How Your View of Sin Will Change Your View of God

Abstract: Because we assume that we understand what sin truly is, we unknowingly begin to think of God as someone other than He is. However, a proper understanding of sin—namely, that it is a problem of the heart—will help us to view God as the heavenly Father the Bible presents Him to be. Such a doctrine of sin applied to our Christian life also proves to be wonderfully freeing and inevitably invites us to enjoy the true spoils of our salvation: a living relationship with the living God.

Keywords: God, sin, glory, heart, behaviour, redemption, Father


     Sin is an interesting topic to bring up in a conversation. On the one hand, it tends to make people a bit uncomfortable, because there is usually some sneaky shadow lurking behind our faces that we would rather people not know about. On the other hand, we seem to speak about it as though we have mastered the subject. Not that we think that we have mastered sin itself—though perhaps some may believe that—but rather that we think we know all there is to know about sin and therefore have little need to discuss it any further. 

     What I hope to show you in the course of this paper is that we have not only failed to master the subject of sin, but the assumptions that we have made about it have actually done incredible harm to our view of God Himself. While the topic at hand is indeed sin and not God, what will hopefully become clear to us is that since we see God’s glory most clearly at the cross of Christ—the hour of his glorification as Christ would call it in John 12:23—then our view of sin, the very thing that Christ died to save us from, will inevitably speak volumes about God’s very heart. 

     For instance, if sin is simply a matter of our behaviour, as we tend to believe, then Christ came to save us from doing bad things. This would inevitably make our Christian lives entirely about doing good things and, therefore, the God we have in heaven becomes a divine policeman who is constantly frustrated with our unending ability to make poor decisions.1 

     Another commonly held view of sin, which exists precisely because we do not like the idea of God being a policeman, is the belief that it must not be too big of a deal. This view usually comes with some sense that God really just wants us to be happy, and as bad as “sin” might be, He is less concerned with punishing wrongdoing than He is with making sure we enjoy ourselves. Taken to its natural conclusion, the God we end up having in heaven is a morally-questionable pushover who when asked what we should do with our lives will simply respond, “Whatever feels right.” This is a God who really cannot be trusted at all, because rather than lovingly calling the world out of its self-destructive behaviour, He lets us drink the poison of selfish pleasure simply because we seem to be enjoying ourselves. Such a view of sin also leaves the death of Jesus as entirely inexplicable. At best, He becomes a moral example of selflessness, but unfortunately His example doesn’t look overly enjoyable, leaving me very little reason to want to imitate Him. 

     So what then is a properly biblical view of sin? If it is not a simple matter of behaviour, or a problem that is just generally blown out of proportion, then what is it? And further still, in light of a biblical view of sin, who is God truly supposed to be to us?

The Biblical Doctrine of Sin

     It is best to begin at the beginning of the problem. In Genesis chapter 3 we find the fall of humanity, the introduction of sin into a world that God had called “very good.” Adam and Eve, while enjoying the bliss of a sinless and bountifully-rich garden, were given one rule: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:17).2 Yet, upon meeting a sly and deceiving serpent, they were convinced by him to disobey this rule and eat that forbidden fruit. 

     If we read this the way we are inclined to, we are likely ready to move on to something else. We get it, they had a rule and they broke the rule. Therefore, sin is a behaviour problem, right? Not so fast. Let’s take a closer look at what actually happens in the text. We will jump in at the key verse: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). 

      Notice what happens in Eve’s heart before she actually takes the fruit and eats it. First she saw that the tree was good for food, then that it was delightful to the eyes, and finally, right before she took it to eat, we are told that it was “desirable to make one wise.” What does that mean? Well, regardless of what it means to be wise, in the context of our discussion on sin this means that before the behaviour came a desire. The root of the problem wasn’t found in her doing the wrong thing, but in the fact that she wanted the wrong thing. Where God had been abundantly kind and gracious in giving them an entire garden to enjoy—and more than that, true, unhindered fellowship with Himself—Eve, lured by the serpent’s lies, was tempted to believe that God was withholding something from her. As Martin Luther would later describe humanity, her heart bent in on itself.3 Originally created to know and enjoy God, she desired something else, something she thought was better. 

     Romans 1 echoes the same thing when Paul says that we “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Our desires have turned away from God and become obsessed with the pleasures of this world. 

      In the book of James, the pattern of Eve’s sin is laid out for us again, but now in reference to all of us, “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Notice where the pattern starts: the problem of our sinfulness is rooted in the desires of our hearts. 

     In other words, sin is far deeper than a behaviour problem, it is a heart problem. 

     Once we take notice of this, we cannot help but see it everywhere in the Scriptures. In Genesis 6, God looked upon humanity and saw that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). In Jeremiah, the prophet says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Jesus Himself, in Matthew 15 says that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). In Luke 6 He says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil” (Luke 6:45).

