There are many things that go into making a good story. Strong characters, good conversation, meaningful action all draw us in and make us want to keep reading to find out what happens. One of the most important elements is the plot. A story that goes on forever but never goes anywhere is one most people find boring.
Most of the best-known and best-loved stories—the kind of stories that last for generations and stay popular—follow a three act structure. First, there is a peaceful situation that is disturbed by a problem. Second, there is the search for a solution. Finally, the problem is solved and peace is restored. This structure is found in everything from children’s fairy tales to William Shakespeare and from well-written histories to best-selling novels because it grips our interest and imagination.
Though there are lots of variations on the theme, this basic form of story telling is one that is used over and over again. And it is not just for fiction—this three act framework summarizes the history of the human race. And it tells the story of your life and mine.
The Bible tells us that in the beginning, man lived in a peaceful situation. God created the world and gave Adam everything he needed. He had a home in the Garden of Eden, a beautiful wife to be his companion, and a perfect relationship with God. Though he was given responsibility to care for the world, there was no trouble, sickness or disease.
In all the world there was only one thing he was told not to do. God said, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) As long as Adam obeyed that one command, he and all his descendants would enjoy the peace of Eden forever.
But that peaceful situation was shattered by sin. Satan talked to Eve and convinced her that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good and that what God had said wasn’t true. Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam and he knowingly, intentionally disobeyed the command—the one and only command—God had given him. In that moment, Adam became a law-breaker, a rebel against the God who made him.
Though the Bible uses a lot of words for this problem, the most common is sin. In fact it shows up nearly 400 times in the Scriptures. Adam’s sin didn’t just shatter his peace—it touched the life of every man and every woman who has ever lived. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12).
In most good stories, the problem isn’t just mentioned—we get details on how bad it is now, and how much worse it could get. And usually, unless it’s a short story, we also hear about failed attempts to resolve the problem as the search for the solution gets underway.
The Old Testament is filled with the fallout of sin and failed attempts to address it. Starting in the very next chapter after the fall of man is recounted in Genesis 3 we find jealousy, murder, theft, violence, war and so many other problems. Sin spreads rapidly. And this is not a relic of the past. Every problem in our world today—every war, every disease, ever corruption in high places—is a result of sin. If Adam had obeyed God, none of these things we struggle with would exist.
People often talk about disasters being “acts of God” but in reality they are consequences of sin. It’s not like Adam wasn’t warned. God told him that death would follow disobedience, but Adam chose to go his own way. We are living with the results.
History is filled with different religions and reform efforts that attempted to solve the sin problem. Some people live in denial, thinking that sin may affect other people but not them. Some hope that their good deals will balance the cosmic scales in their favor. Yet in the end, the sin problem is one that man cannot resolve. It is too big for us to face on our own.
The penalty for sin pronounced by God is death, and all of us are going to die, so that means we have nothing else left with which to pay for our sins. If you and I were friends and you got a speeding ticket, I might pay the penalty for you. Then you would be free and clear. But I cannot pay for your sins since I owe the ultimate penalty for my own sins. The only hope that we have is for there to be a substitute.
In the Old Testament the Jewish people offered animal sacrifices for their sins. This didn’t solve the sin problem—it simply delayed the penalty while reminding the people that God required a substitute. The Bible says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.” (Hebrews 10:4)
Then everything changed! One day a man named John the Baptist was preaching by the Jordan River in Israel. He looked up an saw someone approaching and cried out with a loud voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). It was Jesus Christ that John saw that day. He is the Son of God who came to earth and became a man. After living a perfect and sinless life He owed no debt for sin, so He had the ability to pay the sin debt for others as a substitute. He died on the cross, giving His own life as the payment for the sins of the world. After three days in the grave, He was resurrected and today is in Heaven seated at the right hand of God.
Jesus is the solution to the sin problem. He died in my place and in your place. He is the substitute who takes away sin. God’s promise is that every man and every woman who accepts that substitute (instead of insisting on doing it their own way) will be saved. This Bible word means many things—that we are at peace with God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have eternal life, and that the problem of sin has been solved forever.
Isaiah 53:6—“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The sin problem is not limited to just the really bad people—the Hitlers and Stalins of history—all of us are sinners. We have gone our own way in rebellion against God. Paul put it this way, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) There is no alternative plan that is available to solve the sin problem and restore peace.
There are a lot of people who are very sincere about following their religion. There are many people who try to live good moral lives. That is admirable, but it can’t take care of the sin problem. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ. He is the only one qualified to cleanse our sins and make us fit for Heaven. God’s plan is the only way the story of sin can be resolved and have a truly and eternally happy ending.
You are a sinner.
Romans 3:23—For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
You do not deserve to go to heaven.
Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ died for your sins.
Romans 5:8—But God commendeth [showed] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
He was buried and rose again.
1 Corinthians 15:3–4—For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.
Ephesians 2:8–9—For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
2 Peter 3:9—The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Acts 16:31—And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
John 1:12—But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on
Romans 10:13—For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.