Sunday, November 8, 2009

What about Sin?

Greetings. I was hoping to pursue the topic of sin in today's world, and seek what our Lord has to say concerning the subject.
Strong’s Concordance defines sin as an offence and its penalty, to miss (the mark); hence to sin, or forfeit or lack. The word sin is first employed in Genesis 4:7, though it is obviously implied earlier. God is speaking with Cain, and tells him that if he does well he will be accepted, otherwise if not, sin lies at the door, and its desire is for him. One would imagine this meant to rule over him, but God tells Cain that he should rule instead over sin, that is, his sin nature. Likewise God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, but that he would rule over her. As the wife should be ruled by her husband and not allowed to dominate the marriage because it is not God’s will, sin should not so overcome us that we allow it to direct the course of our lives. God describes it to Cain as lying at the door, that is when you leave God’s presence it will pounce on you and have you, and there is no escape. But if you do well, that is if you hear God’s words and apply them in faith, you will be accepted. Abel was accepted and his gifts bore witness to it. Why? He brought the offering God told him to. He acted in faith, he heard what God said, believed it, and responded in humble faith without adding or subtracting from the word. I have heard a wonderful saying by a man named John Stott which said, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God; the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man.”

I don’t believe I can stress enough the reality, the gravity, the sobriety of sin. Sin is what separated Adam and Eve from God; not fruit. Sin is what drove Cain to murder Abel and then deny his deed. Sin is what turned Israel back from the Promised Land to wander in a desert wilderness forty years, when they were right at the threshold. Sin made David commit adultery with Bathsheba and kill her husband. Sin aided Solomon in turning from God’s will and worshiping pagan idols. Rampant sin destroyed the ancient world when men proliferated with demonic spirits. Sin brought down the nations of Canaan when Joshua at last led Israel in, for the iniquity of the Amorites was finally full. Sin also brought down the walls of Jerusalem when king Zedekiah reigned and permitted all manner of blasphemous worship to occur within its walls. Finally, sin was the sole reason Christ Jesus our Lord came to earth. God became a man to contend with sin, and bridge the chasm of separation rent open during the Fall. For our sake sin had to be removed, because we were spiritually dead due to its power. God’s holiness and justice demanded the removal of sin from His universe, and He began a plan of salvation that would purge sin person by person as men and women placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is what Jesus died to save us from: sin. Sin is an infraction of God’s order, a perversion of His justice, a rebellion against His reign. It is a blemish in God’s created beauty, marring the beings whom He created in His image; it so dulls our senses that we no longer know God, and without Him reaching from without, we would have suffocated and died in ignorance from within. Not only do we not know Him, and are cut off from Him (remember to forfeit something is a definition of the word) we aren’t moved to spiritual interests. Seeking God, salvation and Heaven on His terms does not delight us, or gratify us; that is, it does not gratify sin in us, which compels us to play at being god. Sin is an aberration, a cancer of the human soul that is always fatal. It cannot be treated, mended, dressed, drained, reasoned with or otherwise dealt with. It must be killed. It must be removed, extracted from us, or we are doomed to die with sin, for God will not allow sin into His presence, for He is holy. Like God at Sinai, the people could not approach the mountain lest they die, they could not so much as come to look at God, not step one foot on His mountain, much less draw close to Him for fear that He break out against them. Why is that? They were sinful, and there was no mediator to remove their guilt and make them clean. God is holy, and must punish sin, it must be purged and removed before anyone with sin in them and on them can come before Him. God thundered in fire and smoke that day at Sinai, and the earth trembled, as did the people in terrible fear, and I don’t fault them. They were in the presence of a just God, but Sinai did not reveal the Lord’s solution to sin, it only revealed His intense hatred of it; and here they were, a people steeped in sin from head to foot. His fire consumed that day, and the Law given to Israel testified of God’s perfection and holiness; He would suffer no infraction of His justice among His own, nor would He brook rebellion amidst a people bearing His name. Judgment begins, Peter tells us, at the house of God.
Christians are chastened by God for their willful sinning, when they, like Cain do not rule over their sin nature, but instead give way and allow the sin nature to rule over them. They have left God’s presence, walked out through that proverbial door, and sin has pounced on them, taken them prisoner, and they follow it. They are saved, and sinning cannot make a believer fall away, but the joy of their salvation is gone, and their fellowship with the Holy Spirit in reading, prayer and fellow believers is gone. God, in a very specific sense, is grieved and has withdrawn from active fellowship; He is silent. Why? Sin, always sin.
