This is the second part of a lesson series I made a while back. It was a five part series and explored how Christians ought to live life with an eternal perspective. The lessons explored sin, love, election, and evangelism. I already posted my lesson on love a while ago on this blog, and I thought I might as well throw this one up too.
Let me begin by saying: this is not a fun thing to talk about. This lesson always breaks my heart. It reminds me of the worst pains I have ever felt. It reminds me of suicide, murder, depression, drug abuse, and far too many other evils that are far too close to home. This lesson is not fun, to say the least, but it is important. We need to understand how terrible sin is to realize how precious grace is.
Sin destroys. If I were asked to explain sin with one word, ‘destruction’ is what I would reply with. Here’s a few questions for you to consider. Take your time in answering. Be honest.
How have you seen sin destroy the world at large?
How have you seen sin destroy your community?
How have you seen sin destroy those you love?
How have you seen sin directly effect you?
Finally, how does all of that stuff make you feel?
Sad is right, but angry is appropriate too. Sin should break our hearts, but it should also make us furious. Think about how God has dealt and will deal with sin. No matter how strongly you feel about sin, God hates sin far more than we could ever imagine. Why? Because all sin is a direct offense against God.
1) All sin is against God.
This statement hinges on how we define the word ‘sin’. Some people, as I’m sure you have heard taught, believe sin to simply be wrong actions or offenses against other people; doing bad stuff. While that’s one use of the word, that’s not the definition we’re looking for.
John Piper was asked on a blog how David was able to declare “Against you and you only I have sinned” to God, when clearly his offense was against Uriah (David slept with Uriah’s wife and had him murdered so that he could marry her). This was his response, in short:
“Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon.
“These horizontal wrongs are horrible: murder, rape, the death of a baby that David elicits. That’s horrible and wrong (and it’s not wrong to call it sin). But the thing that makes it sin is its vertical dimension. It is disobeying God’s law. It is denying that he satisfies your soul to keep you from needing to kill or rape. It is sin in that it is an assault on God’s authority and his right to tell you what to do.”
Even when we wrong one another, our actions are still in defiance to God’s Law. What is the greatest commandment? To love God, ourselves, and our fellow man. How often do we break that commandment? Constantly. In our actions and in our hearts, we commit treason against the God who created us in His image.
Of course, sin is not merely in our actions our thoughts. Paul describes mankind as having a “sinful nature”. Sin is also a state of being, a position and inclination of the heart. From this sin nature, no man is exempt. Paul, in Romans 3:10-18, references Psalm 14:1-3. In both the Old and New Testament, it is clear that all mankind is guilty of sin. In Psalm 51, the same Psalm where David confesses his trespass against God alone, David declares “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Sin is deeper than actions. Sin originates in the position of our hearts.
2) Sin is something we can’t fix.
From conception, we are inclined to turn from God. What we desire is selfish, and we live accordingly. In our current state, we would have no inclination to pursue God or His will. Romans 1:18-32 is written about us. Read that passage, and know that you are guilty. The “they” is you. And me. “They” are all of us. We all know Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23. Sin is something we’re all guilty of. The sentence for our crime will be the death penalty.
Hell is not fun to talk about. It’s not fun to think about. Nothing about hell is good. Yet, we must talk about it because it is so vitally important. Hell exists. It is real. It is where we all belong. It is where millions upon millions of people are headed. And it is just. It’s not pleasant. It’s not kind. It’s void of mercy. But it is absolutely, undoubtedly just.
Something I regularly say to myself is, no matter how evil my perception of sin is, it is unimaginably worse. Sin is evil enough to justify eternal punishment. The Bible is clear who will be doing the punishing: “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject truth, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil” (Romans 2:8-9) and “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Lord,” (Hebrews 10:31).
If sin justifies that, then we need to readjust our view of sin. Too often, people try to rationalize that hell can’t be that bad, or that God would never punish people He loves. Such a weak view of hell is the product of a weak view of sin. Hell is going to be worse than even Paul could describe. The punishment fits the crime.
The Bible is also clear on what man is capable of. Can we do anything to fix this problem? No. Indeed, the only fruit of our labor while we are in sin is destruction. Look at Romans 3:20-21 — “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Galatians 5:16-21 and 6:7-8 answer that question. We can only worsen our current position. Salvation, or even the hope of salvation, must come from God alone.
