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Peace with God, Chapter 4: The Terrible Fact of Sin

By Billy Graham

      For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. --Romans 3:23

      IF GOD is a righteous and loving Being, why then is there so much wickedness, suffering and sorrow? How did all this hatred come to be? Why do we worship at the shrines of greed, self-interest, and war? How did the human race, which God made in His own image, sink so deep into depravity that the Ten Commandments had to be set forth with the demand that they be kept? Why did God have to send His own Son to save us? How did God's creatures become so filled with lust and evil?

      To understand it, to see clearly why nation is pitted against nation, why families are divided, why every newspaper is filled with reports of violent, insane acts of brutality and hatred, we must go back to the very beginning. We must go back to the story of Adam in the Garden, back to the first chapter of Genesis.

      Some people say that this familiar story of creation is only a myth. They say it is but a simple way to explain an unanswerable question to children. But this is not so. The Bible tells us exactly what happened in the beginning and why man has moved steadily along the path of his own destruction ever since.

      For God created this world as a perfect whole.   He created the beautiful, harmonious world that man threw away -- the perfect world that we are longing to find again, the world for which we are all searching.

      In this perfect world God placed a perfect man. Adam was perfect because nothing that God does can ever be less than perfect, and upon this perfect man God bestowed not only the most precious gift of all -- the gift of life eternal. He also gave him the gift of freedom. God gave to man the freedom of choice.

      A friend of ours, Dr. M. L. Scott, the great black preacher, tells about a friend of his. The friend's son had gone away to the university for study, and returned home for a visit, filled with his newly acquired knowledge.

      "Dad," he said one evening with vast importance, "now that I've been to university, I'm no longer sure I can go along with your simple, childlike faith in the Bible."

      The friend sat there studying his son with unblinking eyes.   Finally he said, "Son, that is your freedom -- your terrible freedom." That is what God gave to Adam -- his freedom to choose. His terrible freedom.

      The first man was no cave dweller -- no gibbering, grunting, growling creature of the forest trying to subdue the perils of the jungle and the beasts of the field. Adam was created full-grown with every mental and physical faculty developed. He walked with God and had fellowship with Him. He was intended to be as a king on earth, ruling by the will of God.

      This, then, was Adam's position as he stood in the Garden, the perfect man, the first man, with his priceless, if terrible gift of freedom. Adam had total freedom -- freedom to choose or to reject, freedom to obey God's commands or to go contrary to them, freedom to make himself happy or miserable. For it is not the mere possession of freedom that makes life satisfying -- it is what we choose to do with our freedom that determines whether or not we shall find peace with God and with ourselves.

      The Heart of the Problem

      This is the real heart of the problem, for the moment a man is given freedom he is faced by two paths. Freedom is meaningless if there is only one possible path to follow. Freedom implies the right to choose, to select, to determine one's individual course of action.

      We all know men and women who are honest, not so much from free choice, but because they have no opportunity to be dishonest.   Dr. Manfred Gutzke has said, "You old people, don't think you are becoming better just because you are becoming deader." We all know people who pride themselves on being good, when it is actually their surroundings and the way of life that keep them from being bad. We cannot take credit for resisting temptation if no temptation is placed before us!

      God gave Adam no such handicap. He granted him freedom of choice and He gave him every opportunity to exercise it. Because God could do nothing that was less than perfect, He provided Adam with the perfect setting in which to prove whether or not he would serve God.

      As Adam stood there in the Garden he was without sin, his innocence was without blemish. The whole universe lay before him. The as yet unwritten history of the human race stretched like a great sheet of purest parchment beneath his hand, waiting for him to write the opening chapter -- waiting for him to determine which road future generations would take.

      God had completed His work. He had created an earthly garden, rich in everything that man might need. He had created a perfect man in His own likeness. He had endowed this man with a mind and to dispose of his soul as he saw fit. Then, like the wise Parent that He was, God waited to see what choice this child of His would make.

      The Choice Man Made

      This was the test! This was the moment when Adam would use his free will to choose the right path or the wrong path -- choose it because he wanted to, and not because there was only one path open to him!

      Adam made his choice. He suffered the consequences of it, and he set the pattern that all humanity was to follow. "Therefore, as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation" (Romans 5:18). Paul also says, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

      For Adam was the fountainhead of the human race. He sprang like a crystal-clear spring from the ground, and was permitted to choose whether he would become a river running through pleasant and productive green pastures, or a muddy torrent forever dashing against rocks and churning between deep, sunless cliffs -- cold and miserable in itself, and unable to bring joy and fruitfulness to the surrounding land.

