Sin: The Symptoms, the Problem, and the Solution

by Scott Lothery
| Time: 20 Minutes

The Apollo 13 Flight Journal has the following dialogue listed between the astronauts and Mission Control. It happened on April 13, 1970, at 9:08 PM, when Astronaut Jack Swigert heard a bang and saw a warning light in the cockpit:

Swigert said: Okay, Houston…

Astronaut Jim Lovell repeated: …Houston…

Swigert said: …we’ve had a problem here.

Mission Control Capsule Communicator Jack Lousma (Lauzma) responded: This is Houston. Say again, please.

Lovell repeated what he and Swigert said: Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.

That famous conversation produced an oft repeated phrase, which has been slightly altered to “Houston we have a problem.” It has become a popular way in our culture to communicate a wide variety of unexpected difficulties in an understated way.

The astronauts experienced a problem they did not anticipate. They were alerted to the problem by some symptoms, one of which showed up on their dashboard. They communicated the problem in a way that didn’t raise too much alarm.

And they solved the problem in an almost miraculous way. If you don’t know the story, it’s worth reading or watching the movie about it. You will find it very moving and inspiring.

The third chapter of Genesis is a bit like that. For readers, an unexpected problem arises. The story takes a surprising turn. Human beings were given paradise. So, it is a shock to those who read the story when they choose so foolishly and lose it. Yet, God calmly addresses the situation with questions. Given what is to come, it is astounding how the Lord maintains his cool.

The readers of the story are then alerted to the problem through four symptoms in the humans. Those four are like the bang and the warning light of the Apollo 13 mission. And God indicates in Genesis 3 how he is going to miraculously solve this problem.

Four Symptoms of Sin

We have a problem. There are four symptoms to our problem, and they can be found in the story of Adam and Eve. You experience these symptoms, and I do too. They are common to all people. But they are symptoms, flashing red lights on the dashboard of our lives, they are not the problem.

1. Doubt

The first symptom to our problem is doubt. Human beings doubt the word of God. People question his goodness and the kindness of his instructions. We are just plain skeptical that what he says is true and is best. We see that first symptom in Genesis 3:3-6:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6 ESV)

The first voice that people heard after God’s voice was the voice of the serpent. He questioned Eve, it seems, with the intent of deceiving her. We don’t know why exactly, but clearly he sought to create doubt in her mind about what the Lord said, when he questioned, “Did God really say? Are you sure?”

He also sought to create doubt in her mind about God’s wisdom and goodness. According to him, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be beneficial to Eve. It wouldn’t cause death, as he said. Quite the contrary, it would increase knowledge, Satan said.

Concerning the command not to eat, Satan argued that God was withholding from them the ability to become like God: Why would anyone not want to be like God? He’s the best. Why would God not want humans to be like him? After all, God said that humans were made in his image, created in his likeness. They were supposed to be like God.

Of course, those were lies, and Eve believed them as did Adam, for we learn in the final words of verse 6 that he was standing there with her the entire time.

And, in believing the lies of the first conversation they had with someone other than God, these first humans changed the way they understood reality itself.

God said the tree wasn’t good for food. Initially, they believed him. But after one conversation with a creature, they saw it a different way. They switched their viewpoint. They determined that the tree was, in fact, a delight to the eyes and good for food. They determined that God’s Word was wrong and the serpent’s word was right. God also said they would be doomed if they ate from that particular tree. They believed him. But after hearing from the serpent, they changed their minds. They concluded that eating from the tree would make them wise. They believed the reptile. They doubted God.

And we do too. Commands from God not to do something produce something in us that naggingly wants to do it and wonders, “Did God really say? Am I so sure that this is so bad?”

Even the children who usually want to follow the rules desire to jump in a puddle after their parents tell them not to do it. They may not even have had any interest in jumping, but when the command is not to jump, all of a sudden there’s a desire to jump and a questioning, “What’s so wrong with jumping in a puddle?” That’s how we are with the Lord.

We doubt. Now, doubt isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of our problem. Let’s take a look at our second symptom.

2. Cover Up

The second symptom of our problem is covering up.

