The Scandal of Sin

by Mike Ratliff

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11 ESV)

During my recent trip I have been rereading and studying a book by John MacArthur titled The Vanishing Conscience. Along with this, I have been listening to a series of teachings by R.C. Sproul on the human conscience, all men’s guilt before God because of their sin, and the utter uselessness of man-made religiosity or human psychology teachings about self-esteem in maintaining a healthy conscience that leads the believer into growing in humility and Christlikeness. As part of my study, I have also been praying for guidance in how I should or even if I should address this. The direction I have received is that we must address this since the apostate emergent forms of the visible church have recently shown their true colors of adherence to liberal theology. Also, the missional focus of so many of those who call themselves the  “New” Evangelism or “New” Calvinism or “New” ‘put your favorite religious flavor here’ are redefining the true “Mission” of the Church into a works-righteousness with a nebulous concept of sin, repentance, justification, et cetera. 

All of this is an abandonment of what the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ should be about and, without exception, one of the first things that goes in their “New” form of Christianity is the biblical concept of sin and what the true mission of our Lord Jesus was in His incarnation, earthly ministry, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension. In other words, in their ‘redefinition’ of Christianity, they do away with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Man’s very nature is fallen. Man is wrong at the centre of his being, and therefore everything is wrong. He cannot be improved, for, finally, nothing will suffice but a radical change, a new nature. Man loves the darkness and hates the light. What can be done for him? Can he change himself? Can he renew his nature? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Can man change the whole bias of his life? Give him new clothing, provide him with a new house I new surroundings, entertain him with all that is best and most elevating, educate him and train his mind, enrich his soul with frequent doses of the finest culture ever known, do all and more, but still he will remain the same essential man, and his desires and innermost life will be unchanged.1

Therefore, any form of religiosity that calls itself Christian, but neglects this truth or attempts to redefine it in terms that do not offend anyone, while offering only the worthless balm of man-made religiosity in an attempt to assuage the conscience is apostate. It has abandoned the true mission of the Church and become something else.

This dangerous game of redefining Christianity is done with the assumption that what God says about the sin that rules every human heart no longer applies. It is as if they view this concept as a leftover “Puritan hang-up” whose emphasis in preaching and focus in ministry keeps their target group of people, “the unchurched” out of Church. Why? They will become offended if they hear that they are sinners who need a Saviour. Therefore, they become either seeker-sensitive (attractional via being cool) or missional (attractional via good works). They do not preach the Gospel to these people. The closest they come to this is the easy-believism version of it, which saves no one.

Why is this true? It is true because it deemphasizes two very important parts of the Gospel. The first is that utter lack of spiritual goodness in the unregenerate because of their utter depravity and there is no leading of their “converts” to repent. Their “gospel” is all about adding Jesus to their life as a friend or power source or whatever. There is no emphasis on the true mission of our Lord to purchase a people for Himself at the Cross by dying for their sins which were imputed to Him in that awful scandalous event. He paid the price for the sins of all who will believe the Gospel and repent according to the grace of God through the faith He gives to all those whom He calls (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Sin is abominable to God. He hates it (cf. Deut. 12:31). His eyes “are too pure to approve evil, and [He cannot] look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). Sin is contrary to His very nature (Isa. 6:3; 1 Jn. 1:5). The ultimate penalty—death—is exacted for every infraction against the divine law (Exek. 18:4, 20; Rom. 6:23). Even the very smallest transgression is worthy of the same severe penalty: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10)

Sin stains the soul. It degrades a person’s nobility. It darkens the mind. It makes us worse than animals, for animals cannot sin. Sin pollutes, defiles, stains. All sin is gross, disgusting, loathsome, revolting in God’s sight. Scripture calls it “filthiness” (Prov. 30:12; Ezek. 24:13; Jas. 1:21). Sin is compared to vomit, and sinners are the dogs who lick it up (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22). Sin is called mire, and sinners are the swine who love to wallow in it (Ps. 69:2; 2 Pet 2:22). Sin is likened to a putrefying corpse, and sinners are the tombs that contain the stench and foulness (Matt. 23:27). Sin has turned humanity into a polluted, befouled race.2

Therefore, let us carefully examine the teachings of these with their “New” forms of Christianity and compare them with this. Is there a recognition of the Utter Depravity of Man and along with the only solution to this separation from God, which is salvation by God’s grace through faith to repent and believe the Gospel? If not then what they are teaching and what they are doing is something other than true Christianity. No matter how adamant they are in claiming that they are trying to get the Church back on track with God’s very own mission, if they are not majoring in this then they are redirecting their part of the visible church to another mission that is not of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

