Ale & Teviot United Church

What “sin” is and how to smash it

Sunday 10 October 2010 : Matthew 10 : 32-42

We find Jesus today in a no-nonsense mood. In this chapter, He has been sending out the 12 disciples on a mission trip, telling them what He expects of them – and telling them what to expect from the people they go to. It is a strange thing, but not everyone welcomes the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not everyone is grateful for the offer of life in abundance, to the full, till it overflows. Not everyone wants to receive the power of Jesus’ love to bring forgiveness for their sins, and healing of all their diseases.

Jesus warns the disciples, in no uncertain terms, that they are likely to face a hostile reaction from many people, especially the self-righteous and the religious. How sad. Sadder still – just as it was then, so it is now. There are still people, in church as well as outside it, who cannot and will not receive the forgiveness Christ died to give them, because they cannot and will not accept that they are “sinners” needing forgiven.

The story is told of a fur-clad stalwart of a prestigious suburban kirk who stormed up to the eager and earnest new minister with these words : Young man, I’ve been a member of this church for 60 years, and I do not appreciate being told I am a sinner! Part of the problem, I think, is the word “sin” itself. It manages to combine a sense of overbearing Victorian judgementalism with, at the same time, salacious modern media sensationalism – either way, “sin” is linked in most people’s minds with, how can I put it with a degree of understated delicacy, bedroom activities. That’s misleading.

“Sin” is a term that derives from the world of archery, and it means, quite simply, missing the target. I have never handled a bow and arrow, but I have played darts, and if I am looking for a double 1 to win the game, but my dart strays into the 20 instead, that would qualify as sin – missing the target – just as surely as if I took my dart and aimed it straight into the eye of my opponent with malice aforethought.

“Sin” is missing the target, by any distance, for any reason. There is absolute and utter perfection, or there is sin. In God’s eyes, there is no halfway house., no league table of big sins and little sins. James 2.10 : whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Paul says in Romans 3.23 that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And that’s the good news! Why? Because if we’re covered by Romans 3.23, we’re also covered by Romans 3.22 : righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe : and Romans 3.24 : we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Anyone like the promises of Romans 3.22 and 3.24? Here’s how we qualify for them – by recognising that we fit under Romans 3.23. The only qualification required to be eligible for the saving grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ is that we know we need it. I think it’s a shame that so many of us try desperately to weave a web of self-justification round ourselves rather than receive the free gift of righteousness that Jesus died to offer us. I try to do my best, I like to think I’m a decent person, I never do anyone any harm. I’m better than so-and-so who did such-and-such.

Whatever. That’s not the point. Jesus said in John 16.9 that sin, in essence, is not what we do or don’t do. Sin is a refusal to believe in, and trust in, Him. End of! Jesus also says in John 3.3 that unless someone is born again, they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I know a lot of people don’t like that verse, but it was Jesus Himself who said it, and if you think about it logically, how else can you enter into the joy of new LIFE, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, other than by new BIRTH, spiritually?

Refusing to put our faith and trust in Jesus keeps us out of God’s best for us, and as sin is, by definition, missing the mark, settling for what we’ve got without Jesus IS sin. God does not want you to settle for second-best. Jesus did not suffer on the cross as He did for you to faff about in mediocrity and frustration all your days and die ahead of time, without fulfilling the purpose God sent you here for. Jesus did not die so you could just muddle through from one crisis to the next, one illness to the next, one stressful situation to the next, one unhappy and unfulfilling relationship to the next.

Can you see why it’s so important to get the true gospel across to our young folks, so that as they find true life in Jesus, with meaning purpose, they will be released from bondage to the world’s system of failure and hopelessness, a system that lies to them that the way to happiness is going with the flow [remember, only dead fish and sewage go with the flow] ; if it feels good, do it ; hey, everybody gets blitzed on Friday night, no harm in that ; no problem if you want to try different partners, it’s a free country ; doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you believe in something..

