Friday, April 10, 2020

The Nature of Sin

1 John 1:8-10
    If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Good Friday                                                        4/10/2020
    The Nature of Sin

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
Tonight we conclude our series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins, also called the Seven Cardinal Sins.  We close it by discussing the nature of Sin.  But first, we might ask, "why the seven deadly sins?"  Where did they come from?  It is never mentioned in Scripture. 

Well, over the centuries, the people of God had noticed that most sins fed on other sins, and that our sinfulness feeds on the doing of sins and grows stronger in the presence of sin.  There are countless stories where evil runs amok until it burns itself out where there is no other evil to feed on.  I have even seen a movie in which the evil protagonist was finally isolated in a sphere of pure goodness (something you can only do in a movie!)  and died screaming because it was alone.

All fiction aside, sin feeds on sin.  One evil makes the sinner bold to commit an even greater evil.  The story is common, even in our newspapers, of the murderer who also commits other senseless acts of evil, simply because it is his nature.  Evil feeds on evil and breeds evil.

And certain evils seem to underlie all other evils.  Pride seems to be an element of most sins.  Greed can be often found in many sins.  Envy, or gluttony, or sloth, or anger: they all join together in strange and exotic combinations to make up the component parts and the causes of other sins, such as murder, rape, or theft.  So these most common – and generally least objected to sins – came to be focused on as the deadly sins.  Its not that the other sins are any less deadly, but these were the ones fewest of us were on guard for.  These seven are "only human."  Except in their grossest forms, we rarely hear anyone object to them.  They are rarely thought of as sinful, let alone described as great sins.  Some psychologists will call them the necessary components of a healthy personality.  Sometimes we even hear them described as though they were virtues!       
But the problem is Sin.  Sin is that strange, inexplicable yet omnipresent "thing" that spoils life, sours relationships, and wreaks havoc in our societies.  Sin is the enemy.  But we don't naturally tend to treat it as such.

Instead, people try to joke about sin.  They try to make it out to be fun, or at least funny.  Whee!!  Aren't we having a good time sinning!?  Oh, isn't that man's Lust funny?  Will you look at that comical pride!  Our comedies and our comedians overflow with the joy and the jokes of Sin.  We have television shows depict the joys of lust, or the comedy of anger.  Most movies and TV programs seem to tolerate anything except morality.  Sin makes for great entertainment, or so it seems.

I admit that certain sins often do seem to have their comic aspects.  Some so-called "dirty jokes" are hilarious, if you can overlook the gross immorality involved.  And certain sins are temporarily fun.  That is the drawing card sin so often uses.  It promises fun, or pleasure, or profit.  But it doesn't have a label telling you in advance that the fun is only short-lived, and is followed by a long period of emptiness and defeated-ness.  As fun or funny as Sin may appear from the outside, viewed from inside it is deadly, and depressing, and destructive.

But we are talking tonight, not about sins, but about Sin (with a capital "S").  We are not focusing on the specific acts and attitudes we call sins, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but on that grand, singular reality called Sin, which underlies every specific instance of sin.  And Sin is deadly destructive.  Sin is hurt.  Sin is loneliness.  Sin is alienation from others and from yourself.  It destroys relationships, and robs people of their own estimate of their own worth.  What we hear joked about is a deadly, destructive force in our lives–and our world.

Now, you would think something as sinister as I have described Sin to be would be readily identifiable as such, wouldn't you?  The reality is that Sin can only be seen as sinful from the vantage point of the Will of God.
We can see that this is true from the Greek theater.  The Greeks knew about the problem of evil.   But they didn't understand it.  They saw evils as just one of the two great realities of this life, and accepted it as such.  They saw themselves as hopelessly caught up in a mechanistic world–and they might be caught by good, or they might get crushed by evil.  It was all in the fates, and they were helpless to do anything about it.  And it really didn't matter what they did or said.  You can see it in their drama.  Their stories make no qualitative distinction between good and evil.  Their heroes were equally good and evil.  They would usually suffer heroically through evil circumstances, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  It really made no difference to the play.

But the coming of Christian theology, and the Christian definition of Sin as destructive and life destroying changed things.  Man was no longer a worthless pawn, but a person , engaged in a cosmic battle!  Suddenly what one did, and what happened to the individual was significant!  The individual was important.  The individual had intrinsic value and worth.  Choices really mattered.  You could see this change even in drama.  In Shakespeare, Sin was what destroyed a life.  Sin stole a person's nobility.  Sin robbed and Sin killed.  Sin took the personal worth away from the sinner.

And now in our modern times, we have gone back to the machine.  In an era which titles itself the "post-Christian Era" the individual has again lost his value.  Our philosophies cannot see any difference between doing the right and the doing the wrong–only between getting away with it or getting caught.  Sin doesn't matter to our society.  That's why we can let pornography and prostitution flourish freely in the same neighborhood as a church, or gamble, even illegally, and justify it by saying that everyone does it.  It just doesn't matter!

