Last Wednesday night, a student asked, “What is sin?” The question sounds simple, but the idea and reality of sin is anything but simple. It is much more and much worse than just doing bad things. Sin is an enemy, a condition, a slave driver, and a poison that causes us to rot from the inside out. When we only view sin in terms of bad things we do, we will never be able to see the root of the problem and then fully appreciate the only solution to sin—the gospel.
At the heart of every sin is a desire to be God. This is completely different than wanting to be like God. When we desire to be like God, we honor him as supreme and superior. God is glorified by a desire to be like him in the same way Michael Jordan was glorified when every kid in America wanted to “Be Like Mike.” But a desire to be God is the sinister root of every sin.
Every act of disobedience and distrust begins with a desire for personal glory in the place of God. We naturally want to call the shots, set the rules, and make the plans. We think we know what is best and if what God says is best is different from that we reject God and his ways.
In its most basic form, sin is idolatry. It is worshiping the created things in the place of the creator. Sin is a foolish exchange of glory and a refusal to be grateful. Even though all people receive general knowledge about God through creation, many do not “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). A failure to give thanks to God results from a prideful heart that desires glory and honor for itself.
In order to give thanks to God, we must look to God as an abundant fountain of goodness and grace. But this means we must look to ourselves as debased, depraved, and dependent on him for life and blessing. Left to ourselves, we will try to be God. We will seek our own glory in the place of his. We will exchange truth about God for a lie. We will claim to be wise and become fools.
The worst thing that can happen to a person is for God to look at him and say, “Your will be done.” We cannot be God, so our desire to take his place will only result in a downward spiral until we look more like animals than God. We desperately need God in the gospel. We need him to change our hearts and give us a desire to be like him, to honor him as God and to give thanks to him. We need him to replace our hearts, so the only exchange we experience is Christ’s righteousness for our sin, instead of God’s glory for idolatry.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.