Posts Tagged 'sin'

What Is Man, Part 3

In our study of man, we’ve discussed one of the most profound and significant verses in all the Bible:

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalms 8:4 | NIV84)

To me, that is just a remarkable verse; far more remarkable than so many of the things theologians and so-called Bible scholars like argue about. The very fact that God – the Creator of all – takes time to give us, sinful human beings, a thought is staggering enough, but that He is actually “mindful,” watching us carefully and paying attention to us and our circumstances, is, as they say, mind-blowing. But there it is: God is mindful of human beings. He does indeed pay attention to us, and sometimes, in startling ways and in ways so subtle we don’t even notice, the Lord steps into our stream of history and intervenes to change things; to move us along in the direction He wants us to go in.

We’ve also looked at the fact that God created human beings in His “image” and “likeness.” That is, men and women have a rationality, morality, spirituality, and personality missing in lower forms of life. We are able to relate to God and people all the while being the masters of all of creation.

Human beings are the highest forms of God’s creation. All other parts of creation are for the purpose of serving man, just as man’s ultimate, best purpose is to serve God. Man, unlike animals, is theocentric. Whether he knows it or not, or whether he acknowledges it or not, man was created to have his Creator at the center of his life. Man has a built-in desire to worship God, but because of sin, unredeemed man wanders around his whole life, finding other, sinful ways to satiate that desire. Therefore, he ends up worshipping gods of his own making: his job, his family, his hobbies, power, money, sex, and so on.

As far as the two (there are only two, by the way) sexes go, God created them to be equal. While men and women are different and are capable of doing things unique to their particular sex, they are equal since they were both created in ONE image and likeness: God’s. Sin has seriously damaged that equality, so that without God, it seems as though the sexes are not equal. That’s a result of sin; human beings brought that inequality on themselves. Of note, though, is that “in Christ,” there is neither male nor female. In Christ, that equality is completely restored.

And we considered the immaterial, spiritual side of man: his soul and spirit. All living beings have a soul, but the soul of animals is an “earthly soul,” while man’s soul is animated by his spirit, which was breathed into him from Creator. The human soul and spirit are different; they are separate yet inseparable.

The soul and the body

How is your soul related to you body? There are three ways:

First, the soul may be called “the holder of life.” That’s why, for example, the word “life” is interchanged with “soul” in the Bible. The soul seems to infuse the body with life, so that when the soul is gone, the body dies – it no longer exists. When the soul leaves the body, all that remains is a lifeless husk – a bunch of material pieces and particles in a state of even more rapid decay.

Second, the soul inhabits every part of the body and influences all off its parts. That’s why we read odd things like this:

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered…. (Psalms 73:21 | NIV84)

Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. (Job 16:13 | NIV84)

My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad;16 my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. (Proverbs 23:15c-16 | NIV84)

Finally, it is through the body that the soul interacts with the physical world. The senses inform the soul. All the thinking, feeling, willing, and other acts are things the soul does, with the help of the body. It’s your soul that does the sinning with the help of the body.

Sin and the fall of man

When Adam and Eve sinned and man fell from grace, everything changed. The whole of God’s creation was changed, in both subtle and obvious ways. Especially changed was man, created in God’s image. God’s image in man wasn’t completely lost when sin entered the world:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. (James 3:9 | NIV84)

That image, though, was severely damaged. For example, consider this verse in light of the world as we know it today:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28 | NIV84)

Clearly, the earth isn’t subdued and it’s a bad idea for any man to attempt to exercise dominion over a charging elephant or a roaring lion! Man’s relationship to nature has been completely changed because of sin and the resultant curses upon both man and and nature.

As it is with nature, so it is his fellow human beings. Because of sin, the ability to live at peace and harmony with other people no longer comes easy, if at all. If healthy relationships with other people is all but impossible due to sin, it’s totally impossible to have a relationship with God apart from Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. Why? Because sinful man is dead to God and forever alienated from Him.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 | NIV84)

And, maybe worst of all, even if an unredeemed person gets it into his head to “clean up his act” and “do good deeds,” because of his unredeemed, sinful state, those good things do him no good at all.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 | NIV84)

What was the big deal about Adam and Eve’s sin? Why did it cause all of God’s creation to become corrupt? It’s because of the nature of sin; particularly that of the first human couple. Theirs was no “moral lapse” or “an error in judgment.” Their sin was an outright rebellion against God. It was a conscious turning away from God and a rejection of Him. So serious was their sin that the moment they committed it, they began to die spiritually, which would very soon lead to the corruption of the body and to physical death.

In addition to spiritual and physical death, many were the consequences of that first sin. Paul touches on the subject in some of his writing:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. (Romans 1:18 | NIV84)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 | NIV84)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Romans 5:18 | NIV84)

The wrath of God, futility of good works, death, condemnation, all those things resulted from one rebellious act. But perhaps the greatest – or the saddest – result of the first sin was what it did to the human will.

Sin and human nature

When sin entered the world, the will of man – that of all human beings – became corrupt and his nature sinful. People act in accordance to their nature; nobody acts contrary to his nature. Another way to look at it is this: Righteous acts flow from a righteous nature; acts of corruption from a corrupt nature. It can never be otherwise. That’s not to say that  an unsaved person can’t perform a good deed; he can. Maybe his life is full of good deeds.  But he will always, without fail, return to his bent of corruption.

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:33-34 | NIV84)

Jesus said it better than anyone ever could. If you sin, then you are a slave to sin.

This corruption of our will or the fact that our once godly nature turned sinful, has had a devastating effect upon our relationship to God. Once, we had the nature that God wanted us to have, but when Adam sinned, we inherited HIS now-corrupted and sinful nature, not the one God gave to him originally.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

What that means is this: Even the nicest citizen you can think of, if they haven’t been redeemed, then their nature is necessarily hostile toward God, even as Adam’s act of rebellion was hostile toward God. This hostile nature has made that nice citizen estranged from God.

The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8 | NIV84)

Man’s new nature, what we call “the human nature,” is totally corrupt, and that makes all unsaved people dead to God. Being totally corrupt doesn’t mean that human beings only do evil things all the time. It means that without being rescued from our sins by Jesus Christ, we will never be as good as we can be, and we are unable to do anything that God recognizes as righteous. Our day-to-day lives, decisions, and actions will always be affected by sin. We can, and sometimes do, make free and rational decisions that are good and decent, but those choices will always be influenced by our sinful nature.

The nature of sin

We know how and why sin entered the world, but a question that has nagged at philosophers and theologians and those who love Trivial Pursuit, is: How did evil enter the world in the first place? I’m going to skip the various teachings of Greek philosophers and the writings of Neibuhr and Marx.

What needs to be understood is that sin not a “thing.” Sin does not have “substance.” If sin were a “substance,” or a “thing,” it would have had to have been created by God, since He created everything. Even though sin is not a thing, it is real. It is more than just a defect. Sin is an active force that is destructive and corrupts all it touches.

