Sin's Insidious Encroachment-Part 1: The Problem

by Spiros Zodhiates

Sin is a subtle and inescapable fact of life with which we believers battle constantly. Yet it often escapes our notice and before we realize it, our sinful tendencies have gotten the better of us again.

The precise definition of sin (hamarta) is "missing the mark," but I like to define it as "missing the true scope in life" because sin is actually a truncation of the abundant life God wishes to bestow upon man. When the New Testament writers penned their epistles, God directed them to explore the age-old topic and exhort Christians to live in Christ's power instead of succumbing to their sinful tendencies.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul stated that sin entered the world by one man, Adam, "and so death passed upon [diérchomai {1330}] all men, for that all have sinned." While the Greek verb diérchomai has been rendered "passed upon" in the King James Version, it would better be translated "sneaked through unawares." I believe this interpretation more accurately describes every person's encounter with sin even though the definition is a bit colloquial.

Diérchomai is derived from the preposition di, through) and the verb érchomai , to come. While Romans 5:12 asserts the universality of sin, the detailed account of created man's first sinful deed offers us a lucid example of how sin has worked in the life of each individual to walk the earth since that time-with the exception, of course, of Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:15).

Adam apparently failed to understand the full ramifications of his disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-13). The Creator had already warned him that eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would result in his death, but what would death have meant to someone who had never experienced it? Yes, sin "passed upon" Adam, but it did it so subtly that he didn't realize what had happened until it was too late (Gen. 3:7).

In a sense, man first sinned by believing that God did not know what He was talking about. Adam not only sinned when he ate the fruit but sinned primarily when he believed the serpent's lie (Gen. 3:4-5). Although he did this voluntarily, he was unable to control the result of sin once it entered his being.

The definition I have applied to diérchomai (to sneak by) in Romans 5:12 is not the verb's primary meaning. However, I believe that several of its other occurrences in the New Testament, as well as its use in Classical Greek, warrant such an interpretation. For example, when the multitude of angry people would have thrown Jesus over the cliff outside Nazareth, He slipped through (diérchomai) the throng to safety (Luke 4:28-30). After encountering similar opposition to His teaching in Jerusalem, Jesus once again evaded (diérchomai) a crowd intent on murdering Him (John 8:59).

Adam's Greater Sin

A distinction must be drawn between diérchomai and eisérchomai ([1525], to enter), a verb that occurs earlier in Romans 5:12. While sin entered into (eisérchomai) the world through Adam, it first infiltrated (diérchomai) his moral defenses when he believed the lie that eating the fruit would not result in any adverse circumstances.

And really, Adam's rejection of the truth is the crux of the whole matter. The serpent's tantalizing deception appealed to Adam and Eve in such a way that they forgot the veracity of the Creator's warning and downplayed its supposed ramifications (Gen. 3:6). Although our first ancestors didn't realize it, the enemy was living up to his name-the devil (dibolos, Luke 8:12), for the Greek noun dibolos comes from the verb diabllo\ , which literally means "to throw through."

Like diérchomai, diabllo\ is a compound verb, comprising the preposition di (through) and the verb bllo\, to cast). Bllo\ often applied to fishermen who cast their nets in search of fish (Matt. 4:18; Mark 1:16; John 21:6). In a certain sense, the devil is just like a fisherman who casts (bllo\) a net to entrap his desired plunder. While anglers pursue fish, the enemy hunts men and women in order to pollute them with falsehood, literally devouring (katapno\, to swallow up) them in the process (1 Pet. 5:8, cf. 2 Cor. 2:7). Satan continually attempts to separate man from the truth and to seduce him into believing a lie. He tried to do this with Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13), but our Lord countered his every fabrication with the truth.

Several times in the New Testament the devil's tricks and deceptions are called "snares" (pags [3803], a trap; 1 Tim. 3:7; 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:26). These verses suggest that he has artfully set up lures (pags) designed to entrap men and women in psychological, emotional, and spiritual deception. The verb pagideo\ (3802) is directly related to pags and describes the act by which someone purposefully tries to entangle an animal or another person.

It is only found once in the New Testament, when the Pharisees and Sadducees were devising a plan to entangle (pagideo\) the Lord incarnate in His teaching while they parleyed with Him in the Temple (Matt. 22:15). Comparing Satan's desire to ensnare believers and the religious leaders' schemes to entrap Jesus, their intentions reeked of the diabolic. But they didn't realize that the created being's limited reasoning skills-whether human or demonic-paled in comparison to the logic of Jesus Christ (cf. lgos, logic, intelligence; John 1:1).

Death Lurks on Sin's Path

Looking once more at Adam and the debacle in the Garden of Eden, we could say that he lost his way (hods, path; John 14:6) when he chose to sin rather than follow the Creator's command. And every person has been in a similar plight since the first man and woman ate of the forbidden fruit. Sin is a rejection of the way of life (zo\e [2222], the essence of life), the path that leads to destruction (apoleia [684]) and death (thnatos [2288], spiritual death, cf. Sept.: Jer. 21:8).

Therefore, again considering Romans 5:12, we could say that death accompanied sin when it "sneaked by" (diérchomai) Adam's moral defenses. By saying yes to himself and no to God, Adam opened the door for his posterity to follow a path of increasing perversity, otherwise known as iniquity (anoma, lawlessness; Rom. 6:19).

In the Epistle of James, written by the Lord's half-brother, sin's destructive process is explained in detail. "When lust [epithuma, craving, longing] hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death [thnatos]" (James 1:15).

Scripture abounds with illustrations of man's tendency to lust, then sin, then die-Adam himself being a perfect example. God said he would die if he ate the fruit of a certain tree (Gen. 2:17), and once Adam partook, death overcame him in all its hideous reality (Gen. 3:14-19). While the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, many of their number died because of their unwillingness to heed God's injunctions (Num. 16:1-50; 25:1-9; Heb. 3:7-19).

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