The darkness that covered Calvary that day when Jesus hung between Heaven and earth was the Father pouring out wrath on His only begotten Son, and that only and entirely on our behalf, so He might reconcile a lost world to Himself. He might impute Christ’s righteousness on believers by imputing our sin onto Christ, and putting it to death on the cross. Christ suffered vicariously on our behalf so we did not have to suffer the death our sins deserve. We are rebels in the king’s universe, too proud in our sin to admit that we need reconciling, even too proud to admit that sin even exists any longer. It is no longer in vogue to say sin; now we have social problems and behavioral problems. Self-hatred is our enemy, or low self-esteem. Yet Jesus did not die for our self-esteem, or to convince us we shouldn’t hate ourselves. He died so that the obstacle which would eternally prevent us from entering Heaven (sin) could be removed through faith in Him. How? Simple faith that what Jesus did, He did for you, for me, for the entire world. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Sin was dealt with at Calvary, yours and mine and everyone who ever had or ever would live. It was like the richest man in the world paying every debt you had the whole of your life, without asking anything; indeed, wanting nothing in return. All you have to do is accept the stub for his payment in good faith that what he did, he did for you, you have to believe him. To reject the gospel is to reject the only valid, real payment for sins that has ever existed, and will ever exist. Jesus Christ died to save sinners, Paul told us, of whom he was chief. Since God is infinite, everything about Him is infinite. This is why His justice is infinite, and therefore the price that would be paid would be infinite: eternal separation from Him in Hell. This is also why Jesus (God the Son) had to come and die on our behalf, being God He alone could pay the price for our sin, and redeem us, being infinite and suffering for a finite time on the cross. Rest assured, it is written that Jesus tasted death for every man, which means He suffered the horrors of Hell in those few hours on the cross. When He became a Man, He also became our Advocate and Substitute, assuming flesh and bone, coming in the likeness of sinful men. He was fit to represent us before God, not only as a proper sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice and put sin to death, but also to represent us in Heaven before the throne of glory. Jesus stands in Heaven today as the Mediator between man and God, pleading on behalf of His saints and waiting His soon return to this earth in power and glory.
If there is one good thing that sin has done, if I may be bold enough to say as much, is that sin’s entrance into the world, and mankind’s fall through it, allowed God to reveal the great depths of His love toward us. Sin permitted God to demonstrate how great a love He has, and what a God of love He is, in that He stooped to save us by dying for us when we were dead in sin, lost due to sin, and His enemies on account of sin. Sin’s only redeeming hallmark is that were there no sin, we might not have ever known God’s love in Christ as He can clearly show us when He saves us from our sin, by having taken it on Himself, and becoming sin for us. The one thing He abhors most in His universe He willingly took on Himself to redeem us. There is love! Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, 1st John 4:10. The Savior lifted up from the earth, bearing the weight of mankind’s guilt and sin, being the vessel which held our iniquity, was bruised and crushed by the Father’s justice. And though the Father did not delight in harming the Son Himself, yet we read how it pleased God to do so to His Son. Why? God’s faithful Servant, Jesus Christ, bore our sins, and thus bore the full wrath and curse of God’s displeasure of sin. When I look at the cross, I see my sins on Christ, and the Father punishing my Savior on my behalf, so when I place my faith in Jesus’ person and work (trusting in His name) I know that the Father will not judge me for my sins, or condemn me. Jesus bore my condemnation, and the Father accepted His suffering as payment. It is finished; it is for me and you, and anyone at all who believes this important, this all important truth of the gospel.
Imagine if you will, that sin is an ocean, and you are adrift in it. The Law states that if you in your own strength can swim to shore, God will accept you and bring you to Heaven; in essence, you have merited it. Imagine that you are one hundred miles from shore, and with several others in a similar plight. One man, who is a poor swimmer, manages twenty feet, the cold numbs him, and he sinks out of sight. He didn’t make it. Another is stronger and more determined; he swims one hundred feet but sinks likewise. A third is really primed; he gives it all his gusto, presses out all his strength until his lungs are bursting, and swims for a mile! Amazing! But guess what? He still drowns, ninety-nine miles shy of the shore. While you decide what to do, there is a miserable man beside you who cannot swim at all, but has managed to stay afloat. Then along comes a rowboat, and there is one in that boat who is willing to pull men out of the water so long as they forfeit their human efforts to save themselves and admit they need saving. Without a second thought the man beside you reaches out his hand to his savior, and is pulled safely aboard. He acknowledged that he did not trust in his own strength or resources to save himself, but frankly praises the kindness and mercy of the man who was willing to lift him out of his plight, though he was not obligated. What would you do? Do you follow the proud swimmers and scoff at anyone who dares attempt your rescue? Or do you reach out in humble confession that the sea of sin is too great, and you too weak and feeble, to hope to reach the shore?