Humans wear masks, embellish the facts, and fib about themselves. People are prone toward being fake, putting on a façade and telling little white lies. Look at Genesis 3:7:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:7 ESV)

So, the lie of the serpent was almost immediately revealed…he did tell the truth when he said that Adam and Eve would know good and evil by eating the fruit. That is what happened. His deception was portraying the knowledge of good and evil as beneficial. The truth is, it was devastating.

Prior to Genesis 3, Adam and Eve lived together in perfect harmony, with no shame whatsoever. Afterward, they felt ashamed and struggled with conflict in their relationship. You see, the covering up with fig leaves wasn’t merely an act of public modesty like we do in our day.

They were the first husband and wife living in total privacy with perfect intimacy. So, covering up wasn’t necessary in any way. But after eating the fruit, they all of a sudden didn’t want to be fully exposed to each other anymore and not just physically. It was an outward expression of an inward change. It was a masking of the soul. That’s what was going on. They were ashamed of who they were inside because of what they had done. So, they covered up.

We do the same sort of covering up in all kinds of ways. I’m not at all referring to the wardrobe you have in your closet at home. No, I mean we are all ashamed of ourselves of things we have done in the past and so we cover up. Sometimes in ways that aren’t even related to what we have done wrong.

Consider simple things. We overstate our height and understate our weight. We exaggerate our salaries, but round down what we paid for a car. We also cover up more serious things. People go to great lengths not to talk about what’s going on inside them. Couples allow their marriage to deteriorate in private but put on a happy face in public.

Humans just generally don’t want to reveal who they are. I can’t let you know what I really think, how I really feel, what I really want to do, what’s really going on, who I really am, because I am ashamed of myself. If I am ashamed of me, why would I have any confidence that you will accept me? Why would I expect you to love me? So, I cover up. That’s what’s going on with us.

Now, covering up isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom. Let’s consider the third symptom.

3. Hide

Human beings doubt, cover up, and hide from God. People tend to check out of spiritual activity, detach themselves, even run away from the Lord. Look at Genesis 3:8:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8 ESV)

God arrived on the scene of the crime to discover that his image bearers did not want to be found. What a dramatic change in the relationship and a tragic scene!

Human beings are special to God and have a purpose in his universe. People are the pinnacle of his creation, the most valuable creature by far. And we have been made in his image to rule over his world with his virtue. There is no greater reason to exist!

So, the emotional impact of these verses is supposed to make our hearts sink as readers. Adam and Eve, what have you done? You were made to fear God, as in reverence him, and seek to please him most of all because he is for you.

But now, they fear him, as in they are afraid of what he will do to them. They hid from the most loving being there is, who set his love on them the most.

And we do the same thing. The inclination of our heart is to hide from God. We cannot seem to escape the thought that he is going to do us harm. No matter how we try, we always worry that he is going to condemn us. Just waiting to bring the hammer down on us.

We fear God with the wrong kind of fear. We dread his punishment rather than revere his love.

And we hide from him in food, media, hobbies, work; you name it. You can hide from God in ministry, “serving God” while heeding the voice in your head that says, “don’t pray, don’t read the Bible, God is unpleasant and against you.”

And again, hiding isn’t the problem, but it is the third symptom, one of the red blinking lights on the dashboard of our lives. Lastly, the fourth symptom in Genesis 3 is…

4. Blame

Human beings blame others for what they do wrong. People like to point the finger. We find fault in them first, before we consider that we could possibly have some responsibility in the matter. Look at Genesis 3:11-13:

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13 ESV)

So, God confronted Adam and Eve, and he did so with such gentleness, didn’t he? I mean they committed an insurrection that we know has thrown the entire universe into discord, disorder, disease, disability, disaster, decay, and death.

The virtue of God is remarkable. And, despite the Lord’s kindness, Adam and Eve were evasive. Eve blamed the serpent, “He deceived me, and I ate. It was his fault.”

Adam blamed Eve, “She gave me the fruit and I ate. It was her fault.” Adam even blamed God, “The woman who you gave to be with me, it is your fault.”

They blamed others, and we do too.

When we get caught doing something wrong, our first instinct is to explain how it happened and other people’s roles in it rather than simply saying, “I did it. I did what I wasn’t supposed to do. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Generally, we don’t take responsibility. We blame others instead. That’s the fourth symptom of our problem.

