During this season, more than 2,000,000,000 Christians around the world pause to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and what it means for believers. What sometimes doesn’t receive a lot of attention, however, is the why.
The Bible describes sin as an incredibly serious problem, and there are a lot of reasons for that—not the least of which is the fact that living outside of God’s will for the human race keeps us from enjoying the authentic human experience God originally intended for us. Pain, suffering, and death were not our original lot, which is one of the reminders the Easter season brings: the death of Christ reveals the terrible consequence of sin, collectively heaped on one perfectly innocent Individual.
Our understanding of what sin is, however, is often shallow and ill defined. “Sin is,” the Bible informs us, “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV). To put it another way, sin is the act of breaking God’s Ten Commandments. But sin runs far deeper than a mere list of don’ts. It is not like the list of behavioral no-nos that teachers sometimes distribute to their students on the first day of class: no talking in class, no teasing other children, and no spitballs. From the Bible’s perspective, sin is not merely what you do; it is also what you are. It permeates our human nature so thoroughly that it has altered our essential human nature, pulling it out of alignment with God’s will. We are no longer what God designed us to be.
One of the most famous psalms has King David staring up at the night sky, utterly overwhelmed by what he sees above his head, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).1 The created universe was meant to be an exhibit of God’s glory. It is a reflection of who He is, much the way that a master painter’s work will tell you something of his or her personality.
Centuries earlier, Moses asked God to reveal Himself more fully. “Please,” he asked “show me Your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God offered Moses this telling response “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (verse 19). Did you catch it? God’s goodness is His glory. His “glory” is His perfect character of love. So is His name. In Bible times, one’s name was more than a label; hopeful parents would choose a name for their child, hoping that he or she would grow into the traits it described. To this day, we still say that someone who has a good reputation has a “good name.” Likewise, God’s name represents His character.
All of creation was supposed to reflect that character perfectly, and it did until human beings blew it. “For all have sinned,” the Bible teaches, “and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin makes us something other than what God intended.
When the Bible tells us that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV), it is telling us the same thing because God’s moral law—the Ten Commandments—is also a depiction of His perfect character. When God insists that we must not murder, He is telling us something about Himself: He values human life. When He tells us not to steal, He is reminding us that He is honest. When He warns us not to commit adultery, He is telling us that He treasures relationships.
That’s why sin means we “fall short of God’s glory.” We no longer reflect the perfect character of the One who made us. We were originally made in His image (Genesis 1:26, 27), but now our existence is a showcase for selfishness, pain, and suffering—things that are contrary to God’s nature. Humanity, to put it mildly, has become really bad advertising for the Creator. Fallen angels can now point to human sinners and scoff: “That is the image of God! See how they hate each other? God made that? Maybe God is not what He claims to be!”
Parents of rebellious children can grasp this concept: their children are wreaking havoc in the community while bearing their name.
In order to maintain and restore the peace and harmony of His otherwise perfect creation, God would have been well within His right to simply wipe us out of existence and start over. But instead, He chose to become one of us and restore the image of God in humanity. Jesus—God in human flesh—is the one and only human being to perfectly reflect God’s character. “He who has seen Me,” He explained to Philip, “has seen the Father” ( John 14:9). “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world,” He said in a prayer to His heavenly Father ( John 17:6).
With Christ, the fallen planet suddenly had a human being living precisely as God intended: His life was pure and His love so profound that He persisted in the face of unimaginable pain in order to secure our redemption. No wonder the devil tried so hard to unseat Him!
The life of Christ exposed the lies of fallen angels and tore the mask off the devil’s scheme to discredit God through the human race: this is what it meant to live an authentic human life, to truly live as the image of God! For the first time in thousands of years, there was a Man whose existence told the truth about God’s character. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the importance of the resurrection of Christ, referring to Jesus as “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). The first Adam blew it; he sinned. The Last Adam did not, and as a result, Jesus now stands at the head of the human race. And not only did He live for us but He died in our place, accepting the rightful consequences of our sins. The shame that rightfully belonged to us was heaped on Him. The guilt of our sins was placed on Him. “But He was wounded for our transgressions,” the prophet Isaiah explains. “He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
A nineteenth-century Christian author famously described it like this: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’ ”2
Christians often say that we are saved by the death of Christ, but this is only partially true: we are also saved by His life. As an authentic human being, He restored that which was lost to God’s universe after we sinned—a human race that bore faithful witness to His love. Once again, people could see something of God by studying humanity. And when Christ rose from the dead, He rose as a real, flesh-and-blood human being (Luke 24:39). He was the new head of the human race, and He intends to return to this planet the same way (Acts 1:11). He comes back as the Son of man to take up residence with us permanently.
But let’s get back to the matter of the Ten Commandments for a moment. The Bible tells us that Jesus kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10), which is another way of saying that in His human life, He perfectly displayed the image of God. Then, in the same breath, He told us, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (verse 10). In other words, the risen Christ now asks us to start living as God originally intended, abiding in His love—and keeping His commandments, not in order to earn a cosmic merit badge because we cannot possibly earn our salvation through good works (Ephesians 2:8, 9), but because we long to be reborn in the image of God.
A risen Christ—a sinless human being—means that we can be re-created and restored, “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
The same God who spoke the universe into existence can change our hearts with that same creative power. Our lives can once again reflect God’s essential nature: love. The power that called God’s perfect Son back from the grave can call us back from the deadly grip of sin and help us to lead lives that cause the people we encounter to suspect that Jesus is quite alive.
Remember, God’s glory is His character, His name is His character, and His law is a transcript of His character. And because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God can do something remarkable with us. “ ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’ ” (Hebrews 10:16, 17).
Now notice the grand climax of the tale of human sin: “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1).
“Here are those,” the passage continues, “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (verse 12).
Jesus once told the story of a wealthy father whose son decided to ask for his inheritance early. Instead of investing it wisely and honoring his father’s legacy, he decided to spend it foolishly. He left home and traveled the country, living a reprehensible life that dishonored his father’s good name. He “wasted his possessions with prodigal living,” Jesus said (Luke 15:13).
He partied hard until the inevitable transpired: he ran out of money. And as usually happens at that point, his friends abandoned him. The once noble boy found himself working as a swineherd, envying the slop the pigs were fed. I’ll go home and beg to be a servant, he thought, because that is better than this.
When he got home, he found his father waiting on the road, weeping for joy that his lost son had returned.
Redeemed sinners certainly cannot claim to be perfect, but what a thought: we can be more like Christ because He lives. “If you love Me,” Jesus taught, “keep My commandments” (John 14:15). We don’t have to live in the pigpen any longer, waiting to die. God can put us on Mount Zion with the Lamb, with His name—His character—inscribed on our foreheads.
Shawn Boonstra is the speaker and director for the Voice of Prophecy ministry in Loveland, Colorado, USA. His broadcasts and books have been a source of inspiration around the globe.
1. Unless otherwise noted, Bible verses in this article are quoted from the New King James Version. Bible verses marked KJV are from the King James Version.
2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press®, 2005), 25.