3) We are saved by grace.
Often, people use an analogy of someone drowning to illustrate salvation when one becomes a Christian. There are two different ways I’ve heard this analogy told.
First, the person who is drowning is struggling at the surface to stay above water. Jesus throws a rescue buoy out to the drowning person, and it is his/her choice to either take hold of the flotation device or drown trying to save themselves.
The second way I have heard this analogy given is that someone is already near drowned and lies at the bottom of the pool. Jesus dives in and rescues the person, resuscitating them and bringing them back to life.
In the first, we see that man is given an ultimatum. One can either choose to follow God and be saved, or drown following their own efforts. In this, the individual is the ultimate decider of their own destiny. If he/she chooses to grab the rescue buoy, their salvation is their own conscious decision. In the second, we see that the person who Jesus rescues had no say in their own salvation. Jesus decided that the person He pursued would be saved, outside of that person’s own will.
Both analogies have their own merit and speak to different parts of the process of salvation, but I would argue that Paul would choose a third way. In this scenario, the person who is drowning is not only conscious, but is actively trying to drown themselves. Jesus sees this and dives in to save the self destructive person. As Jesus pursues this person, they are still in active rebellion against Him. It is at some point while Jesus is in the process of dragging this person out of the water that they realize what has happened, stop struggling, and forfeit their lives to Jesus.
In this final illustration, man can take no credit in his own salvation. It wasn’t by actions; rather than grab onto a buoy, we fought the One who was trying to save us. It wasn’t by faith; we didn’t care if Jesus could or would save us, because we didn’t even want it in the first place. Instead, it was only by the grace and power of Jesus Christ that we were saved.
Conclusion — Now turn to Ephesians 1:18-2:10.
Paul is writing out his prayer for the church in Ephesus in 1:15-23. In verse 18-19, Paul prays that they might know three things: hope, riches, and His power. He proceeds to explain what the power of God for us is like. It is perfect and incredible. He goes so far as to say Jesus is deserving of every glorious title that exists and will exist in the future. Take a moment to grasp that, and list out some titles Jesus deserves.
Chapter 2 starts with a contrast between the power of God and the condition of man. In sin, people are followers of Satan, the “ruler of the kingdom of the air.” Paul continues, and in verse 3 he calls us “objects of wrath.” We have already discussed and understand what that implies. We destroy by nature, and naturally deserve to be destroyed. Hell.
Then we are blessed with verse 4. It begins with the word “But” and it’s a big but. Paul explains to us that God loves us, and shows us what we have received from that love. Notice how the benefits of God’s grace snowball. He made us alive (2:5). What a miraculous thing that we have been resurrected! But God doesn’t stop there. After giving us life, God seated us with Christ in heaven (2:6). Not only are we alive, we’re in heaven! With Jesus! Seated with Him! But wait, there’s more! After being raised with Christ and seated with Him, God promises to show us “incomparable riches… in the coming ages” What!? That’s awesome! What does that even mean? I don’t know, but we’ll find out!
What did we do to warrant this love and all these rewards? You might be inclined to say nothing, but let me remind you. You are responsible for the murdering of the only truly innocent man in history. We did worse than do nothing; we murdered Jesus. Yet, we still have been given grace. In fact, it’s a bigger deal than the “yet” would have you believe. God didn’t offer us grace in spite of our killing Jesus. The most horrific crime imaginable, torturing and killing the loving God of the universe, was the intended means by which God made His grace available to us.
Like I said before, I often say to myself, no matter how evil my perception of sin is, reality is unimaginably worse. The main reason I remind myself of how absolutely wretched and guilty I am is to remind myself how glorious a savior Jesus Christ is. When we have an accurate perception of sin, we inherit an accurate perception of grace–truly amazing grace. Such a love, when remembered, ought to transform how we live. It is by grace we are saved. Do you share in my awe of God’s grace? Have you been transformed by our Father’s love? I pray so. I pray that you and I may continue to discover how abhorrent sin is so that we might continue to discover how expansive and wonderful God’s grace is.