“It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)
These are the words with which God first reveals to man the reality of sin.
The fact that this was long before there were any written laws or rules should make us wonder. Cain sinned by murdering his brother Abel, yet nothing was written against doing such a thing. He broke no rules because there were none.
It’s in the Blood
This tells us that sin is something already within us before we read any kind of “rules”. We don’t have to break rules before we commit sin.
The profound thing about this verse (Gen. 4:7) is how God describes it like a spiritual plague. It is an unseen, subtle power with great consequences that entered into Adam when he came into contact with it through disobedience. It thus spread throughout his entire spiritual circulatory system and mortally affected his mind, heart, soul, and body.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (Rom 5:12-13)
Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. That is, it is not recorded. No points are being kept.
Commenting on Romans 5:12-13 William Barclay writes:
The passage ought to be given what is called the realistic interpretation, namely that, because of the solidarity of the human race, all mankind actually sinned in Adam. This idea was not strange to a Jew; it was the actual belief of the Jewish thinkers. The writer of 2 Esdras is quite clear about it. “A grain of evil was sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning and how much wickedness has it brought forth unto this time; and how much shall it yet bring forth till the time of the threshing come” (2 Esdr 4:30). “For the first Adam, bearing a wicked heart, transgressed and was overcome; and not only he but all they also who are born of him” (2 Esdr 3:21).
So sin is a virus of disobedience, a plague of evil. Repentance therefore is living in the reality that this is what you have. It is not fully healed yet for none of us goes a day without committing some disobedient act in our hearts or thought in our minds. John the Baptist taught, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mat. 3:8) The Apostle John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8).
How Do We Rule Over Sin?
Christ sets us free from sin having rule over us.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Joh 8:34-36)
Reading and learning the Word of God is absolutely critical to ruling over sin:
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. (Rom 7:6-9)
Paul is not here saying that the plague of sin is dead—indeed, it is very much alive and holding men across the world captive—but rather, we are completely oblivious to it. Every Christian—not just pastors or teachers of the Bible—is called to be skilled in the Word of Righteousness. Without such skill, you are weak against sin—in distinguishing between good and evil:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)
Because of his finished work on the cross Christ is able to take us out of slavery and into sonship. The Pilgrim’s Progress. A long narrow road that leads to life. Forgiveness and salvation are free, but ruling over sin takes a lot of work. It starts with daily repentance. One day we will be resurrected anew, fully, after the “new Adam”, Jesus Christ. We will have bodies, minds, hearts, and souls completely free of the plague of disobedience. But the work of Christ does far more than just counteract the fall of mankind—we will get to reign with Christ as fellow sons/daughters of God:
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Rom 5:17-18)
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:23-25)
if we endure, we will also reign with him… (2 Ti 2:12)