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Life’s Biggest Problem

Ryan Joy


July 16, 2023

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The Big Idea

Sin might seem like an out-of-touch religious idea, but to become healthy, we need a cure for the soul-sickness that alienates us from ourselves, others, and God.

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What Are Your Greatest Problems?

What’s wrong and troubling in your life? Issues with money, relationships, health, pain? Concerns about your kids or marriage or job? Bitterness about your past? Paralyzing fears about your future? Addiction, depression, heartbreak, and the list goes on. Looking beyond ourselves, what are the world’s most significant problems? What’s going wrong here? We see poverty, disease, hatred and bigotry, political unrest, and war; real issues, but not the root. We have a long history of misdiagnosing our condition and treating only the symptoms. We don’t even see our situation — a chronic disease plaguing us almost from the beginning of human existence.

Diagnosing Our Disease

Doctors often use clinical, technical words that seem impersonal until they become YOUR disease. Like medical terminology, religious words sometimes don’t seem to relate to real life. We might think of them as “church words” we wouldn’t use any other time, abstract Bible ideas rather than the fundamental issues plaguing us. But the matter isn’t distant, invented, or theoretical. Until you’re cured, it’s your disease, the source of problems you’re painfully aware of — and those you don’t even realize.

Three Words for Our Biggest Problem

On Israel’s holiest day of the year, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest confronted the nation’s evil. Foreshadowing Christ’s atoning work, he laid hands on a “scapegoat” before sending it into the wilderness to carry the people’s sins away.

“Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins …” (Lev. 16:21).

This verse uses three words to describe the problem and help us understand our need for healing, reconciliation, and grace: iniquity, transgression, and sin.

Crooked Heart Disease

Iniquity” (Hebrew avon) describes a gnarled lifestyle and worldview, picturing “a bent, twisted or crimped item laid alongside a standard straight edge.”[^1]

We’ve wrecked our relationship with God, like a Ming vase, smashing it into a million pieces.

In the Bible’s first pages (Gen. 1-11), humanity receives every good gift and then perverts them all. Like a poorly hammered nail, we’re bent.

Fractured Harmony

In our “transgression” (Hebrew pesha), we “rupture solidarity and shatter harmony.”[^1] We’ve wrecked our relationship with God, like a Ming vase, smashing it into a million pieces.

Chronic Failure

Sin” (Hebrew hatta) is missing your target. It describes bad aim, like the 700 warriors who “could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Jdg. 20:18, cf. Prov. 19:2). But “sin” usually means moral failure. Created to bear God’s image (Gen. 1:27), we often miss our purpose: to reflect his glory. Sadly, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Every sinner is an utter failure at the most basic level.

What’s It To You?

So sin is the Bible word for the dysfunction that defines so much of the human condition. But how does it affect us? It’s a burden — we “bear our iniquity” (Lev. 22:9), carrying guilt’s weight through life (Isa. 5:18). Like a predator, it’s “crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7), ready to devour you. It’s a slaver since we’re “slaves of the one we obey” (Rom. 6:12,16). I’m “sold as a slave to sin … what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:14-15). And ultimately, sin is a killer because death is its nature and end (Rom. 6:23; Jam. 1:15).

Now the Good News, Sin Undone

The Bible uses the word “gospel” to describe the grand announcement of Christ’s kingdom (Mk. 1:1,15; Rom. 1:1,16). It’s the best news we’ll ever hear because King Jesus has conquered sin and death to bring hope, peace, and joy into our world (1 Cor. 15:55-57; Jn. 16:33; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom. 14:17, 15:13).

Rather than unbending us, the Lord makes us new humans, alive in the Spirit, the start of a new creation.

Jesus came to change the human condition, entering the world he created (Jn. 1:1-14) to live the perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21) and die as an atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:23-25), defeating dark spiritual forces (1 Jn. 3:8; Heb. 2:14). Rising from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven where he reigns (1 Cor. 15:1-11,25). Now, Jesus Christ invites all humans to reign with him as part of his righteous kingdom (2 Tim. 2:11-12), as we look forward to the day he restores everything to goodness and order.

Rather than unbending us, the Lord makes us new humans, alive in the Spirit, the start of a new creation (Rom. 8:10-11; Ja. 1:18). Jesus doesn’t just mend what we broke. He restores and reconciles “all things” — in this universe and beyond — to harmonious order and oneness (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). Our failures forgiven, we live to glorify God through his power at work in us (Eph. 2:8-10; 3:16-21). Jesus has shouldered our burden, slain the beast, freed the slaves, and revived the dead. Praise God, Christ has conquered sin and stolen its power over us!

[^1]: Martens, E. A. (2003). Sin, Guilt. In T. D. Alexander & D. W. Baker (Eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (p. 766). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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