Let’s Talk About S–

Sin. I want to talk about sin. Get your mind out of the gutter, ya perv.

Seriously, though, we really don’t talk much about sin anymore, and I think I know why.

As humans, we have an innate understanding of right and wrong. Over time, this understanding becomes twisted by our pride, distorted by repeated suppression, and is subject to a myriad of other deformations. Yet somewhere deep inside, we all know certain things are wrong – even if we only recognize them as a wrong when done to us.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Romans 2:15

The general term for this understanding is conscience. And like any other human part, it can become scarred-over and calloused until there’s no feeling left.

Which brings us to today.

Instead of sin, we talk about things like lifestyle, my truth, or even illness. Much air is expended discussing our battles or our challenges. When confronted with wrongdoing, Christian influencers may confess their struggles. . . but not their sin.

It’s true we do go to battle against our sinful inclinations; we must struggle against temptation to sin. And yet, more often than not, the words are not used in this way but rather as a clever dodge to avoid responsibility. A struggle or a lifestyle is much more palatable than a willful crime.

What we’re missing in this subtle semantic waltz is the gravity of sin.

Sin is a killer. Period.

Sin is ugly. It is rebellion against the Maker; treason against the King; a refusal of the creation to perform its function as it was designed.

Sin lies. It cheats us of true life. It steals joy and covers it up in an endless, wretched pursuit of meager happiness and fleeting pleasure.

And no matter what name we give to make it sweeter to say, sin leads to death. In fact, death is what the sinner earns – as surely as you earn your paycheck from your employer.

For the wages of sin is death. . .

“But I’m not dead,” you may say, and perhaps you’re right. I wonder, though: can you honestly tell me you have a single relationship that hasn’t suffered a kind of death? Was any type of harm ever done to you by another person? Have you ever harmed another, even mildly?

Death of trust, death of respect, death of joy, of reputation, commitment, communication. Death everywhere we look, if we look with honesty. Even the cooling of affections is a kind of death.

Friends, this horror covers only one kind of death. The rot of sin goes far deeper than this.

. . . but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:23)

The good news is, we don’t have to accept death. We can talk about our sin; confess it, repent of it, and be set free in Christ. Expose the canker of sin to the fresh air of truth.

It may hurt, it may be embarrassing, but I can tell you from experience there is no cleaner pain. Like debriding an infected wound, the momentary torment is nothing compared to the relief of healing.

Let’s confess our sin to God our Healer and turn away in true repentance, trusting in the work of the Son of God to break the chains of sin and make us really free.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Romans 6:22

Wholly Holy

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12:1)

We humans have a rather silly tendency to compartmentalize our lives.

It would be wonderfully convenient if this tendency were limited to unbelievers; if, for example, we could point our collective finger and laugh at science as it grapples with where the platypus fits into the man-made categories of the animal kingdom. Then we could offer a smug smile when a whole new category is created to house this beast.

But in an honest moment, most of us have to admit that we compartmentalize, too.

We tend to have tidy little sectors of life which we believe do not affect one another. On one hand – our sacred places – we can agree that lying is evil and shake our heads in horror at the appalling falsehoods some government official or celebrity is caught in. A bare minute later, we participate in a little white lie of our own: dishonest reporting for a homeschool year in which the actual days of school fell dismally short of the state-mandated attendance requirement, or a decision to keep the wrong change from some transaction because the balance is in our favor.

Then there’s our holy side again at church on Sunday as we lift our voice to a praise song, one hand raised and tears running down our cheeks. Come next Friday night, we lift the same voice to quite a different song with lyrics that belittle the marriage relationship. Or we lower our voices to a friend as we tear our spouses apart in slander.

We can have a smug criticism for the corruption within Hollywood and yet funnel our dollars into movies and shows which aren’t “that bad,” thus we fund the very corruption we condemn.

My goodness, we really are a ridiculous spectacle when we stop to think of it! But of course, there’s grace to cover all that. No need to worry. Right?

Well, actually…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
(Romans 6:1-2)

In truth, there is no partition between what we say and do inside our worship gatherings and what we say and do in our workweek or our weekend labors or entertainments. If Christ has redeemed us, He has done so completely.  We are either all His – or not.

