June 18, 2011

Urban Legends: Sin Myths

This message was preached on May 22, the day after Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would take place on May 21.


Well, this morning is a bit awkward. Either there was no rapture and the Christian church looks like a bunch of idiots or charlatans...or we are the ones left behind. Either way I’m a little unprepared this morning. I was thinking I wouldn’t be here today with the rapture yesterday and all...so I didn’t prepare anything. I was expecting to be sipping lattes over brunch with John Wesley and St. Peter right about now...so...I feel a bit awkward.

These sorts of things make us look foolish as followers of Jesus, and yet our beliefs, even without the predictions, sound crazy to many.


We believe that a man from a small town in the middle east was the Son of God...was God Incarnate...and was crucified for our sins...then 3 days was resurrected from the dead. Then He floats into heaven and will return some day to establish His Kingdom.

From the beginning we believe something that is craziness to many. And while we have some wackos who make predictions, we still believe that Jesus will return, that He will establish His Kingdom, and will set everything that is wrong to right. So while I make a little fun of the goofball who predicted knowing the end of the world...there are many waiting in line to make fun of me just because I believe the craziness of Christianity.

This morning we are talking about some very popular myths about sin. Sin is not a popular topic. Many churches and pastors have stopped using the word altogether; preferring words like “mistake,” downfall,” or the biblical sounding “falling short.”

They don’t want to offend people or they don’t use the word “sin” because they want people to be encouraged and uplifted...which is a good thing. We call the story of what God has done “Good News!” and I have heard churches talk about the “Good news” in a way that doesn’t sound good at all. But we can’t water things down, and if we neglect calling sin sin, talking about our sinful nature, and what God has done to give us forgiveness...we are doing a great disservice to the world around us.

What this has created is a very serious issue for Christians...we have been afraid to talk about sin so many Christians do not act any different from the world around them. They have added Jesus to their life like an accessory, and have not taken serious His call to follow Him and do life in the pattern He has set...starting with repentance of our sin and turning from it.

The problem is we talk about sin in general and not in specifics. We say things like, “We shouldn’t sin!” and “God doesn’t want us to sin!” and we never say what is or is not a sin. And it really is a fine line to walk because when you start naming things you give the impression that you are against people who practice them. There is a fine line to walk.

We are going to look at four very popular myths involving people’s understanding of sin, and talk about how they stand in the way of God’s purpose for our lives.

The first myth is
Myth: I'm not all that bad...

This is a very dangerous myth because it stands against everything God says about what is wrong in our world. This myth keeps us from seeking God’s forgiveness and salvation because if we haven’t sinned...if we aren’t all that bad...then there is no need for God or His forgiveness.

There is an old preacher story about a man wandering through the desert. He is dying of thirst, and then he sees an oasis ahead. When he gets there a man is giving away neckties.

“Would you like a tie?” The man asks.

“No, I need water.” The dying man says.

“Sorry. I don’t have any water. Maybe you can find some over that next hill.”

So the man keeps crawling. Then, over the next hill, he sees another oasis. As he staggers into the oasis he sees a beautiful restaurant. On the other side of the window is a waiter pouring water into a glass. He goes to the door and says, “Please help. I need water!”

The Maitre De says, “I’m sorry sir, but you are not properly dressed! You need a tie!”

Some of those illustrations from long ago are quite a stretch, but you get the point. The man didn’t want the tie because he saw no need for the tie. When someone sees no need for God or minimized the value of God’s salvation...it is because they have greatly misunderstood their sinfulness.

If we believe we are without sin we don’t see our need for a savior. And so we compare ourselves. People love to watch the latest celebrity breakdown, and I think it is because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If we don’t understand that sin is everyone’s problem then we compare ourselves to others. We look at that shipwreck of their lives and think, “Well, I’m not at bad as that!” In the end, though, we will not be compared to others.

Romans 3:23 is just part of a sentence where Paul is talking about Gentiles being able to receive salvation. He says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”

We are sinful and separated from God. Some would look around and say, “But I know some good people!” Yes, they are good in comparison, but we are all sinful. You are sinners. I am a sinner. We all need Jesus’ forgiveness.

And those who preach sin and forgiveness with a tone of condemnation and almost hatred in their voice completely baffle me. They, too, have not fully understood that they are sinners saved by God’s grace. It doesn’t make us better...it makes us forgiven and should humble us.

1 John 1:8 the Apostle John is speaking to Christian when he says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We are sinners walking a journey toward salvation. God has done something for us...called us to a life...not because we are better but because we were willing to listen, obey, and follow. That’s all.

So the first myth says, I’m not all that bad...the second myth says...
Myth: My sin only affects me...

Like it or not, our sin affects the people around us. Sometimes it is obvious. A man gets drunk and crashes his car into another killing the people inside. This man’s sin has affected the lives of the people around Him. A woman decides to find love in a relationship outside of her marriage and her marriage breaks apart...the husband, the children, even generations unborn suffer for her action because it creates a trend that ripples through generations of her family.

But sometimes the impact of our sin isn’t so noticeable, but still impacts those around us. Jealousy, lack of love, bitterness...they affect those around us and they affect the people in our church family as well.

One of the hardest stories in the Bible, for me, is the story of Achan after the Fall of Jericho. God told the Israelites to march around the city for seven days, and on the seventh day the wall would fall. They were to enter the city and destroy everything because of the sinfulness of the city. They were to take nothing for themselves.

But Achan enters the city, and sees the gold and silver, the riches of Jericho, and wants it for himself. He figures no one will know...no one will see...so he takes some and hides the objects in his tent.

Then in Joshua 7:1 it says, “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.”

