Consider the impossible. Imagine for one moment that you or I had lived a perfect life. Decade after decade we had lived without committing even one sin in thought, word, or deed. Then for one brief moment, a fleeting sinful thought crossed our mind—maybe only an instant of unthankfulness or envy that vanished immediately (I did ask you to consider the impossible.). The questions are, then, would God consign us to hell for only one small sin? And if so, would He be justified in His actions?
Does the fact that the answer to both of those questions is “Yes” cause you any discomfort, incredulity, perhaps even anger and resentment? Well, the truth is that one sin unrepented of would send the sinner, you or I, to hell, and a just and holy God would be justified in condemning us.
We need not speculate or philosophize on this matter because the Word of God presents us with a textbook example. Remember Adam? He was fashioned directly by God’s own hands in perfect innocence and sinless. He had no fallen nature; he experienced nothing of depravity. The world was his oyster, so to speak. The animals did not fear him, nor he them. His crops required neither fertilizer nor weeding. He never experienced drought or flooding—sunshine and rain were timely and perfect. And his harvest was unimaginably bountiful. Everything he touched God blessed. Everywhere he turned he saw the glorious grandeur and goodness of God. God gave Adam a command that anyone could be delighted with: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28b). God gave a second command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16b, 17).
With an undefiled nature, in a perfect environment, and basking in the very presence of God, Adam ate a piece of the forbidden fruit. Even in the context we have set forth, our minds are inclined to consider Adam’s sin a small one. “Don’t eat that piece of fruit.” But he did. How serious could such a seemingly insignificant sin be?
Again, we don’t need to conjecture. It cost Adam his life, his Edenic home, a sweat-free environment, ease of child-labor for his wife. So heinous was this one sin that God cursed the entire earth—animal, vegetable, and mineral—because of Adam’s sin. So horrendous was this one sin that as a consequence every last human being ever born has come into the world with a fallen, sinful nature and destined for hell—apart from the redeeming grace of God.
So we need not consider the hypothetical that we began these few paragraphs with: we have a real example. Adam’s one “little” sin and subsequent curse begins the Word of God in order to place before us clear evidence of the holiness and righteousness of God and stark proof that God cannot and will not tolerate any sin. He is infinitely separate from sin. What we might view as a little faux pas is an immeasurable affront to His Person. And the fact that we might tolerate sin, excuse it, and think it to be insignificant simply demonstrates how much we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23b).
If you or I am offended at the thought that one sin separates us an incalculable distance from God—as far as hell is from heaven—we have yet to begin to appreciate either God’s holiness or our sin. “Infinite sin,” Horatius Bonar called it. Nor can we appreciate, in the words of William Newell, “the mighty gulf that God did span/At Calvary.” Failing to understand the sinfulness of sin dishonors the character of God and demeans the redemptive work of Christ. The more fully we realize the awfulness of our sin, the more we will appreciate the holiness of God and love the redemption that Christ has bought for us. God is absolutely just in judging all sin but incomprehensibly gracious in redeeming us sinners.
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