Sin is still sin. It has not gone away. The overarching message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is God’s provision for redemption from the ravages of sin. The utter depravity of sin is the baseline from which we are extracted or redeemed, ultimately to experience the fullness of God’s love. Yet, today we seldom hear much about sin from the pulpits of America.
The low level of preaching about sin tacitly communicates to believers that sin has a low level of priority or is even unimportant among many Biblical messages. The decades-long decline in the apparent importance of sin encourages believers to flirt with, compromise, or participate in sinful thoughts and activities. The believers’ minds rationalize the compromises, in part, by sugar coating their lives with regular attendance at church or synagogue.
Putting distance between us and sin moves us closer to the Lord. While it is important to keep our eye on, “…the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in the Messiah Jesus,” [Philippians 3:14 Aramaic Bible in Plain English] we must be fleeing from sin every moment along the way.
Consider one definition of sin. In its simplest form, sin is just doing things my way instead of God’s way. My way is pride-driven, self-indulgent, self-centered and therefore evil, because it is antagonistic to God. God’s way is other-centered and an expression of His infinite love. My way and God’s way are diametrically opposed and cannot co-exist for very long.
In short, sin is a man or woman’s private war with God. It is the equivalent of shaking an angry fist in the face of God, effectively saying, “I don’t care what You want; I’m going to do it my way, anyway.” Does that form a revolting and unacceptable mental image? Good! Then, we’re getting somewhere. Read on.
Sin should always shock, but may not always be surprising. If sin is not shocking, some contemplative self-reflection is in order. We should and must always be shocked by each new disturbing, public revelation about same-sex marriage, abortion, assisted suicide, cohabitation, divorce, or anything else contrary to the plain reading of scripture.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on homosexual or lesbian marriage should be a huge shock and wake-up call. Although the decision may not have been surprising in today’s culture, a believer must not confuse shock with surprise.
- Surprise is emotional. Shock is soul-deep
- Surprise may provoke anger or joy. Shock inspires action, corrective action if sin is involved.
- Surprise is temporary. Shock is, or should be, enduring.
If you did not understand the difference between surprise and shock, with abundant clarity, before reading this, it may be because many believers (and clergy too) underestimate the depravity of sin, God’s utter revulsion of sin, and impact of sin on every area of life.
Light cannot shine in the daytime. It is over taken by the brilliance of the sun. Similarly, the light of the believer cannot shine while basking in the glory of God. He is infinite light. His light overtakes the light of the believer, when he or she is in God’s particular presence such as in the protected environment of a place of worship. The light of the believer shines in times and places of spiritual darkness. That is when the believer lights the way for the unbeliever.
The clergy and the body must continually sensitize each other to the evil, disgusting, and relentless nature of sin. We have tended to lose sight of even the definition of sin.
The spirit of believers has become numbed by a secular culture that does not believe the spirit exists. Good preaching lights the way for the believers. But preaching about sin has dwindled in recent decades implying God’s approval through the tacit approval of the clergy. Focused, convicting messages have been replaced by feel-good or how-to messages—with an invitation at the end in conservative churches. Of course, the invitation is important, but the new believer needs enormous support to reach spiritual maturity.
A tree can only grow to a height that matches the depth of its root system. Similarly, our sense of the joy of the Lord can only rise to a height that matches the depth of our conviction of sin. Consider the data: After two years of research, George Barna reported:
“What we’re finding is that when we ask them (pastors) about all the key issues of the day [90 percent of them are] telling us, ‘Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues.’ Then we ask them: ‘Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?’ – and the numbers drop … to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it.”
Good heavens! Why? If the clergy fail to speak forcefully and convincingly to the issues, the people are without direction. The clergy are the ones primarily responsible for applying Biblical truths to today’s culture, in an uncompromising way.
Not many decades ago cultural pressures encouraged right, moral living. Today, relentless, merciless cultural pressures push people nearly irresistibly toward the lures of all manner of sin. The flocks need the collective support of other believers. They also need the strength of their shepherds constantly contrasting the disgusting, evil nature of even so-called minor sins with the glories of God’s infinite love and redemption. It is the starkness of the contrast and the enormity of the gap that inspires.
One cannot fully experience the mountain top without knowing the depth of the valleys. One cannot experience the fullness of God’s love without understanding the utter depravity of sin at a soul-deep level. An intellectual understanding is not sufficient. A transient emotional impression is not sufficient.
It is not necessary to personally experience sin, though to some extent it is driven naturally by the sin nature. Maturity is the lifelong effort to minimize sin in the life of the believer. The Spirit of God will provide conviction through the Bible. The spiritual energy produced must be regularly harnessed and directed by the clergy.
A soul-deep understanding of sin propels the spread of God’s word by lifestyle example and direct evangelism. Witnessing follows conviction (internal) far more than exhortation (external).
Replace milky messages with meaty ones. “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it…” [1 Corinthians 3:2 KJV] Believers are begging for the meat of the Word. They are ready for it.
Too much preaching today begins at a neutral point, urging people to love God. When neutrality is the starting point there is a reduced perception of a need for God, especially if everything seems to be going well for now. People sense a need for God and experience His love to the extent that they understand the depth and evilness of sin.
God, in His Word, commands us to flee from sin (evil). Various translations of Romans 12:9 order us to:
- Hate evil
- Recoil from what is evil
- Detest evil
- Abhor evil
We can hate, recoil from, detest, or abhor only those things which God hates, recoils from, detests, or abhors, which of course is sin. 1 Corinthians 6:8 requires us to “flee immorality.” [NAS] 1 Corinthians 10:14 adds the mandate to “flee from idolatry.” [NAS]
We flee only from what we fear. We must fear evil (sin) for its relentless destructive effect on:
- our interpersonal relationships,
- our children and descendants, and
- our relationship with God.
Unless believers collectively flee from evil, it will destroy our culture and our nation as well.
Sin always separates. Love unites. Sin or evil is the opposite of love. Sin is self-centered and antagonistic to God’s nature. Sin cannot coexist with God’s love, which is other-centered. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” [Psalms 5:4-5 KJV]
“Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.” [Puritan prayer]
What does it take to wake up the believers?
What does it take to wake up the clergy?