      God is not to blame for the tragic snarl in which the world has so long found itself. The fault lies squarely with Adam -- Adam who was given his choice and who chose to listen to the lies of the Tempter rather than to the truth of God! The history of the human race from that day to this has been the story of man's futile effort to gain back the position that was lost by Adam's fall, and failing that, to reverse the curse.

      "But this is unfair!" you may say. "Why should we suffer today just because the first man sinned away back in the furthest reaches of time? Why hasn't mankind recovered during the intervening years? Why should we go on being punished every day of our lives?" There is a thought current today that it is possible to improve man by improving his environment. Isn't it strange to recognize that the first sin was committed in the perfect environment?

      Let us turn again to the story of the river -- the cold, dark river that runs at the bottom of the deep, dreary gorge. Why doesn't this river make its way back up to the warm, pleasant fields that lie above it? Why doesn't it leave its mournful route and become the happy, bubbling stream it was when it burst spontaneously from the earth?

      It doesn't because it can't.   It has no power within itself to do other than it has always done. Once it has plunged down the steep banks into darkness, it cannot lift itself again to the bright, sunny land above. The means by which it could be lifted exists, the way is at hand, but the river does not understand how to make use it it. This reminds me of the Yangtze River in China (now called the Chiang Jiang). This river spews its mud for miles out to sea, turning the blue-green waters of the ocean to a murky yellow. It is helpless to do otherwise.

      A miracle stands ever ready to bring the river of humanity out of its misery and to place it once more in the warm valley of peace, but the river doesn't see or heed it. It feels that it can do nothing but continue on its tortuous way until it finally loses itself in the sea of destruction.

      The story of the river is the story of man since the time of Adam, winding, twisting, plunging ever deeper into the frightening darkness. Though we lift up our voices and cry out for help, still we deliberately choose -- as Adam did -- the wrong way. In our despair we turn against God and blame Him for our dilemma. We question His wisdom and judgment. We find fault with His mercy and love.

      We forget that Adam was the head of the human race, even as in this country our President is the head of our government.   When the President acts, it is really the American people acting through him. When the President makes a decision, that decision stands as the decision of the entire people.

      Adam stands as the federal head of the human race. He is also our first forefather. Just as we inherit characteristics, such as intellect, coloring, body size, temperament, etc., from our parents and grandparents, mankind inherited its fallen, corrupt nature from Adam. When he failed, when he succumbed to temptation and fell, the generations yet unborn fell with him, for the Bible states very clearly that the results of Adam's sin shall be visited upon every one of his descendants. We know all too well the bitter truth of those passages in Genesis 3:17-19 which describe the tragedy that Adam's act brought upon us all: "Cursed is the ground for your sake, in sorrow you shall eat of it all the days of your life.   Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field.   In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return unto the ground; for out of it you were taken: for dust you are and unto dust you shall return."

      And to Eve, God said: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).

      In other words, because of Adam's original sin, the ground which once bore only beautiful and nourishing plants now produces both good and bad alike. Man, who once had but to walk in the Garden and reach out his hand for food, who had no need for clothing or for shelter, must now toil all the days of his life to provide these necessities for himself and his family. Woman, once the most carefree of creatures, is now burdened with sorrow and pain; and both man and woman are under penalty of spiritual and physical death.   Death is a threefold circumstance: 1) immediate spiritual death; 2) the beginning of physical death (the minute we are born, we begin to die); and 3) ultimate eternal death.

      Sin Makes Its Entry

      Sin entered the human race through Adam, and the human race has been trying without success to get rid of it ever since. And, short of that, mankind has been seeking in vain to reverse the curse. The Bible teaches that God warned Adam before he sinned that if he ate of the tree of knowledge he would surely die. The Bible also tells us that God instructed Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply and to replenish the earth. But although they had been created in the image of God, after the Fall Adam and Eve gave birth to children after their own likeness and image. Consequently Cain and Abel were infected with the death-dealing disease of sin, which they inherited from their parents and which has been passed on to every generation since. We are all sinners by inheritance, and try as we will, we cannot escape our birthright.

