In the previous issue of this journal the writer discussed the mysteries of God and Creation. He continues with Sin and the Atonement.
Sin.—In pursuing the Bible story further, it is not long before the third mysterious subject of the Bible comes to view. Genesis 3 reveals the willful disobedient act of Adam with the resultant misery and woe passed on to his posterity. It is stated that Eve was deceived by the subtle serpent, but that Adam opened the floodgates of sin to this world (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 324; vol. 4, p. 573). Sin is the third basic subject that extends entirely through the Scriptures. Sin, too, is a mystery, for there was no reason for its existence. It is a preternatural curse that has come upon the race. Today the act of picking fruit of a forbidden tree seems to be a rather minor offense. However, it should be recalled that these two beings were sinless and perfect with no propensity toward evil. There was, therefore, no excuse for this willful and disobedient act. They had communed face to face with God. All their needs were met in the beautiful Edenic Garden. In disobeying, Adam and Eve became willing subjects of Satan and enemies of God, capable of any vicious and vile act. This sin has been passed on to their posterity.
Is Sin Inherited?
Theologians call it original, or Adamic, sin because it was brought on through the sin of Adam. Every human being that has been born except one—Christ—has this defect. However, sin is not an inherited characteristic. It is not carried in the chromosomes, as is the color of one's hair, the shape of one's nose, et cetera. Sin is "passed on" to posterity. For example, a slave's children will be slaves because the parents were slaves. They become slaves by inheritance, yet not by chromosal or genetic factors. Similarly, the human race becomes slaves of Satan because their earthly parents sold them into slavery. Christ was not under the curse of being a slave to Satan. He came as the first Adam came, perfect, with no sinful propensities, to prove that man, as God created him, could perfectly keep His law (see Special Testimonies, June 9, 1898). Yet He accepted the workings of the great law of heredity. He took humanity four thousand years down the stream of time with its resultant physical weaknesses (such as stature and strength). In His innate nature, however, He was "that holy thing," and was born without sin (Luke 1:35).
Christ Did Not Participate in Sin
The humanity of Christ is called "that holy thing." The Inspired Record says of Christ, "He did no sin"—that is, "knew no sin" and "in him is no sin." He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). He "became flesh" or was tabernacled among man. Christ as the second Adam, did not participate in the sin of the fallen race. He became like one of us except in sin. He took man's nature in its fallen condition; but Christ did not in the least participate in its sin. He did not possess the passions of our human fallen nature, but He did have the infirmities of the weakened race. He became tired and hungry and He bore our weaknesses and sorrows (Isa. 54:4). The sins of the world — past, present, and future — were placed upon Christ. He bore them vicariously, for there was no sin in Him. He was sinless in all respects and so could be the substitute and savior of the race. The sin of Adam, better referred to as passive sin, was not transmitted to Christ. He was the second Adam.
Passive or Willful Sin
In contrast with original sin or "passive sin" is "active sin." This is "willful sinning" done by the individual. These are sins that one commits consciously and willingly. It can readily be seen that active sin grows out of and is the result of passive sin (from Adam). It would be possible not to sin if we did not already have that tendency toward sin obtained from Adam. Thus we can see that there is a difference between "sinning" and "committing sin." Since we as members of the fallen race have the curse of a sinful nature upon us, there are things we do, unknown to ourselves, that are sin in the eyes of God. Most of us have had the experience of realizing that certain acts committed in the past were not right. We then ceased to do them. However, at the time we were doing them we had no such compunction. (This is how one grows in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.) On the other hand, committing sin has to do with willful, known acts of disobedience to God's commandments. These acts are not condoned, and every sincere Christian will cease to "commit sin."
