Sin is More than a Legal Problem
John Telgren


One of the easiest ways to explain the problem of sin is through a legal analogy. This is one of the ways the Bible describes the problem of sin. When we break God's law, we owe a debt that we cannot pay because we forfeit what God has given to us, which is life. Jesus redeemed us from sin by giving himself as a ransom for our sin (Mt 20:28) and paying our debt with his own blood (1 Pet 1:18-19). With his blood, he cancelled the certificate of debt that was against us (Col 2:14).

We need to remember, however, that this is not the only way the Bible describes the problem of sin.

Sin is an intellectual problem. Those who turned away from God, though they professed to be wise, became fools (Rom 1:22). They walk in the futility of their mind (Eph 4:17). They become darkened in their understanding (Eph 4:18). In their pseudo-wisdom, they are likely not even aware of what sin has done to them. Their conscience has become calloused (Eph 4:19; 1 Tim 4:2). Thinking without God at the center of our philosophy is wrong thinking (Col 2:8). This is why our renewal is not merely in morals, but a renewal of the mind (Eph 4:23).

Sin is a slavery problem. Jesus said that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (Jn 8:34). Only Jesus can truly release us from the bondage of sin. Without the freedom that comes in Christ, trying harder is an exercise in futility (Rom 7:7-24). We may want to do good, but without Christ we are a prisoner of the law of sin. Sin produces wrongful desires in us that we cannot overcome apart from Christ.

Sin is a corruption problem. Sin reigned in death even before the law was given (Rom 5:12-21). This indicates that sin is more than merely a legal problem. Even though men did not inherit the guilt and condemnation of their parents (Ezek 18:20), they nevertheless have the weakness of the flesh and corruption from sin. This is why the Bible tells us that the old self is corrupted (Eph 4:22). It has to be God at work in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13). We were totally helpless until Christ died for us (Rom 5:6). This slavery to corruption is why all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).

Therefore, simply trying harder is a futile effort. We cannot lift ourselves out of the mess of sin. This is why David asks God to create a clean heart in him (Ps 51:10). It is God who purifies and refines his people (Mal 3:3). Only Jesus can truly purify our evil conscience (Heb 9:14; 10:22). We are not saved by our own righteous deeds, but according to God's mercy through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Spirit (Tit 3:5). Baptism saves us in that it is an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection (1 Pet 3:21). Only our crucified our risen Lord can purify and wash our defiled conscience when we submit to him in baptism. Then, as we remain in fellowship with our Lord, he continues to transform and renew us (2 Cor 3:18).