Here is the essence of sin’s lie: it has so warped our thinking that we are convinced without reason or proof that God will allow our efforts to merit Heaven, and is so unconditionally loving that He would never allow a person to drown. In a sense you are right. He would save you in a heartbeat, if you would only let Him. But He is also a just God, and if you prefer drowning to His company on His terms, He will allow you to swim proudly away. But know that it is we ourselves who walk away from God, and it is sin walking beside us, inflaming us to believe we have no need to reconcile, that all is well with God, that He thinks as little of sin as we do. Look at the world around you and recall His words to Adam, and the curse of death that passes on all men and this present world. Can you honestly believe God thinks lightly of sin’s presence and reality in His creation? It mars the beauty of His creature: us. It will be removed, because a holy God cannot abide sin. “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness,” Habakkuk 1:13. And if He must remove the sinner with the sin, instead of removing the sin from the sinner by imputing it to His Son, then it will be done. “These things thou hast done, and I kept silence; though thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes,” Psalm 50:21. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…and they were judged, each one according to his works…and anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire,” Revelation 20:11-13, 15.
Recall that one of the explanations of the Hebrew word “sin” is to forfeit, like Adam and Eve forfeit God’s relationship, and their very lives on the day they trespassed against Him, placing their own wills before His. Let us look a few verses prior in Psalm 50, and see what God says to these people He is reproving: “But to the wicked God saith, what hast thou to do (what right do you have) to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee,” verses 16-17. There follows a list of sins in the adjoining verses, but the gravest of them is actually listed in verse 22, where we read, “Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces.” What is the sin that brings in all other sins? Forgetting God.
Has God become more tolerant of sin nowadays? Or does the New Testament agree one hundred percent? Read on: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (fitting). Being…haters of God…without understanding…who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things (sin and break God’s law) are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them,” Romans 1:21-22, 28-32.
God, the true God, is a holy God. Holiness is an attribute entirely devoted to God alone; no other creature in the universe can be described, of itself, as holy. The angels are holy because they stand in the presence of God and bow to the will of God; they are separated for His exclusive use, therefore they are holy. The saints are holy because we are in Christ; Jesus became sin for us, so we might become His righteousness. Our holiness is imputed from the Bridegroom. Because He is holy, and we are His, set apart for Him, we too are holy. In fact I would go so far as to explain the quality of God’s holiness in terms of being set apart. God is set apart from His creatures and creation; He made them, and they function only because of Him, but He is no wise obligated to them, bound to them, or a (pantheistic) part of them. To grasp the idea of holiness, we read from Exodus about several articles God commanded Moses to make for the tabernacle. God lists a set of ingredients, and says that when finished compounding them, “It shall be an holy anointing oil…thou shalt sanctify [the articles of the tabernacle], that they be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be most holy…upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy and it shall be holy unto you. Whosoever compoundeth (mixes) any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people,” Exodus 30:25, 29, 32-33. Likewise in verses 34-38 God tells Moses about the incense for worship he was to make; that it would be holy, and that using it for mundane reasons, or profane reasons, would merit the death penalty. There is a quality of holiness that is utterly alien to the human soul. We are made in the image of God, true, and we reflect dimly many aspects of our Creator. But this unique and mysterious attribute of God known as holiness is both appealing and frightening. There is none like our God; He is separate, set apart as the very things that He commanded to be set aside only for specific reasons. Both of these items teach us something as well. Aaron and his descendants could not even approach to minister before God in the tabernacle without being anointed. They had to be anointed by the oil, and in so doing were likewise set apart by God for His specific purposes: to offer mediation through sacrifice for Israel, for the duration of the Old Testament era. If Aaron or his sons disbelieved God and approached without being anointed, what would have happened? They would have been killed in their rebellion, for sinful man (that is, man steeped in his sin and unrepentant) cannot approach the living God. Sinai revealed a holy God, a God of stern justice and swift recompense. The ground shook and smoke covered the mount, and a voice so terrible thundered from the mountain that the people thought they were going to die if they heard it much longer. No one was allowed to ascend, or touch the mountain on pain of death. Do you see? Man, divorced from God’s covenant of grace and mercy and dealing only with the Law, can not approach Him! Yet this is how so many want to rush to Him today, thinking little of sin and how it has and will eternally create a barrier between God and us, unless a proper Mediator is found.
