Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Essence and Evil of Sin

John Piper delivered a message at the Desiring God Pastors Conference yesterday entitled, "What is Sin? The Essence and Root of All Sinning" For the full explanation, sermon transcript, and a better exposition, follow the link above! What follows is an overview of Piper's sermon.

Piper points to the book Justification Reconsidered[1] by Stephen Westerholm as part of the impetus for the sermon. In Westerholm's work against the "New Perspective on Paul," chapters two and three deal with sin. The key quote comes from p. 34 of Westerholm's work, "For Paul...it is precisely the 'essential sinfulness' of humankind that requires a salvation based on grace alone, apart from [all] human 'works.'"[2]

Piper then moves forward into an exegetical analysis of Romans 1:18–28, arguing that this passage—perhaps better than any other—demonstrates the bottom, the essence, of sin. This passage gets to the root of depravity. Paul gets at the sin in the heart which produces other sins (cf. Romans 7:8). So, let's look at the high-level overview of the argument.


When considering the logic of Romans 1:18–28, Piper finds four reasons that Paul gives that point to the bottom, the essence, of what sin is:
  • Romans 1:23–24 — God gave them over to "lusts of their hearts (ESV)" or "sinful desires of their hearts (NIV)" because they exchanged God's glory for images (i.e. idols).
  • Romans 1:24–25 — God gave them over to "lusts of their hearts (ESV)" or "sinful desires of their hearts (NIV)" because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
  • Romans 1:25–26 — God gave them "over to shameful lusts (NIV)" or "dishonorable passions (ESV)" because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
  • Romans 1:28 (NIV) — God gave them over to a depraved mind because they did not think it worthwhile to have God in their knowledge.
Paul thought that this concept was so crucial that he said it four different ways in a matter of six verses (with the same verb in Greek[3] for "gave over" every time)!

Piper, based on those connections, defines sin as follows:
"Sinning is any feeling or thought or speech or action that comes from a heart that does not treasure God over all things."
Piper then seeks to determine what it is that allows Paul to say, in Romans 3:10–12, that "no one does good, not even one." Faith is obviously the key element in this as Romans 14:23 demonstrates. Piper then, looking through the lens of Romans 14:23, makes this keen observation, "Faith is a receiving of God in Christ as our Savior, and Lord, and supreme Treasure...Sin is—not treasuring God above all things, preferring anything more than God [emphasis added]."

His point is that the essence of the faith that receives God as Lord and Savior necessarily and gladly receives Christ as Treasure. Otherwise the faith is as spurious as the husband who, matter-of-factly, gives his wife roses on their 25th anniversary quipping, "Think nothing of it. It is my duty." It is evident that's not genuine. A genuine love, and a genuine faith responds with the appropriate affections. So, rewinding, the husband, smiling, gives his wife roses on their 25th anniversary and says, "I know it isn't much, and we are both quite busy; however, nothing would make me happier than to spend tonight with you." That is genuine, and that is how we respond to Christ when he is our Treasure.

Listen to the full sermon here.


1.  Westerholm, Stephen. Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. (free Feb. 2015 on Logos)
2. Ibid. p. 34.
3. See for yourself. Note: the first and second reasons' verb is in v. 24 (since it is an inference from v. 23 and grounded by v. 25, it is doubly grounded/supported each direction and therefore part of two reasons). For more on the Double Ground relationship see: Schreiner, Thomas R. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011. p. 108.