I suppose it’s because it heaps correction and conviction on my own head. But I don’t shy away from truth just because it hurts. So here goes…
On an average day I think of myself as a “good” person. Overall I obey the scriptures, treat people decently, act morally, and haven’t broken any laws (except possibly speeding and acting selfishly towards my husband). You probably think of yourself in a similar way. Even people who don’t live upright lives often still look upon themselves as good people. We humans can lie to ourselves and deny reality, deny sin.
Sin is a huge issue in our modern society even though society at large avoids the word and the concept of sin. Just look at contemporary politicians and the scandals surrounding them. But let’s not get to feeling all self-righteous. Though we may not have committed the particular sin a politician is accused of in the media, we have committed our own sin. Don’t think so? Just stick with me a bit.
So what is sin anyway? How would you define sin?
We would probably all include murder, robbery, assault and such things in our definition of sin. We readily agree that anything that breaks one of the 10 Commandments is sin. But then… we back pedal when it gets to some of the “lesser” of the commandments. You know what I mean. “Bearing false witness” – we justify with the unspoken excuse, I didn’t really lie. I just revealed the part of the story that doesn’t make me look bad. “Honor your father and mother” – Oh, but you don’t know MY father, surely God didn’t mean for me to honor him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” – I know it’s supposed to be a day of reverence, but we have to… You can finish the sentence. And I won’t even dig into commands 1 though 3 about no other gods before me, no graven images, and not taking the Lord’s name in vain. These 3 have fallen by the wayside with most of our modern world. But these 10 commandments only scratch the surface of the “what is sin” question.
A quick search in the new testament brings up 1 John 5:17 which states, “All wrongdoing (or unrighteousness) is sin” depending on which version you read. Well that surely broadens the definition!
Our world doesn’t see an action as sin if it is done in self-defense. In this modern world gone crazy, if you do something to me it’s wrong. But if I have a reason for doing the same thing then it’s not wrong. We see that in our teens – How dare she steal my boyfriend? But didn’t you do the same thing to someone else last month? Well that was different, I loved him. We see it in political parties – we criticize another party for loyalty to a candidate who has displayed corrupt behavior, but excuse those in our own party that we want to believe in. We see it in the riots where people are – sometimes rightfully, sometimes not – protesting over a perceived injustice, and then they turn that around and act unjustly to others by injuring, destroying property, and burning buildings of innocent people. Society excuses itself if it feels it has a reason while condemning another whether there is reason or not. Scripture speaks to this societal phenomenon also, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5) Are you justifying your sin yet accusing another? Let’s get the stuff out of our eyes first so that we can see clearly. Sin blinds us to truth many times.
Our world ignores and belittles sin. Most often these days people simply ignore the idea of sin, unless a wrong is done to them personally they (and we) tend to let it slide. These progressive times have yielded progressive thinkers that see sin as an antiquated idea that does not fit in our society. Have we the church let this tendency subtly slip into our thinking? Do we find ourself thinking, “Well that’s not as bad as ____,” or justifying our actions with our selfish reasoning and lame excuses? Have you and I forgotten the principal of Ephesians 5 that teaches us that sin is improper for God’s holy people and we are to walk as children of light? Verse 11 of that chapter warns us to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.”
Our world today tends to only see it as sin if it’s an action. But God’s word clearly teaches that the sins of the heart are just that – SIN. In some ways sins of the heart are worse, because they are like the seed or the root of sinful actions. Thoughts yield actions. Luke 15:18-19 tells us that “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” Do we regularly inspect the depths of our heart and thought life for that root of sin and weed it out? Do we regularly hold our inner thoughts and motivations up to the light of scripture and allow the cleansing of God’s word to flush out our iniquity?
Often in our struggle against any kind of sin we fall into the trap Joshua Harris mentions in his book Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is). While talking about content that we allow to enter our minds he says, “…Instead of seeing how much I can avoid, I spend my energy trying to see how much I can handle.” (page 118) This is so true. Our enemy lures us into thinking we’re strong enough to play around with things that lead us to sin. We’re like people gathering beautiful stones on the rim of a canyon, getting closer and closer to the edge for more trinkets until our foot begins to slide into the abyss of sin and it’s too late to rescue ourselves.
Susanna Wesley, mother of those godly brothers of the 1700’s John and Charles Wesley, is quoted to have said the following:
“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.” (Letter, June 8, 1725)
Wow! Even allowing myself to speed because I’ve run late looks like questionable behavior with this thought in mind. My breaking a simple law of the road makes my heart callous to being obedient. If I allow myself to break one law it makes it just that much easier to break another, especially a command that God has given us, but people around us ignore.
So where does that leave us? Do we follow the ways of the world? Or do we stand as beacons of light upholding truth and righteousness while still loving and gently warning of the dangers of sin? Do we give in to little sins because everyone else does? Or do we avoid anything that impairs our conscience and obscures our sense of God? Do we participate in things that leave us in bondage to sin? To each of us scripture says it is our choice each day. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) The choice is clear; go with God or not. Choose wisely.