1 και υμάς όντας νεκρούς τοις παραπτώμασι και ταις αμαρτίαις 2 εν αις ποτέ περιεπατήσατε κατά τον αιώνα του κόσμου τούτου κατά τον άρχοντα της εξουσίας του αέρος του πνεύματος του νυν ενεργούντος εν τοις υιοίς της απειθείας 3 εν οις και ημείς πάντες ανεστράφημέν ποτε εν ταις επιθυμίαις της σαρκός ημών ποιούντες τα θελήματα της σαρκός και των διανοιών και ήμεν τέκνα φύσει οργής ως και οι λοιποί 4 ο δε θεός πλούσιος ων εν ελέει διά την πολλήν αγάπην αυτού ην ηγάπησεν ημάς 5 και όντας ημάς νεκρούς τοις παραπτώμασι συνεζωοποίησε τω χριστώ χάριτί εστε σεσωσμένοι 6 και συνήγειρε και συνεκάθισεν εν τοις επουρανίοις εν χριστώ Ιησού 7 ίνα ενδείξηται εν τοις αιώσι τοις επερχομένοις τον υπερβάλλοντα πλούτον της χάριτος αυτού εν χρηστότητι εφ’ ημάς εν χριστώ Ιησού 8 τη γαρ χάριτί εστε σεσωσμένοι διά της πίστεως και τούτο ουκ εξ υμών θεού το δώρον 9 ουκ εξ έργων ίνα μη τις καυχήσηται 10 αυτού γαρ εσμεν ποίημα κτισθέντες εν χριστώ Ιησού επί έργοις αγαθοίς οις προητοίμασεν ο θεός ίνα εν αυτοίς περιπατήσωμε (Ephesians 2:1-10 AB Koine Greek)

1 And you being dead in transgressions and sins, 2 in which at one time you walked according to the eon of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, of the spirit of the one now operating in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom also we all behaved at some time or other, in the desires of our flesh, doing the wants of the flesh and the thoughts; and we were children by nature of wrath, as even the rest. 4 But the God being rich in mercy through the great love of his, which he loved us, 5 and we being dead in the transgressions, are made alive together in the Christ (by favor you are being delivered), 6 and raised up together, and seated together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, 7 that he should demonstrate in the eons, in the ones coming, the exceeding riches of his favor, in graciousness upon us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by favor you are being preserved through the belief; and this gift of God is not of you; 9 not of works, lest any should boast. 10 For we are a thing made by him, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, the ones whom God prepared beforehand, that in them we should walk. (Ephesians 2:1-10 AB English translation from Koine Greek)

Carefully read this passage my brethren. It is very clear. In v1 we are told the truth that all outside of Christ are spiritually dead, νεκρούς τοις παραπτώμασι και ταις αμαρτίαις, that is, spiritually dead because of transgressions and sins. This describes the hopeless situation of all people if left to be simply religious or to try to please God through good works or trying to keep rules or whatever. It is useless because the standard is perfection. Both words used here, παραπτώμασι and αμαρτίαις, describe our having fallen short and missed the mark of this perfection. In v2 we are told that this is how all people walk in this life. In v4 we are told that it is God who has mercy that provides the one and only solution to this. In v5 Paul tells us that those whom God saves were dead, but are made alive together, συνεζωοποίησε, in Christ, τω χριστώ. This is described for us in v6. Our resurrection from the dead happens at our New Birth in Christ for we are raised up together, συνήγειρε, then positionally seated with Christ in the heavenlies. In other words, in this life we must undergo sanctification, but in eternity awaits our glorification. In vv8-10 we have the method and purpose of our salvation. It is by God’s grace that He is saving us. This is a gift not based on any work or merit on our part. We are new creations who are saved that we should do good works (έργοις αγαθοίς) of faith in Christ Jesus. These good works are what? Well, we know that these works are not what saves us, but are the fruit of the truly regenerate. These good works include the repudiation of the old life, which is true repentance, and the embracing of the new life in Christ. We have this pictorially given to us in Ephesians 4:22-24 (the bold part below).

But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV)

Now, all of us truly in Christ should rejoice in this daily as we commit ourselves to this putting on of the new self as we turn from our old, self-focused life to the new life in Christ to walk in personal holiness according to Christ’s righteousness. This is being the living sacrifice described for us so well in Romans 12:1-2. Now, contrast this with the message from the missional, emergent, and seeker-sensitive people. These people may indeed be admired by the world and may attract large crowds and cause people to look at those of us who live, breath, and preach the Gospel as old-fashioned, puritanical, legalistic, or even pharisaical, but I challenge you all to reason with me here. What would you rather be found doing when the Lord returns? Wouldn’t that be to be in obedience to Him? Would you rather be found being working on perfecting your religiosity or in obediently sharing your faith with all would hear?

Soli Deo Gloria!

1D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Plight of Man and the Power of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945), 147.

2John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (USA:Thomas Nelson, 1994), 107.

AB is the symbol for the Apostolic Bible Polyglot Copyright 1996 by Charles Van der Pool.

4 thoughts on “The Scandal of Sin

  1. It is so good to have you back, Mike. I will be sharing this article today. This is the bottom line….the true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!

    I will continue to pray for you and the leading of the Holy Spirit as we contend for the faith.

  2. Amen, and preach it brother! When I last emailed you, it was about the different forms of “missional” within “missional”.
    We both agreed there was indeed a difference in our church’s case. However, now I hear that all our leaders and elders in the church are studying a book by Andy Stanley about the 7 marks of effective ministry. I’m not sure yet if I should be worried.

    It bugs me that we need to look at man’s perspectives – to look attractive, and relevant to the lost.
    Our church at least puts the major emphasis on the preaching and exposition of the Word – our young pastor is indeed gifted in this area. It’s just all these “add on church growth methodologies”.
    Anyway, I’m on my soapbox again.
    Thank you for the time you put into this ministry. I learn new insights with each article you post. So thank you for your faithfulness.

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