What’s So Bad About Sin Anyway?
I realized one day that I really didn’t understand sin. When I was growing up, my parents and church and school emphasized God’s love and grace, and the importance of our positive response to God. But sin was mentioned only as the bad thing that Jesus saved us from. If we had committed to follow Jesus, our “mistakes” and “slips” were already forgiven and all we had to do was ask God to assure us of the forgiveness we had already received. I grew up not understanding the true nature of sin. Why is sin so bad? Why would “mistakes” or “slips” warrant eternal separation from God? How could a loving God allow anyone to end up in hell? The following is a sermon based on some of my research into the nature of sin.
We have heard the Great Commission, “Go, make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” We are to tell people the gospel, the good news of salvation, how we, who were enemies of our God and Creator because of sin, were forgiven and reborn to become God’s precious sons and daughters, a royal priesthood, one with Him and each other through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All this is the type of mostly positive teaching I grew up with, but when I pay attention, I notice more.
Did that word “enemies” jump out at you? Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme? But this is the word that Paul uses in Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21 to describe those who do not follow Jesus. We need to understand how awful our sin really is to understand how truly loving and merciful God is. God’s salvation takes us from darkness to light, from death to life.
So, what is sin?
· Overstepping boundaries
· Refusal of God’s grace
· Destruction of community, especially with God
· Rejection of the good things necessary for life
· Creating disharmony and discord
· Rebellion against God
· A defective internal state
· A cruel and selfish prideful state
· Disobedience, transgression, iniquity, depravity, perversity
· Spiritual malignancy
Basically, sin is all those thoughts and attitudes that fall short of the perfect faithfulness and goodness of Jesus Christ. Sin is NOT our true natural state as humans, but starting with the very first human being, we have all gone off course. In His perfect humanity, Jesus is the one true human. His humanity is what all humanity was created to be. But the rest of us all fall short of this. Our humanity is corrupt.
Why is sin so bad? Jonathan Edwards a preacher from the 1700’s compared sin to crime. Of course, there are things that are not against criminal law that the Bible tells us are sins. The law deals with actions, but Scripture also forbids internal attitudes that tend to lead to sin, like envy, pride, hatred, lust, or greed. But, we can use our understanding of crime to gain some understanding of the horridness of sin. For, example, there’s a saying, “let the punishment fit the crime.” By this we mean that the terribleness of a punishment should correspond to the terribleness of the crime. So, a minor crime should carry a small punishment, like a small fine, but a horrible major crime should carry a very serious punishment. And, it would follow that if there were such a thing as an infinite crime, it should carry an infinite punishment.
We usually feel that a crime is more heinous if the person has some sort of obligation or duty to the victim. If a crime victim is especially virtuous, honorable and kind, someone the assailant has a moral obligation to respect (like an innocent child or a loving parent), the crime seems much worse to us. So, if there were someone who was infinitely loving, honorable, virtuous, and kind, and infinitely deserving of love and respect, a failure to give that love and respect would be infinitely faulty.
If a person has an obligation to obey another person, say a soldier’s obligation to obey a commanding officer, and they fail to obey, we wouldn’t oppose appropriate punishment. By extension, if someone had infinite authority and was disobeyed, infinite punishment would be appropriate.
God is infinitely virtuous, honorable, kind, and loving. God has given us everything we have and we are totally obligated to Him for our every breath. God has infinite authority over us, and we are infinitely obligated to obey Him. If we disobey and sin against Him, our crime is an infinitely horrible and heinous crime, deserving infinite punishment.
Oh! No. But wait now! We have extenuating circumstances. We were born with tendencies toward selfishness, and we’ve had hard lives, and we’ve been victims of the sins of others and… and… and… probably our parents raised us wrong because their parents raised them wrong, and it goes back to the first humans, so God must have made them wrong. Yeah, so it’s not our fault, we can’t help it! (Yeah, that’s the ticket.)
Do we REALLY believe that? If so, then the next time someone harms us, we won’t blame that person will we? Because it’s not their fault is it? Why, we should just do away with the whole legal system because no one should be held accountable for their actions. Right?
Of course, not!
OK, so maybe sinning against God is infinitely wrong and deserves infinite punishment. But, the mistakes good people like us make aren’t really sins against God are they? Sins against God are only things like idolatry or blasphemy. Right?
