The Severity of Sin

The Severity of Sin

What is sin? Why is God so concerned about it? Why are we not as concerned about it? These are but some of the questions that God in Christ addressed by his death on Good Friday. Our passage from Isaiah 53 can help us better understand the answers to these questions for it speaks not only to the severity of sin, but also to the greatness of God.

Now sin is any thought or act that goes against God’s will. If we stop to consider the many ways that we may sin, they would include:

Sin that is done out of ignorance due to our not reading and learning his will disclosed to us in his Word;

Sin that is done out of neglect when we don’t do the things God asks of us in his Word;

Sin that is done when we know what he asks of us, when we know what his Scriptures teach, but willfully choose to ignore him and act against his stated and revealed will.

No matter the severity of sin, what is clear throughout Scripture is that whether due to ignorance, neglect, or willful disobedience, sin is extremely serious in the eyes of God.

Understanding how all-encompassing sin is helps us better understand why Scripture repeatedly states about humanity, “There is none that is righteous, no not one.”[1] In other words, there isn’t one person who has lived, is now living, or will live—Jesus Christ excepted[2]:

who hasn’t done or left undone, out of ignorance, what God asks;

there isn’t one person who, knowing what he requires, hasn’t neglected to do what he asks;

there isn’t one person who, knowing what he asks, hasn’t gone ahead and disobeyed him anyway.

“After all,” we tell ourselves, “what’s the harm? What’s so bad about not doing what God commands?” Yet in asking these questions we admit our guilt. What is more, these questions reveal just how far humanity fell at the time of the Fall recorded in Genesis.

The worst outcome of the Fall is that it desensitized us to who God is and to the truth of the Word he’s given us. Like the proverbial frog that gradually acclimates to a slowly heating pot of cold water—to the point of its own death—the Fall caused us to lose an awareness of the severity of our sin, and of the greatness of God’s holiness, and, consequently, of our desperate need for him and his forgiveness. For the Fall ripped our gaze away from the beautiful, loving, majestic God who made us to enjoy him and placed that gaze upon ourselves as we now display a twisted enjoyment of things that harm both us and those around us. Indeed, the Fall caused us to care more about the way we would like things to be to the extent that we now scarcely care about God and the way he created us to be.

Yet though we may have given up on pleasing God, he never gave up on saving us. For God in his mercy discloses to us the severity of sin not only by teaching about it but also by demonstrating its cost. From the very beginning, after Adam and Eve initially sinned by obeying the serpent rather than God, death entered humanity’s awareness. Adam and Eve who had known only life in its fullest in and through God who had made them in his very image,[3] now experienced the horror of death as God judged Adam for his disobedience and told him that as from the dust of the ground he had come, to that very dust he would return.[4] However, this future death became immediately and devastatingly real when God sacrificed—when he put to death—an animal in order to make garments of skin to clothe and cover the now evident nakedness of Adam and Eve.[5] This is where Paul’s teaching that the cost, the wages of sin being death,[6] originates. Throughout all the Scripture that follows, it’s evident that apart from the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness for sin.[7] This is how severe sin is. It leads to death. And the only way sin can be covered is by the death of another on behalf of the one who sins.

Well the prophet Isaiah understood all of this. Chapter 53 is one of four Suffering Servant passages in this book.[8] The Jewish people understood this Suffering Servant to be the Messiah—or the Christ in the Greek language—whom God had promised to one day send to make all things right. Although Isaiah wrote

about 700 years prior to the time of Christ’s coming,[9] the arrival of this Suffering Servant Messiah was fulfilled at the time of his birth, at the time of his Incarnation when, as a baby in a manger, God in Christ Jesus was born. He is the Suffering Servant Isaiah prophesied about.

Now that Isaiah understood the nature of sin—its depth and breadth—is evident as he declares in verse 6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” We all, like dumb animals who don’t know any better, have left our Shepherd. We’ve turned on our backs on the One who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves. We’ve chosen instead to turn to our own way. And had our Maker and Lord left us to our own devices; had he given us what we sought, seeking to find pleasure in his creation rather than pleasure in him, like the frog in the pot, nothing but suffering and death would await us. But instead, our compassionate and loving God chose to send his Son to suffer and die on our behalf. As stated in the second half of verse 6, “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Again, whereas every human who has ever existed, does now exist, or will one day exist is guilty of committing sin, of disregarding God’s will for whatever reason, there is one—and only one—exception: the eternal Son of God, God’s promised Messiah, the Christ, who entered human history in the person of Jesus. He is our sacrifice. He is our substitute. Upon him, upon Jesus who though tempted never sinned, have our sins been placed. Since without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, God chose to shed the blood of his own Son in order that we might receive his forgiveness.

