Sin touches everything around us. And as bad as that is, the problem is worse than sin being everywhere. Sin is not just “out there.” Sin runs through each of us.
Everything we see “out there” is stained by sin. But even the eyes through which we see the world are clouded by sin. Our worldview is distorted because of the lies we believe; we don’t think as we ought to think (1 Cor. 2:14).
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could not have stated it better:
“If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
If sin were somehow external to us, then maybe we could do something about it. If we could round up the evil people and ship them to a deserted island or put them all in jail, then the rest of us could live happy, holy lives. If we gather up everything around us that is affected by sin, we could either remove it or repair it. If we could identify sin as a substance, perhaps we could learn to avoid it, or fight it off when it came to affect our world.
But we’re all infected by it. It permeates the external world and our own hearts. This side of the fall, the human experience is saturated with sin and its deleterious effects. So foundational is depravity to the human experience that every plot line in every story takes the presence of sin as a given. There would be no drama if there were no sin. You can count on it: When human beings interact with the world, with one another, and with God, sin is involved.
Paul captured this brilliantly in Romans 7:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
Theologians squabble over whether Paul was speaking of an unsaved person, a Christian who still struggles with sin, or a “representative Jew.” The answer is important, no doubt, but what seems clear is that Paul is describing a person who is trying to please God in the flesh apart from the Spirit (see Romans 8 for what a person pleasing God in the Spirit looks like). Paul’s description of sin’s deep seated and continuous pull describes the struggle that philosophers, artists, and gurus throughout the ages have wrestled with.
I can’t do what I want to do because sin “lies close at hand;” it even “dwells within me.” So now, after three posts on sin, its inherent ickiness, its ubiquity, and its debilitating presence in our lives, we are ready for an answer. We cry out like Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Of course, we all know the answer to that question. But we will explore the answer in greater depth tomorrow.