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9-25-22 Great Themes of the Bible: Death—The Penalty of Sin

Great Themes of the Bible: Death—The Penalty of Sin

David Peterson / General

Great Themes of the Bible / Sin; Death and Dying / James 1:13–15

Sermon Type: Topical-Textual

Proposition: Sin starts with our neediness and seeing fulfillment in the wrong way and leads to bondage and death. Christ sets us free.


1. Great Themes

2. James and Paul both warn about sin’s effects on the life of a believer

3. Inside information on how to beat sin

I. Sin’s Pretense (James 1:14, 16)

1. Sin is rooted in our desire

Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 48: James (Comment)

ἐπιθυμία is an ambivalent term in NT vocabulary. Sometimes it has good connotations (Luke 22:15; Rom 15:23; cf. Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:2) but more often it carries a pejorative sense of “evil desire, lust, false ambition” (Rom 7:17–23; Gal 5:16–21; 1 Thess 4:5; Eph 2:3).

2. Our desires are for life

3. Sin’s Deception is that it claims to offer us life

Systematic Theology (§ 4. Sin, Death, and Life) Pannenberg

The power of sin over us humans rests on the fact that it promises us life, a fuller and richer life. As we have said, this is its deception (Rom. 7:11). Only thus can we explain Paul’s statement that sin can use the law as a “pretext” in overpowering us. The command of God was given to us with a view to life. Keeping it should help us to safeguard the life that we have received from God (Deut. 32:47; Lev. 18:5). But the desire that is oriented to what is forbidden thinks it has a better knowledge of what will promote life. It forces us to think that the command has a tendency that is inimical to life, as though observing it would involve renouncing that which is part of life’s riches (cf. Gen. 3:4ff.). According to Paul, then, the law becomes a means whereby sin achieves dominion, setting life before our eyes and giving desire an occasion to orient itself to it, but in such a way as to set the law aside—the law of reason as well as the traditional moral order (cf. 4 Ezra 7:62–72). Under the pressure of a keen desire for life, we thus come into collision not merely with a law that seems to hamper our development but with our own reason, which, as Paul says, agrees with the law of God (Rom. 7:22) and yet is hopelessly subject to the blind drive for self-fulfillment.

II. Sin’s Progression (James 1:15)

1. Sin starts out as a desire and a thought

2. It leads to an action

3. Actions lead to habits

Did you ever hear the story of the Persian prince who dreamed that he was drinking from a cup, and a fly came and tried to sip from it? He drove it away; but, as he kept on drinking from his cup, it came back again, and it had grown as large as a bird. He drove the creature away, but it returned as large as an eagle—the largest kind of bird. He tried to chase that away, but it soon came back in the form of a man, who grinned at him most horribly. He tried to get that man away, but soon he was back in the form of a giant, who stepped on him and crushed him to death.

That is just the picture of the growth of an evil habit. At first, you say, “Is it not a little one?” But it grows and increases until it becomes unconquerable.

Reading Habits of Ultra-Successful People

An article on Medium asks, “Want to know one habit ultra-successful people have in common? They read. A lot.” Warren Buffett would read 600-1000 pages a day. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. Mark Cuban reads three hours a day. When asked how he learned to build rockets, Elon Musk said, “I read books.” But one thing that marks their reading is education. They don’t read to be entertained; they read to be educated. “They believe that books are a gateway to learning and knowledge.”

Andrew Merle, “The Reading Habits of Ultra-Successful People,” Mission.Org (4-13-16)

Spurgeon, C. (2017). 300 Sermon Illustrations from Charles Spurgeon (E. Ritzema & L. Smoyer, Eds.). Lexham Press.

It was a fixed habit of Theodore Roosevelt to attend church on Sunday, and continued it all his years in Washington even as president of USA.

The pastor of his church always received a letter or phone message from the president when he expected to be out of town, explaining his absence.

Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 242). Bible Communications, Inc.

The Power of Positive Habits Can Change Our Destiny

In his latest book, Robert Morgan shares the beneficial effects that habits can have in our lives:

The word practice implies we must go to work developing certain skills until they become habitual or proficient, like an athlete or musician. These are the Bible’s perpetual habits for a gradual and glorious experience with the God of peace. In her book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, Gretchen Rubin called habits “the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future.”

Rubin went on to explain that habits reduce the need for self-control, saying, “With habits, we conserve our self-control. Because we’re in the habit of putting a dirty coffee cup in the office dishwasher, we don’t need self-control to perform that action; we do it without thinking.” She also added, “Our habits are our destiny. And changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.”

Source: Robert J. Morgan, Worry Less, Live More (Thomas Nelson, 2017), page xxiii

Augustine on Bad Habits

“Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.”

—St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

III. Sin’s Penalty (James 1:15)

1. Death is a natural consequence.

In the area of the spirit the effect of Adam’s sin was instantaneous and total. When the spirit died, communication with God was broken. Adam proved it by running away when God came to him in the garden. In contemporary language this is described as alienation, alienation from God, and it is the first result of that spiritual death which came to us as the result of sin. John Stott calls it “the most dreadful of all sin’s consequences.” “Man’s highest destiny is to know God and to be in personal relationship with God. Man’s chief claim to nobility is that he was made in the image of God and is therefore capable of knowing Him. But this God whom we are meant to know and whom we ought to know is a moral Being,” and we are sinners. Consequently, “our sins blot out God’s face from us as effectively as the clouds do the sun.… We have no communication with God. We are ‘dead through the trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) which we have committed.”

Boice, J. M. (1986). Foundations of the Christian faith: a comprehensive & readable theology (p. 201). InterVarsity Press.

2. Death touches every aspect of our being

Because the word death, as used in Scripture in reference to the consequences of transgression, includes all penal evil. The wages of sin is death. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Any and every form of evil, therefore, which is inflicted as the punishment of sin, is comprehended under the word death. (2.) The death threatened was the opposite of the life promised. But the life promised, as we have seen, includes all that is involved in the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body; and therefore death must include not only all the miseries of this life and the dissolution of the body, but also all that is meant by spiritual and eternal death.

Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 120). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

3. Death has been conquered in Christ

Facebook Rejects Theology Ad: ‘Cross is Shocking and Excessively Violent’

A Franciscan University in Ohio recently posted a series of ads on Facebook to promote some of its online theology programs. But Facebook rejected one of them because it included a representation of the crucifixion. The monitors at Facebook said the reason for their rejection was that they found the depiction of the cross “shocking, sensational, and excessively violent.”

The Franciscan University of Steubenville responded with a blog post that no doubt surprised Facebook: they agreed with Facebook’s assessment! The Franciscan university posted:

Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ was all of those things. It was the most sensational action in history: man executed his God. It was shocking, yes: God deigned to take on flesh and was ‘obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2 v 8). And it was certainly excessively violent: a man scourged to within an inch of his life, nailed naked to a cross and left to die, all the hate of all the sin in the world poured out its wrath upon his humanity.

They went on to say that it wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus on the Cross but his love for mankind:

He was God, he could have descended from the cross at any moment. ‘No, it was love that kept him there. Love for you and for me, that we might not be eternally condemned for our sins but might have life eternal with him and his Father in heaven.’

Source: Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt, (Good Book Company, 2020) pp. 132-133



Crown him the Lord of life,

who triumphed o’er the grave,

and rose victorious in the strife

for those he came to save;

his glories now we sing

who died and rose on high,

who died eternal life to bring,

and lives that death may die.


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