It began in the little things—miniature mutinies only the heart knows. But then her family noticed the difference: a few sharp words, an occasional discontent remark. Sin starts small, but it grows like a pathogen on steroids. Heartbreaking and yet-oh-so-typical for the human race; the fall of this conservative, homeschooled Christian girl is only one of the latest in a long series since the beginning.
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to Eve, a sweet yet naïve, God-worshiping girl. He offered her a piece of the juicy, luscious–forbidden–fruit. With a hiss of his forked tongue, the serpent sowed suspicion: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 NIV) With a little movement, Eve stepped nearer the tree. In a few short moments, she rationalized the situation. What could a little taste hurt? Certainly the end (becoming like God) would justify the means, and if she ended up regretting it, God would surely overlook such a miniscule mistake. Without another thought, she took a tiny bite.
Eve’s decision is the kind I make flippantly each day, yet her fall remains one of the most pivotal actions of all history. Her dirty little secret led to the Holocaust, mass murder in Darfur, the shootings at Virginia Tech and…my quick temper yesterday.
Choices—even seemingly insignificant thoughts concealed deep in the heart–can have a more profound affect than we realize. James wrote that sin starts small as a dormant desire, then grows. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) My soul, take note: “Insignificant” desires can grow to big sin. Little choices matter.
In spite of this truth, after hearing of my friend’s fall, the serpent’s same old story was repackaged for my consumption: “You will not surely die by merely patting yourself on the back,” the serpent said. “Be proud that you did not choose her path.” Oops. That lie sounds familiar. A white lie here and there, a little curse word when I stub my toe, and just a dab of self-righteousness as icing on the cake; although my stray arrogant thoughts seem small compared to my friend’s fall, they’re of the same significance as biting forbidden fruit. Look at the cost of Eve’s mouthful.
Examining my friend’s situation, the temptation for self-righteousness was replaced by a throbbing sense of shame as the realization hit: I am equally guilty. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” Isaiah said, “….and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) Although she may have leaped off the cliff, haven’t I equally flirted with the edge? Although she’s embraced sin, haven’t I given it a sly wink more than once?
There is no compensation I could possibly offer for my crimes. If Eve’s fruit was all it took to bring death into the world, I’m certain my numerous “little sins” are enough to purchase my own execution. Yet the whispering resumes: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said. “Surely you can redeem yourself. Try following Mosaic Law, donating to a charity, volunteering in the community or attending church to assuage your guilt.” But I’ve attempted to connive my way into God’s favor enough to know it’s impossible, and these whispers are yet another lie.
C.S. Lewis painted a telling picture of my own attempts to “earn grace.” In Till We Have Faces, Istra, a beautiful, patient and loving girl, is ordered to be executed. As the best the land has to offer, Istra must die as a human sacrifice on behalf of her people. Her sister, Orual, of course, cannot bear the thought of Istra’s death, and implores the King to intervene. In desperation, Orual pleads: “You are right. It is fit that one should die for the people. Give me…instead of Istra.” The King then grabs poor Orual by the wrist and drags her until they both stand before a massive mirror. There, Orual sees the full extent of her own ugliness. The offering called for “the best in the land,” the King says, “And you’d give her that.”
Now, reality sets in. I’m an Orual. My righteousness (which is actually “filthy rags”) is not a worthy offering for a Holy God. Who am I, to dare to even attempt to settle up my actions with Him? When Job demanded God speak, His voice arose from a storm with words that knocked Job to his knees. Job, humbled and awed, replied, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to You? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) If Job could barely speak to Him, how do I expect to negotiate my pardon?
As Orual found, the cost for redemption is the death of the Perfect One. My sin stands, along with my friend’s fornication and all other evil acts throughout history as a debt I am powerless to pay. Yet in this sorrow, I find the deepest joy. Jesus’ words ring true, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2:17) It was the sin of the fruit-eaters, fornicators, liars, thieves and hypocrites that gave need for the Cross, and to us broken sinners the Cross was given.
This is the Gospel, that the One we owed paid our debt. At the foot of the Cross I have no excuses to offer. My sins, big and small, have condemned me. I can only echo the words of John Bradford, who, when witnessing a criminal’s execution uttered, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
With my sin in perspective, my friend and I are equally debtors. Any anger at her sin must eventually melt into prayer on her behalf; a request for her to see her own evil and embrace the God whose blood was tangible grace for us.