I had just finished a day full of flying and was looking forward to getting home. My flight student and I had just landed and I gathered up my headset, flight bag, and my iPad and began walking to our office in the hangar. That was when one of the mechanics called out to me. He wanted to chat about an issue we were having on one of our other training planes. As I turned to talk to him, the iPad slid out of my arms and, in slow motion, fell to the hangar floor. I am usually very careful. I had been in and out of planes all day and before that, for weeks with my ipad and never came close to dropping it. But, here, because of a moment’s distraction, the iPad lays at my feet. And the mechanic is trying not to laugh.
Because of how it fell, I figured the case must have taken most of the impact. I felt relieved. I thought, “Well, at least its in a case.” I bent down, picked it up and turned it over. It was shattered. It looked like someone had taken a hammer to the very center of the screen.
Every year as we move into the Lenten season, you begin to hear more and more about sin. We speak of being aware of our sin and repenting of our sin. We priests encourage you to make an examination of conscience and perhaps a private confession. But I have become increasingly concerned that we really don’t understand sin. What’s worse, is that even among Christians it seems that we really don’t worry much about sin anymore. We accept it as a sort of general condition, maybe a bygone word from our tradition, but certainly not something to be overly worried about today, right?
Scott McKnight, professor of Religious Studies at North Park University, said, “It’s as if we’re saying, “Yes, of course we sin” and then do nothing about it.”
What I think has happened to many of us is what happened to me when I dropped that iPad. In the initial moments, I assumed the case was enough to protect it. I assumed that it was fine and unharmed or maybe only slightly damaged. But in fact, it was destroyed. Every lent we are called to examine our lives and realize sin is not “slight damage”, but destructive to our lives.
So let’s look at the Scriptures and see what the Bible teaches us about sin and the condition of our souls. We’ll also look at how we pray and how the Prayer Book affirms the Scriptural teaching.
Let’s start with today’s reading from Romans. St. Paul gives us a good hint about what we need. He says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). A little later he says, “For everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
The first thing I think we need to recognize and acknowledge is this language of being “saved.” I know that in some circles it has become a bit of a caricature, or a cliché, but it is in fact the language of the Bible to describe what we need. Listen to how the word “saved” is used in these verses.
In the first chapter of Matthew, an angel is telling Joseph about Mary’s pregnancy. The angel tells him, “She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, ESV)
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus himself says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the Lost.” (Luke 19:10, ESV)
Jesus also says in John’s Gospel, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17, ESV)
Consider the verse from 1 Timothy we read every week at the offertory in the 1928 service: “This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15, 1928 BCP)
Jesus’ coming was not to make you a better version of yourself, it was not to make you feel better so you could have your ‘best life now’ or ‘make everyday a Friday’. Jesus coming was not to give you something to do on Sunday or simply to teach us and our children morals and manners. The problem I fear, especially in American Christianity is that we have embraced the theology of Barney, not the Bible. We tend toward a view of Jesus that is “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family…” But that’s not what the Scriptures or the Church teaches us.
Jesus came with one purpose and the Bible is clear about it: He came to save us.
Save us From What?
But what has he come to save us from? Let’s go on another short journey through the Bible and find out!
All of creation responds to the voice of God. In the opening passages of Genesis we see that when God speaks the cosmos moves. Land is formed, water is gathered, plants and animals come into being. All respond and obey the voice of the Lord –until we get to humans. Humans are the only part of creation that had the audacity to hear God’s voice and say, “No!” Genesis 3 records the first disobedience of Adam and Eve and by Genesis 8 we read, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21, ESV)
The Old Testament is full of examples of the sinfulness of humanity from the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah to King David and the people of Israel. Murder, corruption, sexual immorality, wickedness permeate the Bible’s pages1. Punishment follow suit for these sins. That can be a little disconcerting for us to see Lot’s wife die because of disobedience, or Uzzah reaching out to steady the Ark and losing his life or Achan’s family being destroyed because of their sin.
That all seems extreme to us, but it illustrates the seriousness of sin. An Arab Christian was trying to explain the seriousness to sin to his non-believing cab driver. He explained it like this:
“If I slapped you in the face, what would you do to me?” He asked.
The cab driver said, “I’d throw you out of my taxi.”