Did you see that? Achan took the stuff, but the entire people of Israel was guilty. God said “The Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things.” Because of the guilt of Achan’s sin, Israel was horribly defeated in their next battle against an army they should have easily destroyed. Achan and his entire family suffer the consequences of his sin and are punished with death.

All of the people of Israel...all of Achan’s family suffered because of his sin. My initial reaction is that this isn’t fair! They did nothing wrong. He is the one who sinned. But when you think about it we all suffer at times from someone else’s sin.

As a minister and a Christian, I suffer from the consequences of what other pastor’s have done. Their sinfulness has tainted how people view me. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t embezzled money. I have been faithful, but I’m lumped in with all of them.

You suffer from the consequences of other Christian’s sins. When they act hypocritical and judgmental...you suffer from the reactions of others who lump you in with them. And someone, somewhere down the line will suffer the consequences from your sins.

Sin is both personal and corporate. What that means is that sin affects me and my relationship with God, but it also affects the people around me. Sin has consequences!

So first the myth that we are good people is wrong...next the myth that all sin is the same...our third myth is the Myth: All sin is the same...

If we were on Mythbusters this myth might actually be found somewhere between busted and plausible. Sin is the same in that it creates separation between us and God, but not all sin is the same. People will often use this to justify themselves. “Who are you to tell me I need to be forgiven! You’re no better than I am. Your sin is the same as mine!”

Sin is the same in that it creates separation from God, but not all sin is the same. What we do for good or bad has consequences, and some sin has greater consequences than other sins and will be judged more severely. Throughout the Book of Leviticus there are distinctions made between certain sins...making some forgivable and some unforgivable...Jesus’ sacrifice has made forgiveness available for all sin...but hasn’t changed the fact that some sins are worse than others.

The Bible is clear that everyone of us will be judged for what we do and do not do. And some sins seem to carry more weight than others. Matthew 25 talks about the separation of the sheep from the goats based on how they served and cared for the hurting and broken around them.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [The Day is capitalized because it is talking about the Day of Judgment] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

God is going to set your house on fire and see what remains. Some will have built with quality building materials...others will survive but only barely.

So sin affects has varying consequences when we are judged, but they also have varying consequences here on earth and God knows that. There are some sins you can commit that are not going to wreck your life. You commit them, you need to ask forgiveness, but they are not going to destroy your life. Many of you probably went over the speed limit on your way here this morning...you are forgiven. But there are sins like adultery and murder that have greater consequences. Some sins like jealousy and pride and bitterness that have just as destructive consequences.

Still have doubts? Luke 12:47-48 says, “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

The man who knows the master’s will and does not do it...gets what? Beaten with many blows. The man who does not know and does things...gets what? Beaten with few blows.

So...myth 1 I’m not all that bad...yes, we are all sinners. Myth 2: My sin only affect me...wake up...our sins affect everyone around us. Myth 3 says, All sin is the same...they are the same in that they create separation between us and God, but not the same in consequences and in regards to God’s judgment of them.

Myth: I can't be forgiven

I feel extremely bad for people who believe this. Because I have come to realize that God is filled with mercy and grace and willingly forgives all who come to him. As we read the Gospels, we see how God responds to human sinfulness in the person of Jesus...and every time he comes in contact with a “sinner” there is nothing but love.

God’s desire is not damnation. His desire is forgiveness. We see how Jesus treated people in the New Testament. He doesn’t condone what they do. He doesn’t tell them it doesn’t matter; because it does...He is about to be crucified because of their sin so it certainly matters. But he also doesn’t yell, condemn, or reject them. He loves them and offers them forgiveness.

Some might say, “Look at the Old Testament! That doesn’t seem like a God of love!” But if you look at how many times the prophets beg the people to repent and return to God and they refuse...over and over again...before God allows judgment to take place. God isn’t seeking to destroy people...he gives them every chance.

I think the most poignant story we could use to debunk this myth is found in Luke 22-23...Jesus is arrested, beaten, crowned with wreath of thorns, spit upon, mocked...and yet in Luke 23:34 it says, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And then he forgives one of the criminals on the cross right next to Him!

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

This hints at something that will take place in our lives that is more than just forgiveness.

Conclusion

Sin is dangerous for the follower of Jesus. Genesis 3-11 is a group of stories we should all be familiar with. In Genesis 3 sin enters the world through the rebellion of our first parents Adam and Eve...and then things go to hell in a hand-basket very quickly. Murder, Sexual deviation, more murder, lies, idolatry, until everything is completely corrupted.

Sin, once it has gained a foothold in our lives, will works its way in and make a mess of things. When God is talking with Cain in Genesis 4, just before he kills able, God says, “...sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” It is crouching, it desires to have you...the author of Genesis uses the same word here as he does for Eve’s desire for her husband. It is a lustful, desirous wanting.

But Cain, and us are given hope...we must rule over it...we can rule over it. We are not called to a life of defeat filled with sinfulness. In the words of the Apostle Paul we are called to die to the sinful nature, and we can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of the spiritual disciplines in our lives we can be transformed and “Go and sin no more!”

We don’t have to live defeated by sin. We are sinners. We aren’t perfect, but we are called the Children of God because we can overcome sin in our lives through His Holy Spirit at work in us. We just have to confess and turn from it when we find it.

You might say, “I don’t know what my sins are!”...then you are clearly not married. You need to get married so your spouse can point them out! Seriously, though, relationship are a great way to discover your blind spots and confess them to God. Sometimes just the simple and dangerous prayer, “God, what separates me from you?” will suffice. Often you know, and just need to be honest with yourself and with God and confess it.

God wants us free...and freedom means forgiven from our sins and living obediently to Him.

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