The Heart of It All: Sin

October 9, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

Effects of Sin

Audio length: 19:33

Download Audio (17.9MB)

(You may need to right-click the above links and select "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to download videos and audios to your computer.)

(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

As human beings with sinful natures who universally sin, we all suffer the effects of sin. Sin affects our “legal” standing with God, in that we stand “guilty” before Him. It also affects our relationship with Him, our interactions with others, and us as individuals. We’ll look at each of these components in order to see the ramifications of sin in the lives of human beings.

Our Legal Standing and Relationship with God

Because God is holy, righteous, and just, any and all sin is an affront to Him. When we sin, we are “lawbreakers,” as we are “legally” guilty of breaking God’s law and violating His holiness. The penalty of sin is death, both physical and spiritual, a separation from God.

Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden expresses in the physical the spiritual separation between God and humans, as we are no longer fit to be in His presence due to sin.

Besides the separation from God in this life, all humans suffer physical death, and some continue on in separation from the Lord in the life to come. They suffer spiritual death.

The wages of sin is death.[1]

What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.[2]

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.[3]

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.[4]

A further effect of sin on humanity’s relationship with God is alienation or enmity (hostility) toward God.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son …[5]

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.[6]

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.[7]

While sin makes humans legally guilty before God and causes separation from Him, there are those whose hearts are toward God but don’t know of or understand about Jesus and salvation. Scripture doesn’t specifically say what happens in such cases, but it seems to infer that they will be judged according to the truth they know. While we may not know specifically how God will judge each person, what we do know from understanding God’s attributes is that God is just, righteous, loving, and merciful; and He will therefore judge people with fairness and righteousness.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.[8]

He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness.[9]

Salvation, however, brings about a major change in the relationship between God and those who accept Jesus as their Savior. With salvation, the relationship becomes one of being members of God’s family, His children, as expressed in the following verses.

We also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”[10]

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.[11]

If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.[12]

To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.[13]

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.[14]

The Effects of Sin on Relations with Others

Besides affecting our relationship with God, sin also has consequences in people’s relations with one another. Earlier we saw that the first sin brought conflict to the relationship of Adam and Eve. This was only the beginning of the consequences of sin among humanity. The heightening degree of conflict between humans escalated into hatred and then murder when Cain killed his brother Abel.

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.[15]

The discord which sin brings manifests itself in more than just bad relations between two individuals. It’s also expressed in conflict between one group of people and another, nation against nation, race against race, animosity between institutions, political factions, and even within families. It’s manifested in racial prejudice, extreme nationalism, in class conflict. All human groups or institutions, whether they’re educational, community, social, leisure, or religious in nature, experience some measure of discord and conflict.[16] Further manifestations of sin can be seen in people exploiting others through violence, abuse, oppression, and slavery.

Sin can be seen in our taking advantage of others, using people for our own ends, not treating others with dignity and equality. Even when we wish to know others and be known by them, there can still be miscommunication and misunderstanding. Our personal relationships can turn deceitful, selfish, and possessive. All of this is because of our sinful nature. While we, as Christians, still sin and have conflicts with others, we are admonished to love one another and to act in love toward others by building relationships with others based on God’s love, in kindness, caring, and unselfishness.

In Relation to Ourselves

As sinners, we suffer guilt and shame. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened, not to divinity as the serpent said they would be, but rather to shame and guilt. They were exposed to God and to each other. They became aware that they had done wrong in disobeying God’s command and they lost their innocence, as seen in their trying to cover themselves. They felt guilt and tried to hide from God. They now were afraid of God, whereas before they had personal loving fellowship with Him.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”[17]

As a result of our sinful nature, we suffer from inner conflict and shame; we have fear and distress, restlessness, hopelessness, a lack of inner peace. Because we are sinners, we are troubled with internal discord.

I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.[18]

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.[19]

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”[20]

You were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.[21]

In Relation to Creation

Because of greed and selfishness, humans have plundered the earth rather than being wise stewards of its beauties and treasures, as God had instructed humanity.[22]

Bruce Milne expresses this point very well:

Humanity loses its harmony with the natural order and our God-given stewardship of the environment gives place to sinful plundering. This is manifest as exploitation, the needless destruction of the world without thought for its created beauty or intrinsic worth. It is also manifest in pollution, the selfish and rapacious use of raw materials, contaminating the oceans and the very atmosphere, all too often in the interests of economic profit, luxury and self-indulgence. Today the very survival of life on our planet is threatened by the sin-rooted dissonance.[23]

Punishment for Sin

As stated above, God is holy, righteous, and just; and because He is, it is imperative for Him to judge and punish sinners, just as it is imperative in human courts that those that break the law be punished and not be permitted to commit crimes unpunished. God reacts against sin, and His reaction is punishment. If He didn’t punish sin, He wouldn’t be righteous and just, as He would be acting contrary to His nature and His Word.