Sin originated in the abuse of one of the greatest gifts God gave man: freedom. Man was created free, and he used that freedom to disregard the glory, will, and Word of God. So, evil is a matter of relationship; it leads one to disobey God and break away from a relationship with Him.  As a matter of fact, thanks to sin, man finds it hard to have a relationship with his fellow man.  Thoughts of jealousy, bitterness, hurt feelings, and so on, always complicate every single relationship we have with other people.  What’s worse, is that thanks to sin, man can’t even have a healthy relationship with himself!  Just think of all the self-destructive things a man does every day of his life.  He eats the wrong foods, he drives too fast, he takes pills to make himself fall asleep and pills to stay awake.  He abuses alcohol and drugs and even other people just to make himself feel better and to dull the mind-numbing pain of loneliness, of a broken heart, and of a futile existence.  This person is in the worst kind of rut, and he needs Jesus to lift him up and out.  Jesus, and only Jesus, can cure the curse of sin.

 

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What Is Man, Part 2

Man is not an animal. He was created with great care and deliberation by God in a way unlike the way He created the animals. Man is a soul, he possesses a spirit, and lives in a body. Animals have souls, too, but theirs is an “earthly soul,” which lives only as long as their body lives.

Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:21 | TNIV)

Man’s soul is completely different because it is animated by a spirit put in him by God. Just looking at animals and people makes it obvious how different they are. Men can do things animals cannot do, no matter how “intelligent” an animal may appear to be. Their intelligence comes from their instinct, not from reason. For example, both animals and people can build homes, but only people can build great cathedrals and skyscrapers. Animals seem to chatter and communicate with each other, and sing, and even say words like the parrot, but only human beings can produce works of art and literature, write symphonies, and come up with all kinds of brilliant inventions.

Something else about the soul is that it is something only humans possess. Angels, for all their amazing powers and abilities, do not have souls. Man became a living soul, but angels are merely spirits. While it’s true that God is also a Spirit, He is different from angels. He is eternal and perfect, but angels are not necessarily eternal, since they may be judged and destroyed.

Some people wonder where the soul comes from. Genesis teaches that God breathed man’s spirit into his body, but what of his soul? Bible scholars seem to be divided on this issue. On one side, there is the group that teaches that each individual soul is an immediate creation from God. According to this theory, the individual soul does not come from our parents but was created by God. There is some Scriptural support for this view. Consider:

I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created. (Isaiah 57:16 | TNIV)

…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 | TNIV)

Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9 | TNIV)

A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit in human beings… (Zechariah 12:1 | TNIV)

On the other side, there is a group that teaches that the soul comes from our parents. They point to, among other things, the sinful nature human beings received directly from Adam. Obviously we didn’t get that from God! They also look at similarities between the personalities and temperaments of children and parents and conclude that all of those characteristics are passed from parents to offspring. They offer Scriptures like these in support of their view:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12, 13 | TNIV)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12 | TNIV)

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22 | TNIV)

So, which group gets it right? Did we get our souls from God or our parents. A good rule of thumb in trying to determine such matters is this: If the Bible isn’t dogmatic about something, then we shouldn’t be, either. In the case of the soul, it seems reasonable to view it as a co-operative venture of both God and parents. When a new life is conceived, it is the result of an act of God and human beings. Paul made a profound observation, which he passed on to the egg heads in Athens:

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28 | TNIV)

God is ultimately in control over all aspects of our world, and nothing happens without His being involved, including how new human beings come into the world. Everything happens according to the laws He set in place.

Ultimately, though, where life comes from will always remain a mystery, at least on this side of Heaven. We’d be wise to avoid going too far in our speculations of such matters.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5 | TNIV)

What we do know for certain is that the creation of man marked God’s crowning creative achievement. Of all the marvelous, wondrous things God created – from the universe to the most delicate of flowers – man was and remains the greatest of His creative work. Of man’s creation, we read this:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

There are two important words that need to be considered. They are: “image” and “likeness.” Most Bible readers skim over those two words without giving them a second thought, but they are important and mean two very different things.

Image and likeness

The first word, “image,” comes from the Hebrew word tselem. It’s a word that has reference to statutes or models. It implies that something in man reflects something of the nature of His Creator. The second word, “likeness,” is the Hebrew word demuth, signifying a pattern or form representative of something else. It suggests that there is something like God about man. But the real interesting aspect of these words is that they suggest man, as great a creation as he is, isn’t quite finished yet; further development will take place. In other words, Adam and Eve were not created perfect, but that they were created to grow. That’s not to say there was something imperfect about their creation, but their “perfection” was like the perfection of a seed, rather than the plant it would eventually become.

As God created each sex, there is complete equality between men and women. In the Creation account, neither sex is given prominence of the other. This makes complete sense since both men and women have been created in God’s image. Interestingly enough, in our “re-creation,” that equality, which was destroyed by sin, is restored.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 | TNIV)

It goes without saying, however, that the Bible teaches a natural distinction between the sexes; each sex has certain functions and responsibilities carried out by men and women (see Genesis 2:18 – 25).

In spite of the greatness of man; in spite of how much like God he is, he is not God and can never be God. Man will always be dependent upon His Creator; that is how it should be. Our Lord once said this:

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. (John 5:26 | NIV84)

That’s total dependency. We have eternal life only as long as Christ’s life is in us.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Since God is a Spirit, He does not possess a body, therefore the image of God in man doesn’t refer to a physical resemblance. God’s image in man involves a natural and moral image.

Natural image

Human beings possess something animals do not, but God does: a personality. This includes things like sensibility, will, intellect, and things like that. Human beings, like their Creator, are able to build civilizations, think deep thoughts, and engage with one another on in intellectual and emotional level. Our ability to think and reason and come to conclusions based on all available information are things we have in common with God.

Moral image

God created man to be a free moral agent. Unlike animals that operate on base instincts, man is able to exercise the power of self-determination. It is that part of man that makes it possible for him to have fellowship with God and to communicate with Him.

The moral likeness between man and his Creator is obvious when it comes to something is deep and profound as love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 | TNIV)

God is love. He doesn’t just love; He IS love – it’s part of His essential nature. This is something we get from God – the ability to love. We first love God, and while it is a commandment, it is also the natural response to His great love towards us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 | TNIV)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 | TNIV)

And this also enables us to love others.

This moral likeness to our Creator also gives man the ability to act righteously and justly. It helps us to distinguish between good and bad. When Adam and Eve were created, they were created with genuine holiness of heart. They had a true inclination toward God, but sin ruined that and now man inclines away from God, not toward Him. But the moral likeness is still there in man, so man, even without God, can still do good, helpful things, but unfortunately, those things can also be turned into something evil.

