I've taught this class now a couple of times, and I've started it off both times with the same request.
It was... Always in public. Always inconvenient. Always embarrassing.
Of course, that request to share is just an ice-breaker, a feeble attempt to get people’s mouths to open and to spur discussion. I think maybe I need to change my opening, but still when I’m discussing the subject of SIN, I somehow think it is an appropriate topic.
My next discussion-spurring attempt met with a little more response: “How would you describe God? What words would you use?”
This always gets some unique answers, but there are a few that come to the forefront. Some people will describe him as kind and gentle. Others go with Lord and Master. Savior is a popular term. This time, I had the spectrum ranging from a man with a long white beard to a gentle Father in Heaven.
Before we dig into the specifics, I’d like you to consider the strange and fictitious case of four friends from New York City who decided to swim from their city on the east coast of the United States across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England. They were all young and strong (and crazy), but some were better swimmers than others. In fact, they ran the gamut with regards to skill in the water from novice swimmer to Olympic competitor. Each was responsible for his own swim and for his own support system during the journey. They set a date, and they began to prepare.
After some time, the day came and they all met at Long Beach to begin their adventure. One guy stood there all alone. Another guy had a buddy in a kayak with him. The third guy’s support was a couple of people in a large motorboat. Finally, the fourth guy showed up with a crew in a yacht off shore.
At the appointed time, they all jumped in and began to swim. They were still in sight of the Empire State Building when the first tragedy struck. A cargo ship hit the guy that was all alone and he was killed. However, the three that were left swam on.
When the group reached the point where the city was just beyond the horizon, the kayaker gave up and headed back. It wasn’t long before the guy he was there for grew too tired to continue, and he drowned.
There was still two left, and they were great swimmers so they weren’t discouraged. They stroked on. About mid-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the waves became too much for the third guy’s support crew and they hailed a passing ship with a mayday. Soon, with no spotters and no support, he drowned as well.
There was now only one left. He was so proud that he had swum further than his fellow swimmers. He had known from the beginning that he was the best swimmer in the group, and now he was living proof of his superior skill. He kept going. He was going strong. Eventually, he even began to glimpse London over the top of the waves. However, just as he was taking another strong, smooth, confident stroke toward his goal, a great white shark snagged him from the surf and ate him for dinner.
So, the question for you is….
Which one of the four is less dead?
Now, before you get mad at me for a morbid story, there is a point.
Obviously, some had more skill. The last guy in particular was a fantastic swimmer. Some had better support around them. But, in the end, did it really matter which one was the better swimmer? Or, which one had the best people around him? They all fell short of their goal. They all missed the mark. They all died. Dead is dead.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his Grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:21-24
The word “sin” is another one of those religified words. It used to have more meaning, but now is purely in the realm of religion. That said, it really is a simple word meaning to do something wrong, or to wrongly not do something that should be done.
Interestingly, the above referenced verse explains that ALL are subject to sin. We have all fallen short of the goal. None of us reach the glory of God. So, like the swimmers, we have all fallen short. Does it really matter all that much which one of us was better before we fell short? Or, which one of us is better after falling short?
So, why is that a big deal? Many consider the concept of sin to be a joke. “I’m only human!” “I’ve got to sow my wild oats!” “Hey, I haven’t killed anyone. I’m just having fun!” Others, mostly the really religious among us, don’t really think the sin that they’ve committed is as bad as what others do. They might not say it out loud, but inside they think that they are better because they are more righteous. They're quite confident of their spiritual strokes.
The real problem, however, is also found in Romans…
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wages. What you get paid when you work. It is what you earn by doing a job. Paul says what we earn for ourselves when we sin is death.
Here is where we get into that arena where our image of God affects how we perceive things. Some view God’s reaction to sin as one of an angry God who is eager to strike you down for sin. The whole concept of “Fire and Brimstone” used to scare people into submission has propagated that view. Others see God as so benevolent that what we do makes no difference to Him. After all, He loves everyone, so sin really doesn’t matter. Right?
But, we’ve all sinned. And the wages of sin is death. And God does love us. How do we reconcile those things?
That was God’s issue too. He came up with an answer, and we’ll get to that, but first let’s take a closer look at what sin does to us. It is important that we fully understand our predicament.
In my previous posts, I’ve noted that “God is all about the relationship.” In light of that, consider the following verses.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2
Our sins. The things that we have done that are wrong. They have caused a separation between us and our God. They have caused a wall to be formed to keep us apart. WE caused the separation, not God.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
I John 1:5-6
God is light. In Him, darkness cannot exist. He cannot coexist with sin. When we sin, WE cause the separation because the very nature of God cannot coexist with us. By sinning, we have placed ourselves in a state of separation from God. It is not that God wants to strike us. Quite the contrary. The problem is that by His very nature, He cannot be in our presence as long as the sin lives in us. Our sin has created a state of lostness, separation, and spiritual death. WE have fallen short.
The Bible describes in pretty specific terms what things are considered sin, but the lists are not exhaustive. For reference, see Galatians 5:19-21 and James 4:17. I’m not going to dig into each specific action or inaction, but just suffice it to say that we’ve got plenty of opportunity to screw things up.
So, what’s the bottom line? We have ALL sinned. Every stinkin’ one of us. We have all fallen short. Some of us might have drowned in sight of London, but most of us met Davy Jones Locker somewhere along the route. We are…apart from the gift of God…all separated from God.