Chapter 1: Creation and Sin
The goal of this booklet is to help you understand the good news of Jesus Christ and the process of becoming his disciple. If you are already a committed follower of Jesus Christ, this booklet should be a good review of the foundations.
Beginning in the Beginning
Jesus is Lord. This is the essential confession of every follower of Jesus Christ. But what does that confession mean? To understand how the first followers of Jesus Christ would have understood this statement, we need to begin in the beginning.
Read the following passages from the first chapter of the Bible.
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.
26Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.
Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31
What is implied about God, human beings, and the purpose of our existence? Discuss (or write down) your observations before continuing.
You may have made some observations similar to the following.
- God is the uncreated ultimate authority over all that exists. He has total control over the material creation.
- Human beings, both male and female, are like God in a way that nothing else in the material creation is — we are made in his image. Therefore, we have intrinsic value.
- God speaks; he is personal (not just a cosmic force). He engages in relationship with human beings.
- Because God speaks to human beings, we can know something about him and about the world we live in.
- God makes judgments about what is good. He is by nature a moral being.
- God loves us and desires our good. (Note again verse 28: “God blessed them…”) He wants more of us around. (“Be fruitful and increase in number…”)
- God has made us rulers, in some sense, over the earth.
- God expects us to obey the instructions he has given to us.
- God provides for our needs.
Do your own views about God, the universe, and human beings align with these observations from the book of Genesis?
Something’s Not Right
For most of us, life is often frustrating, painful, and disappointing. God seems distant. Truth is unclear. Relationships are difficult. What happened to the orderly and “good” world of Genesis 1?
Jesus began his public ministry with the following message:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is a striking statement. On the one hand it is bold (and even offensive) — Jesus is implying that we are the problem, and that we need to change! On the other hand, it is full of hope and promise — God is bringing his life-giving kingdom into our world! We should ask three important questions. Who is this man Jesus to make such bold statements? Why do we need to “repent”? How can we be a part of God’s kingdom?
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? A good religious teacher? A revolutionary? A prophet? His earliest followers certainly considered him to be an exemplary human being. But it is also clear that they considered him to be more than that. The first chapter of the Gospel of John says the following about Jesus (referring to him as “the Word”).
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5, 14
Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity
It was quite a leap for a Jewish man or woman in the first century to worship a human being as God. Why would the first disciples have come to the conclusion that Jesus is the divine Son of God? The Gospel records demonstrate the following.
- Jesus claimed to have divine authority to forgive sins. (Mark 2:1-12)
- Jesus demonstrated authority over evil spirits. (Mark 1:21-28)
- Evil spirits recognized Jesus as the holy one of God. (Mark 1:24)
- Other people successfully invoked Jesus’ name to exorcise evil spirits. (Mark 9:38)
- Jesus demonstrated authority over nature. (Mark 4:35-41)
- Jesus performed miracles of healing and was able to transfer this authority to his disciples. (Matthew 9:35-10:1)
- Jesus claimed that the Jewish Scriptures spoke of him and that he was the fulfillment of those Scriptures. (Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 4:16-21; 24:25-27; John 5:39-40)
- Jesus claimed an authority in his teaching equal to (or even greater than) that of the Jewish Scriptures, which Jews considered to be the words of God. (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-34; 38-39; 43-44; 24:35)
- Jesus claimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath, the day of the week that was set apart as holy to God. (Matthew 12:1-8)
- Jesus claimed he will be the judge on the final day. (Matthew 7:22-23)
- Jesus claimed that only he truly knew God and that only he could truly make God known to others. (Luke 10:22)
- Jesus accepted worship from his followers. (Matthew 14:22-33)
- Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and taught that the Messiah was something more than the human descendant of King David, the greatest king of Israel. (Matthew 22:41-46)
- Jesus identified himself with the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is served by all peoples and nations. (Mark 14:61-62)
- Jesus spoke of the angels as his angels and the elect people of God as his elect. (Matthew 24:30-31)
- Jesus predicted his own resurrection from the dead. (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-31; 10:32-34; 14:57-58)
Because Jesus of Nazareth is also the divine Son of God, his followers throughout the centuries have granted his words absolute authority in their lives. There is no one more trustworthy to assess our deepest needs and to show us what we should do. And Jesus indicates that we all need to repent.
To repent means to change one’s mind and go in a new direction. It is an admission that we are wrong about some things and that we need to act and think differently. More specifically, it is an acknowledgment that we have not lived before God as we know that we should. This is the important concept of sin.
Human beings have rebelled against God and this rebellion is the root cause of the brokenness we experience in this life. Some people dismiss the whole concept of sin as premodern and unenlightened. Others consider themselves to be basically good people who really have no need to repent. But the consistent message of the prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospels, and the early church leaders in the New Testament is that human beings are sinful. Consider the following representative passages.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way…
Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure;
I am clean and without sin”?
22 … There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Jesus goes beyond observing the simple fact of human sinfulness and speaks to our enslavement to the power of sin.
31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
The Wrong Gods
Idolatry is one of the persistent sins mentioned in the Old Testament. Although we may not construct physical idols for ourselves like many ancient peoples did, we often treat other things in our lives as substitute gods — things we look to for security, identity, and good fortune. Consider this passage from the prophet Jeremiah.
23This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
What might play the role of an idol in our lives today? Is there anything functioning like an idol in your own life?
Jesus was once asked which of God’s commandments is the greatest.
37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
All sin is ultimately a violation of one or both of these two fundamental commands. Will God forever allow human beings to persist in dishonoring him and hurting one another? The Scripture teaches that we will all be held accountable for our actions in a future judgment. The author of Hebrews writes:
…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…
The apostle Paul describes the nature of this judgment in his letter to the Romans.
6God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.
12All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
What do you notice about the nature of this judgment? Is it fair? Considering our earlier observations about human sinfulness, how do you think you would fare in such a judgment?
God is just and, as Paul writes in Romans 2:6, “will repay each person according to what they have done.” This is a sobering reality. But, thankfully, this is not the end of the story.