But through the work of Christ in man, that moral image is restored.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22 – 24 | TNIV)

God and Iniquity, Part 1

We hear a lot about sin. Not that we do much about it, mind you. But we hear a lot about it. What we don’t hear a lot about is something called iniquity. It’s used well over 200 times in the Old Testament and often it’s mentioned along with sin.

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | KJV)

The word translated “iniquity” is a Hebrew words that looks like this: avon. And it refers to something that is “bent, twisted or distorted.” An iniquity is a bending, or a twisting or a distortion of God’s law. In the hierarchy of bad behavior, “iniquity” is the worst of all. It’s worse than sin; worse than a transgression. It’s the deliberate planning and scheming to do that which is opposed what God wants. Take a look at now a modern translation translates Exodus 34:7 –

maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | NIV84)

“Rebellion” is a deliberate turning away from the direction God wants you to be going in. That’s a good picture of what “iniquity” is all about. Of course, “sin” is rebellion too, but it’s different.

Sin

One of the best definitions of “sin” is found in a letter the apostle John wrote:

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 | NIV84)

You may think that sounds a lot like a sin – breaking God’s law – and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s worse than that. While every iniquity is sin, there are degrees of punishment for sin and some sins are worthy of greater punishment than others. For example, if you read about God’s law in the Old Testament, if a person commits adultery, their punishment was death. But if a person stole something, the punishment wasn’t nearly as severe.

A classic verse about “sin” is what king David thought about it:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5 | NIV84)

At first glance, that looks ridiculous. How could an unborn baby be sinful? He hasn’t done anything yet! But that’s not what sin is all about. Think of “sin” as not necessarily something a person does but rather the state he is in. A sin can be an action, but it’s what every human being is. He is a sinner by default. In the Old Testament, “sin” comes from a Hebrew word that means “missing the mark” or “falling short.” By now you’re likely thinking of a rather famous New Testament verse about “falling short.”

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

So “sin” is a lawlessness but it’s also part of who every human being is – he isn’t living up to God’s standard.

Transgression

Back in Exodus 34:7, the word “transgression” is mentioned along with sin and iniquity. It’s also mentioned in Psalm 32:5 –

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”–and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Psalms 32:5 | NIV84)

Those three things – sin, iniquity, and transgression – form the unholy trinity of evil. Like iniquity, a transgression is a sin; it’s the breaking of one of God’s laws. It’s an act, not a state. For example. When you’re out driving around and you drive 60 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, you are transgressing a law of man. There’s nothing bad about going 60 miles per hour, but when you go against a posted law and do it, you’re transgressing a law. You’ll be punished accordingly, and if you change your driving habits, you’ll never be punished again.

So if you look at what David wrote in Psalm 32:5, knowing the difference between the three members of the trinity of evil, you can see what David was getting at. Jack Wellman brilliantly sums it up like this:

David said he will confess (means agree with) his transgressions (his willful acts of disobedience) to the Lord, and God will forgive the iniquity (his bending, twisting, and distorting of the law that grew in the degrees worthy of greater punishment), of his sin (the transgressions of God’s law).

Over the net few weeks, I’d like to take a closer look at the relationship God has with our iniquities. Let’s begin with the fundamental fact that God finds them. Like it or not, we can’t anything from Him, let alone our iniquities.

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

Famine

It all started with seven skinny cows. You’ll recall that Joseph, the brother who had been sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, had risen to the heights of Egyptian polity because the Lord had given the Pharaoh a dream of an impending famine. The poor guy couldn’t make heads or tales of this crazy dream involving these ugly, skinny cows, but Joseph could:

Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. (Genesis 41:29-32 | NIV84)

Well, what’s a Pharaoh to do with information like that? Again, young Joseph had a solution:

Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine. (Genesis 41:34-36 | NIV84)

What Pharaoh couldn’t possibly know, and what Joseph didn’t understand yet, was that this whole famine – a famine that would impact a large portion of the Middle East – was for the sole purpose of reuniting Joseph with his family. Can you imagine? The lengths that God will go to in an effort to make things right and accomplish His great purposes always astounds me.

Power

From prison to pinnacle in a few verses! That’s the way it is with the Lord sometimes.

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:41-43 | NIV84)

Joseph’s rule over Egypt was very successful. The seven years of extreme prosperity resulted in tons and tons and tons of produce being carefully stored away against the coming famine. During this time, two sons were born to Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim.

While Egypt was ready to face the famine, Canaan wasn’t. Apparently word spread among the people of the eastern Mediterranean that food could be bought in Egypt.

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (Genesis 42:1-2 | NIV84)

These brothers of Joseph were a supine, useless lot with no ambition and even less initiative. But they made the journey. It had been some 20 hears since Joseph had seen them. He recognized them but they were clueless about him. Of course, now Joseph was no longer a young, gangly teen. He was grown man, around 40 years of age, dressed professionally and clean shaven. And Joseph wasn’t a fool. He knew his brothers. He would take this occasion to test them. Over the course of two visits, Joseph treated his brothers very, very harshly. His purpose in this test was to see if his brothers had changed in the intervening two decades. Joseph demanded that if the brothers ever needed to come back to buy more food, they would have to bring Benjamin with them. He was the youngest and stayed back home with Jacob.

The famine ravaged on, and it was time to go back to Egypt to buy some more food. Jacob didn’t want Benjamin to go, but he reluctantly gave in and this time he sent his whole brood to Egypt for a supply of groceries. At first, Joseph treated his brothers royally, and especially young Benjamin.

When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him. (Genesis 43:34 | NIV84)

Now it was time to test his brother’s intergrity. Had they changed? Or were they the same shiftless, scheming, good-for-nothing, no account fools that had beat him up and sold him into slavery? He had Benjamin falsely accused of purloining an expensive silver cup.

Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. (Genesis 44:12 | NIV84)

Of course, Joseph arranged to have the cup put there for the purpose of the test. The punishment for this was death. What would these brothers do? Once before they were willing to sacrifice one of their own regardless of the pain it would cause their father. Would they do it again? Or had they changed. Apparently they had changed. The brothers refused to abandon Benjamin, and Judah, the very brother who was responsible for selling Joseph into slavery, stepped forward and in one of the most touching speeches in literature, offered his life for Benjamin’s. It’s not unimportant nor co-incidental that centuries later, a descendant of Judah would offer His life so that others could live.

And that’s the background to the verse that started this whole thing: Genesis 44:16 –

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

The sentence that we need to look at is this: “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” The NIV84 translates it slightly differently: “God has uncovered your servant’s guilt.”

