Basic Christian Theology, Part 4: the Nature of Man, the Reality of Sin, and the Need for Atonement


Focal text: Genesis 1:26-31; 2:7,16-17; 3:1-11

Over the past several posts on this issue, which begins here, we have tackled some very large and heavy subjects: the foundation of our beliefs, the Bible and what it says about our God who exists in three Persons, or the Trinity. Today, our discussion will lead to another area concerning both of those issues: man.

If you are sitting here listening to this, more than likely, you are a member of the species known as mankind. And the Bible has a great deal to say about man and his relationship to God. First, man was created by God. This fact is covered by not one but two accounts, placed back to back in the first book of Moses, also known as Genesis. Looking at the first chapter of Genesis in vs. 26-31, we make a startling discovery: man was created for a purpose. Man’s original purpose was to first bear the image of God over all creation (1:26). Also, we were to rule, some translations may read subdue, over creation; whichever translation you are using, the intention is the same: we were given authority to manage all the resources at our disposal which were given to us by our Creator. Second, look to chapter 2, beginning in v. 20, we see that man has a double-duty: to reflect his creator onto woman, as well as his fellow man.

Man is also unique in creation; look at v. 7 of Chapter 2, “The LORD God formed man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being (soul).” Now the fact that we were created isn’t hard for some of us to accept; but the fact that we were created with a soul, something that does not exist in any other element of creation is rather shocking. A lingering concept of Greek philosophy holds that the body and soul are separated from each other; more than that it teaches that the body (flesh) is evil and the soul (spirit) is good, that means that you can do whatever you want to the body and the soul remains untouched. Scripture clearly holds this up and scoffs at it regularly. The fact that we were created in the image of the Triune God means that we are also triune: As there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in us is body, mind (intellect) and soul. One cannot exist without the other.

Something happened to man and woman sometime after they were placed in the Garden of Eden; what was that? (They fell.) Into what? (Sin.) Now when we talk about ‘sin’, what are we not talking about? First, we are not talking about ignorance (Gen. 2:16-17). God took great care to explain to Adam and Eve the rules of the Garden: “You may freely eat from every tree of the orchard”—there was plenty to eat without distraction—“but you must not”—not should not, or ought not, or could not, but—“must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely”—not could, or possibly, or a slight chance—“you will surely die.” Now we don’t know how long our first parents lived in the garden because time was not an issue until sin entered the world, but the day that it did, time has been chasing us with vengeance ever since.

Look over at chapter 3 of Genesis. Now, the scriptures does not go into a lot of detail when it talks about where sin came from, it likes to talk more about the effect of sin because that is more important than the cause, but what it does say is that when the opportunity presented itself, man and woman fell head-long into its trap. And I love the Bible; because it paints such a great picture of how God really sees us in our sin, look at v. 7: man and woman knew the immediate effect sin had on them, how? They looked and saw they were naked. V.8, when they heard God coming, they ran and hid. V.9, God is so loving, he knew they had sinned, but he just wanted to see them, “Where are you?” Vs. 10 and 11, when man confesses why he was hiding, because of their nakedness, I have heard so many preachers give such a condemning tone to this, but when I see it through my spiritual eyes, I hear vs. 11 like a gentle voice: “Who told you that you were naked?”—God knew before he asked what the answer really was, but he had to ask a companion question—“Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?

Now we know about the finger-pointing that went on, but the issue was that their sin, like ours had to be dealt with because a holy and righteous God cannot abide sin in his presence, so out they went and us with them. And as a result of their sin, the disease of sin is passed from generation to generation (Rom 5:12, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned.”) But God had a plan; don’t think he didn’t see man’s fall coming because He did, he set plans in motion for a cure for the sin disease and a way for us to stand in his presence: salvation and atonement.

Just a little more about sin, it has a price, more specifically it has wages (Rom. 6:23). You see, when you commit sin, you aren’t paying for it as much as working for it as slaves. Our sinful nature is a vicious master and the tolls which he exacts from us are physical, mental, and emotional. Paul, in his 1st letter to the Corinthians chapter 11 warns us believers about behaving unworthily in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, making the observation: “That is why so many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (died). (11:30)” Have you thought about that? We know how things like alcohol, tobacco and drugs can affect us, but any kind of immorality, from adultery to ego problems, affects us physically. I once heard a story of a young couple who were heavily involved in church in youth ministry, he was an engineer with NASA and she was an accountant, he became so involved with pornography and adultery that he went from making six-figures to barely able to hold a minimum wage job as a janitor because his once brilliant mind was muddled and robbed by sin. Sin separates us from God, it separates us from those we love, and it can separate us from this life. Psalm 51, which David wrote as a testimony to us about the uncovering of his sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, prominently displays the effect of sin, and how it should be dealt with, by confession. Sin destroys a believer’s witness and can cause a believer to self-destruct if held onto too long. Sin, because of its innateness of destruction requires a stronger, outside force to overcome it. Christians believe that this was accomplished through the saving and atoning work of Christ.

