full treatment for their sickness and be willing to be totally open in every aspect of their life. God cannot risk introducing the residual virus of selfishness and sin into the pure atmosphere of heaven, for it would only reinfect and reignite the epidemic that He is in the business of eliminating. Only as we become fully cooperative and open up every area of our souls – mind and body, spirit and heart – to the exposing light of the truth about both ourselves and God, can we be become safe to save. And only as we are willing to get real and become as transparent as the sunlight will we become effective witnesses that can contribute to the exoneration of God when He comes into His hour of judgment.
I believe it is vital that we pray for more conviction of our own souls, for more light to expose our own blind spots, for more reality checks to challenge our shallow thinking about what God wants to do to heal us. It does not work to go to a physician for healing for a terminal illness but expect to dictate to them what they can or cannot see about our body. If we are too ashamed to become naked and honest and fully vulnerable with our physician who needs to know everything about our condition in order to prescribe the needed treatment for our healing, how can blame him when we do not experience the results we so desperately need? We must become willing to allow God into every area of our dysfunction and get painfully honest if we are serious about the sanctification that is necessary for us to be restored to reflecting God's image which is our original design and purpose.
God is our ultimate physician longing to heal us, not a stern judge waiting to hand down verdicts and execute punishments on the disobedient. We must change our perceptions and feelings about God if we are ever to come into a saving relationship of trust so He can heal us, just as a patient must trust those who are there to provide for their physical healing. Without that element of trust and openness, healing cannot occur. So too, if we are unwilling to move past the stage of information and knowledge about truth and sickness and submit fully to the searching, exposing light revealing our sordid condition in the worst areas of our lives, we cannot engage in what is needed to rescue us from the sickness of sin.
Trust and loss of trust was the original issue of sin. Full restoration of trust must be the antidote that will undo all the effects of sin. Without trust it is impossible to come into a saving relationship with God, and that is what it means to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Pleasing God means allowing Him to do everything He desires to do in our lives to restore us, to heal us, to salvage us from our rebellion, our dysfunction, from the imprint of wickedness that has infected every fiber of our being. God can accomplish all of this, but He will not force it upon us. Only those who are willing to fully cooperate with Him in this healing process can experience full restoration. If we stop at just an intellectual knowledge about it but refuse to give Him full access to our hearts, our bodies, our souls and our sins, He cannot finish what He longs to do in us. The choice is up to us. He is able, but am I willing?