Sins of Ignorance
The Scriptures give clear evidence of the difference between sinning and committing sin. Sinning in the Bible is usually associated with sins of ignorance. Numbers 15:28, "for the soul that sinneth ignorantly"; 1 Kings 8:46, "for there is no man that sinneth not"; 2 Chronicles 6:36 is similar. The apostle John differentiates the two in 1 John 3:4, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law." Verse 8, "He that committeth sin is of the devil," and finally verse 9, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." It is evident that John understood that to commit sin has to do with a willful and premeditated act, while "sinning" is usually used with sins of ignorance. Luke has recorded Christ's words on the subject in Luke 5:32, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
The Atonement.—The fourth fundamental subject of the Christian religion seen throughout the Bible is the greatest mystery of all, the atonement. Since sin has put man in an unnatural state, it will take a supernatural process to cure him of his condition. The atonement provides the means of reconciliation of fallen man to a perfect, sinless God. Readily one can see that man is in a terrible position. Because of indwelling sin, he is hopeless, and lost without hope of reinstatement by anything he can do. The record of sin in the Bible runs throughout its course, and vividly demonstrates the exceeding sinfulness of man, his weaknesses, and his faults. He is revealed as a willing subject of Satan. The beautiful story of reconciliation as seen throughout the Scriptures alone demonstrates the unequal love of God for His creatures, disobedient though they have been. Atonement has at times been thought of as at-one-ment, meaning man restored to oneness with God.
The plan of atonement was a safety valve for the plan of Creation should man fall. The atonement was made from the foundations of earth under the terms of the everlasting covenant between God and Christ. Immediately upon Adam's transgression the atonement was put into effect as evidenced in Genesis 3:15. Christ volunteered to become the mediator between the fallen race and a perfect God. He offered to be man's substitute and surety. He would bear the punishment of man's transgression. "The world's Redeemer was treated as we deserve to be treated, in order that we might be treated as He deserved to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins upon His own divine soul, that we might receive His imputed righteousness. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share."—Review and Herald, March 21, 1893.
"We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute."—The Faith I Live By, p. 113.
A Mystery a Child Can Grasp
The wonders of the atonement are vividly portrayed in the simple display of the patriarchal system, and in the more elaborate sanctuary service of the Aaronic dispensation. Holy men of old saw the atonement of Christ in the slaying of the innocent sacrificial animal and the final cleansing of the world from sin. The theme of the atonement is a message of hope and encouragement revealing in no other way the matchless love of God for His creatures. It has shown that creation love did not keep the human race from falling.
Redemptive love alone will adequately teach man the story of God's love, and he will have no desire to sin again. As in Adam all have sinned and are lost, so in Christ all are reclaimed from that lost condition, through the merits of the atonement —a mystery a child can grasp, yet so profound eternity will never fathom its depths.
The atonement is the means of saving the lost race of Adam, and is made by the Mediator, who alone can make peace between God and man. The Mediator is both God and Man. As the Substitute, He must undertake not only to suffer and die for man's sins but to provide a holy life for man. Atonement is made by the life, death, and suffering of the Mediator. It was He who bore the sins of the world, and who endured the curse of the law. He has vindicated the justice of God, and shown mercy to the fallen race. He, alone, could be the propitiation for sin. This suffering could be endured only in a divine-human being. Christ's deity made possible His suffering. He was baptized into the place of man's substitute for sin and righteousness. Having already provided a sinless, holy life, Christ took man's sins at His baptism (The Desire of Ages, p. 112), and was required to suffer and die for those sins. By virtue of the atonement, He has purchased not only reconciliation but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father has given Him.
How to Avoid Misconception
While other doctrines are secondary to these fundamental subjects, all truth has a direct relationship with these pillars of the Christian faith. This fact can be demonstrated by considering any doctrine in the light of primary truth. For instance, the subject of "Love." God is love. Creation demonstrated God's love. Sin is the opposite of love. The Atonement demonstrates a deeper love of Deity, redemption love.
Readily one can see the responsibilities of associating other doctrines such as the Sabbath, state of the dead, health reform, et cetera, with the four basic facts. A sense of the relative values of doctrine is obtained by such consideration. Much difficulty and misconception among Christians would be avoided by studying and presenting fundamental truth first. Reverence can be inspired in a congregation in no other way than by presenting the unsearchable mysteries of salvation. The believer will realize his nothingness when confronted by the infinite. He will realize his dependence upon a merciful and forgiving Saviour who alone has made the sacrifice for sin. Conversely, a self-sufficiency of one's personal goodness is developed by primary consideration of doctrine. "Many are trying to be good enough to be saved" when it is apparent that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. More luster and brilliance would be afforded to the secondary doctrines when a firm foundation in primary belief is first laid down.
Let us concentrate on a deeper conception of God, Creation, sin, and the atonement, in order to better understand all doctrines in God's Holy Word.
These are the great mysterious truths necessary for salvation.