Hated by the World – John 7:7

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. – John 7:7 ESV

In a world that preaches tolerance, but seems to seldom practice it, this verse really stands out. It would appear that Jesus was not very tolerant, and he made no bones about it. And because of his intolerance toward evil, he is hated by those who practice evil.

But I think it is important to realize that while Jesus spoke out against evil, he was loving to many of those who were living sinful lives. Take the Samaritan woman in John 4 as an example. While he confronted her lifestyle, he did so in a way that likely brought her into salvation. At others times though he just condemned sin, especially in the lives of those who were supposed to be spiritual leaders, but whose practice did not line up with their teaching (Matt 23). But even as Jesus spoke out against sin, I have no doubt that he would have welcomed any who would have turned from that sin.

As disciples of Jesus, we should not wave the flag of tolerance. Let your life and your words bear witness to the truth and against evil. But do so in love and with the hope of rescuing the perishing (Jude 1:22-23).

Waging War on Desire – 1 Peter 2:11

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 NIV

In Ephesians 6:10-17 Paul talks about the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in, urging us to put on the armor God has provided. In this passage Peter looks at one of the primary weapons of our adversary; our own sinful desires. In my own experience there is no bigger weapon in the enemy’s arsenal than my own desires.

Not all desire is sinful; some desire is actually very desirable: the desire for God, for my wife, and for my family. Other desire can go either way. The desire for food is good, but it can lead to unhealthy habits that are not good. And some desire, if surrendered to, will inevitably lead me into sin.

I don’t know how to kill desire in my life, but I do know all too well that if I feed it, it will become stronger. In contrast, when I abstain from fulfilling that sinful desire, focusing on something more beneficial instead, the desire will slowly grow weaker, or at least be more under control. It is important to recognize which desires are beneficial for me and which are destructive, and fight against, or abstain from, those that would destroy me, or at the very least hinder my walk with God.

Failure to do Good – James 4:17

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. – James 4:17 NIV

Sin! As Christians we know that sin is bad and we should avoid it. But how often are we guilty of thinking of sin as just doing bad things? James makes clear that sin is much broader than that. Sin also includes failure to do good when I have the opportunity to do so. If I have the opportunity to help someone, and I decline, then I have sinned. Don’t be content with avoiding evil; look for the good you can do in the world around you.

Solving the Problem of Sin – Luke 23:33

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. – Luke 23:33 NIV

The religious leadership of Jesus day thought they were solving a problem by having Jesus crucified. And they did; just not the problem they were trying to solve. Jesus death on the cross solved the problem of sin. Now, by faith in the crucified Lord, I am able to experience life in Christ, not just now, but for eternity. Praise God for his indescribable gift.

Weeping Over Sin – Luke 22:62

And he went outside and wept bitterly. – Luke 22:62 NIV

Sin is disobedience to God, which is the same thing as denying his lordship in my life. It is saying to God, I don’t know you. But so often we minimize our sin, after all, I am just human. Peter’s response here is more appropriate though.

Lord, let me be broken hearted over my sin.

What I Believe . . . Sin

I believe that “missing the mark” best describes sin. God has a plan and purpose for my life and anytime I fail to align with that I have fallen short or missed the mark. Sin is not just a matter of doing something wrong, breaking God’s moral code. Sin is also a failure to do what God wants me to do, and even when what I am doing is good (James 4:17).

I believe that I am responsible for my own sin. I do not sin because I have inherited a sin nature from my parents. I do not sin because of any outside influence; although that may influence me. I sin because I am selfish and do what I want rather than what God wants of me (James 1:14-15).

I believe that sin originates within each individual and is not an inherited trait from our parents or from Adam, who I believe was likely not an actual individual. Instead I see Adam as representative of all of us, choosing what seems pleasant and desirable to our human nature (Genesis 3:6) rather than living in obedience and communion with God (Genesis 3:17). As a human, like any other material being on this planet, my primary focus is on me: and that, in a sense, is what sin is, focusing on me rather than on God.

I believe that every human who has ever lived, apart from Jesus, is guilty of sin. No matter how good our life might be, or how hard we strive to live up to some moral standard, all of us fall short in our own efforts (Romans 3:20).It is only in accepting by faith Jesus sacrifice for my sins that I am able to escape that life of sin and be in alignment with God’s purpose for my life.

I believe that God has made me to be in relationship with himself but that sin, or my own selfish nature, separates me from him (Isaiah 59:2). My sin separates me from God now, creating a barrier between us. And it will also separate me from God in eternity, leading to my destruction.

I believe that my sin is against God alone (Psalm 51:4), although it does impact me and other people. If sin is indeed falling short of God’s purpose for me, then all sin must be against him. While my actions may impact other people in sometimes terrible ways, my sin is still against God.

I believe that the only way to deal with sin in our culture is by changing individual lives, not by legislating morality. I believe that enacting laws to protect a nation’s citizens is appropriate. But laws that are meant to ensure that we live up to the moral vision of some person, or group of persons, are doomed to failure (Col. 2:21-23). I believe that the only truly effective way to change the way people act is to change their hearts, bringing them into relationship with their creator.

