This discussion guide for spiritual formation groups or individual study interacts with the corresponding devotional video, Death and All of His Friends Ep. 1 - Cunning Deceiver, a series exploring insights on the topic of sin by tracing through the biblical narrative. Use this post to facilitate discussion and interaction with the Scriptures as you seek God together through his Word.
Let’s open by asking an essential question for discussion: What is sin?
What answers and nuances that come to mind when you explain the concept of sin? I find this definition very helpful:
“A reality signifying the broken relationship between God and humanity. The occasions by which this relationship breaks, the need to recognize this rupture, and the avenues for salvation are detailed in endless situations throughout the Scriptures.” - Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary
When one considers this relational dimension to sin, our view of sin becomes more expansive than simply “doing something wrong.” Sin becomes “doing someone wrong.” Tim Laniak, an Old Testament scholar at GCTS, would often say that “God takes all sin personally.” It’s why the prophets could go to the nations pointing out wrongs on the global stage (see Jonah 1:1 and Amos 1:3-2:3 for examples). It’s why the poets confess their transgressions as direct affronts to God (see Psalm 51:4). In the relational fabric of existence, sin is that which tears at the seams, a relational vandalism that effects all things. As the author of existence, then, it is no surprise that the first relationship severed by sin was that between God and humanity.
But what may be more surprising is that before human sin ever takes place, we are introduced to an Influencer, an Agent, Someone wooing humanity into sin. There is a Figure who wants to rend the relational fabric of God’s creation and wants you to participate. Let’s look in on that fateful exchange as the Serpent coils his way into the biblical narrative.
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
What method does the Serpent use to invite Eve and Adam into rupturing their relationship with God? Words. It was with words that God created the universe, named the good, and installed humans in his image. Words are powerful. James, brother of Jesus, wrote of this. It isn’t just God or the Serpent whose words have power. Human words do, too.
James 3:7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
Words, then, have the power to separate us from each other and from God. Are we vigilant with our words - with what we hear, with what we say? It took just one twisting of God’s words for original sin to become reality. When we imbibe untruth, when we let it warp us, poison us, muddy our view of God, of self, of others, we are participating in the Cunning Deceiver’s project. What if we took the time to audit the voices in our lives to parse the wheat from the chaff? Eve had an influencer in her ear dissuading her relationship with God. Do we?
I’m reminded of the scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where King Theoden sits in the decay of bad council from his own poisonous influencer, Grima Wormtongue. He is so clouded by bad advice that he doesn’t recognize help when it walks through his door in Gandalf.
Here's a question for you to discuss: What has your ear? Are they voices that build up and encourage? Voices that may challenge you in your faith like the prophets of old? Voices that equip you to love God and your neighbor better? Or are they voices that make you jaded or weary? Voices that soothsay you away from challenge like those that rivaled the prophets? Voices that discourage you from the sacrificial work of loving better your neighbor, yourself, or God?
Let's invite each other to take a voice audit. Journal the formative voices in your life. List all the voices that you can identify that shape you. Ministries, podcasts, books, social media, and everyday people. We aren't making a cancel list here. But we want to be aware of the voices that shape us. If the unfolding biblical narrative of sin is cautionary for us today, chances are we have some voices in our ear that are inviting us away from God and each other.
As we study sin, let us start here. Let us seriously consider the Bible’s own introduction to the topic. Adam and Eve were absolutely culpable and participatory in this original fracture in God’s relational order. But, they were aided. By a Voice. A deceptive and cunning One. Take a moment to reflect and discuss the voices in your own life that may be bending you more toward purposes other than God’s. Perhaps we all could benefit from this kind of self-assessment. And maybe we need to go Gandalf on some of these voices.
“Be silent. Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I did not pass through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm.” - Gandalf the White