The Most Important, Discouraging Doctrine
Which would you name if you had to determine the most essential Christian doctrine? I would propose that, apart from the existence of God, the doctrine of sin is perhaps one of the most consequential. For the Christian worldview, it is a significant watershed.
Consider the implications. If you were to believe there is no such thing as sin, in the way the Bible describes it, then you would see no need for God’s moral law, the wisdom of Scripture, the rescuing grace of the Redeemer, the ministry of the church, or the bright hope of eternity.
One of the sad results of sin is that the average sinner on the street carries with them little, if any, awareness, understanding, or guilt of sin. Sin is no longer a category in people’s minds or our culture. Sin is not viewed as a lens that explains people’s motivations or behavior.
Imagine if every secular university philosophy or psychology professor included the doctrine of sin in their syllabus! But when sin is a category you’ve left behind, you must explain the problems with humanity differently.
Perhaps most significantly, you will think that humans have the power to fix humans.
Without the doctrine of sin, society puts its hope in education, politics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, and so on. All of these things are beneficial blessings from God, but they have no power whatsoever to rescue us from the darkness, deceit, destruction, and death that sin has rained down on us all.
If, however, you believe that the most profound problem within every human being is sin and that none can escape independently, you will be left to conclude that our only hope is divine intervention.
In a sin-scarred world full of brokenness, danger, disappointments, difficulties, and injustices, every cry is actually a cry for God and his redeeming, rescuing, and restoring grace. Most times, the person crying just doesn’t know it.
There are ultimately only two groups of people: those who put their hope in human systems of redemption and those who know that human hope requires a Redeemer.
The doctrine of sin tells us that the hope of humanity will never be delivered by humanity but will come only through God’s intervening grace. If sin is the problem, then God is our only hope.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26, ESV).
Over the next several weeks, we’ll dive into a discouraging but necessary study of the doctrine of sin. I think we’ll end up encouraged and optimistic at the end!
The doctrine of sin leaves us lame and limping, blind and deaf, irrational and foolish, sick and dying. We do not have the power to help, heal, or rescue ourselves. We are as unable as the crippled man languishing by the pool of Bethsaida, who had been there thirty-eight years (see John 5:1-15).
But then Jesus walks by. With compassion in his heart, he asks, “Do you want to be healed?” And with power in his words, he intervenes. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
Paul David Tripp
1. Apart from the doctrines of God and sin, what is another vital Christian doctrine that is absolutely necessary? Don’t first debate academically or philosophically, although a high-level study is important. Instead, consider how your everyday life of faith would fall apart or be meaningless if this doctrine was not true, as the Bible describes it.
2. Identify a tool, field of study, or proposed solution that society uses to attempt to explain or solve the human condition (for example, a personality test used for solving workplace conflict). In what ways might this legitimately be helpful? But ultimately, how does it fall short?
3. In recent days, how aware have you been of your sin? Do you think that, generally speaking, you are “okay” spiritually and making it on your own? How can you live with, or ask the Spirit for, more awareness of your sin? How can this awareness transform into confession and repentance? Be specific about an area of your life.
4. How can you teach and explain the doctrine of sin evangelistically this week? What would it look like to boldly, without compromise, yet graciously with love, share with a non-believer that they are a sinner? Who has the Lord laid on your heart or put in your life? What might hold you back or distract you from making this a top priority this week?