      We have resorted to every means to win back the position that Adam lost. We have tried through education, through philosophy, through religion, through governments to throw off our yoke of depravity and sin. We have sought to accomplish with our sin-limited minds the things that God intended to do with the clear vision that can come only from on high. Our motives have been good and some of our attempts have been commendable, but they have all fallen far, far short of the goal. All our knowledge, all our inventions, all our developments and ambitious plans move us ahead only a very little before we drop back again to the point from which we started. For we are still making the same mistake that Adam made -- we are still trying to be king in our own right, and with our own power, instead of obeying God's laws.

      Before we label God as unjust or unreasonable for permitting sin to envelop the world, let us look at the situation more carefully. God in His infinite compassion sent His Son to show us the way out of our difficulties. He sent His Son to experience the same temptations that were set before Adam and to triumph over them. Satan tempted Jesus, just as he tempted Adam. Satan offered Jesus power and glory if He would forsake God, just as he offered it to Adam through Eve.

      The Choice Christ Made

      The great difference was that Jesus Christ resisted the temptation! When the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and promised Him all the glory of them if He would but follow Satan instead of God, our blessed Lord said: "Away from me, Satan.   For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only" (Matthew 4:10). He completely triumphed over the Tempter to reveal to all peoples of all succeeding generations His sinless character. He is our victory!

      In our weakness and because of our depraved nature we have proved to be the true sons of Adam and have followed faithfully in his steps. We may deplore Adam's choice but we still imitate him!

      There is not a single day that we do not face the same test that was set before Adam. There is not a day that we do not have a chance to choose between the devil's clever promises and God's sure Word.

      We long for the day to come when disappointment, disease, and death will vanish -- but there is no possibility of this dream coming true as long as we are the unregenerate sons of Adam. Something must be done about our sins. In succeeding chapters we will see that God has done something about this basic problem of the human race.

      From the beginning of time until the present moment, man's ungodly quest for power, his determination to use his gift of free choice for his own selfish ends, has brought him to the brink of doom. The rubble and ruins of many civilizations lie scattered over the earth's surface -- mute testimony to man's inability to build a lasting world without God. New rubble, new misery is being created daily, and yet man plunges on his pernicious way.

      God, meanwhile, in His infinite understanding and mercy, has looked on, waiting with a patience and compassion that passes all understanding. He waits to offer individual salvation and peace to the ones who will come to His mercy. The same two paths that God set before Adam still lie before us. We are still free to choose. We are living in a period of grace while God withholds the eternal punishment we so justly deserve.

      It is the presence of sin that prevents man from being truly happy. It is because of sin that man has never been able to obtain the utopia of which he dreams. Every project, every civilization that he builds ultimately fails and falls into oblivion because man's works are all wrought in unrighteousness. The ruins around us at this moment are eloquent witness to the sin that fills the world.

      Cause and Effect

      Man seems to have lost sight of the ever-present law of cause and effect that operates on every level of this universe. The effects are plain enough, but the deep-seated, all prevailing cause seems to be less distinct. Perhaps it is the blight of the modern-day philosophy of "progress" that dims man's vision. Perhaps it is because man is so enamored of this foolish, man-created theory that he clings to the belief the race is advancing slowly but surely toward ultimate perfection.

      Many philosophers will even argue that the present world tragedy is but an incident in the upward march, and they point to other periods in human history when the prospect seemed as bleak and the outcome as hopeless. Philosophers would try to say that the sad conditions through which we are now living are but the birth pangs of a better day! That men are still children groping and stumbling along in the kindergarten of existence, still a long, long way from the mature and sensible beings that they will become centuries hence!

      But the Bible makes plain what natural science seems so unwilling to admit -- that nature reveals both a Creator and a corrupter. Man blames the Creator for the work of the corrupter. Man forgets that our world is not as God made it.   God made the world good. Sin corrupted it. God made man innocent, but sin entered and made him selfish. Every manifestation of evil is the result of basic sin -- sin that has remained unchanged since the moment it first entered the human race. It may manifest itself in different ways, but fundamentally it is the same sin that causes an African savage to skulk along a jungle trail awaiting his victim with spear in hand, and a well-trained, educated pilot to fly a jet plane over the same jungle ready to bomb an unsuspecting village.

      The two men are separated by centuries of culture. One can be said to be much further "progressed" than the other, one has all the advantages of man-made civilization; while the other is still in the "primitive" state -- and yet, are they really so different? Are they not both motivated by fear and distrust of their fellow men? Are both not selfishly bent on achieving their own goals at any cost to their brothers? Is a bomb any less savage or brutal, or more civilized than a naked spear? Can we hope to find a solution to our problems so long as both the most "primitive" and the most "progressive" among us are more eager to kill than to love our neighbors?

