Christians are obsessed with the idea of salvation. Fair enough, salvation is essential. The problem, however, is that everyone has different opinions on what salvation actually is. Different traditions tend to emphasise and even make exclusive claims to their own definition of salvation at the expense of others. So in this series, I aim to explore the different facets of salvation so that we may better understand what it really is. Here are the salvific themes we’re going to explore:
- Liberation and Exile
- Sin and Judgement
- Substitution and Sacrifice
- New Creation and Vocation
Each motif plays a pivotal role in demonstrating what salvation is, how it is achieved and received, and how it is lived out by the believer. In this post, we will be exploring sin and judgement.
Sin is often understood in a few different ways. Sin is breaking the rules and rebellion (1Jn 3:4 See also 1Sa 13:13-14; 1Ch 10:13; Ne 9:29; Mic 1:5; 7:18; Ro 2:23; 4:15; 5:14-17; Jas 2:10-11). It can be understood as falling short or missing the mark (Rom 3:23 – this is the most common use of the word in both the OT and NT). Fundamentally, however, sin is idolatry. What is idolatry? G. K. Beale writes that:
Martin Luther’s larger catechism discussion of the first commandement (“You shall have no other gods before Me” [Ex 20:3]) included “whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.” I might add here, “whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security.” “The idol is whatever claims the loyalty that belongs to God alone.”
One New Testament professor of mine always used to say that idolatry is the root where sin is the fruit. In other words, the reason why we do bad things like commit adultery, tell lies, cheat and steal is because of the things we either wittingly or unwittingly worship. For all of us, there are little gods in our lives that lay claim to our hearts and turn us away from wholly giving ourselves to Yahweh. This was essentially the primordial sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 they trusted in the serpent and in themselves over and above Yahweh, which is a picture of us all. Each day, perhaps in each moment we’re faced with a test to trust in God or to trust in idols. To allow Yahweh to rule over us or the things of this world to rule. Yet even if we passed 99/100 of the tests, sin can not be overlooked.
What we worship matters because we become what we worship. Consider Psalm 115:4-8
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
In other words, if we worship money, we become greedy if we worship popularity, we become arrogant if we worship darkness we become dark, lost and broken. However, if we worship God who is love (1 John 4:7), holy (Is 6:3; 1 Peter 1:6), patient (Num 14:18; Ex 34:6), and merciful (Ex 34:6-7; Eph 2:4-5) we will become like that as well. Therefore, whoever it is we worship deeply affects the world and the people around us. Sin perpetuates sin, and idols flourish among one another. Sin corrupts the world and destroys lives, it offends God as it disrupts His established order – His Kingdom in which He desires humanity to be a part of.
So then, this idolatry and sin cannot be overlooked. God might be love, but God is just (Is 61:8 ), and He will not let sin go unpunished (Is 13:11; 2 Thess 1:9). He will judge the world and give each one what they deserve according to their deeds (Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:12), He will punish and destroy the wicked (2 Peter 3:7). We see this pattern starting Genesis 3 where God curses humanity and the earth and removes them from the Garden of Eden, however, notice that God judges to restore not to simply pour out His wrath:
- God curses humanity and the earth, then He exiles them from Eden. Yet God makes a sacrifice, covers Adam and Eve in animal skin and as an act of mercy so evil cannot live eternally denies them access to the tree of life. Finally, God promises that through the seed of Eve, one will come who will crush the serpent (sin) and restore everything to the Edenic ideal (Genesis 3).
- Cain murders Abel, and God curses Cain as a result. Yet God protects Cain from ongoing murder. It was through Cains seed that “people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4).
- God floods and destroys the earth because of their great wickedness (Genesis 6:1-7). Yet He chooses Noah and his family to build an ark, to save the animals and as many people who’d hear the call of repentance. God judges and renews the earth with chaotic waters and starts over with Noah (a new type of Adam) as God gives him the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:1).
- God judges and destroys Sodom, and Gomorrah yet saves Lot and his family (Genesis 19).
- God sends plagues on Egypt and kills the firstborns, yet saves His people out of slavery so that they may worship Him (Exodus 4-15).
- God sends Israel into exile under the Babylonian rule as judgement, but also to be a light to the nations and flourish (Jer 29).
- Jesus is judged in place of humanity. He takes on the full justice of God yet only to save humanity from God’s just judgement (Jhn 3:36; Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10).
- God will judge the wicked and the righteous only to restore everything in the new creation (Rev 20-22).
Finally, sin is grave. God takes it seriously, and so should His Church. As my friend Alan Stanley explains:
Judgement is the natural outcome of idolatry. For example, Adam and Eve’s sin leads to an experiential separation from God before God removes them from the garden. In Romans 2, God’s wrath is described as his eschatological judgment. But in Romans 1 people experience judgment/wrath now by God handing them over to their desires. The more one becomes enslaved by their desires, the more one experiences death now because they do not know life. John 3:18 says that those who do not believe in Jesus stand judged already, and God’s wrath remains on him (3:36). In other words, those who worship idols do become like them: they become blind, etc., and are unable to experience the reality of God. This is judgment, in the present. The final judgment then is not so much God whacking his stick over his naughty and disobedient children, but it is punishment nevertheless; a punishment that people have chosen for themselves during this life.
Let us consider God’s judgement on sin and the ramifications of our idolatry on the world around us.