“Iniquity” involves “guilt,” but just what were the brothers guilty of? Think about that for a minute. They certainly weren’t guilty of stealing the cup! That was a trick. These brothers were guilty of nothing. Except for something they had done two decades earlier. Something they thought they had “gotten away with.” But in truth, nobody gets away with anything. God will always – always – uncover or “find out” a sinner’s iniquities. You can’t hide anything from God. Adam and Eve tried that. Earlier in the book of Genesis, we read this exchange after Adam and Eve sinned:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. (Genesis 3:9-10 | NIV84)

And man has been hiding his iniquities – his sins – ever since. God knows what you  and I are guilty of, even if we have managed to hide our actions from everybody on earth. God knows and one day, all will be laid bare for the universe to see. God knows your iniquities and He uncovers them.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Glorifying God

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More than one Bible scholar has noted that Numbers 27 has a “distinctly modern” tone to it. Indeed, the first part of it deals with something we’ve heard a lot about: women’s rights. But there’s more going on here than meets the eye. The problem only seems to be about gender. It’s really about something else. It’s about a fundamental building block of a free society: private property or property rights. It started like this –

“Our father died in the wilderness,” they said, “and he was not one of those who perished in Korah’s revolt against the Lord—it was a natural death, but he had no sons. Why should the name of our father disappear just because he had no son? We feel that we should be given property along with our father’s brothers.” (Numbers 27:3, 4 TLB)

Here was something not dealt with in the Law the Lord gave to Moses some 40 years ago. It’s been that long since Israel had left Mount Sinai and traveled to the border of the Promised Land. Because of their lack of faith and rebellious, mutinous attitude, God would not allow any Israelite to enter the land. In fact, God’s will for Israel now changed. Where once it had been for them to march in and just take possession of the land He gave them, now His will was for the whole nation to turn around and march through the desert for 40 years until the present faithless generation died off.

Yes, it’s a serious thing to go against God’s will. If you’re like the minority of Christians that actually knows God’s will (most do not, by the way), you probably find yourself going against it, like the Israelites did. What you don’t find yourself doing, however, is being forced to wander around a desert as punishment. That doesn’t mean God hasn’t noticed the fact that you rebelled against Him nor does it mean you haven’t disappointed Him. What it does mean is this: If you habitually find yourself out of God’s will, you may do just fine in life. But you’ll never know the full blessing of God; you’ll never know what it feels like to be in the very center of His will. In other words, you’ll won’t be living life to the fullest unless or until you get into the mainstream of the will of God.

God’s solution

So one day, some women came to Moses with a complaint. But it wasn’t like the many other complaints he had to endure; this one had merit and Moses did just what he should have done:

So Moses brought their case before the Lord. (Numbers 27:5 NIV)

This problem was unprecedented. Moses needed a special kind of wisdom; wisdom from above.

And the Lord replied to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are correct. Give them land along with their uncles; give them the property that would have been given to their father if he had lived. Moreover, this is a general law among you, that if a man dies and has no sons, then his inheritance shall be passed on to his daughters. And if he has no daughter, it shall belong to his brothers. And if he has no brother, then it shall go to his uncles. But if he has no uncles, then it shall go to the nearest relative.” (Numbers 27:6 – 11 NIV)

There are ignorant people in the world who think that the Bible – and Judaism and Christianity – put women down or keep women down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judaism, and later Christianity, liberated women from all kinds of oppression. The notion that women should have an equal place with men in society is unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26 – 29 NIV)

Far from being mere baby-producing machines and chefs, women were given a dignity they never had before, in any other culture on earth. Indeed, she became an integral part of the family for all time.

A sin comes home to roost

The good news for women soon gave way to bad news for Moses. The time had come for the Lord to judge Moses for a sin he committed back at the waters of Meribah.

[T]hen Moses and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?”

Then Moses lifted the rod and struck the rock twice, and water gushed out; and the people and their cattle drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe me and did not sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, you shall not bring them into the land I have promised them!” (Numbers 20:10 – 12 TLB)

It took a while, but it was time for Moses to step aside as leader of the Israelites. Many times in the Old Testament we read about the swift judgment and punishment of God, but here is an incident that seems more commonplace to the modern Christian. He is a lot like Moses in that he sins, he knows he has sinned and he knows that without the forgiveness provided by Christ on the Cross he will be face judgment and punishment eventually. But he will live a lifetime before facing his Maker and Judge. Moses knew what his punishment would be but it took a while for it to come to pass. He would live with the knowledge of what he had done and he would live with the knowledge that he would not escape punishment. But in an act of mercy, Moses would be allowed to look into the Promised Land but not to enter into it.

What was the sin Moses was guilty of at Meribah? He struck a rock twice, but was that the sin? According to the text, something else was going on.

When the people of Israel rebelled, you did not glorify me before them by following my instructions to order water to come out of the rock. (Numbers 27:15 TLB)

It appears as though not glorifying God when you have the chance to do so is a serious sin. How many times have we done this very thing? How many times have we not only not glorified God, but actually made God look bad by our words or actions? Thank God for His mercy! But what happened to Moses should serve as a solemn lesson to all believers.

Moses was generally an obedient and faithful servant of the Lord, yet this single incident caused his whole life to be a bitter-sweet experience for him. Maybe you’re like that. Maybe you’re obedient to the Lord sometimes, but often you wander off and try your hand at doing your own thing. Life for you – and other believers like you – must surely be bitter-sweet. There are moments when God seems so close that He feels like He’s right beside you, yet other times He seems to be a million miles away. Bitter-sweet; a life no Christian needs to live.

Moses didn’t have the benefit of the kind of grace you and I experience in Christ, so he had to pay the price for his arrogant presumption that resulted in God not being glorified. Not only he, but Aaron, for Aaron also died before coming to the Promised Land. In graphic fashion we see a before-hand fulfillment of verse in the New Testament, 1 Peter 4:17 –

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (NIV)

The solemnity of this section of Numbers is made all the more striking because of what preceded it. In the first 11 verses of Numbers 27, we read about the remarkable righteousness of God in how He dealt with a group of unfortunate women. And here we see the utter holiness of God. God did not take lightly Moses’ assault on His holiness. We shouldn’t be afraid of God, but we need to learn how to revere Him; how to respect His Person. He is a real Person; He may be offended; He may be hurt; He may be angered.

Moses’ failure and victory

Obviously, there is the main lesson of this section of Numbers, which deals with how one treats God and how God should be treated. But there’s something else going on, sort of percolating just under the surface; a spiritual lesson about the weakness of the Law, exemplified by Moses. Spiritually, Moses (the Law) was not allowed to ender the Promised Land (Heaven). Only through faith and not the Law may one gain entrance into Heaven. Even our best efforts are never enough for God because we are unable to do for ourselves what only Jesus can do for us.

Moses could not enter the Promised Land because of the imperfection of his character. What Moses did he did in front of everybody; for all to see. Moses wasn’t a wicked or evil man; he was imperfect. Moses’ successor, Joshua, was not perfect – nobody is – yet he was permitted by an act of God’s grace to lead Israel into the Land.

