“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…” (Romans 3:23).

We all know the story, don’t we? We can recite it by heart. Adam and Eve are in the Garden; God has told them, “…You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17).

Then the serpent comes and proceeds to debate what God had said,

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).

Of course, Eve overstated God’s command of not eating from the tree — adding “must not even touch it” — just as some legalists among us today tend to do. And the evil one uses it to his advantage.

Can’t you just picture it? As he speaks, he leans against the tree — and of course doesn’t die. He knows the Lord meant dying spiritually, but that’s not what he’s selling. His goal is to make them question God. To put doubt in their minds, in their hearts, that God knows what is best. And they fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6).

The first, but certainly not the last, example of a husband following exactly what his wife told him to do!).

But…why? What exactly happened to Adam and Eve in the garden? Was it simply eating the “forbidden fruit?” Did one act of disobedience then doom all of mankind forever to death — both physically and spiritually? Or was it more than that?

What is the real sin of mankind that we cannot escape?

The Pride of Life

It seems to be born and bred within us that we naturally want our own way. We instinctively think we know what is best — what is good and acceptable. It is the pride of human life.

John said it perfectly, “For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh and the eyes, and pride — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).

Indeed, Adam and Eve had perfection. They had everything they needed. All they needed to do was trust that God knew what was best and He would always take care of them. Yet…the temptation that they knew better was too strong. 

The temptation to have it their own way was too great. Ultimately — their sin was not the act itself but questioning God. Believing they knew better than God. They wanted more than God seemed to be giving them.

Once cast out of the perfection of life in the garden, the temptations for humankind only grew. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Aren’t those the very temptations that invade our own lives today? That pull at our peace — and cause us to take our eyes off God?

I recently heard a pastor say that we so often claim that God isn’t close because we can’t hear him speaking to us — when really, we can’t hear him speaking because of the volume of our worldly lives, our worldly desires, drowns out his voice. 

Sin Vs Sins

For generations, the Jews had a long list of dos and don’ts. Of course, those started with the Ten Commandments — then continued to include 613 specific laws that were not to be broken.

The penalty for violating these laws was sometimes quite severe. Often death. Throughout the centuries, the religious rulers added their own man-written laws to that list — and these became the list of sins that man could commit.

Jesus changed all of that. Jesus taught us that the standard set by these laws was far too low. He taught that it wasn’t our actions, our behavior, but rather our attitudes. Our hearts. Our desires. He even amended the Ten Commandments:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:21-22)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Rather than leave us with a list of rules — with specific actions, which were not allowed — Jesus engulfed the entire law into two statements of the heart:

 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. The Gospel of Luke adds, “with all your strength” (Luke 10:27). In other words, love God with everything you are. Everything you have. All of the rules…all of the dos and don’ts aren’t erased, but they are rendered a mere shadow of what the commandments actually represent.

What is critical is the condition of our hearts. Therein lies our sinful nature. Therein lies our real sin.

An Attitude of the Heart

When we raise our children, we start with a strict list of what they can and cannot do. As they grow into adults, we must trust they will then have the judgment to know right from wrong for themselves.

We would never allow a toddler near an electric outlet with something sharp, but that obviously changes as they grow. So, it was with the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament laws.

They were given as a custodian until the day of Jesus Christ — then it all changed. It was all fulfilled. The rules were laid bare and rendered obsolete.

Our sin is the condition of our hearts toward God — not an individual act of disobedience. Our deeds simply reflect the attitude of our hearts. Indeed, there are sinful acts, but what leads us to those “sins” is the condition of our hearts.

Solomon’s great strength was his wisdom — a gift from God, after a direct request from Solomon himself (1 Kings 3:1-15). In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12, ESV).

When we choose to follow our own path, our own way, our hearts are not committed to God. When we assume we know what is best for our lives — we question God. When we believe we know what ought to be allowed or forbidden — we challenge God.

When we declare what God ought to do, or have done, or be doing — we suppose ourselves to know better than God. If we believe we are “basically a good person” — we are pointing towards ourselves and our actions, rather than allowing our hearts to point to the Father.

Our sin is not an act — but a condition that we cannot cleanse on our own.

The Romans Road

And this is why we cannot earn our way to heaven. It is why we cannot perform enough “good deeds.” We can never be “good enough.” It is like trying to touch the sun – when all we need to do is to allow the Son to touch us. To change our hearts.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9,13).

For further reading:

Are All People Sinners?

Is There a Sin That Leads to Death?

Does God See All Sins as Equal to One Another?

What Does it Mean ‘The Wages of Sin Is Death’?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AndreyPopov

SWN authorGreg Grandchamp is the author of In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins – an easy-to-read, conversational-toned search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Grandchamp offers perspective as an everyday guy on the very same journey as his readers and listeners – as a disciple of Christ Jesus, and learning life’s lessons along the way. 

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