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A straight talk about sin

1 November 2010 | by Gerrard Hemmings

The recognition of sin

Isaiah enters the temple and sees ‘the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’ (Is. 6:1). He is confronted by the overwhelming holiness of God and the experience is shattering; ‘Woe is me for I am undone!’ In the presence of the King, this holy prophet is consumed with a sense of his own sin; ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ This day he discovers that his very words, even his unspectacular daily sins, are enough to damn him.

We are surrounded by people who do not take sin seriously. John says ‘sin is lawlessness’ (1 John 3:4). They don’t just reject the law but the Lawgiver Himself. Sin is nothing to them. Against this background noise, how can we maintain a heavenly perspective on sin? Only by cultivating the unveiled presence of God, the God who sees, hears and knows. The man who has seen God will never call sin ‘a little thing’ again.

The sinfulness of sin

One lazy day, David has a long lie in and ends up sleeping with Bathsheba. To cover his tracks he then has her husband murdered. The path is strewn with the physical, emotional and social consequences of his sin. But what does a repentant David later say? ‘Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight’ (Ps. 51:4). What made David’s sin monstrous was that it was against God! Sin doesn’t just spoil my life and that of others; it goads, provokes and exasperates God. I am wronging Him whose name is Wonderful. We must imitate Joseph’s repost to Potiphar’s wife, ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Gen. 39:9).

The power of sin

For 120 years Noah, a preacher of righteousness and the builder of the ark, stands almost alone against the world. He walks with God. But having survived the flood, he later collapses naked and drunk. Even after great victories and heroic faith there is never a safe time to let down our guard. ‘Let us lay aside… the sin which so easily ensnares us’ (Heb. 12:1).

The restlessness of sin

When we are tired, is it easier to watch TV or pray? Why do we never find ourselves free to be holy? Paul says ‘I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good’ (Rom. 7:21). When we stretch out our hands to do good, sin is never far away. Sin never sleeps.

The attractiveness of sin

The young man drawn to the immoral woman finds her lips ‘drip honey’ (Prov. 5:3). The man seduced by the adulteress is assured of a night of pleasure, ‘Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; He has gone on a long journey;’ (Prov. 7:18-19). Yes she tells him, no one need ever know. Your sin will be clean, safe and consequence free but he is playing on the stairs that lead to hell. ‘Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell’ (Prov. 5:5).

The dullness of sin

1 Kings 15:34 says of Baasha, king of Israel, ‘He did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin.’ Dale Ralph Davis commentating on this says:

Sin is never creative but merely imitative and repetitious. Maybe you can sin with flair but you can’t sin with freshness. You can only ape what’s already been done. Goodness has an originality inherent in it which evil hasn’t got. Evil can distort and ruin and corrupt and do re-runs, but it can’t be original, nor even scintillating.

Ultimately sin makes us look, sound and act the same. It destroys our uniqueness. Sinners can’t think outside the box. They yawn their way to hell.

The subtlety of sin

When Peter took Jesus aside to dissuade Him from going to the cross, he was apparently acting out of love. He was horrified at the thought of his Lord suffering. However, though the voice was Peter’s the words were Satanic! Good intentions do not keep us from sin. Indeed our sins hide inside our strengths where, well disguised, they await their opportunity. So, for example, our sympathy for the hurting can become an indulgence of their sin, or our resistance to error can easily be stubbornness in another setting. It’s worse however, because often our greatest sins hide in the holiest of places. Some ‘preach Christ from selfish ambition’ says the apostle (Phil. 1:16). Here are believers preaching the gospel in the pursuit of personal success. Do we really know the deceit our heart is capable of practising?

Our vulnerability to sin

For twenty years Samson judges Israel. But now he is in his forties and slowing down. He’s been ploughing a lonely furrow with little support and like many weary men he feels the need for sympathy, understanding and love. Samson is ripe for a fall. Where does it begin? ‘Then Samson went to Gaza and saw a prostitute there’ (Jud. 16:1). Samson’s descent begins with a look, and now with his defences breached we read ‘afterwards it happened that he loved a woman… whose name was Delilah’ (v.4). We know what happened next but it all began with a look. One sin is never safe; just one look, one thought, one opportunity can set our whole life ablaze. The fungus that eats away at the heart of a mighty elm began life as a single microscopic spore.

The madness of sin

In Revelation 16 we read of the wrath to come; seven pictures of the totality of God’s destruction coming upon the sinner. When the human race rebelled, what did God do? He spoke of judgement and mercy, but they wouldn’t listen. He sent His Son but they put Him to death. He raised Him from the grave but they refused to believe. He exalted Him to His right hand but they denied Him worship. God spoke, God pleaded, and God gave His Son! But every voice they silenced, every good they abused and every gift they despised. They took God’s longsuffering for weakness. So God sent temporal and partial judgements but still they would not come back to Him. God barred the way to hell with His commands, commanding ‘all men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30) but they hardened their hearts. God held back His wrath ‘not willing that any should perish’ (2 Pet. 3:9) but still they rebelled. They became worse and worse until the tares came to harvest, until there was a ripeness of evil upon the earth, until nothing more could be done. And so wrath comes upon them to the uttermost, and even then ‘they blasphemed the name of God… and they did not repent and give Him glory’ (Rev. 16:9). Sin makes madmen of us all. How ever could Adam have exchanged paradise for a piece of fruit?

Let us come to the cross, to Jesus ‘who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed’ (1 Pet. 2:24).

Gerard Hemmings is the minister of Amyand Park Chapel, Twickenham.