Moses could look at the Promised Land but not enter it. The Law could lead a person only so far, but grace brings him home. Paul described the Law as a “schoolmaster,” that leads and teaches but eventually hands a person over to grace to finish the job.

Moses didn’t complain about God’s judgment, he wanted others to reap what he had sown. Even as Moses was given the bad news, he was concerned about who would get Israel into the Promised Land. He wanted Joshua to succeed where he failed. Moses was a class act all the way to the end. His love was for his people and he wanted only was best for them.

God could have judged and punished Moses back at Meribah. Why didn’t He? It was because, in spite of his sin, God wasn’t finished with Moses; Moses still had to finish the job God had for him. He had to get his people back to the border of Canaan Land.

Evil and Suffering: Why

Auschwitz Death Camp

Auschwitz Death Camp

People have a lot of questions about God. They wonder about miracles. They wonder about creation and where they came from. But probably the most often asked question about God that unbelievers (and some believers) ask goes something like this:

If God is real (or if He is so good), why does He allow evil and suffering to continue?

And everybody that thinks to ask that question thinks they are the first person to think it up; that it’s the most profound question any human being has ever asked. The truth is, it’s a dopey question. But don’t tell that to the person who asked it! Rather, look at that dopey question as a “door opener,” an opportunity to share the Gospel with them.

Apologist Paul Little put the dilemma of answering this question succinctly:

Either God is all-powerful but not all-good, and therefore doesn’t stop evil, or He is all-good but unable to stop evil, in which case he is not all-powerful.

Just so. For such a dopey question, it’s tricky to answer.

Things to keep in mind

In dealing with this question, we need to maintain a proper perspective. God created man and He created man perfect. Man was not created evil. God also gave man a free will – the ability to obey or disobey His Creator. The simple fact is, had the first man freely chosen to live in obedience to His Creator, the question of evil and suffering would be moot. There would be no evil or suffering in the world had the first man chose wisely. Unfortunately, that man, Adam, did not, and at the moment of his rebellion, the perfect and harmonious relationship he had with God came to an end. We might go so far as to say that when Adam decided to disobey God, the perfect and harmonious relationship he had with the world around him also came to an end.

And, unfortunately for the rest of us, Adam’s tendency to disobey God was passed on to his descendants.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12 NIV)

If we accept this to be true – and we should because it’s what the Bible teaches – then the next logical thing to consider is this: Why didn’t God make man so that he couldn’t sin? The answer to this is obvious: God wasn’t making robots or puppets, He was making people. It wasn’t a mechanical, chatty doll God wanted to have a relationship with. He created beings like Himself, so that when that being said “I love you,” God would know he meant it. Real love is always voluntary, it is never forced or coerced or imaginary.

Furthermore, since the problem of evil and suffering in the world is man’s fault and not God’s, God certainly could wipe away all evil and suffering in an instant. But then that would mean He would have to wipe away us. Jeremiah once wrote:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22 NIV)

Indeed, it is a measure of God’s compassion that He doesn’t stamp out evil.  If He did, this world would be lonely place.

The truth is, God has already done something about the problem of evil in the world. He did the most dramatic, stunning, and powerful thing He could do: He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for sinful (evil) men. God made it possible to deal with evil and suffering and yet also make it possible for all men to escape judgment and punishment. God arranged for His Son to take evil man’s punishment.

These are the things to be kept in mind when trying to answer the question of evil and suffering in the world. In all likelihood, those things won’t completely satisfy the person asking the question if they don’t hold the same Bible-based worldview we Christians do, but this must be your mindset and starting point.

A basic problem with the question

The stumbling block for some people is trying to reconcile the notion of an all-good God with evil. If God is so good, how can He possibly allow evil and suffering? The basic problem with that question is our understanding of the word of “good.” What is “good” for us and what is a “good” God? Is a “good” God a God who only lets “good” things happen to us? Does a “good” God treat us like we deserve to be treated? Here’s the thing, when you get right down to it, we don’t know what’s “good” for us. A great many of you reading this might think a million dollars would be very good for you. But would it? What you do with that million dollars? Would it strengthen your relationship with your spouse? With God? Would a million dollars make you happy?

Let’s take that notion of happiness. Ask almost anybody and they will say that happiness is the greatest good in life; that they deserve to be happy. In fact, some people will go so far as to say that God wants them to be happy. But is that true? Those people think that happiness has to do with comfort or security and good feelings. But true, lasting happiness is much deeper than mere feelings. And as hard as it may be to believe, suffering doesn’t preclude the possibility of happiness. There may be times when our greatest happiness can only be achieved through what appears to us as negative experiences. Take away those so-called negative experiences, like suffering, and God would rob us of a rare chance to experience some profound opportunities of personal and spiritual grow and to see a side of happiness we would miss out on otherwise.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10 NIV)

Bad karma?

Okay, so man is pretty ignorant about what’s good for him. Some people can accept that. So where does evil come from, then? When there is no apparent explanation for acts of evil or evil events, how do we explain it? Some people fall back on the law of karma. It’s not just drugged out hippie tree huggers that believe in karma. The so-called “law of karma” says that what happens to you today is the result of your actions, either in the past or in a past life. So things like physical ailments and a run of bad luck are the results of things you did in the past or in your past life. People who subscribe to the dopey “law of karma” do little to help themselves or others when they suffer because, after all, God is only giving them what they deserve in the first place.

There is a grain – a very small grain – of truth in this. Think about this verse in relation to “bad karma”:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

Isn’t Paul talking about “bad karma” here? Doesn’t this mean that human suffering is a punishment from God? It certainly sounds like it when, for example, preachers across the country blamed Hurricane Katrina on the sins of Louisiana during Mardi Gras. Or when you, as a Christian, go through a rough patch after you committed some sin. Isn’t that how God works? How many times have you said something like this: “What did I do to deserve this?” How about Job? His friends all thought his suffering was brought about by his wrong thinking.

The short answer is this: To think that every bad thing that happens to you or somebody else is God’s judgment or punishment is nothing more than superstition. However, the longer is answer is, well, a bit longer. God does indeed notice our sins. Much of the suffering we endure may well be the natural results of a sinful lifestyle, like a hangover, for example. Then there are Bible characters like Miriam, whom God afflicted with leprosy because she challenged the leadership of Moses. And David. God took the life of David’s newborn son because of David’s sin. And what about Ananias and Sapphira?

One of the great, profound truths of Scripture is that God always warns people ahead of His acts of judgment. For example:

But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3b NIV)

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV)

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. (Matthew 23:37, 38 NIV)

If apparent evil or sufferings come along, you or whomever is experiencing it will be left without any doubt if it is the result of God’s judgment. He will make that known.