      All the sorrow, all the bitterness, all the violence, tragedy, heartache and shame of man's history are summed up in that one little word -- sin. Today, the general reaction is "so what?" In fact, there is a definite attempt to popularize and glamorize sin. Our most popular T.V. series are concerned with the decadent rich. Our magazine covers frequently feature the immoral, the perverted, the psychologically sick. Sin is "in."

      People don't like to be told they are sinners, even as their parents and grandparents were sinners before them! Yet the Bible declares, "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). The Bible declares that every person on earth is a sinner in the sight of God; and whenever I hear anyone take exception to so strong a statement, I am reminded of the story of the church officer who came to talk to the minister one day about sin.

      He said to the minister, "Doctor, we of the congregation wish you wouldn't talk quite so much or so plainly about sin. We feel that if our boys and girls hear you discuss the subject so much they will all the more easily become sinners. Why don't you call it a 'mistake' or say that our young people are often guilty of using 'poor judgment' -- but please don't talk so openly about sin."

      The minister walked over and took down a bottle of poison from a high shelf and showed it to his visitor. The bottle was plainly marked in big red letters, "Poison! Do not touch!" "What would you have me do?" asked the minister. "Do you feel it would be wise for me to remove this label and put on one that reads 'Essence of Peppermint'?   Don't you see that the milder you make the label, the more dangerous you make the poison?"

      Sin -- plain, old-fashioned sin, the selfsame sin which caused Adams's downfall -- is what we are all suffering from today, and it will do us far more harm than good to try to dress it up with a fancy, more attractive label. We don't need a new word for it. What we need is to find out what the word we already have means! Because, although sin is certainly prevalent in the world today, however popularized, however glamorized, there are multitudes of people who are wholly ignorant of its real meaning. It is the misguided, shortsighted view of sin that stands in the way of conversion for many men and women. It is the lack of real understanding of sin that keeps many Christians from living the true life of Christ.

      The old spiritual says, "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven, ain't going there," and the same thing is true of sin. Everybody who talks about sin doesn't have a clear realization of what it means, and it is of supreme importance that we become familiar with how God looks at sin.

      We may try to take a light view of sin and to refer to it as "human weakness." We may try to call it a trifle, but God calls it a tragedy. We would pass it off as an accident, but God declares it is an abomination. Man seeks to excuse himself of sin, but God seeks to convict him of it and to save him from it. Sin is no amusing toy -- it is a terror to be shunned! Learn, then, what constitutes sin in the eyes of God!

      Dr. Richard Beal gives us five words for sin. First: sin is lawlessness, the transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4). God established the boundary line between good and evil, and whenever we overstep that boundary, whenever we are guilty of intrusion into the forbidden area of evil, we are breaking the law. Whenever we fail to live up to the Ten Commandments, whenever we go contrary to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, we have transgressed the law of God and are guilty of sin.

      If you look at the Ten Commandments one by one, you will note how today mankind is deliberately, it seems, not only breaking them, but glamorizing the breaking! From idolatry, which is anything we put before God, to remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy (where would professional baseball and football be if Christians refused to watch them on Sunday?), to honoring parents (books like Mommie Dearest that expose the sins of parents), to covetousness to adultery -- it appears there has been a concerted effort to deliberately break each Commandment. And not only that, but there seems to be a deliberate attempt to make it attractive to do so!

      James made it plain that we are all guilty when he said: "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).   It is because we have all broken God's laws, all transgressed His commands that we are all classified as sinners.

      Second: the Bible describes sin as iniquity. Iniquity is the deviation from right, whether or not the particular act has been expressly forbidden. Iniquity has to do with our inner motivations, the very things that we so often try to keep hidden from the eyes of men and God. They are the wrongs which spring from our own corrupt nature rather than the evil acts which force of circumstances sometimes cause us to commit.

      Jesus described this inner corruptness when He said: "From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23).

      Third: the Bible defines sin as missing the mark, falling short of the goal that has been set. God's goal is Christ. The object and end-purpose of all of life is to live up to the life of Christ.   He came to show us what it is possible for man to achieve here on earth; and when we fail to follow His example, we miss the mark and fall short of the divine standard.

