The Apostle Paul marveled at the ingenuity of sin. In Romans 1:30, he called us “inventors of evil.” Like cellmates in a maximum-security prison, over time, sinners find new ways to transgress the law and to offend their Creator. We shape new tools and wield new weapons in our rebellion. Therefore, in many ways, the world only continues to get worse. We keep inventing. On the other hand, Christ forecasted that the last days would be “just as it was in the days of Noah” and “just as it was in the days of Lot.” (Luke 17:26-28) Only six chapters into the Bible, Moses records that the thoughts of man’s hearts “was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) We’ve been evil for a while. Therefore, in another sense, the world is much as it has always been. The question becomes why.
Today, Christians seem to spend a significant amount of time dwelling on the trajectory of the world. But an even more appropriate question than “what is the world becoming?” is “why is the world the way it is?”. The way someone answers this question will disclose what they think about the God who created it. Ultimately, there are only two ways someone can address evil on earth. Regardless of who they are or what they believe, evil can have only one of two sources: (1) from outside (2) or from within.
Today, the first position is called the “social” view of sin. This is the belief that evil doesn’t necessarily sprout from our own hearts, but rather stems from external forces that influence us in wrong ways. In other words, there is another party responsible for the way we behave and the way the world is. There are certainly parts of this view that explain the current state of the world. The social effects of sin are undeniable. From television to social media to “birds of a feather,” we are all products of our surroundings. However, this view is utterly insufficient to account for the true source of sin. The social view of sin is actually quite short-sighted. While it partially explains our immediate environment, it’s often used to blame others for our problems. If left by itself, the social view of sin eventually leads us to believe that true evil is somewhere else while our own “imperfections” are unrelated to the evil in the world. If sin is only picked up from others, it allows us to find scapegoats for our own behavior and to stand safely away from the world as victims while others take responsibility for the way things are. But this isn’t how the Bible depicts evil.
Jesus Christ describes his own church as those pulled from the tangled wreckage of the world. “I chose you out of the world,” he said. (John 15:19) The idea is that we were part of the problem until He sought us and changed us by His grace. He took us out; we didn’t take ourselves out. (Eph. 1:4-5) We weren’t just victims. We were culprits. Inventors of evil. In Romans, when Paul declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he’s indicting everyone. (3:23) No one is exempted. Nobody is without excuse. (1:20) Paul takes a baseball bat to the social view of sin. For Paul, the social view isn’t simply unbiblical; it’s illogical. For instance, if the bad people are responsible for the evil in the world, how did the “bad” guys become bad? The only defense left for the social view is complete arrogance: I’m just a little “better” than them. Paul demolishes this Christian Pharisaism.
According to Paul, the problem is not outside of us; it’s inside us. We are all corrupt apart from God’s grace. We have all gone astray. Our hearts are evil and desperately wicked. (Rom. 3:9-20) Our forefather Adam, the first human, sinned against God. And like a gigantic oak tree being found in one tiny seed, we sinned in him. As the captain of a very large ship, his transgression became ours. His sin is imputed to all of his children. Paul explains, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Why is the world this way? It’s not someone else’s fault. It’s our fault. The world may be guided and directed by different external forces, but its symptoms are the very same. We have Adam’s sin and Adam’s guilt. If pushed to its limits, the social view ignores the heinousness of personal sin and begins blameshifting evil. But as sons and daughters of Adam, especially as the sons and daughters of God, we mourn evil and lament sin because we see its evil most clearly upon Christ’s cross and we see ourselves as the very sinners who put him there. Christians are not detached observers of the world pointing fingers at the real culprits of evil, we are refugees of sin who see our Adamic likeness in the worst of sinners. And because we are children of Adam, we think ourselves the worst of sinners! (1 Tim. 1:15)
Because we know about the first Adam, we know why the world is the way it is. And because we know the second Adam, we know where it’s going. We know the one who sets our hearts ablaze with worship instead of rebellion, whose righteousness clothes our sinfulness, who gives us a spirit of humility and not of cultural arrogance. We didn’t pick up sin like a bad habit. We have it in our bones. And only repentance and faith in Jesus can wipe it clean. We’re no longer inventing evil. We’re finding new ways to praise Him. And while we no longer think of evil as something completely outside of ourselves, that’s exactly where we find Jesus.