Another possibility

We’ve noted that evil and suffering on Earth are often the result of man’s inhumanity to man. Man sins, evil ensues. Or a man builds his house on a floodplain and eventually that house will end up under water. A child is run over and killed by a drunk driver. Someone you love accidentally takes too many pills and suffers the consequences. Things happen – bad things – that are completely out of your control but are easily explained when you have all the facts.

But, man is not alone on this planet. There is an enemy here. You can’t see him, but he’s here all the same. He appears in many forms, sometimes he appears as an “angel of light” or as a “roaring lion.” Satan is his name and his sole purpose in life is to bring as much chaos and trouble into the life of man as he can. He was allowed by God to cause the sufferings of Job. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the farmer’s harvest was ruined by Satan, whom Jesus referred to as “an enemy,” in Matthew 13:28 NIV.

Satan exists today to cause trouble. And he’s expert at it. While our great enemy has limited power, he cannot – cannot – touch the one in close fellowship with God:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7, 8 NIV)

Man isn’t the only one

There is one other thing to keep in mind when considering the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Our God is not far away and distant from His creation. He is not far removed from His people. God not only sees our suffering, He actually feels it. There is no pain, physical or otherwise, that you have ever experienced that has not touched God first.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3 NIV)

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18 NIV)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

Summary

The problem of the continued existence of evil and suffering is a question many people like to ask and its answer is multi-faceted. The Bible doesn’t spell out an answer in a verse or two, but it gives us tiny clues from the Old and New Testaments.

First, evil and suffering resulting in loss and tragedy is more often than not the result of the thoughtless, sometimes sinful actions of people. J.B. Phillips, in his book God Our Contemporary, wrote this:

Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will.

He’s right.

Second, evil and suffering in the world can often be traced back to bad, thoughtless, or evil decisions made by people. The oft-cited “law of unintended consequences” kicks in and innocent people suffer because a decision somebody made, or a law or regulation passed by government.

Third, sometimes suffering may touch us because God in His sovereignty allows it to for a purpose, often known only to Him.

Fourth, the enemy of God and man is at work in this world, and he has a limited free hand in what he is allowed to do on Earth until his final judgment.

Lastly, there is not a human being alive on Earth who has suffered as much as God has. God feels the suffering of all people, all the time. God has confronted the problem of evil and suffering head-on in the Person of His only Son, Jesus Christ. In dealing with man’s problem, God gave everything He had to give. The consequences of man’s sin have been dealt with forever in the work of Jesus Christ. No man need suffer alone or suffer for no reason when he may embrace the Savior and His work.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17, 18 NIV)

The Awful Truth About Sin

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Evangelical Christians love their sound bite theology. If it’s a catchy slogan that fits on a bumper sticker, or a refrain in the latest Christian pop song on KLOVE, they’ll believe it. “God is in control.” “God has a plan for your life.” “Jesus is coming soon.” There is no shortage of these kinds of slogans. But are they Biblical? Is God really in control of everything? Everything? And just how long has Jesus been “coming soon?” That’s the trouble with slogan theology. It makes all the sense in the world, but only as long as you don’t think too long about it.

“All sins are equal, you know.” That’s what passes for profound thinking in the church these days. I haven’t seen it on a bumper sticker, but it certainly qualifies. There are variants of that slogan, like this one:  “All sin is sin.” Let’s talk about the notion that “all sins are equal.”

Two views

Unless you are a Roman Catholic, you’ve probably heard and repeated this bit of popular theology. Roman Catholics believe there are mortal sins and venial sins. A mortal sin is a super serious sin that separates a person from God. The only hope for one who has committed a mortal sin is confession to a priest, repentance, remorse, and some kind of penitential service. A venial sin is a sin that must be confessed to a priest, but it’s not nearly as serious a sin as a mortal sin. It won’t stop a person from having fellowship with God. A person can never be eternally condemned just because he commits a venial sin.

That’s a relief. Or is it? Is the Roman Catholic two-step even Biblical? As far as the Protestants go, the great Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) didn’t like the Roman Catholic idea of sin. They thought sin was much more serious than the Roman Catholic Church did. They came up with the idea that man is totally depraved, and no mere talk with a parish priest could help him. They believed that every man is rotten to the core – that sin infects every square inch of a man’s being.

Of course, the doctrine of total depravity, as the Calvinists call it, or original sin as other refer to it, is an accurate picture of sinful man. He is totally depraved. That doesn’t mean he’s as bad as he could be, only that he is riddled with sin (like a disease) and that there is no hope for him apart from a work of grace initiated by God. Martin Luther and his pals, by the way, never once taught that “all sins are equal.” But over the centuries since the Reformation, that’s the impression a lot of Protestants have been left with. In fact, the idea that “all sins are equal” is so ingrained in Protestant consciousness, it’s hard for them to see the truth even when it is in black and white. Or red and white. Verses like these are often misunderstood and used to support the notion that “all sins are equal.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28 NIV)

Is Jesus really saying that a lustful thought about illicit sex with a woman is just as bad as the act itself? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. What Jesus is doing in these verses is explaining that all sin begins, not with the act itself (like murder or adultery), but with a thought or an attitude. The Pharisees prided themselves in keeping the “letter of the law,” but the problem they couldn’t overcome using the law was the same problem we can’t overcome: total depravity. Jesus’ point was that merely keeping the law really didn’t do anything to change a person’s life; that a list of do’s and don’t’s is useless in making a person righteous. It takes a change on the inside of a person to do that. What Jesus wasn’t doing in that teaching is saying, “all sin is equal.”

Sin versus sins

Essentially, what Jesus was saying is that nobody can get through a day sin-free. Yes, you can make it through a day without committing adultery. You can make it through a day without committing a murder. You can get through a day or two without stealing, telling a lie, taking the Lord’s Name in vain, etc. But you are still a sinner because you are living in sin. You can stop committing a particular sin, but you can’t stop being a sinner. According to Jesus, sin is not just outward acts but an inward disposition; the root of sin goes deep into man’s inner-most parts.

In Romans 7, the apostle Paul describes what normal life is like for the true believer. I know some Bible scholars see Romans 7 as the way Paul was before his conversion, but a Bible reader has to do exegetical backflips to see it that way. Read these verses and I bet you’ll see yourself in them:

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.  It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. (Romans 7:18 – 25 TLB)

I believe that to be the normal experience in every Christian’s life. We, as genuine born again Christians, struggle every day with our sinful nature (root of sin, total depravity, original sin). We’re saved and our sins are forgiven, but we still have a natural bent toward sin.

All sins can’t be equal

So, why is this an important topic? Does it really matter if you believe “all sins are equal?” What you believe about God (your theology) influences what you think about God and what you think He thinks about you.  Isn’t it a perverse God who thinks that murder is on the same level as, say, telling a white lie?  Or stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family is just as bad as stealing it because of greed?

Many times our assumptions are wrong or inadequate. A lot of cherished beliefs we hold come not from the Bible but from Aesop’s Fables or some stories we learned from our parents. It’s vitally important to know your theology is Biblical so you can function in the mind of Christ.