Imagine, if you will, having an adult child. They are no longer your charge to rear and care for, and having done your utmost to provide for them in all things, you send them off into the world as a competent adult. Say this child of yours blunders horribly time and again, getting fired here, having a tumultuous relationship there, lying, stealing, with a mind so fixed on himself that he is always stumbling. Say you attempt to correct them and they spurn you, have a falling out, and go their own way. Unless they repented of their angry words and atrocious behavior, would it be responsible of you, or truly loving, to reconcile with them? What if they came back to you wanting help, but were not sorry for what they had done, nor intended to abandon their current life of riotous living? Their plea was: “You are my parent and I am your child, therefore you have to help me.” There are times when “I’m sorry” coming from the mouth of a person only means, “I’m sorry I was caught,” or, “I’m sorry it had to come down to this.” Are you under obligation to help them? Will it ever teach them anything if you always help them? When you remove the responsibility of their actions and come to the rescue, you are forgiving someone who didn’t ask for forgiveness! Even Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents (there is the key word), forgive him,” Luke 17:3. Would you not want your child to come back humbly, admitting their wrong and asking forgiveness? Would you rather have them coming back wiser, knowing that your caution and warning were spoken in love, and you yearned to spare them the hurts they were walking into? The parable of the prodigal son says likewise. The father of the two sons allowed his rebellious child to depart and suffer the consequences of his actions as brief pleasure was followed by abiding grief. Yet when the young man came to himself, realized his error, and began home to reconcile and ask forgiveness, the father came rushing out to meet him, Luke 15:11-24. Here is the impasse. God wants us to be saved, but He will not come rushing off to forgive your sin when you have no desire to relinquish it. What good is the offer of a Savior to someone who does not want to be, or does not even know they need saving? Sin is such a deceiver that we are blind to the fact that while we remain in this state the wrath of God abides on us. We are children of wrath, and sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2-3; 5:6; Colossians 3:6). Like the disobedient child in the above analogy, we absolutely have no right to approach a holy God in our own esteem. Until we’re ready to speak on His terms, and come to Him as He commands us to, there is the ever abiding issue of sin.
What is sin? It is anything that is contrary to the will of God. When another will apart from God’s own entered His creation, deviating from the Lord’s perfect will, an irruption of sin came. What a compelling liar sin is; it coaxed Satan into rebelling at the very throne of God, where he took a third of Heaven’s angels with him. It’s lie convinced Adam and Eve that they would be gods, like unto God, if only they asserted their own will. John Stott's statement seems more and more clear: that the essence of sin is substituting man for God. We replace Him in an effort to become Him, and the issue of sin erodes, since the outcome of being “god” would equate with sin being non-existent, or at the least we can simply forgive ourselves and call it a day. If there is a word diametrically opposed to sin in the Bible, it is holiness. What is holy cannot abide the presence of sin, and sin cannot remain when holiness arrives. Christ was entirely holy, there was no sin in His life lived as a Man. He walked in His Father’s will, doing His Father’s business in the strength His Father supplied Him, and fulfilled the role humanity was meant for.
One may be left thinking, can I be forgiven? There is only one unforgivable sin in God’s book. It is the sin of unbelief. Our Lord cannot reach the unbelieving, hardened heart, because it wills to avoid and resist the truth at all costs to maintain its precious illusion of autonomy. You cannot come to God unbelieving; it is an oxymoron. God’s grace was magnified and revealed in an amazing display on Calvary. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, Romans 5:20. It is evident from Scripture that Christ died to save sinners; this was His mission and purpose on this earth. It was the summit of His ministry, to reconcile a lost world with a loving, seeking God. Hear the words of our Savior and contemplate them, to discern what Jesus says about sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance,” Matthew 9:12-13. Since the standard for righteousness is perfection in God’s eyes, the Bible makes it vividly clear that no man is righteous (see Romans 3:10). Jesus came to call sinners to repentance; in this instance those who recognized they were sinners and needed a Savior. Until that time His words to anyone laboring under their own esteem is that He has nothing further to discuss with someone so entrenched in their thinking as to believe that they are without sin. No further discussion can progress until we agree with God about our very real moral condition. We are dead in trespasses and sins. We have violated God’s laws and are in need of reconciliation. But justice cannot be denied, simply set aside on God’s part, or He would cease being holy and just, and thusly cease being God. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), which is exactly why our Savior died on our behalf. Christ died the death meant for us due our iniquities, so through Him we may have life and peace with God the Father. We are children of God, adopted into the family of faith and inheritors of the promises. To the (self) righteous there is no approaching the Father, since you forfeit your Advocate, Jesus Christ. Heaven’s gates are closed to the (self) righteous.
Are you confident that in the Day of Judgment God will accept you out of hand? You are braver than I am, if you believe this. Do you think God made you just as you are, and sin has not marred the image of His creation at all? What of the murderer? What of the rapist, or arsonist, or pedophile? What of the man whose ambition makes every person outside himself either an asset or a hindrance, instead of a person? There is much evil in this world, aggravated by six million-plus wills vying to be their own god, when only the perfect will of the true God knows wisdom. And the Father’s wisdom is this: we are lost in our sins and need to be saved from eternal separation. We can’t do this ourselves, so Jesus offered Himself in our stead, that by placing our faith in Christ we are justified from the eternal debt of sin we owed God the Judge, God our Maker. It’s Jesus’ name alone that justifies, and it justifies completely.
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit,” Jeremiah 17:5-8.

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