Well, maybe we’re not so free from the direct sins against God like idolatry. In Ephesians 5.5 Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry. So are greed, envy and lust, because these all involve worshipping created things in place of the Creator.
OK, so if we avoid those, we may make “mistakes” in or dealings with other people, or in our treatment of ourselves, but those are not sins against God are they?
Wrong! The Bible tells us that every sin is against God!
Stephen Witmer, pastor and author wrote a paper about this. He pointed out the story in Genesis 39.9 about Joseph in Egypt when he worked for Pharoah’s captain of the guard, Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but Joseph said to her. “How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” In Psalm 51.4 when David was confronted with the true horror of his crime of taking Bathsheba for himself and arranging for her husband to be killed in battle, he cries to God, “You are really the One I have sinned against; I have disobeyed you and have done wrong. So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me.” In Matthew 19:6 Jesus talked about marriage saying, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” It is God who joins people in marriage. And God is sinned against when this union is violated.
Think about it. If you created a painting, a sculpture or some other piece of art that was truly valuable to you and I marred it deliberately, you would be angry and offended. Proverbs 14.31 says: 'Whoever oppresses a poor man insultshis Maker.” Acts 5.3-4 tells us that lying to God’s people is sinning against God. Slander and deceit are called sins against God in Psalm 50. Ephesians 4:30 calls sins that fracture the Christian community, such as unaddressed anger, corrupting talk, and bitterness, sins against God because they “grieve the Holy Spirit”and Acts 9 calls persecuting Christians is a sin against Jesus.
In fact ALL sin is sin against God! If we hurt others, we sin against God, their Creator.
And we sin against God if we harm ourselves.Sometimes you’ll hear a person say, “It’s a personal issue, it doesn’t affect anyone else.” But each of us is created in the image of God. A sin against ourselves is a sin against God.
God sustains us in every moment of our existence. He gives us each and every breath we breathe. It is His energy that gives us life. When we sin, we horribly misuse and distort the life, the existence God has given us. C.S. Lewis said that when we sin,
“We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.”
All sin is a sin against God because sin is disobedience of God. Witmer gives the following illustration:
“If a father tells his little boy not to throw stones at the cat, and the little boy nonetheless throws stones at the cat, the boy's actions have caused a rift in his relationship with the cat and with his father. In fact, he has sinned against his father even if his aim is bad and he misses the cat.”
When we sin, we are telling God that we don’t trust Him. We are telling God that we know more than He does and that we think He is lying when He tells us that He loves us and wants the best for us. Think about it! We call GOD a liar!! Sin is absurd! We are like tiny microbes standing in front of an infinitely powerful, all knowing God, who is infinitely bigger than everything that ever existed or ever will exist, and we shake our teensy, miniscule, microbe fists at Him. How can we be so stupid? We are SO ARROGANT, SO BLIND!! And it is sin that blinds us! Sin ruins our understanding of the very situation we are in.
So, what can we do to fix this?
Nothing! How can we help ourselves when we are so blind? We can’t even comprehend the monumentally desperate situation we are in without God’s help.
In the 1700’s George Whitefield explained that we can’t help ourselves because we are fallen in every way. Those who are alienated from God cannot understand spiritual things. 1 Corinthians 2:14tells us that a fallen “person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”And 1 Corinthians 1:8 says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”
Without God, we are selfish and willful. We don’t want to submit, even to our Almighty loving Creator. Our affections and desires are for earthly things rather than eternal things - for posessions, admiration, respect, or power. We chase after these things even at the expense of our eternal welfare.
Without God, even our consciences are faulty. We can look at the world with its greed, selfishness, and blatant immorality,and realize that some have lost all sense of right and wrong. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that each of us has done something we knew was wrong, still, we were able to override our weak consciences and talk ourselves into doing it anyway.
Finally, without God, our reason is fallen.Some of the worst attrocities have been committed because they somehow made sense to those who planned and executed them. Their reason was depraved. The Nazi reign in Germany was supported by many brilliant and logical men and women. We can’t trust sinful reason. It is God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture that is the only reason we can trust.
