A few months ago, my wife and I were sitting on the edge of a lake when we saw a small pillar of smoke rising from the grass. As we approached it, we noticed a small fire had started. We were able to extinguish the fire and avoid any potential damage. A few days later, we read about a wildfire that had spread across a nearby city with devastating effects.
The scary thing about sin is that it starts small. It’s like a match that falls on the ground in a field and burns a single blade of grass. But, over time, it spreads and, if not extinguished, it turns into a raging wildfire that destroys everything in its path. Sin begins with a small desire, but it eventually leads to spiritual death.
Sin begins with a small desire, but it eventually leads to spiritual death.
We often think of sin as a bad habit that we need to break, instead of a condition of death and rebellion. In reality, sin is any thought, word, or action that opposes God (1 John 3:4). It separates every person from God and represents an offense against him (Isaiah 59:2). Sin distorts, deceives, and ultimately leads to eternal death.
As aspiring missionaries prepare to serve on the field, it’s certainly important to study the Bible carefully, spend time in other cultures, learn from mentors, and practice new languages. But, it’s even more important to prioritize godly character.
If we’re going to reach the 3.2 billion people who have yet to hear the gospel, we need men and women who are committed to fighting sin and delighting in Jesus. As we consider how to fight sin and grow in godliness, it’s helpful to understand what the Bible says about sin and its effects.
Sin is the Rejection of God as King
Sin is, first and foremost, the rejection of God as king. Instead of following God’s plan, we each decided to pursue other things and rule in his place. Each of us has looked to minor goods like pleasure, achievement, approval, comfort, and control for our meaning, joy, and worth instead of looking to the Lord, who is the giver of all good gifts.
Today, we want the benefits of the kingdom without the reign of the King. We want to be the rulers of our own lives. Some of us turn to self-indulgence and some of us turn to self-righteousness, but both are equally sinful.
Whether you seek to live lawlessly like a Prodigal or law-abidingly like a Pharisee, you’ve missed the point. In sin, we have rejected God, the source of our life, joy, and purpose. So, sin is us rejecting God as king in the attempt to coronate ourselves as rulers.
Sin Severs Our Relationship with Others
But sin doesn’t just impact our spiritual lives. The entire cosmos has been ruined by the effects of sin and our rebellion has severed our relationship with God and with those around us. This is a seed of the fall.
Sin is not simply a choice that we make. It’s something that we’ve inherited from humanity’s first parents. Each person has fallen short of the glory of God by their own choice and by the choice of Adam and Eve (Romans 3:23). In Genesis 3:6–7, Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and the effects of the fall are felt even to this day through what is called “original sin” (Genesis 3:16–19).
Original sin is the natural inclination or tendency of every person toward sin. Sin affects us even before we’re born. We are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. Think about a toddler—you don’t have to teach a toddler to be selfish, mean, or lie.
They are born with a natural tendency toward selfishness, as the rest of us are. We’re not born in a good, or even neutral state. We’re born in sin. This is precisely why spiritual death is so concerning––it affects all of us before we are in Christ.
As we consider the possibility of serving as a missionary, we need to recognize the way that our sin will impact our relationships with other people. When we become frustrated with new cultures, we need humility. When we have conflict with our teams, we need to recognize our innate sinfulness. If we’re going to endure the challenges of the mission field, we need to bring our sins to the Lord.
Sin Should Lead Us to Repentance
So, how should we respond to our sins? Sin should lead us to repentance. It should lead us to acknowledge our sin and turn away from it to trust and obey God. This is a gift of God’s grace and, along with faith in Christ, is required for salvation. John Calvin, a 16th-century theologian once said that repentance is the “true turning of our life to God.”
We can try harder and harder to overcome our sin, but if we do so without embracing Jesus Christ we will fail over and over.
This repentance “arises from a pure and earnest fear of [God]” and leads a Christian not just to reject our sin, but to throw ourselves on Jesus’ grace and mercy.
We can try harder and harder to overcome our sin, but if we do so without embracing Jesus Christ we will fail over and over. To overcome temptation, we must rely not on our strength but on the Spirit of God within us.
If you’re an aspiring missionary and you’re struggling with sin, remember that Christ is not sour towards you. The Puritan authors remind us that his compassionate heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for you. Christ’s compassion is stirred up when he sees your afflictions and your sins.
Christ’s heart is for the sinner and the sufferer. His heart is for the afflicted and wrongdoers. In other words, his heart is for you. Jesus came to reverse the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. Turn to him and repent of your sin, trusting that he loves you and cares for you.