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If I didn’t already believe in the authority of Scripture, its description of sin might be enough to convince me. The pattern and consequences of sin, appearing first in Genesis 3 and repeated throughout Scripture and history, seem accurate and profound. The older I get, the more I understand how accurately they describe our attraction to do what looks good to us, no matter what God says, along with the devastation that follows. The curses that follow sin describe the human condition are so true to experience that I’m amazed. The curses are then illustrated in the chapters that follow, along with the promise.

We can unpack the lessons of Genesis 3 to 11 on the nature and consequences of sin, but we can never improve on it. No work of theology or sociology on the human condition comes close. If you want to understand the world and humanity, there’s no better place to look.

Three Perspectives on Sin

The psalms also help us understand sin. Although they’re not written as a systematic theology, they still describe sin’s multidimensional nature. For instance, David prays:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

(Psalm 51:1–2)

Alec Motyer points out that David uses three words to describe our sin:

  • “transgressions,” the specific offenses committed; missing the mark
  • “iniquity,” “the ‘twist’ or ‘warp’ in human nature from whence sin springs”
  • “sin,” rebellion and crime; willful and responsible refusal of God’s way

Psalm 32:5 uses similar language. Each description of sin is nuanced. We commit wrong acts that reveal the warp in our natures, and our desire to refuse God’s way in favor of our own.

Three Perspectives on Cleansing

David also understands that our need for forgiveness is multidimensional. He asks God to:

  • “blot out” his transgressions — to remove the mark that sin left, and only God can erase
  • “wash” his iniquity — to launder the stain that, as Motyer says, “gets right down into the fibers of our nature — God alone knows a detergent which can reach and cleanse away”
  • “cleanse” him from sin — to remove the offense that separates him from God

David wants freedom from sin’s effects, including the separation from God that arises from our rebellion. He also wants God to deal with his sin nature, to wash him from the inside out.

A More Hopeful Analysis

The message of our age is that there’s nothing wrong with us except that we don’t believe in ourselves enough. In her acceptance speech at the Oscars, Chloé Zhao offered her diagnosis of humanity: “People at birth are inherently good.” She encouraged us to have the courage to hold on to the faith and goodness we see within ourselves.

When we fail, our society teaches, our only option is to dig down deeper and try harder to believe in our fundamental goodness. Not only does this put immense pressure on us, but it also leaves no path of redemption for those who really fail. Those who sin against culture’s standards are left shamed and excluded. There’s no way back.

Scripture offers a different analysis. Not only do we do wrong things, but something’s warped within us. Our problem isn’t that we lack faith in ourselves; it’s that we do what’s right in our own eyes and rebel against God. But God offers multidimensional cleansing for our multidimensional sin. Nobody’s beyond the reach of his mercy.

Praise God for diagnosing us so accurately and profoundly. And praise God for offering us the solution we need to our sin.