All that garbage is fed relentlessly to our young folks, by peer pressure, glossy magazines, silly soap operas – and, deep down, they know it’s trash, it’s not working. They still feel empty and insecure, tying themselves in knots, selling themselves short, compromising to be “accepted”. When, all the time, the truth is that Jesus Christ accepts them – and all of us – just as we are, whatever mess we’ve made of our lives. Jesus takes us just as He finds us, He loves us unconditionally, He extends total forgiveness and reconciliation with Father God – and then He gets to work in us.

Today I invite us to have the courage to face facts. I’m going to tell it as I see it, and I am sorry if that offends anybody, but it is the TRUTH of God’s Word that sets us free, not the DECEPTION of a touchy-feely world. So here we go. None of us, off our own bat, is perfect. There’s a revelation, eh? Anyone here perfect? Anyone here married to someone who’s perfect? Anyone here married to someone who thinks they’re perfect?

And because, in and of our human flesh, we’re not perfect ; because we are – to use the technical term – sinners, great! We are eligible to draw on the saving power that Jesus released on the cross. Galatians 3.13f – you know it off by heart by now – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written – cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to us through Christ Jesus, by faith.

So – if today you make a commitment of faith to Jesus Christ, for the first time or for the 101st time, it’s good news all the way. Life need no longer be an uphill struggle, a white-knuckle ride, a bore or a chore. You are redeemed, liberated, from having to settle for second, third or 43rd best. Because Christ has redeemed you from the curse of the Law, the 10 commandments and all the ancillary rules and regulations tacked on to them, you no longer have to try to keep the Law in every minute detail. So – listen …!

If you are a born-again Christ-follower, according to God’s Word, you need no longer be subject to these curses : famine, inability to have children, financial ruin, failed business, fever, inflammation, mildew, tumours, boils, itches, madness, someone else running off with your spouse, the bank repossessing your house or your car, your children turning away from you, scorn, ridicule, hunger, thirst, insect infestation, every kind of disease and sickness. If you don’t believe me, read Deuteronomy 28.15-68.

If you choose to follow Jesus, you have God’s deliverance from these things. If, on the other hand, you choose to deny that you’re a sinner needing saved, and insist you’re a decent person who tries to do your best – in other words, if you trust self-righteousness instead of Christ-righteousness, you are still subject to all those nasties. Bad idea.

So if, as a believer, you are set free from the curse to enjoy the blessing, what exactly is the blessing? Deuteronomy 28.1-14 : empowered to succeed in business, you and your children prosperous, attacks on your character or activities will fail, you will lend but never borrow, you will be the head and not the tail, always on top and never below – and you’ll find a succinct New Testament commentary on all this in 3 John 2 : you will prosper and enjoy health of spirit, soul and body.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer, really. Choose faith in Jesus and enjoy blessing, choose to ignore Jesus and endure cursing. But here’s a wee bit of a sting in the tail. When you make the decision to follow Jesus, as we said earlier, people won’t exactly queue up to shake your hand on your wise decision. Some people will be most unhappy about your new-found faith, because you won’t want to act like an idiot any more like they do.

They’ll be watching you. They’ll be looking for any slip-up, and if you do – when you do – they’ll tease you about it. They’ll try to tell you this holy-roller stuff is just a wee phase you’re going through, you’ll get over it, you’ll be normal again soon. Here’s the thing. Whose love and friendship and approval really matters to you? These clowns, who clearly don’t have your best interest at heart, or Jesus who gave His life for you?

In this passage, Jesus has some tasty things to say about putting Him first, above anyone and anything else. Don’t try still to be a Saturday night sinner and then put on a Sunday morning saint face. I tried that for years. It nearly killed me. You can’t have the old sinful life and the new blessed one at the same time   Jesus wasn’t ashamed to go to the cross for you. Don’t be ashamed to stand firm for Him, and never mind what anyone else may say to you, or about you. Last time I checked, God hadn’t retired and put your unbelieving friends or colleagues in charge of your destiny. Stick with Jesus.

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