Recently, Martha and I were discussing a sermon I was preparing for a revival. Sermon topic: sin. It was a rousing conversation, taking the better part of an afternoon. The way these things go, if I were preaching on love, I’d be tempted to be unloving at some point during study time. If I were preaching on patience, we would inevitably have to go to Dallas during rush hour traffic. So this time we were studying sin. Now, we’re in that part of spring/summer where we’re putting off turning the air conditioning on for as long as possible. It doesn’t seem like summer if you can still have the windows open and hear the birds singing. So we were sitting there studying, trying to pretend that it wasn’t just a *bit* warm, and that we weren’t just a *bit* sticky, and that the birds singing were making up for the discomfort we were pretending not to have. Having experienced just a bit of that makes it so much easier to understand how the Civil War started. You raise the temperature just a little bit, and everybody becomes on edge. So having been reading the Bible passages on sin and studying about sin, and thinking about sin all afternoon, we finished up the afternoon with a light skirmish, and both sides retreated, vowing to install the air conditioner pronto.
If you can’t relate to this woeful tale, I both admire you and am a little disgusted by you. The point is driven home to us every day. We want to do right, to be patient, kind, loving, wise, merciful… and just when it seems we’re making serious headway, the temperature rises a degree or two, and we find ourselves humbled and exasperated by sin. Solomon said “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Before salvation it’s like sin is the water we swim in — after salvation, the humid air we try to air condition. We’re surrounded by it, outside and inside.
In post-Christian America it’s hard — even for Christians — to adequately and accurately articulate the nature and definition of sin. If you look up “sin” in the dictionary you will find the definition something like this: “An act that is perceived to be a transgression against a divine law.”
To me that definition lacks a lot, but just three main things immediately jump out at me.
1. Sin is not just an act. It’s a desire. Jesus said that sin is “from within, out of the heart of a man…”, that if you look at a woman to lust after her in your heart, or if you hate in your heart, you have become a sinner.
2. The phrase “Perceived to be.” Sin does not have to be perceived. We sin everyday and it may not even cross our minds as having been sin.
3. Also, this is so open ended because it doesn’t look to a specific religion for what constitutes a sin. Buddhists and Muslims have what they consider sin and they can differ greatly and have nothing necessarily to do with truth.
Now here’s a Biblical definition of sin:
1 John 3:4
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
…whatever is not of faith is sin.
There’s not much comfort from the Bible when I look for justification for my sin. It was “just” an unkind word… but they weren’t being kind either! “Just” a sigh… that I knew would hurt someone’s feelings. “Just” impatience… because I was tired. But all I see in the Bible is that it was unkind. It was hurtful. It was impatient. It was sin. I knew the right thing to do, and not only failed to do it, but did a wrong thing instead.
Amid all my attempts to justify and downplay my sin, the cross looms up, forever keeping me from taking my sin, any sin, lightly. That selfishly unkind word was the sin for which the perfect, sinless, spotless, second person of the Trinity, the only begotten of the Father, the one who sustains all things by the word of His power, the one who was in the beginning with God… in short, it was the sin the Lord Jesus Christ himself had to die for so that I could be forgiven. My sin offends God, in the same way that a child molester’s sin offends me, or a murderer’s sin offends me, or a terrorist’s sin offends me. I just have a far lower standard for what I see as truly offensive, as compared to God's standard. And just as that child molester could never do anything to make that offense right, I can’t do anything to make my offenses right.
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
So, everyone is a sinner, sin is lawlessness, not doing the right thing, not believing God, and no one can atone for himself. If that is not the darkest picture imaginable then we don’t know what a hopeless situation looks like.
And I think that’s where we’ll leave it for now. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, because likely you know what comes next, but Paul spends 7 chapters in Romans going over exactly how bad off we are before he reaches the glories of Romans 8. And Romans 8 would not be nearly as glorious if we couldn’t look into the bleakness of the previous 7 chapters first.
Thankful to be in Christ,