In verse 7 Isaiah picks up on the analogy of the sheep. Because we humans, like sheep, have all gone astray, God who became human in the person of Jesus, suffered like a sheep on our behalf. As stated in verse 7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Such a slaughter, such a cruel and violent death on the cross, is the reason why God in Christ came to earth; such a slaughter, such a cruel and violent death on the cross, is the reason why the Father sent his Son to earth. Had dying on the cross as our substitute not been his purpose in taking on human flesh, then he would have opened his mouth. He would have protested. But he didn’t.

As stated in verses 8–9, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” All of these details are found in the life of Jesus. No one of his generation protested. By his death on our behalf, he who is Lord and Giver of life, was cut off from the land of the living. Again, he who was sinless willingly suffered and was punished for the sin of his people. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, with the rich in his death. He did no violence. No deceit was ever found in his mouth. For this was his purpose in life. He came to earth, he was sent by his heavenly Father, to die in the place of those who believe in him. As stated earlier in verse 5, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” By Jesus Christ’s wounds on the cross, horrific and painful wounds that led to his death, all who believe and receive him, all who accept his sacrifice on their behalf, are healed for he desires to be their substitute. He doesn’t want us to suffer. Therefore, he voluntarily suffered the penalty for our sin and took upon himself the punishment that rightly belongs to us. In doing so, he undid the effects of sin. In doing so, he both demonstrated the severity of sin—and did away with its consequences for those who believe in him.

As God, who never changes,[10] did for our first parents, so he does for us. For as we’ve noted, when Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, when they disobeyed God and chose to obey the serpent, God nonetheless sought them out[11] and then he provided a sacrifice. And he’s been doing so ever since. This is the wonder of what God in Christ has done: that we sin, we turn away from God—but he seeks us out; that in our sin we open ourselves up to suffering and pain—yet God provides the sacrifice. He substitutes his own Son—the Suffering Servant, the promised Messiah—to take upon himself the punishment of death, God’s wrath against sin and anything that harms his good creation, so that we won’t have to. And then, having sacrificed himself, he clothes us. As Paul teaches, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[12] We who are naked; we who are soiled; we who are so undeserving, upon believing in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, are clothed with his righteousness. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, instead of God’s wrath, we are recipients of God’s mercy; in exchange for eternal death, we are given his eternal life; in exchange for our sin and its consequences, we are given his righteousness. For, ultimately, this is what salvation is. Salvation is freedom from the consequences of sin. It’s freedom from death—and solitude—and division—and the harm we do to others and God’s creation—and that others do to us—and that Satan seeks to do.

Dear brothers and sisters, the meaning of Good Friday is that in the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, God has given us a choice: Either we can pay the consequences of our own sin or we can allow God to. God’s answer to the question of what sin is—and why he is so concerned about it when we are not as concerned about it—is the reason why this Friday has been declared, from the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross, to be good.

For Good Friday is a powerful proclamation about the severity of sin. Sin is so severe that it required the sacrifice of God’s own Son to atone, to make payment, for it;

Good Friday is also a powerful demonstration of how deeply God is concerned about sin. He knew that since sin came into being through a human who succumbed to the devil’s temptation, it could only be destroyed through a human who resisted the devil’s temptation. And because only God is able to forgive sin, God himself came to earth in human form so that the benefits of Christ, of God’s Suffering Servant, the promised Messiah, could be applied to any and all who believe in him.

Good Friday is also a powerful testimony that we should be as concerned about sin as God is. For, again, God in his Scriptures teaches that the consequence of sin is death—and division—and destruction—and the fruit of the flesh.[13] But the consequence of salvation is life—and union with God and all who believe in Jesus—and restoration with God and one another—and the fruit of the Holy Spirit[14] whom our heavenly Father richly lavishes upon all who turn to Jesus Christ, his Son.

Again, the choice is ours. Will we choose to pay the consequences of our sin? Or will we choose to humbly receive the consequences of salvation in and through Jesus alone? Dear ones, let us choose Christ who died as our substitute in order that in and through him we, too, might conquer the attacks of the devil—and sin—and death— and be clothed with Christ’s righteousness and so live with, through, and for him both now and forevermore.

Let us pray.

[1] Psalm 14:1–3, 53:1–3: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways/deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.; Ecclesiastes 7:20: Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.; Romans 3:10–12: 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

[2] Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

[3] Genesis 1:26–28: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

[4] Genesis 3:19 [God is speaking to Adam]: By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

[5] Genesis 3:21: The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them

[6] Romans 6:23.

[7] Hebrews 9:22: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

[8] Isaiah 52:13–53:12. The others are Isaiah 42:1–4; Isaiah 49:1–6; and Isaiah 50:4–11.

[9] Isaiah dates to c. 740–681 BC.

[10] Numbers 23:19: God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?; Malachi 3:6–7: “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.; Hebrews 13:8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.; James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

[11] Genesis 3:8–9, 13a: Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”…. 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

[12] 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[13] Galatians 5:19–21: 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

[14] Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.