All sins can’t be equal because, first of all, such an idea goes against common sense. Is it reasonable to believe that, for example, fudging on your tax return is as bad as molesting a child? Or engaging in a little neighborhood gossip is as serious as poisoning your nagging spouse? Or an act of horrible violence is no worse than reusing a postage stamp?

Common sense tells us that all men are sinners because of what theologians call “original sin.” In other words, all human beings ever born inherit the condemnation heaped upon Adam. We may not be guilty of committing the sin he committed, but Adam is our spiritual and moral “head.”

When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. His sin spread death throughout all the world, so everything began to grow old and die, for all sinned. (Romans 5:12 TLB)

So by virtue of the fact that we descend from Adam, we are sinners just he was. Total depravity and original sin were passed on from Adam to succeeding generations, down to this very day. The finished work of Christ took away the guilt of original sin, but our tendency to sin remains. That’s why Paul wrote this in Romans 6 –

Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin; for when you are deadened to sin you are freed from all its allure and its power over you. (Romans 6:6, 7 TLB)

And in the very next chapter, this –

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things. (Romans 7:15 – 17 TLB)

So all men are sinners, equally. That’s common sense. We know all men are sinners because the Bible tells us, but also all we have to do is look around. The evidence of our own eyes confirms our theology.

Common sense tells us something else: some sinners are worse than others. Common sense tells us that Jack the Ripper was far more evil than some schmuck who pilfers a few thousand dollars from his employer. Of course, we’re talking about crimes here. God is concerned about sins. Both a murderer and a petty thief have two things in common: they are sinners by God’s standard and criminals by ours. Their crimes are not equal. But what about their sins?

Let’s take another example; one that hits close to home – my home. One day, I shouted my order into the microphone at McDonalds. A Big Mac, large fries, and a Coke – a diet Coke, of course. My order as it appeared on the screen was correct, right down to the penny. I drove up to the window, handed my debit card to the girl and she handed me a bag, a diet Coke, then my card and receipt. I drove off. When I got to the office, I sat down to eat. Out of the bag I pulled: A Big Mac, a large fry, and a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese. I checked my receipt immediately. My receipt – what I ended up paying for – was for a cup of coffee! So not only had I been given an order I hadn’t ordered, I actually paid for a much smaller order. All of this happened without my knowing; I didn’t look in the bag before driving off and I didn’t look at my receipt. The fault was McDonald’s, not mine.

I admit I enjoyed both burgers immensely.

So the question is: did I sin by not going back to McDonalds to straighten out the order; at least pay for what I got? What if the mistake was really God’s blessing in disguise? And after all, who was hurt? It’s a trivial event in my 50 years of life, but it’s stuck with me all these years. If “all sins are equal,” is my sin of getting a meal for the cost of a cup of coffee the same as Jack the Ripper’s sins of murder and who knows what all?

In God’s sight

As always, common sense is revelatory: all sins may be not be equal in terms of human judgment, but they may or may not be equal in God’s sight. There is another folksy saying that goes like this: “How many sins will keep you out of heaven? Only one.” That’s a little better. While all sins may not be equal, God is cognizant of them all, and all sins equally alienate us from God. All sins equally damage our relationship with God. All sins need to be repented of because – note this – they all equally bring condemnation. All sins, from telling a little white lie to stealing an old person’s pension to killing another human being equally grieve God.

So are the Roman Catholics right with their two-step approach to sin and are the Protestants, with their “all sins are equal” wrong? Or is their a third view? A Biblical view?

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul confronted a particularly nasty situation: a man was sleeping with his father’s wife. The Greek is a bit fuzzy; but at the very least there was a case of adultery going on in the church and at worst it was a case of incest. Paul’s solution seemed harsh:

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:4, 5 NKJV)

If all sins are the same, why single this loser out? Why excommunicate him when surely there were other terrible sins simmering beneath the surface in this large, metropolitan church? Clearly in Paul’s view, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not all sins are equal.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! (1 Corinthians 5:1 NKJV)

That’s Paul shocked at what was going on in that church. For sure there were gossipers in that church. There were liars and cheats, too. There were over-eaters and maybe even drunkards sitting in those Corinthians pews. But Paul singled one out. Not all sins were equal to him. Some, in this case sexual sin, were definitely more heinous than others. There is a hierarchy of sins. There are degrees of sin. That is, some sins like sexual sins, do more harm to the Body of Christ than others.

That is why I say to run from sex sin. No other sin affects the body as this one does. (1 Corinthians 6:18a TLB)

Some scholars view “the body” as being the human body. But others, I’m one of them, think “the body” refers to “the Body of Christ.” That it means this seems obvious since in the preceding chapter, Paul dealt with a sexual sin going on within a congregation – the Body of Christ. So the most serious of sins are those that do the most harm to the Church of Jesus Christ. If we view sins as varying in degrees, then we can say that both the Roman Catholics and the Protestants are partly correct. Not all sins are the equal (point to the Roman Catholics) and all sins are equal in the sense that they grieve God and harm man’s relationship with Him (point to the Protestants).

Degrees

We can conclude safely that from the Bible’s standpoint, there are differences in sins. Some harm the Body of Christ more than others. And there is at least one sin that is unpardonable and therefore shouldn’t even be prayed for. But all sins are the same in that they grieve God’s heart and cause a rift to develop between a believer and God and between believers.

Common sense application of tried, tested, and true Bible passages make a lot more sense than sound bite, bumper sticker theology.

 

The Penitential Psalm, 1

sunset Psalm 51:1—5

Psalm 51 contains some of the most powerful and well-known phrases in all of Scripture; phrases that have etched their way into the hearts and minds of believers and non-believers alike as they grapple with regret and repentance.  How many people over the centuries have repeated these verses as they prayed for forgiveness?

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  (Psalm 51:10—12  KJV)

David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah, her husband, provide the occasion for this penitential psalm.  2 Samuel 12 provides the historical background:

“I have sinned against the Lord,” David confessed to Nathan.

Then Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. But you have given great opportunity to the enemies of the Lord to despise and blaspheme him, so your child shall die.”  (2 Samuel 12:13, 14  TLB)

King David’s sin was awful but his repentance was genuine.  All great men of God have never been afraid to open up and confess their sinfulness before the Lord.  In fact, one of these great men, Augustine, wrote a book called, appropriately enough, “Confessions.”  It’s a classic work, but David’s Psalm 51 is the greatest confessional ever written.  Anglican bishop, John James Stewart Perowne had this to say about Psalm 51:

It is a prayer, first, for forgiveness, with a humble confession of sinful deeds springing from a sinful nature as their bitter root; and then for renewal and sanctification through the Holy Ghost.

