Friday, March 30, 2012

Concerning an Appreciation for the Gravity of Sin

Here is a question for me: do I appreciate the gravity of the nature of sin? In short, do I really understand what it means to sin? Do you? Take the person who has lived on this earth since the beginning of time who had the very best appreciation for the gravity of sin, multiply that appreciation times one-thousand and it still falls infinitesimally short of the mark. There can be no question that the appreciation for the gravity of sin has been severely diminished, almost to the point of utter and complete extinction in western culture. One of the quickest ways to become marginalized in our culture is to use the word “sin” in a conversation. Try it and see what happens. With the world, you will be immediately dismissed as a fool, which is to be expected. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. However, use it with many or even most professing Christians and you will be accused of being harsh and judgmental. Yes, use the word sin with one group and you are immediately dismissed as an unenlightened, uneducated, old-fashioned, antiquated ignoramus. On the other hand, use it with most in the visible church and you are equally dismissed as a judgmental, critical, mean-spirited, harsh, and unloving person hung up on antiquated tradition that most educated enlightened folk have long since abandoned. When we lose a healthy appreciation for the gravity of sin, serious consequences follow. For one thing, it provides fertile soil for sin to flourish. We no longer take our actions as seriously as we once did. While sin used to cause us great angst and consternation, now it is little more than a mistake that everyone engages in now and again. Sin really isn’t a big deal! You should not beat yourself up over sin! Your daddy in the sky loves you and He understands. We have convinced ourselves that God is cool with our sin and that He completely understands we just miss the mark sometimes. But is this the attitude that a God-loving, fire baptized, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, redeemed Christian should have?

The independent, entitlement attitude of the American mindset is, in numerous ways, antithetical to the attitude of a healthy flourishing Christianity. No human behavior is ethically neutral. Either we do the things we do for the right reason and with a pure heart or we do not. This fact is just as true for the scholar, theologian, and pastor/elder, teacher, as it is for the believer not called to those offices. In short, it is true for the entire society of Christ. Out attitude toward sin is directly proportional to the life of God that lives in our hearts. The true believer has a holy hatred of the sinful. Genuine faith produces a godly attitude in the hearts of those in whom it resides.

The act of sin is an act of hatred toward God. To sin is to dishonor God. The Lord says those who honor Him, He will honor, but those who despise Him will be lightly esteemed. Sin is hatred of the law of God. It is to despise that which God loves and to love that which God despises! After David had committed adultery with Bethsheba, and covered it up, murdering her husband and covering that up as well, God asked him “Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing this evil in His sight?” [II Sam. 6:9] In the next verse, God equated David’s hatred for God’s word with hatred for God when he said, “Because you have despised me, the sword will never depart from your house.
The Hebrew word used in II Sam. 12:9-10 to describe David’s sin with Bethsheba is bzh. It is pronounced bazah. This particular word appears 33 times in the Hebrew OT. Of those 33 occurrences, it is translated contempt once, disdain twice, and despise thirty times. James Swanson gives us a good sense of the word: show contempt for, think lightly, i.e., pertaining to feeling of contempt for an object, because it is regarded to be bad, or of little value, often with behaviors toward the object (including speaking scorn and ridicule) which correspond to that contempt. [James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains] The sense seems to be that a thing is despised when it is held in low regard. Where God is concerned, violation of His commandments demonstrates that man holds Him in low regard. In other words, when we break God’s commandments, we place little value on Him as our Creator. When we do that, by God’s own definition, we demonstrate hatred for Him. To the western mindset, this seems strange because hate for us is more closely associated with an emotion.

Numbers 15:31 once again reinforces God’s view that to violate and break His holy commandments is to despise His word. The person who does this shall be cut off. Esau despised his birthright when he held it in such low regard that he traded it for a bowl of stew. A good example of this attitude is located in the account of David’s batter with Goliath. Goliath looked at David and disdained (despised) him, because he was young and he was small. In other words, Goliath held David with very little regard. When we sin against God, at that moment in time, like it or not, this is how we look at God. He becomes exceedingly small and unimportant to us in the moment of sin.
While the Church has attempted to correct the confusion surrounding the emotion of love, tying it to action as opposed to feelings, she has not given the same amount of attention of its opposite, hate. Perhaps we can begin to focus our attention on how we can avoid the ugliness of hating God by holding Him in such low regard with our sinful actions.

Jesus Himself said that you cannot serve two masters. You will always love the one and hate the other. Couple this with the teaching that loving God always means keeping His commandments and it becomes easy to connect the dots. If keeping God’s commandments is loving Him, and loving two masters is impossible, it only follows that breaking God’s commandments is hating Him. Sin is the breaking of God’s commandments. When we sin, we hold God’s word in low regard. Our pleasure, at that time, is elevated over and above God’s pleasure. It becomes more important to us to please ourselves than to please God. Hence, rather than hating our own sinful nature, we express love for it by adoring it so much that it is exalted to a place more prominent than God. When we behave in this fashion, we love ourselves, our own lives, our sin. Moreover, since we can only love one master, it follows that we hate God when we behave this way. We become our own master whom we love and according to Jesus, we hate God. It is only when we hate ourselves enough to die to sin that the love of God comes shining through. This raises the question, how can a sinful creature such as I love a perfectly holy and good God? After all, an unholy, ungodly sinner not only won’t love God, not only can’t love God, he is not permitted to love God even if he could. He is exceedingly wicked and God is infinitely pure. There is no universe in which such a love would be permitted. How dare such a wicked person even begin to approach such a pure and perfect Being! Ah, enter the grace of an eternally merciful God.

The modern mindset in the visible Church regarding sin has reached pitiable levels. Modern Christianity in western culture seems to all but have abandoned the biblical teaching on sin. On the very first page of his book on Holiness, J.C. Ryle comments, “The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind.”[1]

John commanded his readers “Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (I John 2:15) Somehow, this once popular verse has become so infrequently quoted that it deserves a spot on the endangered species list. When I first converted, I heard this verse repeatedly as a young believer. Perhaps there was a component of legalism involved where I came from, but that does not detract from the truthfulness and proper application of the text. John’s letter is a letter of antithesis. You cannot practice sin and have God’s seed in you. If you love the world, you hate God. If you hate your brother, you cannot love God. If you walk in darkness, you do not have the light. I hope this blog has provoked a renewed interest in how you think about sin. I hope it causes you to renew your hatred of sinful behavior. Only then, can we better appreciate and understand God’s love, grace, and mercy. If sin really is not that bad, then God’s grace really is not that profound. The great downgrading of sin necessarily downgrades the grace, mercy, and love of God along with it. After all, if I am not really a wretch, then loving me is not such a profound act of grace after all. When you take the wretch out of me, you also take the amazing out of grace. In an attempt to make God more loving by removing sin, we actually make Him less loving. That God loves a sinner such as I, is a mystery beyond all mysteries. Oh the wonder of the majesty of the mercies and grace of God, that He would save sinners so undeserving of His love!

[1] J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001), 1.

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