The Doctrine of Sin

For most Christians I know, the doctrine of sin has a significant impact on how we view ourselves, others and God’s interaction with us: sin is breaking God’s moral code; sin separates us from God; all of us have sinned; Jesus died to forgive our sins; and on and on.  Yet I am not entirely sure that most of us really understand what sin is and how it impacts our relationship with God.

It is easy to understand sin as violating a statute of some divinely mandated moral code.  And that has a certain amount of appeal.  So long as I know the code and am obedient to it, all is well.  If I violate the code then I am guilty and am on God’s bad side.  Unless of course I only violate a minor statute, or one that everyone else also does.  But is it really that simple?

The divine moral code that most Christians like to point to is the Law as defined in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  That none of us even make any attempt to follow it is besides the point.  We, I believe correctly, eliminate the sacrificial aspect of the law as something fulfilled by Jesus.  We also eliminate the dietary laws, many of the social regulations and the holy days; claiming that only the moral component has any relevance for us today.  But I suspect that few who really know the requirement of the ‘moral’ part of the law would really want to be under it.  After all, who is in favor of either killing a rape victim or making them marry their attacker?  When it comes down to it, we really only follow the parts of the Law that fit within our current ideas of right and wrong.

James further complicates the issue of sin when he says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (James 4:17 NIV)  According to James, sin is not just doing something wrong.  It is also not doing something that you should have done.  If I have it in my ability to help someone, and don’t do it, then I have sinned.  We sometimes call this a sin of omission, and while acknowledging it as being bad, we generally don’t pay nearly as much attention to that as to the sins of commission.  Actually, for the most part we ignore the omissions, and hope that God does as well.

To make this even worse, Paul tells us, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23 NIV)  While Paul is specifically talking about eating meat sacrificed to an idol, in more general terms he is addressing what he calls ‘disputable matters’, things that are neither moral nor doctrinal issues.  These things are generally OK to do, unless you have some doubt about them, in which case it becomes sin.  So, something that is just fine for me to do, might be sinful for you to do.

Clearly this issue of sin is more complex than simply failing to follow a specific set of rules.  Is it possible that God is looking for something more from me than just living a ‘good’ life?  Jesus answers that, at least in part, when he says

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)

Many will stand before God at the time of judgement and express to him how good their lives were, only to be sadly, and eternally, disappointed.  Doing good things is not enough.  From what Jesus says, he is looking for those who do the will of the Father.  Following a set of rules, or laws, is not sufficient.  Submission to the Father is what he expects from us.  In many ways submission is much harder than following a checklist of rules.  With the later, I know what is expected of me and, so long as I follow those rules, I am free to be who I want to be.  But with the former, my life is no longer my own; I have surrendered it to another, to do whatever they want me to do.  And finding out what that is may be challenging, especially since it may not be the same for me as it is for you.

Now, to be sure, living a good life here is a part of submission to God’s rule.  Peter tells us to, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)  But here, living a good life is not just following the rules; it involves doing good deeds.  Lots of people do a pretty good job of faithfully following the rules provided to them.  We are to distinguish ourselves from them by making a real difference in the lives of people we come into contact with.  So much so, that those we encounter will ultimately glorify God because of us.

The primary Greek word used for sin in the New Testament writings is hamartia (ἁμαρτία), an archery term that means missing the mark.  When I fall short of full submission to God, I have missed the mark, I have sinned.  Now I will be the first to admit that I fall way short of full submission to God; that is so contrary to my own selfish nature, and I sincerely doubt I will ever manage it.  So it is hopeless; am I doomed to be rejected by God?  I don’t believe so.  Paul gives me hope when he says

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)

Paul was striving for the righteousness that comes from faith, but recognized that he had not yet reached his goal.  But that was still his goal and he was striving to attain it.  And that is mine as well.  Don’t let your past failures or successes impede you.  Keep your focus on the prize set before us.  And when you fall, get up, put your hand in his, and press on.

One final note.  Submission can leave a bad taste.  Too often it implies being under the thumb of another.  And while submission to God is indeed the surrender to one who is much greater than ourselves; the purpose is to develop relationship with my creator and God.  It is by submitting that I truely come to know him.  Sin destroys that.  Submission restores it.

The Righteousness of God – Romans 3:20-25

After his introduction, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters of his letter to the Roman church in a discussion of sin.  While Paul leaves open the theoretical possibility of a person being good enough to pass judgement before God, his conclusion is that no one actually is good, that no one will be declared righteous before God based on their own efforts in adhering to the law, whether that be the Old Testament Law, or the law of conscience.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. – Romans 3:20 NIV

The condition of humanity that Paul paints in Romans 1:18-3:20 is a pretty bleak one.  We are sinful with no chance of escaping the wrath of God at the judgement.  Lost and without hope!

But once Paul has made clear the hopelessness of our situation he begins his discussion of the gospel, the good news.  And it is quite a contrast.  The passage below was identified by Luther as being the main point of Romans, and of the whole Bible, the most significant passage of all.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Romans 3:21-25a NIV

The good news is that God has now revealed, and made available to us, his own righteousness.  My own righteousness, at its best, was insufficient.  But God has chosen to make me a gift of his righteousness.  By his grace I am justified, declared to be righteous.

