Theology Network Groups
Sin According to Jesus
- Jack O'Grady is a former Theology Network Associate Staff Worker at Kings College London, where he is currently completing a PhD in biblical studies. View all resources by Jack O'Grady
'Theology According to Jesus' is a course from Theology Network specifically designed to be used by Theology Network groups over five lunchtime sessions. Read the introductory article. This is session 3.
To understand Jesus’ diagnosis of the human heart and rejoice in the remedy he offers.
In this talk we’ll see how Jesus’ anthropology was a horrifying assessment of the human heart, yet one for which he offered a remedy and solution. We’ll approach the topic by asking three questions: What is sin? What is the result of sin? and What is the remedy for sin?
What is sin? Sin is a condition of the human heart
We often think of sin as simply being the bad things we do: breaking rules and misbehaving. Sin certainly involves that, but Jesus’ analysis is much deeper and more penetrating. Jesus understands sin to be a condition of the human heart (‘heart’ being the core of our being, the seat of our mind, will and emotions), of which bad deeds are symptoms. When responding to the Pharisees’ rules regarding eating, Jesus told his disciples that defilement doesn’t come from the outside but the inside: ‘Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander’ (Matthew 15:19). In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus takes a series of commandments and shows how they are broken from within the human heart, especially in verses 21-30 where even thoughts of anger and lust are said to leave us guilty of sin and deserving punishment. That sin is a disfigurement of the heart rather than a mere deed Jesus illustrates further in three main ways. He described sin as a sickness that needs healing (Mark 2:15-17), an enslaving master (John 8:34) and a blindness (John 9:39-41). He saw this condition as being universal: in John 2:24-25 he doesn’t entrust himself to anyone because he knew the spiritual condition of ‘all people’; he also assumes that all people are ‘evil’ in Matthew 7:11.
What is the result of sin? God is offended and we are guilty
Repentance and forgiveness are at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Mark tells us that the essence of Jesus’ message was a call to repentance (Mark 1:15). When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he gave them the words ‘forgive us our sins’ (Matthew 6:12). Jesus himself offered forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:2, Luke 7:47-48) and told a number of parables that illustrated forgiveness of sin (Matthew 18:21-35, Luke 15, Luke 18:9-14). The assumption underlying all of this is that God is offended by our sin - without that, much of Jesus’ teaching would make no sense at all. The topic of judgement will be dealt with in the final session of these studies, but for now it is enough to say that Jesus’ teaching on judgement assumes universal sinfulness and guilt from which only Jesus can save people (John 5:24).
So far we’ve seen that according to Jesus, humans have a sinful nature out of which comes all sorts of evil deeds and the result is that we are under God’s condemnation, needing his forgiveness. But Jesus does not teach that it is our act of repentance and asking for forgiveness that deals with our sin, rather it is his death on the cross. We see this as Jesus describes himself as a doctor who cures the illness of sin (Mark 2:15-17). He describes his own death as a ‘ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45) which implies the paying of a price that others could not pay themselves. He says that in dying he is giving his blood ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (John 16:27-28). His actions and words of intention to die only make sense in light of this (e.g. Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33, Mark 14:32-42, 49).Jesus dying on the cross for our sins directly implies that we faced a penalty of death for our sin. We are due this punishment are completely unable to escape it by ourselves.
Jesus teaches that all people everywhere have a corrupt, sinful nature. Because of this, we do things that offend God. This offense leaves us deserving his condemnation, facing the penalty of death – a penalty from which we cannot escape ourselves. We are doubly helpless: we cannot stop sinning and we cannot escape the penalty of that sin.
Questions for discussion:
- What is the difference between understanding sin as bad deeds we do and understanding it as a condition of the human heart?
- Do you agree with Jesus’ assessment of the human heart? How do you see it being true to life?
- How is Jesus’ assessment of humanity different from the assessment made in other beliefs/worldviews?
- What does Jesus’ teaching on repentance and God’s forgiveness teach us about our sinful state?
- What does the fact that Jesus died for our sins suggest about the punishment we are due?
- ‘Jesus didn’t condemn people or treat them as sinners, he just loved them’ – do you agree with that statement? What is right about it? What is wrong about it?
Martin Luther - The Bondage of the Will
Graham Beynon An Introduction to the Fall and Sin
Brian Rosner The Concept of Idolatry
Mike Reeves Sin and Evil
Don Carson Sin and the Fall