Our casual acceptance of Sin shows itself in the psychologies of today.  We accept the abnormal and twisted as an alternative lifestyle.  We treat one another as behavior groupings and not as people.  We find ourselves helpless to improve our situations because we don't recognize what is wrong with them to begin with.  We try to cure the disease by treating the symptoms, and it isn't working!  We have come to view ourselves as accidents, as products of evolution.  So our nation can abort or euthanize the unwanted and inconvenient.  We can no longer recognize our own value or purpose, and we have no idea what to do about it.

And the problem is Sin.  Sin is destructive.  Sin is when and why we strike out at others in pain, or greed, or pride.  Sin is violence toward others . . . intentional violence!  Sin is also striking at ourselves.  We strike at ourselves in anger, frustration, fear, and helplessness.  Sin robs us of control of ourselves, and we begin to fell cheaper, and less human, and less worth the effort, any effort.  In one way or another, we destroy life – or the value of life – by sinning.

Sin is perversion.  Sin twists everything until black is not black, and white is not white, and until we prefer the comforting shades of grey.  Sin makes us tell one another in song and story, in play and movie, that the one who remains moral, the one who clings to the faith and to what is right is sick.  The brave and healthy one abandons all morality and curses God!

Our age tells us that the radical and the revolutionary, the demonstrator is the one who has been faithful, who has kept the faith.  But history, even modern world history, shows us just how faithless these have been when they have been granted power.  Psychology shows us how their commitment is more to the rebelling than it is to the cause they choose.  Our age also tells us that to be free means to be free from any restraint to evil.  Freedom from morality, freedom from goodness is called true freedom.  But why not freedom from evil?

And Sin is slavery.  Freedom requires choices.  And choice requires more than one option.  We become slaves to our desires, slaves to our egos, and slaves to sin, just as the Bible describes us.
And Sin is godlessness.  When a Christian repents, he or she doesn't just repent getting caught.  If we really repent, we aren't just sorry about the coming punishment, or the possibility of punishment, we are sorry for sinning.  We are sorry for cheapening our lives, and we are committed to not doing again that something to be sorry about!

And when we repent, we don't just repent to ourselves, or to others, but to God.  For the Christian the Bible paints an even clear repentance.  "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight!"  Joseph, tempted by Potiphar's wife does not reckon the sin as evil against his master, or the wife, or even himself, but cries out in horror, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God!?"  If we look at Sin honestly, we will have to find ourselves in the same position as the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, where he writes, "Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from this body of death?"

But the cure is here, in Scriptures.  Here in 1 John1:8-10:  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

This is the cure for our lost and impoverished condition in sin.  It begins with recognizing honestly that we have sinned.  Yes, even us Christians have "daily sinned much and indeed deserved nothing but punishment."  To assert that you have not sinned is a lie.  It is either intentional lying, or it is evidence that you have lost contact with reality.  Everyone sins, and so says the Bible.  Good or bad, as we may judge the individual, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The next step is to confess them to God.  We must admit them, be sorry for them, and resolve in our secret and earnest intentions not to sin again.  We call that repenting.  When we repent, God forgives.  John writes that when we repent, God is faithful.  That means He will forgive us each time we repent.  But be clear on this.  God will not even hear the kind of repenting which knows that it wants to sin the same way again, and plans to sin again.

And John tells us that God is righteous to do so.  God punishes every sin, in Jesus.  The debt has already been paid.  We celebrate that payment today, and we will gather Sunday to celebrate the declaration of God that the payment was sufficient and was accepted.

God is just in forgiving our sins because the penalty for Sin has already been meted out.  He is just to forgive all of us for all of our sins for Sin is the offense, and all Sin has been met by the complete wrath of God in Christ Jesus.  Now all can be justly forgiven, both those whom we see as good, and those whom we see as bad, for all have fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

The last verse of our "cure" says that either you confess your sins openly before God, and are forgiven and made holy through Jesus Christ, and become thereby a saint, or you are a sinner, and an enemy of God.  Impenitence is an attack on God. 

Denying your sinfulness – whether you do it publicly, or just privately in your secret, inner thoughts – is calling God a liar, and making yourself His enemy.  You have to know that you are a sinner, and confess it and repent before you can be made a saint.  And you must never lose sight that even saints are still sinners and in need of forgiveness daily – or you will immediately cease to be a saint at all!

Well, there it is.  The Seven Deadly Sins.  This is a fitting day to finish with it, for it was on this day, almost two thousand years ago, that God finished with Sin for us forever.  He died on a cross to lift its burden off of us.  It was a Friday then, too.  At first they called it God's Friday.  Then they called it Good Friday.  The anniversary of the death of our Lord Jesus is a Good Friday, for it is also the anniversary of the end of the reign of sin, and the beginning of the victory of our Lord Jesus – and our victory – over these Seven Deadly and all other Sins.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say "Amen".)

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