The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.[24]

I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.[25]

When addressing the reason for punishment, Louis Berkhof wrote:

It originates in the righteousness or punitive justice of God, by which He maintains Himself as the Holy One and necessarily demands holiness and righteousness in all His rational creatures. Punishment is the penalty that is naturally and necessarily due from the sinner because of his sin; it is, in fact, a debt that is due to the essential justice of God.[26]

God doesn’t take pleasure in punishing sinners. He would much rather they repent, and in His patience and mercy gives them time to do so. But in order for Him to be true to His nature and character, He must eventually mete out punishment, in some cases in the afterlife.

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?[27]

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?[28]

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.[29]

Scripture speaks of what can be seen as natural punishment for sin. These are the natural consequences for sin, when people reap what they sow.

As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.[30]

The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.[31]

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.[32]

The drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.[33]

Punishment as a consequence for sin can also come from the Lord’s hand.

The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot out of My book.”[34]

If you walk contrary to Me and will not listen to Me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins.[35]

Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance.[36]

Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.[37]

The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[38]

Punishment for sin serves as a deterrent to keep the sinner, or others, from sinning, but that isn’t the main reason for punishment. Rather it’s that God’s righteousness demands it. There is a difference, however, between chastisement for the believer and punishment for the unrepentant sinner.

The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?[39]

Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.[40]

Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord, and whom You teach out of Your law.[41]

The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death.[42]

As seen in the preceding verses, sin negatively affects people’s lives, and those consequences are part of the punishment of sin. Beyond that, Scripture teaches that death is the ultimate punishment for sin. This death, as spoken of in the Bible, is seen as comprehensive death, both physical and spiritual.

One of the main words used for death in the New Testament is the Greek word thanatos, which has the following definitions: the death of the body; that separation of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended; the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body in hell; the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in Him on earth.

God told Adam and Eve:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[43]

While they didn’t physically die on that day, they experienced the spiritual death of separation and estrangement from God. The penalty of physical death came at the end of their lives.

When speaking of the effects of sin in our personal lives as being part of the punishment of sin, Louis Berkhof wrote:

The sufferings of life, which are the results of the entrance of sin into the world, are also included in the penalty of sin. Sin brought disturbance in the entire life of man. … His very soul has become a battlefield of conflicting thoughts, passions and desires. The will refuses to follow the judgment of the intellect, and the passions run riot without the control of an intelligent will. The true harmony of life is destroyed, and makes way for the curse of the divided life. Man is in a state of dissolution, which often carries with it the most poignant sufferings.[44]

Physical death is also part of the punishment of sin, which God said would be a consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and which is manifested in Adam and Eve returning to the ground.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.[45]

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.[46]

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.[47]

The continued separation from God and the punishment of humans in the afterlife is seen as God’s wrath, His response to sin.

The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[48]

Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.[49]

For the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.[50]

The punishment for sin is real. The severity of sin and God’s displeasure of it can be seen in the crucifixion of Jesus. The pain, the suffering, the agony which Jesus suffered for humanity is seen as Jesus bearing God’s wrath for us, the wrath we would have suffered if He hadn’t taken it upon Himself in our place. While we each deserve the full punishment and wrath of God for our sins, the holy, righteous, and just One is also gracious and merciful. He has made a way for people to be forgiven for their sins. He made it possible for us to be freed from the legal guilt and punishment we deserve. Jesus’ suffering and death bore the wrath of God for us. All that is necessary is to receive Him as Savior. As Christians we are redeemed, our sins are atoned for, our punishment is averted, and we have eternal life with Him. There are so many who don’t know or understand the importance of salvation, and we who have this wonderful gift from God owe it both to the Lord and to others to share this good news, this Gospel, with as many as we can.

[1] Romans 6:23.

[2] Romans 6:21.

[3] James 1:14–15.

[4] 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

[5] Romans 5:10.

[6] Romans 8:7.

[7] Ephesians 4:18.

[8] Psalm 98:9.

[9] Psalm 96:13.

[10] Galatians 4:3–6.

[11] Galatians 3:26.

[12] Romans 8:13–14.

[13] John 1:12.

[14] John 5:24.

[15] Genesis 4:8.

[16] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth, A Handbook of Christian Belief (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009),  144.

[17] Genesis 3:7–10.

[18] Romans 7:23.

[19] Romans 2:9.

[20] Isaiah 57:21.

[21] Ephesians 2:12.

[22] Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it (Genesis 2:15 NAU).

[23] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth, A Handbook of Christian Belief (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009),  145.

[24] Deuteronomy 32:4.

[25] Jeremiah 9:24.

[26] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 256.

[27] Ezekiel 18:23.

[28] Ezekiel 33:11.

[29] 2 Peter 3:9.

[30] Job 4:8.

[31] Psalm 9:15.

[32] Proverbs 5:22.

[33] Proverbs 23:21.

[34] Exodus 32:33.

[35] Leviticus 26:21.

[36] 1 Chronicles 10:13.

[37] Matthew 3:10.

[38] Matthew 24:50–51.

[39] Hebrews 12:6–7.

[40] Job 5:17.

[41] Psalm 94:12.

[42] Psalm 118:18.

[43] Genesis 2:16–17.

[44] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 259.

[45] Genesis 3:19.

[46] 1 Corinthians 15:21–22.

[47] James 1:15.

[48] Matthew 13:41–42.

[49] Romans 2:5–8.

[50] Revelation 21:8 NAU.