     So, according to the biblical authors, the problem with humanity is a problem with our hearts. But taking it a step further, if this truly is the problem that we face, then we should see that reflected in God’s plan to save us from it, right? Let’s take a look.

     In Ezekiel, God promises to give His people a new heart and a new spirit, “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19). Later He says nearly the same thing, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezek. 36:26). In other words, as Christ says to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And just as God promised to send a new spirit into the hearts of His people in the Old Testament, so too we see that God sends His own Spirit into our hearts in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 5:5, Eph. 1:13). And what kind of fruit does this Spirit produce in our hearts? Well, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:22-24). Did you notice how Paul includes that final verse? Those who receive the Spirit that bears this kind of fruit are those who have crucified the desires of the flesh. 

     To summarize, a significant part of our salvation is the renewal of our hearts. Why? Because sin is a heart problem. 

     Again, this means that the problem we have is not simply that we do the wrong things, the problem is that we want the wrong things. The reason we steal is because we want something we do not have. The reason we lie is because we want someone to believe something that is not true. The reason we get angry with others is because we want something to go our way and not theirs. What’s more, according to the Bible, the reason we do “good things” is because of our selfishness. The prophet Isaiah says that even “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6). If that doesn’t blast the self-righteousness out of our souls, what will? 

This Doctrine of Sin Applied to our View of God

     That was a lot of Bible to digest in one sitting. Let’s try to take all of this and press it into the question at hand: how does our view of sin affect our view of God? 

     Where sin is merely behaviour, God is a policeman. Where sin is nothing to worry about, God is a morally-questionable pushover. But where sin is a matter of the desires of our heart, we can rightly say along with the Scriptures that God is a Father—a Father whose desire is for the hearts of His children. 

     God is not after your sacrifices, He is after your heart. He is not after your obedience, He is after your heart. He is not after your Bible reading, prayers, or church attendance, He is after your heart. That might ruffle some feathers—and hopefully it does—but remember that God truly does not need anything from you. To say that He needs your obedience is to suggest some kind of lack in His eternal glory. No, your Heavenly Father wants something for you. He wants you to enjoy the love that He has shared with His Son for eternity, and it is for this very reason that Jesus came. He said so Himself at the end of His prayer in John 17, “ I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Now, if you truly want to enjoy that love then you have to trust Him when He calls you to live life in a particular way, but that is a topic for another day. 

The Doctrine of Sin Applied to our Christian Lives

     Finally, let’s look at a few applications of the doctrine of sin so we can understand what it means for our Christian lives. 

     First, in 2 Corinthians 5:21 we’re told that Christ became sin “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” If we carry our biblical doctrine of sin into this verse we come to realize that Jesus not only died for all of the things we have done wrong, but also for every sinful and misguided desire we have ever had. That sinful thought that you struggle to be free from does not make you a super-sinner with which God could never be happy. It was for those very desires that Christ died. It has been paid for. Gone. White as snow. 

     Second, if the primary problem of our sin is that our hearts are bent away from God, and it is precisely to bend them back toward Him that Christ has redeemed us, then our Christian lives cannot be defined by behaviour management. That misses the point. The goal for each day should not be to do better, but to have our hearts warmed by the love of Christ so that we love Him in return. Any Christian life that simply aims at doing good things is at best a band-aid. The real problem will go entirely undealt with. 

     Third, and certainly the most important of the three, if God’s desire in redemption is that our hearts would be turned back toward Him in true love and affection, it means that God’s desire for us is to enjoy what Adam and Eve once had with Him: a living relationship with the living God. Two verses that prove helpful here are John 3:16 and John 17:3. You’ll likely know the first one, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” We all assume we know what that eternal life is, right? Believe in Jesus and we will live forever! Well, that is not the whole story. Thankfully Jesus defines this term in John 17:3 as He prays to His Father saying, “this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Christ whom you sent.” Eternal life is to enjoy a living relationship with the living God. That is what God has rescued you for. 

     Now, what about the practical aspect of all of this? In other words, if this is what sin is, how do we fight it? How do we put off evil desires and learn to love God more? Unfortunately, there isn’t room  to address that here. If I were to write a follow-up article, perhaps we could explore how this doctrine of sin influences our understanding of sanctification. But for now, a simple Bible verse should be sufficient for an introduction to the subject. 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The means of our transformation is the beholding of God’s glory. And remember where God’s glory is seen most radiantly? The event that Jesus called the hour of His glorification in John 12:23—His death on the cross. 

     Spend your days beholding the glory of God’s mind-boggling love for you displayed on the cross and inevitably, by the work of the Spirit in you, your heart will bend back from itself toward the Father in heaven who loves you.


1 Credit for the image of God as a divine policeman with reference to this particular view of sin is given to Michael Reeves in his book Delighting in the Trinity. Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Illinois: IVP, 2012), 20.

2 Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural passages are from the ESV translation.

3 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, ed. and trans. Wilhelm Pauck (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1961), 112.

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