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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf
3. The Destructiveness of Sin
God is life. Only He has life in Himself (see 1 Tim. 6:16; John 5:26). Life is grounded in His very nature and is native only to Him.
The whole creation was brought into existence by God. All its multitudinous parts received life from the great Life-giver. Everything is still sustained by Him. The apostle Paul well expresses this thought when he says, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). From this fountain of all life, life is constantly flowing into all living creatures and organisms.
In a sense we are like electric light bulbs. They give light as long as electricity flows through their filaments. But when the current ceases, there is no light. As long as life flows into us from God, we possess life. When this flow ceases, we die.
Both angels and men are sustained by the inflowing life from our great God. When Lucifer and his followers decided to rebel against Gods will in heaven, they separated themselves from Him and cut themselves off from life. "Had Satan and his host then been left to reap the full result of their sin, they would have perished."1 But God chose not to have them immediately reap the full results of their departure from Him. He granted the rebels a stay of execution by placing His preserving hand over them. God Himself granted Satan and his followers "existence for a time that they may develop their character and reveal their principles,"2 and be able to demonstrate before the whole universe the pretended viability of their plan of government. Human beings who follow Satan by departing from God in rebellion and sin thereby cut themselves off from life. Eternal death is the ultimate result of their choice to turn away from God.
One balmy afternoon as you are working in your yard, your neighbor happens to pass by. As he stops to visit with you for a few moments, you notice that his coveralls are apparently soaking wet. You inquire what happened, and he explains to you that just a few moments earlier when he was cleaning out his garage a five-gallon can of gasoline that he was taking down from a shelf came open and spilled its contents over him.
Immediately you advise your neighbor to go and change his clothes as quickly as possible. You explain that it is exceedingly dangerous to go about in a gasoline-soaked suit. If perchance he should come close to a fire, his coveralls might catch fire, and he would be roasted alive.
Your neighbor dutifully listens to your admonition. Then he casually explains to you that he surely plans to change coveralls, but first he intends to burn some rubbish on a bonfire in his backyard. You become still more insistent in your appeal that he change clothes at once. He must not come close to the fire in his gasoline-saturated clothes.
But all your kind and well-meaning counsel is of no avail. Your neighbor picks up a pile of leaves and other rakings. But as he approaches the fire, a capricious wind blows a tongue of flame in his direction. The next moment your neighbor is aflame from head to foot. Nothing can save him. He is in a gasoline-fed inferno.
This is only a parable; we are glad of that. We are happier still that no one in his sound mind is so foolish.
But stop for a moment! Most of us are, in a different respect, just as foolish as that man. We are lackadaisically going about dressed in suits drenched in the gasoline of sin.
Sin, or departure from Gods will, contains the virus of eternal death. In the universe of God, sin in its very nature is just as inflammable as gasoline. Everything that is defiled or contaminated by sin becomes ignitable, or combustible, in the presence of God. In the light of eternity, it is just as disastrous to walk nonchalantly about with a sin-spotted character as it is to amble about in garments drenched in gasoline. Truly the man in the gasoline-drenched garments was courting death. But arent we all, if our lives are spotted with unrepented and unforgiven sin? The spark that will eventually ignite sin and sinners is the presence of a holy God, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). As sinners we are all like cut flowers—not yet dead, but dying—and we will ultimately die eternally in the presence of a loving God unless we are saved from sin by Jesus.
Luther picturesquely said that God is "a blazing oven, all aglow with love." In the Scriptures God repeatedly appears as fire. In Midian He appeared to Moses as a burning bush (see Ex. 3:2). On Mount Sinai He appeared to all the children of Israel as a devouring fire (see Ex. 24:17). It was because God is a devouring fire that the children of Israel pleaded with Moses: "You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19).