Whitefield’s assessment of our state without God is dismal, he said,
“We are altogether equally become abominable in God's sight, all equally fallen short of the glory of God, and consequently all alike so many pieces of marred clay.”
So is there hope? No.
Not by ourselves. We need a Savior. We can’t fix this, not only because of our selfishness, our arrogant willfulness, our carnal affections, our faulty consciences and our depraved reason, but also because we are tiny, feeble, finite beings who dare to knowingly break the infinite laws of an infinite God!
But, there IS good news. The Word of God who is God, our Savior, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, He became one of us. Can you imagine lowering Himself like that? He became one of us, and died for us to bring us back to Himself, to let us start again, be born anew, so that we can become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the people we were created to be.
But in order to open our hearts to God’s changing grace, we need to shine the clear light of biblical truth on ourselves and our sin. We need to understand how desperately we need salvation, and how desperately we need God’s grace to change us. We need repentance, to die to our old sinful selves. We need new birth and regeneration so that we can become new creatures with new hearts and new minds.
We need to submit our wills to God, so that God’s Holy Spirit, the heavenly potter, can mold us, form us, and shape us into vessels of righteousness. When we are born again, the fallen things of our nature begin to regenerate. Sometimes there are miraculous changes, like when someone is instantaneously delivered from some addiction. But even the person who is blessed with a miracle in one area will find that there are areas of sinfulness that require a day by day, maybe even moment by moment reliance on God’s grace and power to overcome.
Charles Spurgeon a preacher from the 1800’s said
“Salvation means two things. It means in the first place, our escaping from the punishment of sins committed. And it means in the next place, the escaping from the habit of sin, so that in the future we shall not live as we have lived. It is to be made Christians to have new thoughts, new minds, and new hearts.”
How do we know we belong to Jesus? Scripture tells us that rebirth brings new life and we know we are saved if we have new life. What are the signs of new life? What did Jesus say in our Gospel reading today? “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.” Read through the first letter of John (1 John.) If we are living in the light, we are being cleansed from sin, we obey God’s word, we acknowledge Jesus Christ, we love our Christian brothers and sisters and we don’t make a practice of sinning. We know we belong to Christ because we are changing and the Holy Spirit lives in us, the attractions of the world are fading, and we want to please God. We know we belong to Jesus because God’s light shines through our obedience, through our love, and through the fruit that we bear in our lives.
Our actions can never save us, but when we are saved, our hearts are changed and our actions will start to reflect it. Ephesians 2:8-10 says “For by grace, you have been saved through faith. But not by yourselves, it is a gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast. You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared in advance for you to do.”
Hearing this, some of you might be thinking, “I’m not sure that I’m growing all that much.” Maybe there was a time that God’s grace was doing mighty things in you and Jesus was your constant companion. Your love for Him was so strong, you prayed and studied and thought about Him all the time, wanting to do everything you could to please Him. But then, your life seemed to get busy, and you thought of Him less and less. Take this opportunity to tell God, that you love Him more than life itself. Paul wrote that we should fix our eyes on Jesus. Ask Jesus right now to help you bring the focus of your life back on Him and Him alone. Ask Him to give you the strength and the grace to follow Him where ever He leads.
The best way to learn God’s will is through Scripture. We can’t figure this out on our own. We need to learn from God, and God uses the Bible to speak to us. There is a saying “Let Scripture interpret Scripture.” What this means is that if you are having trouble understanding something, keep reading. Somewhere else, something else will be said that will help you understand. God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible! In it we can learn everything we need to know about how to live lives that are pleasing to Him.
Now, there may be someone here who has never turned away from their sin. Perhaps you have never submitted your will to God, and you know it. Or maybe you once kind of tried to take the first steps, but you never grew in obedience. Oh, you go to church, maybe you always have, or you think you should, but you don’t really belong to Christ.
If you have never truly surrendered your will to God’s, if you are a pot rebelling against the potter, refusing to yield to His formation, it is time to die to your old self and be born again. It’s time right now. You may never have another chance. Tell God, right now, right where you are, that you are His. Tell Him that you are ending your pointless rebellion, and that you will follow Him. Ask Him to take you and to mold you into the person you are meant to be, no matter what the cost.
Please Holy Spirit, form us and shape us according to your perfect will. Amen.