So what do I have to do to obtain this gift of God’s righteousness?  Nothing!  Paul has gone to great lengths to argue that I am actually incapable of doing anything that will make God happy with me.  Instead, God has made his righteousness available to me, as well as the rest of the world, as a freely given gift.

That gift is available to all who believe, who have faith in Jesus.  This faith and belief is more than just an intellectual or one time response to God.  Rather it is an on-going surrender of one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus.  It is a ceasing of the attempt to make myself good enough by my own efforts, and a surrender to the one who can make me into what he created me to be.

What I cannot do for myself, God has offered to do.  How wonderful it is to be delivered from my hopeless condition and into eternal life in relationship with my creator.

None Righteous – Romans 3:10-12

Is anyone “good enough” to be considered righteous before God?  There are many who at least seem to agree that it is possible.  That if they successfully follow a strict moral code, the Law of Moses as an example, that they will have right standing before their god and will experience some version of paradise when this life is complete.  But Paul’s argument in the early part of his letter to the Roman church is definitely at odds with that viewpoint.

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12 NIV

After arguing for the better part of 3 chapters that we are all guilty of sin, he concludes with a series of quotes from the Old Testament, including the one above, that are clear in their assessment of our standing with God, even the best of us.

It would be easy to take offense at this passage, especially if you are one who tries hard to be good.  To be told that you are worthless and are not doing good is like a slap in the face.  I may not be perfect, but that is a far cry from being worthless.

But the problem with this is that I am judging my goodness by human standards of goodness.  Yes, I may be better than most people, at least according to some specific moral code.  But what if the requirement is 100% adherence to the moral standard you find yourself under, whether the Old Testament law, or your own conscious?  We all fall short of that standard, making us all losers.  None of us are righteous, at least in our position before God, the judge.

I am incapable of making myself acceptable to God.  No matter how hard I might try, I invariable fall short.  And that is true of every other person who has ever lived, apart from one.  But, as Paul lays out in the next few chapters of Romans, God has not left us to continue that futile effort.  Instead he provides us with a better way.

 

Temptation – James 1:13-15

Temptation: being attracted or enticed to pursue some course of action or thought. Generally we use it in a negative way; being enticed to do something that we should not do.  Temptation takes many guises and forms; but one constant is that we all experience it.  We even see Jesus tempted in the wilderness after his baptism, and the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are.

James has something to say about temptation that I believe is worth paying attention to.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NIV

James takes it for granted that we will be tempted.  And he makes it clear where that temptation is coming from.  We should not blame God for our temptations, nor should we follow Flip Wilson’s example and blame the devil.  And ultimately it is not the fault of the chocolate, the girl in the skimpy clothing, or the TV commercials that are the source of my temptations.  Instead, James tells me that I am the source; or at least my own desires.

I have no desire for tobacco products; whether cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or chewing.  There is just no appeal there for me, regardless how they are portrayed in commercials,or how many other people seem to enjoy them.  And because I have no desire for that product, there is no temptation to smoke or chew.  Alcohol and drugs also have no interest for me, there is no desire for these things, and thus they are not a temptation.

But I do have a desire to look at women who are either scantily clad or wearing revealing attire.  It is something I have had since at least junior high, and I suspect that I share with many other men.  And that desire makes it tempting to click on frequent links like “Hot Tennis Wives” at the bottom of many sports pages on the web.

Desires are a part of who I am.  And temptations come from those desires; and there’s not a lot I seem to be able to do about desires and the temptations they bring; apart from avoiding situations where unwanted desires will be fed and lead to enticement.  But I do have some say in how I respond to temptations.

Do I give in to the enticement of temptation, or do I resist it?  Sometimes giving in to the temptation is harmless.  The little snickers bar that calls my name will generally do me no harm, so long as I keep them to a minimum and am physically active enough.  But the “Hot Tennis Wives” can be a problem.  Clicking that link will fill my mind and imagination with images that may take a while to displace.  And worse, it makes it easier to click on the next link, and the next link, and the next link; ultimately taking me somewhere I have no business being.

And this is the progression that James is talking about: desire gives birth to temptation; temptation succumbed to leads to sin; and ultimately sin can lead to separation from God.  Not all desire is going to tempt us to do wrong.  Temptation does not automatically lead to sin.  And giving in to temptation does not immediately separate me from God.  But it is something I need to guard against.

So how do I avoid falling into this trap?  I can offer a couple of suggestions that are helpful to me.  The first is to avoid places or circumstances where the temptations are the strongest.  Playing with fire is not a smart game to play.  And the second is to get good at running; away from temptation.  It is nearly impossible to not encounter “Hot Babe” links on the internet.  But I can run from them, not allowing them time to take root and grow.  I don’t have to click on the link; nor do I really need to even consider it; just scroll on by.

When I was still a young man, someone told me, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head.  But you can stop them from building a nest in your hair”.  You can’t always avoid temptation, but you can determine that you are not going to allow it to build a nest.

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