These are the warning signs to us of something wrong with us: we doubt, cover up, hide, and blame.

The Problem of Sin

The question for us now is, why do these behaviors come so naturally to us? How come we don’t need to be taught them? What is our problem?

Some say it’s the devil. Satan masqueraded as a reptile in the garden. He led Adam and Eve astray. Now he does the same with us. He is in our lives tempting us every day. He’s our problem.

Well, it is true that the devil is a problem, but he is not our primary issue. I think many Christians overestimate his presence in the individual, contemporary, Christian life. Think about it, there are 7 billion people on the planet now. Satan is one being, limited by time and space. How many people can he personally tempt in a day? Not many.

So, is the Prince of Darkness really personally involved in your life every day? I don’t think so. I don’t even think he knows your name. Consider the account of an evil spirit, a demonic presence, in Acts 19:15. When regular folks tried to exercise it, it said,

“Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15 ESV)

See, like that evil spirit, Satan can’t be everywhere and know everyone. He’s just a single, finite creature. So, be careful not to ascribe to him the glory of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. That’s what God is like, not him.

The small number of people he focuses on, then, are likely very important. So, be careful also not to ascribe to yourself a degree of significance that we regular people simply don’t have.

Further, the demonic world is not ordered under the devil’s command. God is the God of order. Satan’s realm is chaos. Consider when Jesus drove the evil spirits out of the Gerasene demoniac. They violently entered and indiscriminately led thousands of pigs to their doom over a cliff (Luke 8:26-33).

There wasn’t a strategy session from Satan about what the next move was in some sort of organized army in which he is the general. It’s total madness.

So the devil is a problem, but he’s not your main problem.

Others say the problem we have that causes us to doubt, cover up, hide, and blame is the world. The value system of the various societies on earth. We get tempted by the unholy non-believers and their traditions. Their voice on the outside battles against us. We are in a culture war of sorts. The problem is out there, we say.

Now, like the devil, the world is a problem, but it’s not our primary one. Consider what Jesus himself taught on this subject, recorded in Mark 7:21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV)

According to the words of our Lord, humanity’s problem is not “out there.” It is “in here.”

Problem Explained: We Have a Sinful Nature.

Sin dwells within us. That’s the problem. To understand that a bit more, think again deeply about Adam and Eve.

When they chose to listen to the voice of the serpent rather than listen to the word of God, they acquired the knowledge of evil. That experience changed their relational position before God, and the change in relational position before God altered their very human nature. They were sinless in Genesis 2. They became sinful in Genesis 3.

I don’t think sin started when the fruit touched their teeth or landed in their bellies. It was born inside them in the conversation with the serpent. Then, this new sinful nature produced new sinful dynamics in their hearts which led to new sinful behaviors.

You see, Adam and Eve certainly developed a behavior problem and a heart problem, but the core of their problem was what their nature had become.

Now, the tragedy in this story is really threefold.

First, as rebellious, defiled, guilty, and wicked creatures, Adam and Eve deserved to be arrested, quarantined, condemned, and destroyed by the just, pure, holy, and righteous God. They deserved death and hell.

The second part of the tragedy is that Adam and Eve could not do anything to reverse the course. Sure, they could still manage their behavior to some degree, but they were completely incapable of changing their heart much less their nature. So, not only did they deserve death and hell, but there was also nothing they could do to stop themselves from going there.

The third part of that tragedy is where we come in. Adam and Eve passed this sinful nature on to their children who passed it on to their children’s children and so on. I am concerned we are being misled by the culture or even some streams of Christianity about sin and the problem it poses to us. Sin is not just a moral slip like gossip. Humans don’t merely have a behavior problem. Sin is not just a disease of the soul. Humans don’t merely have a heart problem. Sin is a supra-personal power that reigns over humanity having altered the very nature of the human being. We have a nature problem.

From birth, the human mind is depraved. The human heart is thoroughly corrupt. The human will is shackled in slavery. The human body is in decay, headed toward death. The reason we naturally doubt, cover up, hide, and blame is that we have a sinful nature. Our problem is us. The ontological stuff we are made of. Sin. Self. It is all intertwined.