      Fourth: sin is a form of trespass. It is the intrusion of self-will into the sphere of divine authority. Sin is not merely a negative thing, it is not just the absence of love for God. Sin is the making of a positive choice, the preference for self instead of God. It is the centering of affection in one's own being instead of reaching out with all one's heart to embrace God. Egoism and selfishness are the marks of sin as surely as are theft and murder. Perhaps this is the most subtle and destructive form of sin, for in this form it is so easy to overlook the label on the bottle of poison.

      Those who cling to themselves, those who center their entire attention on their own beings, those who regard only their own interests and fight to protect only their own rights -- these are sinners as much as the drunkard or harlot.

      Jesus said: "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). Translated into modern terms, could we not say, "What shall it profit a man to build a vast industrial empire if he is eaten away by ulcers and can enjoy nothing of life? What shall it profit a dictator though he conquer a hemisphere if he must live in constant fear of an avenger's bullet or an assassin's knife? What shall it profit a parent to bring up children with harsh domination if he is rejected by them later and left to a lonely old age?" Without question, the sin of self is a deadly sin.

      Fifth: sin is unbelief. Unbelief is a sin because it is an insult to the truthfulness of God. "He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself. He that does not believe God has made him a liar because he does not believe the record that God gave of his Son" (1 John 5:10).

      It is unbelief that shuts the door to heaven and opens it to hell. It is unbelief that rejects the Word of God and refuses Christ as Savior. It is unbelief that causes men to turn a deaf ear to the gospel and to deny the miracles of Christ.

      Sin incurs the penalty of death, and no man has the ability in himself to save himself from sin's penalty or to cleanse his own heart of its corruption. Angels and men cannot atone for sin. It is only in Christ that the remedy for sin can be found. It is only Christ who can save the sinner from the fate that surely awaits him. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul who sins is the one who will die" (Ezekiel 18:4). "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him" (Psalm 49:7). "Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath" (Zephaniah 1:18).

      The Only Remedy

      Man's only salvation from sin stands on a lonely, barren, skull-shaped hill; a thief hangs on one cross, a murderer on another, and between them, a Man with a crown of thorns. Blood flows from His hands and feet, it pours from His side, it drops down His face -- while those who stand looking on sneer and mock Him.

      And who is this tortured figure, who is this Man whom other men seek to humiliate and kill? He is the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, heaven's own appointed Messenger to the sin-ridden earth. This is He, before whom angels fall down and veil their faces. And yet He hangs bleeding and forsaken upon the cross.

      What brought Him to this place of horrors? Who inflicted this hideous torture upon the Man who came to teach us love? You did and I did, for it was for your sin and my sin that Jesus was nailed to the cross. In this immortal moment the human race experienced the darkest reaches of sin, it sank to its lowest depths, it touched its foulest limits. No wonder that the sun could not endure and veiled its face!

      As Charles Wesley writes:

      And can it be that I should gain
      An interest in the Saviour's blood?
      Died He for me, who caused His pain? . . .

      Amazing love! how can it be
      That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

      But sin overreached itself on the cross. Man's hideous injustice that crucified Christ became the means that opened the way for man to become free. Sin's masterpiece of shame and hate became God's masterpiece of mercy and forgiveness. Through the death of Christ upon the cross, sin itself was crucified for those who believe in Him. Sin was conquered on the cross. His death is the foundation of our hope, the promise of our triumph! Christ bore in His own body on the tree the sins that shackle us. He died for us and rose again. He proved the truth of all God's promises to man; and if you will accept Christ by faith today, you, too, can be forgiven for your sins. You can stand secure and free in the knowledge that through the love of Christ your soul is cleansed of sin and saved from damnation.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1: The Great Quest
   Chapter 2: The Indestructible Bible
   Chapter 3: What is God Like?
   Chapter 4: The Terrible Fact of Sin
   Chapter 5: Dealing With the Devil
   Chapter 6: The Despair of Loneliness
   Chapter 7: After Death -- What?
   Chapter 8: Why Jesus Came
   Chapter 9: How and Where to Begin
   Chapter 10: What Is Repentance?
   Chapter 11: What Is Faith?
   Chapter 12: The Old and the New
   Chapter 13: How to Be Sure
   Chapter 14: Enemies of the Christian
   Chapter 15: Guidelines for Christian Living
   Chapter 16: The Christian and the Church
   Chapter 17: Am I My Brothers Keeper?
   Chapter 18: Hope for the Future
   Chapter 19: Peace at Last
   Chapter 20: The Day After


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