Sin: Its Consequences and Cure February 25, 2023by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher
“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).
Sin is a catch-all term characterizing our fallen human condition before God. God is sinless, just, righteous, holy, and we have not, do not, and cannot now attain to that divine state of existence (i.e., glory) on our own. We were created to participate in God’s glory, but we fell away from that glory. That fall is sin.
Saint Paul goes on to explain: “Therefore, just as through one man (i.e., Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because of which all sinned…as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s (i.e., Jesus Christ’s) righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also be one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 18-19).
Here we understand the general concept of sin defined by other more specific words: offense (or, failure), and disobedience (to the law). Similarly, other words used in the Scriptures for sin include: trespass (i.e., error), transgression (i.e., overstepping or sidestepping the law), evil, lawlessness, unrighteousness, debt, harm, wrong, and fault.
Here we also understand the consequences of sin: death, corruption, judgment, and condemnation. If we look at sin not just in the abstract, but from its concrete commission beginning with Adam and Eve, we realize that the first and ultimate consequence of sin is the breaking of communion with God and separation from all things pertaining to the blessed life with God in His eternal glory.
In the Scripture and Orthodox theology, the original sin committed by Adam and Eve – called most frequently the “ancestral sin” – is the pattern of all subsequent sins found in their descendants. Enticed by the devil to disobey God’s command, “the woman saw the tree was good for good, was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree beautiful to contemplate, she took its fruit and ate. She also gave it to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. 3:6-7). Having covered their now shameful nakedness with fig-leaf clothing and trying to hide from God’s notice, God said to Adam, “Who said you were naked? Have you eaten from the one tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen. 3:11).
The act of sin, that is, disobedience to God’s command, is the culmination of a process in the mind and heart. Sin begins by entertaining a suggestion to do wrong, being captivated by a false promise of goodness for what is really bad, delighting oneself in the supposed pleasure of that choice, and finally acting on that choice. Thus sin is a misuse of the will leading to the misuse of all the other human faculties and external things in life given us by God. And sin is always fundamentally personal: “[E]ach shall be put to death for his own sin; the soul who sins, he shall die” (Deut. 24:16; Ez. 18:4).
Saint James writes: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jam. 1:14-15). We witness this process unfolding in the original sin of Adam and Eve, a process repeated with every sin we commit.
Sin is the defilement of our human heart, mind (thoughts), feelings, desires, words, and actions, and its consequences are also evident with the first sin(ner)s. Adam and Eve, no longer covered with the glory of God, fell into shame of their nakedness and covered themselves from each other’s view. From fear they attempted to hide from God who sees all things. They blamed each other and the devil as causes of their personal sin, ultimately blaming God who created them because they refused to repent (see Gen. 3:7-13). Sin destroys the integrity of our own person, our relationship with God, our relationships with other people, and our relationship with the created world.
In judgment, God cursed the serpent (the instrument of Satan) to crawl on its belly and eat dust. The woman would still come under the rule of the man from whom she was taken, but they would come together for her to bear children in pain and anguish. The man, in tending the earth from which he was taken, would now bring forth food in pain and sweat until he died and returned to that earth. The Lord replaced their fig-leaf coverings with garments of skin (hides from slaughtered animals) as a reminder of how sinful human beings exchanged the glory of God for decaying splendor. Finally, God prevented Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life and living forever in their sin instead of longing to be rid of their sin in the true Paradise from which they were expelled (see Gen. 3:14-24).
As Saint Paul writes, everything “was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope” (Rom. 8:20). That hope was based on the first promise given to the first sinners. “I will put enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He (the seed of the woman) shall bruise your head, and you (devil) shall be on guard for His heel” (Gen. 3:15). “His” is capitalized in most English translations because He, the woman’s seed (masculine, singular), refers to the coming Savior who will crush Satan doing away with sin and evil. That Savior is none other than Jesus Christ born of the woman, the Virgin Mary (see Gal. 3:16).
Sin is a corruption, a terminal sickness or fatal wound, introduced into mankind. The only cure for sin is the renovation of our nature, and our nature is made new again in the Person of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who undoes the work of the devil. “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin (lit., keep on sinning), for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin (keep on sinning), because he has been born of God” (1 Jn. 3:8-9; Heb. 2:14-15).
The cure for sin is to be born again in Christ which takes place in Holy Baptism and the subsequent life led by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Incorporated as members in the Body of Christ and living stones in the Temple of the Holy Spirit, we “put off…the old man…and are renewed in the spirit of [our] mind (spiritual faculty)…to put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). In other words, having been born again in Christ in Baptism and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, we live in repentance, faith, and love by the power of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Yes, the devil still tempts us to sin, and we contend each day with the weakness and corruption of our flesh. However, in Christ we begin to overcome that sin and corruption in the obedience of faith. We begin to “walk in the Spirit…not fulfill(ing) the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
The cure for sin is a course of treatment requiring patient adherence to the therapeutic directions, and this is the only way to achieve healing and health. We practice Confession (1 Jn. 1:8-10). We prepare for and receive Holy Communion regularly and frequently in Divine Liturgy (Jn. 6:53-54; Heb. 10:19-25). We learn the Word of God and His will (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We strive to combat selfish pride with the godly disciplines of works of mercy, prayer, and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). Above all, we seek to be humble and singular in our devotion to God and love for one another, so that we can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).