What is the Sin of the World?

Jan Antonsson


The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

February 23, 2018

Neosho, MO

“In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in”  (Romans 11:32, The Message).

The inspiration for this writing came from my good friend Win Parker’s essay entitled, “Behold the Lamb.”  As I was reading it, I suddenly noticed that the scripture continues, “who takes away the sin of the world.”  I looked again because I was sure that it should say, the sins of the world.” I checked many of the translations available to me (ASV, BBE, ESV, KJV, Darby, Diaglott, NIV, RSV, David Bentley Hart, Jonathan Mitchell, Phillips, and Weymouth), and they all translate the noun in the singular except for The Message, which translates it “sins.”  Curiouser and curiouser I thought, first that I had never noticed this before, but the next question is the title of this essay.  Just what was the sin?

Whatever it is, Paul said that we’re all guilty of it, Jew and Greek, believer and unbeliever alike:   “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10, RSV). That would be pretty bleak, had not Jesus, God’s Lamb come to take it away.

The church I grew up in seemed to believe that sex sin must be at the top of the list because that was always the speculation when someone came forward to confess sin and ask for prayer.  They never said what it was, but church gossip made sure that affairs and dalliances were known.  “Be sure your sins will find you out,” or as Jesus put it, whatever is done in the dark will be shouted from the roof top, or at least, from the front of the auditorium.  Pardon my cynicism here.  But, I digress.

The Bible is absolutely brimming over with sins that men and women, sometimes together, other times separately, have committed.  I didn’t trust my memory and Googled how many laws were in the Law of Moses and found this:  “The Talmud notes that the Hebrew numerical value (gematria) of the word “Torah” is 611, and combining Moses’s 611 commandments with the first two of the Ten Commandments which were the only ones heard directly from God, adds up to 613.”  Since breaking any of these laws was a sin, there are 613 of them right there, available for anyone who has the emotional fortitude to wade through Leviticus again.  Then, there were variations on a theme in a lot of these laws which range from what kind of cloth your garments were made of, to what foods you could eat, to whom you could marry.  You get the drift.  

About the Law of Moses, the Psalmist said, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7, RSV).  Alas, no one but Christ could keep the Law. The Hebrew writer declared, “(For the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:18).  The Lamb of God is the better hope: “That means that he is dispensing with the old order of sacrifices, and establishing a new order of obedience to the will of God, and in that will we have been made holy by the single unique offering of the body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:9-10,  Phillips).

Jonathan Mitchell’s translation gives us a hint as to what the sin of the world is:

“The next day (or: On the morrow) he is looking at and observing Jesus progressively coming toward him, and he begins saying, “Look! (Pay attention, see and perceive) God’s Lamb (or: the Lamb from God; the Lamb having the character and qualities of God; or, in apposition: the Lamb which is God), the One continuously lifting up and carrying away the Sin of the world, and removing the sin which belongs to and is a part of the System  (or: habitually picking up and taking away the failure and error brought on by the organized system; progressively removing the falling short and the missing of the goal from the world of culture, religion, economy and government [= from humanity and society])!  (John 1:29, Mitchell).  Clearly, the organized system of religion has totally failed!

Sin has been in the world since Eve handed Adam the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This is the first sin recorded in scripture, the very one which got us kicked out of Paradise and tossed into the world of sin and sorrow to eek out a living against the ever prevalent thorns and thistles, in order to survive the greed, murderous rage, hostility, guilt, and angst that has characterized everyone in the world ever since.  The Bible is the story of God’s love of His creation in spite of their faults and foibles, sins and just plain orneriness. 

I cut my teeth reading the Bible, and couldn’t understand in my naiveté how the children of Israel could have been so cosmically stupid as to continue to disobey God over and over in spite of the horrific consequences that befell them when they did.  He sent them prophets to warn them, poured out fire and brimstone to destroy them, opened up the earth to swallow them, sent plague and pestilence among them, caused them to be oppressed and slaughtered by their enemies, and worst of all to me, He sent poisonous snakes to kill them with venom.  Shall I go on?  

Yet, none of that made the slightest difference.  Nothing He did got their attention or caused them to amend their wretched behavior.  In the midst of this gloom and doom, the prophet Jeremiah, who often delivered blistering threats of death and disaster: famine, plague, and the sword, provided a light at the end of the tunnel:

‘‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  (This was a bilateral, two party Covenant or agreement between God and Israel, which Israel and all of us broke.)

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

 “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34, ESV). (This is a unilateral, one party Covenant depending on God alone which means it cannot be broken!)

Why would God offer Israel such an overwhelming gift of grace?  Ezekiel has the answer. This prophet, I’ve long thought, could have benefited by some Prozac because he was cranky and his visions were bizarre to say the least, but in this passage, he shows us the heartbeat of God.

‘‘This what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.

“I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.”  How is this going to happen, Lord?

I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:22-27, NIV).

It isn’t only for the nations round about that God will do this wondrous thing, but for Israel: I will make known my holy name among my people Israel.  I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel” (Ezekiel 39:7, NIV). 

It isn’t that God is just getting it that they cannot obey His laws.  Instead, God is showing Israel that THEY will never be able to obey His commandments without His indwelling Spirit to guide them.  I never thought of it like this before, but here, Ezekiel is delivering the glorious Gospel of Christ, to God’s people who sorely needed it, just like all of us do.  Adam and Eve only had one law to try to keep:  Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil! They couldn’t manage that and their offspring couldn’t either, not for lack of trying.

That suggests to me that “the sin of the world” which the Lamb of God came to take away, was not something specific, but rather the failure to keep God’s laws, any of them. None of us have ever kept His laws.  We simply cannot. 

During the twenty years on the Internet with the Glory Road and then the Blog, God has given me to write that there is NOTHING we can do to save ourselves, improve ourselves, or impress Him.  Everything in our life; everything about our Christian walk comes from Him!  Paul affirmed that God in Christ was on that cross,  “personally reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19, Phillips). Our failure to believe in the all sufficiency of God, our attempts to add to what Christ has already done is the sin of the world.

Paul revealed the all sufficiency of Christ in us, our hope of glory:   “For every thing began with him, continues its existence because of him, and ends in him. To him be the glory for ever, amen (Romans 11:36, Phillips).

Father, we thank You and praise You that You have given us all things pertaining to life and godliness in Christ.  You have made us clean by Your Spirit, and washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb. We believe, Lord, help us with our unbelief.  We praise you: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!” Amen. Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)

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