This is not to say we will never stumble. But it is to say we will, by the Spirit of God, be brutally honest with ourselves and not call our conscious choices “stumbles.”

We will not divide up the arena of our lives so that one does not bleed into another. To believe we can even do such a thing is to believe a grave lie.

Instead, we can walk in naked honesty before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can recognize that we are whole beings, and that one part affects the whole. All is sacred for those who are in Christ. All is secular for those who are not.

For those outside, we do not rage but weep. For our fellows on the inside, we are firm against sin but forgiving in love because we have been forgiven in love.

We set our faces against sin everywhere it lurks: in our own hearts, in our families, in the Church. We recognize our ability to choose and hold one another accountable to choose Truth.

Recognizing that we who are in Christ no longer belong to ourselves but to Him, we present our entire being to the Lord Our Righteousness for His good pleasure.  Then, together, we rejoice in His Kingdom and His righteousness now and forevermore!

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
(Romans 6:12-13)

… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price…
(1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a)

Assassination of Self

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…
…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11, 17-18)

The call to homeschool is a call to sacrifice.

No, wait. It’s been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself advocating for a troubled young lady. But there’s more to it. Hmmm, maybe –

The call to be a parent is a call to sacrifice.

No, no. Not there yet. To be married? Single? To work? To stay home with your kids? Be a missionary? Be a friend? Be alone? Write? Eat? Breathe?

Ah, yes. It’s all of those and more.

The call to follow Christ is a call to sacrifice.

Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  (from The Cost of Discipleship)

Let me speak frankly here, my friends. The more I walk and talk with my King; the more I read His word and put it into practice, the more I surrender to Him and learn to trust Him, the more I see the beauty in sacrifice. In death.

Last week, I wrote to you about a confession of my own sin and of the good which came of being hurt by church. Today I can tell you I still feel free from the taint of bitterness. But it was not a process either quick nor comfortable. It was long and terrible, for the root of bitterness was wound tightly around not only my heart, but around everything else as well. And it did not begin with confession – it ended there.

In some ways, it was nothing short of spiritual open-heart surgery. Or, if you will, circumcision of the heart. It was painful. It was bloody. And it was completely worth it.

And there’s the thing – no matter what the King of kings calls us to give up in this life – even if it’s hurt feelings or pride or selfish ambition – it is worth it. Not only will it be worth it for the next bazillion years, it will be worth it here and now.

An image comes to mind here from one of my pastor’s sermons. He spoke of putting to the sword any temptations, selfishness, envy, pride – literally anything which distracts you from the Lord.

Guys, let’s be real here. These are not vague words encompassing ideas of “bad stuff” to avoid. These can even be good things. Praise music. Family visits. Fun times. Entertainment. Anything which has become an idol for us and merits more attention than the God who gave them to us must go. Anything. 

(…and a quick aside for the record, I am not advocating putting your family or your movie collection to the sword! Just the idolatrous misplacement of our own affections…)

Whatever it is which entices us away from the Lord’s best, from growth and humility and Truth, we need to put it to the sword – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Let’s think about the use of a sword for a moment. To put anything to death by the sword, there’s a necessary intimacy. A gun is cold and impersonal; the slight pressure of a single finger and the deed is done. I can shoot from the relative anonymity of a passing car or a window. I can put a neat bullet hole right into a skull without ever seeing the face of the one I robbed of life.

Not so with the sword. To put a person to death with a sword takes proximity. There’s some degree of effort involved, as even a sharp blade will not penetrate far into muscle, bone, and tendon by accident. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be screams of agony and it is likely I will see the eyes of the one I destroy – the windows to her soul.

Look in the mirror, Soldier. There’s your target. It’s time for the assassination of the old self. But it has to be personal. You have to mean it.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s embarrassing. That’s just the death throes of our pride, friends. Bloody, messy, agonizing, horrible to endure, but so, so worth it in the long run.

Lord, may we all be willing to let You show us what must die, then give us the strength and trust to put it to death. Forgive us for clinging to what we believe are good things when You truly do know best. No matter how painful or shaming, expose them in us. We yield them to You to rip out, and we take up the sword in cooperation and obedience to You, our King. 

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(Romans 6:6-7)