The prophet Isaiah repeatedly points out the inflammable character of sin. "But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed" (Isa. 1:28). "And the strong shall become tow, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them" (verse 31). "For wickedness burns like a fire, it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke" (Isa. 9:18). "For a burning place has long been prepared; yea, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, kindles it" (Isa. 30:33). "You conceive chaff, you bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. And the peoples will be as if burned to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire" (Isa. 33:11, 12). A well-known Bible commentator says, "To sin, wherever found, God is a consuming fire. If you choose sin, and refuse to separate from it, the presence of God, which consumes sin, must consume you."3
The very presence of God is death to sinners. But so also is departure or separation from God. It was the holiness of God, which is a consuming fire to sin, that made Adam and Eve flee from the presence of God in Eden. After they had sinned, they were no longer comfortable in His presence but hid themselves among the bushes of the garden. As children we were not comfortable in the presence of our parents after we had disobeyed them. Neither will we be comfortable with God after disobeying Him, as long as we have not asked for forgiveness.
Since all men are sinners, "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18). When Jesus came to this earth as our Saviour, He dared not appear in His divine glory lest sinful men die in His presence. He therefore clothed Himself in human form to veil His divine glory (see Phil. 2:6-8). Only in this way could He dwell among men without destroying them by His presence.
Soon this same Jesus will come back to this earth. But He will not then be veiled in human form. He will come in His divine glory, surrounded by myriads of angels (see Matt. 25:31). No person with unforgiven sins still clinging to him will then be able to live in the presence of God. His very presence will be a flaming fire to sinners. About this event the apostle Paul spoke: "When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:7, 8). Thus Isaiah queries in connection with Christs coming as King: "Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isa. 33:14).
Those who have refused to accept salvation from sin through Christs shed blood will, at His coming in glory, find themselves in the very midst of the "devouring fire." They will then be destroyed by the flammability of their sins after they in vain have called upon the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them "from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16) at His return in glory.
But not even at His second coming will God "make a full end" of sin (Jer. 4:27). Not until after the millennium will God permit sin and sinners to be completely consumed in the lake of fire (see Rev. 20:9, 10).
It is Gods desire that no person, despite his sins, be destroyed when Jesus appears in His glory. Jesus came the first time as a Saviour, "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). He came that we "may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). The purpose of His second coming is the same as that of His first—that men might live. He comes to confer immortality and incorruption on mortal men who have prepared for it by having permitting Him to save them from sin (see 1 Cor. 15:51-53; Matt. 1:21).
Solemnly God warns us against sin: "He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death" (Prov. 8:36, KJV). If we desire life—eternal life—our characters must be cleansed from sin through Christs shed blood, and patterned in accordance with Gods will. Then eternal life will be conferred upon us as a gift from God (see Rom. 6:23). If, on the other hand, we remain rebels against God and depart from Him and His will, we break our connection with God, who alone is life.
As creatures we have no life in ourselves. As sinners we have all departed from God; we will cease to exist when God suspends His stay of execution on sinners. Unless we accept salvation through Jesus, we will ultimately perish with the devil and his angels in hell, even though it was designed only for them (see Matt. 25:4 1). God created all of us to live, not to die. If we choose to squander the gift of life that God designed should last for eternity, we are unfaithful stewards, and as such we shall forfeit eternal life.
Today, through His Word and the Holy Spirit, Gods holiness may be a purifying influence from sin in our lives. If we refuse and do not permit the Spirit to burn away our sins now, then at Christs third coming to this earth, after the millennium, His holiness will become even to us a destroying fire. Any form of sin—the sin of rebellion, or lawlessness, the sin of ignorance, and the sin of spiritual immaturity—will rob us of eternal life unless we have been saved through Jesus our Lord.
It is impossible to overemphasize the gravity of departure from Gods will. The prophets of the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament stressed the destructiveness of sin. Sin is lethal; it is deadly; it is like gasoline in the universe of God. It is separation from God and hence from life. Paul says that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). In eternal death, sinners reap what they have chosen—separation from God. The eternal destiny of every person pivots on his own choice. Each ultimately will experience what he has chosen. In this way eternity will show that God respects each persons choice.
But God does not want anyone to die eternally. Even though all of us stand before Him
drenched in death, He wants us to live. The next three chapters will explain His plan for
our escape from eternal death.
1 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 764. [back]
2 Ibid. [back]
3 Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 62. [back]
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