Obvious observations

This psalm, as all confessions should be, is addressed not to any man but to God.  All sin is a strike against Him and so He is the one we need to talk to.

David’s thoughts about his sin

Oesterley observed:

For the realization of the sense of sin, set forth with unflinching candor, it has no equal in the Psalter.

David was not a preacher or evangelist, and he was not a theologian; he was a warrior king.  He was also a poet; a rare kind of person who was able to put into words the thoughts and emotions of his heart.  In this psalm, we are reading what this man thought about his sin.  His record really is remarkably candid; he holds nothing back.  Even though these verses are full of theology, they are simply what this one man thought.  For that reason, we must read these verses carefully, respectfully, reverently, and we must tread softly through them.  Even though they are David’s thoughts about this one sin, they have something very profound to say to us.

We have largely lost the sense of sin today

Something that strikes us about Psalm 51 is that modern man couldn’t have written it for he has largely lost his sense of sin.  The world is losing it’s consciousness of God and as a result, they are losing their sense of sin.  By and large, there is no shame in sin anymore; there is no fear of the consequences of sin anymore.  That’s why this psalm is so important; it’s like an ancient compass that’s able to direct our hearts back in the right direction.

Because God isn’t real to modern man, the reality of God’s inevitable punishment for sin is either unknown or scoffed at.  Let’s face it, we obey man’s laws because we fear getting caught and punished, but to modern man, God isn’t real.  However, when God is made real to us, we not only fear to sin, but fear because of sin.

In the first five verses of Psalm 51, we read of David’s three-fold view of sin.

He viewed his sin as a transgression, verses 1 and 3

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness:  according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  (verse 1  KJV)

For I acknowledge my transgressions:  and my sin is ever before me.  (verse 3  KJV)

When a man sees the sin in his life, he realizes his desperate need for forgiveness, and all he can do is throw himself on God’s mercy.  Sin creates a barrier between man and God; fellowship is not only disrupted, it’s impossible.  Sin causes God’s blessings to dry up.  Fortunately for us, God has promised to forgive the sinner, and also fortunate for us, that forgiveness is based solely on HIS love and compassion.

“I am Jehovah, the merciful and gracious God,” he said, “slow to anger and rich in steadfast love and truth.  I, Jehovah, show this steadfast love to many thousands by forgiving their sins; or else I refuse to clear the guilty, and require that a father’s sins be punished in the sons and grandsons, and even later generations.”  (Exodus 34:6, 7  TLB)

David knew this and that’s why the very first thing he did was appeal to God’s mercy.

The startling thing about sin is that it means a lot more than just “missing the mark,” the definition most of us are familiar about.  Here, David used the word translated transgression, which has the idea of rebellion.  So, far from “missing the mark,” David, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw his sin as not a passive thing, or an accidental “going too far,” but as outright rebellion.

Sin, then, means setting yourself up against a lawful authority.  It means snubbing your nose as what you know to be right and true.

When you view sin like that, you get a sense of awful it is.  Regardless of what the sin may be, it’s an act of rebellion against God personally.  That’s why we sinners need to appeal to God’s mercy.

“Transgression,” then, was David’s initial view of his sin.  And it’s the outward aspect of sin.

He viewed his sin as iniquity, verses 2 and 5

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. (verse 2  KJV)

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  (verse 5  KJV)

In verse 2, David’s “washing” and “cleansing” are two ways of looking at one thing:  forgiveness.  Forgiveness is an act of divine grace that blots out sin; the sinner is “washed” and “cleansed.”  He can’t do this by himself or for himself.  God is the only One who can accomplish this.

So deeply was the urge to sin ingrained in David, he wrote that he was the way he was by his very nature.  Sinful tendencies in man go all the way back to the dawn of mankind:  you and I are sinners because we are members of a fallen race.

In these two verses, David sees his sin as iniquity.  This refers to the inward aspect of sin; the fact that sin dwells within us; it actually part of us.  The Hebrew word behind iniquity refers to that which is “twisted,” “bent,” or “warped.”  So then, sin consists not only of wrong doing, but in wrong being; not only does man commit sins, he is sinful by very nature; rotten to the core of his being.

David’s guilt ran as deep as his sin nature.  The weight of all the conniving, the lying, the adultery, and the murder was crushing.  After he had been forgiven, he realized his actions were rooted in his very being, and that’s why David cried out the way he did.  He not only wanted his sins forgiven and guilt assuaged, he wanted his inner man—his nature—“cleansed” and “washed.”  Only God could do that, too.  And that’s the essence of salvation—a radical change to the inner man.  That’s what David wanted; that was his heart’s cry.

He viewed his sin as missing the mark, verses 3—5

For I acknowledge my transgressions:  and my sin is ever before me.  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil gin thy sight:  That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  (verses 3—5  KJV)

In these verses, the Hebrew word is translated simply as “sin,” and it simply means, “missing the mark.”  As mentioned earlier, this is the most common definition of sin.  Sin is coming up short; it’s coming short of where God wants you to be.  It means that your actions aren’t good enough; they just don’t cut it with God; you don’t make the cut.

What’s interesting about the word “sin” here is that every sin is “a blunder” and “a crime” at the same time!  It’s missing the mark, yes, but it’s not an innocent missing of the mark; it’s a crime against God.  That’s David’s point in verse 4, and it’s why some have been critical about David.  In view of what he did, how can David claim he sinned only against God?  What about Uriah, the man he had killed?  Surely both the adultery and the murder were against Bathsheba!  David also sinned against his own family.  You could also argue that David sinned against society.

Here’s the thing:  The first two views of sin deal with it’s relationship to God.  Sin is man’s rebellion against God and man’s sinfulness is a perversion of the way he is supposed to be.  Man was not created to be a sinner or to sin.  All that happened after man was created.  That’s why sin is a personal assault against God Himself.  That’s not to dismiss the effects sin has on people, but the overriding sense of sin must be this:  It is against God.  That’s why sin, all sin, is so serious.

David, the penitent man

In Acts 13:22, we read this of the conniving, lying, adulterous, murderous Kind David:

But God removed him [King Saul] and replaced him with David as king, a man about whom God said, ‘David (son of Jesse) is a man after my own heart, for he will obey me.’  (TLB)

The question we have to ask is this:  How can a man like David be described as a “man after God’s own heart?”  The answer is Psalm 51.  It reveals David’s heart; it shows us how a truly penitent man talks to God in response to his sin.  Somebody who isn’t truly penitent may feel sorry for his sin; he may feel the guilt of his sin and regret it; he may even feel the shame of his sin, but until he sees his sin in relation to God, he’s only half way there.  David saw his sin for what it was:  a heinous crime against God Himself.  When a sinner understands that, he will find the forgiveness he seeks.  David, like the prodigal son, had the perspective we all need if we want to be “people after God’s own heart.”

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son—’”  (Luke 15:20, 21  TLB)


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