And like Adam and Eve, we can manage our behavior to some degree, but we can’t change our nature. Further, we all deserve the judgment of God and there is nothing we can do on our own to escape it.

The Solution to Sin

So, thank the Lord, the Bible doesn’t end at Genesis 3:13! Praise God that even before the creation of the world, he decided to do something to turn this tragedy into a victory! From eternity past, he purposed to solve this problem himself. How? He gave Adam and Eve a glimpse of it in Genesis 3:15 when he addressed the serpent, saying:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning, God made it clear that he was going to bring forth a human being who would crush the devil and undue his evil work. That person has been revealed to us as Jesus Christ.

Problem Solved: Jesus Is Putting the World Right Regarding Sin.

Jesus is solving our problem. He began to do that by paying the penalty for our sinful nature.

Jesus is God the Son who came from heaven—the pure one sent to cleanse us, the defiled. He was born of a virgin named Mary, not conceived from the seed of the sinful race of Adam but conceived through the Holy Spirit into humanity fulfilling the promise to be the seed of Eve (Matthew 1:18).

Jesus is the Truly Virtuous Man who lived a life of perfect obedience to God, the innocent one sent to secure a pardon for us, the guilty. He was tempted in every way, yet never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is the Suffering Servant who took the penalty we deserved. He is the Righteous One sent to justify us, the wicked. He was crucified as a propitiation for our sin. He died on a cross in our place, which fulfilled the prophecy that Satan would bruise his heel (1 John 2:2).

Indeed, the cross was just a bruise for our Lord. Death couldn’t hold him down. So, he crushed the devil’s head when he rose from the grave and ascended to the right of God. And now he is at work undoing the evil that was started in the garden of Eden. He paid the penalty for our sinful nature, and he is now breaking its power in his people (Romans 8:34).

Jesus pours his Holy Spirit into everyone who has faith in him. The Spirit’s residence ends the reign of sin in that person. It’s not that Christians stop sinning, but that the sinful nature is no longer in control (Romans 6:14, 17-18; Romans 8:2).

Please understand—as Adam and Eve’s relational position with God changed to the negative and thus altered their nature to be sinful, your relational position with God, Christian, has changed to the positive and thus modified your nature towards righteousness.

I think most people think Christians are merely people with a different moral code or a different worldview or different values. Listen, Christians are different creatures—a new type of humanity. God dwells in us, has transformed the fabric of our souls, and is giving us a foretaste of eternal life now—a taste of obedience, righteousness, and faith, in a world filled with rebellion, immorality, and doubt. A taste of dignity, purity, and transparency, in a world filled with defilement, shame, and covering up. A taste of innocence, security, and seeking God, in a world filled with guilt, fear, and hiding from the Lord. A taste of goodness, humility, and taking responsibility, in a world filled with wickedness, arrogance, and blame.

Jesus is putting the world right regarding sin. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then he paid the penalty for your sin and broke its power in you. And further, he has vowed to eliminate your sinful nature altogether.

The experience we have now with the Holy Spirit is only a foretaste. The meal is to come. Jesus has promised to return as the Conquering King to completely do away with sin in us forever and bring us to a place where sin has never been and never will be!

Who can even describe what that will be like?! Who has the words? The Bible describes it to some degree. On that day, Christ will resurrect or transform our decaying bodies into glorified ones. We will live in a new heavens and new earth where there is no more mourning or crying or pain. No death (Revelation 21:1-4)!

I love the gift of this life, but I cannot wait for this day to come. Knowing God even as little as I do know him, I have the utmost confidence that the first minute of that day will infinitely surpass the best experiences I have ever had in my days in this fallen world because my sinful nature will no longer hinder me from the unsurpassed and indescribable joy of fully experiencing the glory of our everlasting God. My core problem will be solved forevermore.

The reason we doubt, cover up, hide, and blame is because we have a sinful nature. The good news is that God has solved our problem in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). He’s putting us and the entire world right.

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What Is Sin According to the Bible?
Sin is any disobedience to God’s revealed commands either in thought, word, or action. The Bible says that every one of us not only sins, but, by nature, is infected by sin. Sin is our human condition.