“If I went up to a random guy on the street and slapped him, what would he do to me?”
The driver replied, “He’d probably call his friends and beat you up.”
Azeem, our Christian Arab brother then asked the cabbie, “What if I went up to a policeman and slapped him in the face?”
The cab driver said, “You would be beat up for sure and thrown into jail.”
Finally Azeem said, “What if I went to the King of this country and slapped him in the face? What would happen to me then?”
Awkwardly laughing, the driver said, “You would die.”2
The severity of sin’s punishment is not based on our evaluation of its seriousness. It is based on the position of the person who is sinned against, in this case, God himself. We cannot, must not, underestimate the seriousness of our sin. Our opinion about a particular sin is irrelevant. Society’s opinion on a particular sin is irrelevant. In our sin we are sinning against God himself.
The Result of Sin
You and I only have to look at the evening news to see what sin does to people in this world. Perhaps we can look into our own past and see where our sin has done great damage to ourselves and to others. But look at what Scripture says sin does in our relationship with God.
Jesus says in John 8, Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34, ESV)
Sin enslaves us.
St. Paul says, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)
Sin alienates us from God.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 we learn that, “The God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)
Sin blinds us.
Ultimately, St. Paul writes in Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Sin brings death to us.
Death. This is not hyperbole. This is reality. Consider what how our own Prayer Book underlines this for us.
In the Confession in the 1928 Prayer Book. We confess our sins in thought, word, and deed, “Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking must justly thy wrath and indignation against us.” (1928, Book of Common Prayer, page 75)
Sin provokes or brings about what? God’s wrath and indignation.
In the absolution at Ash Wednesday, the priest said, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live…” (Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 269)
Therefore what is the natural result of our sin? Death.
In the Great Litany, we have the appeal, “From all evil and wickedness; from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation, Good Lord, deliver us.”
We must pray for God to soften our hard heads and our hard hearts. Friends, we must see, feel, grieve, and repent of our sins.
With all our being, we need to say the words of the confession that we,“are heartily sorry for these are misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable…” (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, page 75)
If we do not understand the Biblical teaching on sin, its consequences, and the wrath and indignation of God towards our sin, then we do not understand the Gospel.
Richard Niebuhr once said, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
That is not the Gospel! If we do not truly understand the extent and the depth of our need of God, we will never move past superficial Christianity.
Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle said, “Awful and tremendous as the right view of sin undoubtedly is, no one need faint and despair if he will take a right view of Jesus Christ at the same time.”3
The answer to this problem does not lie with us, but with God. This is the essence of the “Good News”. This is the essence of the rescue mission of Jesus. Remember words of St. John’s gospel I read earlier? “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17, ESV)
Jesus was sent to free us from our sin, from its blindness and pain and death, from its catastrophic effect on our lives and on the lives of those around us. Jesus came to reconcile us with the God who desperately loves us.
Listen to how St. Paul outlines this beautifully in Romans 5: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9, ESV)
The sinful penalty for sin, death, is once and for all paid on the Cross of Christ. Pastor David Platt puts it this way:
The just and loving creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the resurrection so that all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever.”4
This is why we say what we do in the Eucharistic Prayer:
“Thou of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, page 80)
So, do you need saving? Do you see why we do not shrug our shoulders and wink at sin? Do you understand why, especially during Lent, we strive to examine our lives and repent and return to the Lord?
Our God love us. He loves us so desperately that he could not stand to see us lost in our sin. He became flesh and dwelt among us and took the penalty we deserved onto himself. He did it long before you or I ever looked his way. He did it knowing that we would fight him every step of the way. He died for us knowing that we would continue to rebel, that we would forget and ignore his love. And yet, he died for you. He died for me.
This is our God who is worthy of our thanks and praise. This is our God who calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. This is the God who calls us to love as we have been loved. This is the God who deserves our allegiance. This is the God that saves you. There is no other. Seek Him. Love Him. Follow Him. AMEN+
- Platt, David, Follow Me (Tyndale, Carol Stream, IL) 2013, Page 30-1
- IBID, 31-2
- Ryle, J.C., Holiness (Banner of Truth, Edinburgh U.K.) 2014 Ed of 1879 Ed, page 12
- Platt, David, Radical (Multnomah, Colorado Springs, CO) 2010, page 36