There is a mistaken idea that good works can overcome evil. An illustration that I have used with my children is that an evil work, unrighteous, sinful behavior could be compared to a five-pound lead weight. A good deed, weighs about as much as a single, downy feather. Put those on a scale with our sins, say you’ve only committed two sins in your entire life (that’s 10 pounds!), how many single, downy feathers of good deeds would you have to accumulate to overcome just those two sins. The problem is that there are Ten Commandments, and everyone of us has broken every single one, not just once, but multiple times, and not just in outward action, but in inward attitude, which according to scripture is just as important as actions. So great is our need for redemption and reconciliation that Paul in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 makes this statement, “God made the one (Jesus) who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God.

Our salvation, our redemption, was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus as he hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth. For three hours there was a deep darkness that hung over the land, not just of Israel, but of the whole world. This mysterious darkness that a number of civilizations record as just happening one day without warning, then the light returning, was God dealing with the full weight of our debt of sin. Then, our precious Savior, looked heavenward and loudly proclaimed, “It is finished! (Jn. 19:30)” This phrase in Greek is a single word: tetelestai. When a person owed a debt in Roman times, or had served a prison sentence, he was given a piece of paper that had just a few words on it: it would have the person’s name, and the word tetelestai. That one word meant a great deal to a person whose debt was now satisfied, because that is what it meant: the debt that was owed was paid, settled, completed and put to bed. This person was under no further obligation in regards to the debt which he owed. And that is the word which Jesus used to describe how sin was dealt with: once, for all.

Now, several years ago, I heard of some bad theology being taught to some kids by someone who I know meant well, and I sort of understood their thinking. This person was telling these children, “You know every time you sin, you are just nailing Jesus to the cross one more time.” No, Jesus died once, for all (Romans 6:10). Our sin has been dealt with in his crucifixion. And our life, the new life we have in faith, is evidenced by his resurrection from the dead. The problem comes when one of two things occurs: 1) we don’t believe that fact, even though it is plainly spelled out in Scripture; 2) we believe it, but do not live like it.

You see, when Jesus died, something so amazing happened that it changed everything. In the Temple in Jerusalem, when you got close to the heart of Temple, you entered a section where only the priests could go, the holy place. Inside of that was the Holy of Holies, this is where the mercy seat was and once a year, on the day of atonement, and only the high priest could enter to offer the yearly sacrifice on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. On the day that the perfect sacrifice died, and declared the debt paid, the veil in the Temple that hid the Holy of Holies from view was torn from top to bottom. Now, we think of the veil as kind of like a curtain, which it was, but this curtain was some twenty-five feet high and between 18 and 24 inches thick, and it was torn like tissue paper, from top—to bottom. With the debt paid, something marvelous happened, what once separated sinful man, his sin, from Holy God was done away with, once and for all.

The beautiful thing that we, as Christians, believe is that our sin is dealt with; it’s over and taken care of. And all we have to do is believe it, that it was done fully and finally in Christ’s sacrifice. And because of that sacrifice, God has reconciled us to Himself. No more sacrifices, no more blood being spilled, it’s finished. All of the ‘good’ you were striving to do isn’t necessary because it is done in Jesus. We believe that because our sins are fully and finally dealt with that we can now have a relationship with God through Christ. Our blessed Lord said in John 14:6, “No man comes to the Father except though me.” Why? He, Christ, alone is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If you believe it, confess it; if you confess it, you’ll live it; and if you live it, you shall never die, that’s a promise, from the lips of our Incarnate God.


  1. […] In our previous session, we discussed man’s fall into sin and what is necessary to get him/her out of that fall, salvation, so I need to backtrack some to set up for this discussion. Salvation is a process, sometimes it is a long process, sometimes a short one. By a long process it can involve a person living a life in which they know for a long time that their life is fully in rebellion against God, and one day they just simply give up and fall into the arms of God’s marvelous grace. For others, it is instantaneous: confronted by the gospel they instantly know they need God’s salvation and grab onto it tightly and preciously. I thank God for his mercy in both instances and praise him for his grace as well, but they both follow the same pattern. […]

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