A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on September 30, 2012.
The consciousness of sin is the essential condition for understanding Christianity. This is the very proof of Christianity’s being the highest religion. No other religion has given such a profound and lofty expression of our significance—that we are sinners.
In order to make my point, I need a big sin, not just your average, run-of-the-mill thing that you or I might do. I need a marquee sin to make my point. I need one that is big enough that we are all familiar with and evil enough that none of us would disagree as to whether or not it is bad. So I am going to use the Holocaust as my marquee sin.
What did it take for a person to hate enough to decide to put that into place? How dark were the hearts that conceived the plan? What on earth was going on in the minds of people that allowed themselves to be convinced that this was a good idea? How were soldiers weak enough to say, “I was just following orders?” How were neighbors blind enough to ignore the ash and the stench, and to pretend that they did not know what was happening? How on earth did something like that happen? In the past 100 years or so, it would surely have to stand out as one of the great sins of the era. It is something we are all familiar with and something that we would all agree is terrible. How did that happen?
As a teenager, I can remember studying it in history and social studies. There was something in the lesson that I think most of us took to heart. At that point, it was so publicized that everyone felt it could not happen again. I think we became convinced that we had learned about the inhumanity of others and none of us would fall for that again in the future. No one would be fooled. Nations would not stand by idly again and let something like that happen without stepping in.
Surely, when it comes to genocide, the world has made progress and we would all say, “Never again” until . . . . until you look at places like Africa. In nearly every decade since the end of World War II, there have been examples of genocide. Some of the places that we are familiar with the names, we know about them because of the atrocities that took place, or are taking place, there— Kinshasha, Rwanda, and Darfur. It does not matter whether it is modern guns, primitive machetes, or brutal hunger, genocide still takes place.
I will not go into a lot of detail. I will spare you because it pains me, but it is not just on one continent. The Bosnian-Serbian War had its share of genocide, and the truth is the world is no better. I start with a marquee sin just so we are all on the same page, but when it comes to personal sin (the things we live out in the darkness of our own hearts), we are no better either. The world is an angry place.
We went to Cobb County on Friday night to see our younger daughter and her family. There was a place where we were merging, and at first, I thought somebody was welcoming me to Cobb County but I found out that is not what they were doing. In every place you turn around—the political debate and campaign of the season, anything you want to look at—people are angry. We are still dealing with envy. We are still dealing with spending too much money and spiritual energy on trying to keep up appearances in what we think we need to be like everybody else. We are still overleveraged, and the sins that were a problem are still a problem.
We thought when we got enough education or if we lifted everybody economically to a certain status where they had certain things or if we learned enough history so we could see the danger of things that have taken place, that these things would never happen again. We thought we would get better. I think this is attributed to Shakespeare but what we wind up with is just committing the oldest sins in the newest ways. That is where we are. Sin is alive and well.
Sin has gone undercover. Have you noticed that we don’t talk much about sin anymore? We don’t name sins. We call them all manner of other things or we talk about other people’s sins. Even in church, we like to talk about things that are the sins of other people, not the sins that people like us would commit.
The last President to mention sin publicly as something that might be a problem in the world was Dwight Eisenhower in his first term right after taking office. It will be 60 years ago this next year. Sin is everywhere. This is uplifting, isn’t it?
Here we are going through the Great Themes of the Bible, and as we come, we have to recognize that if we don’t deal with sin, we are ignoring something that is critical to the message of scripture. In the third chapter of Genesis, it rears its ugly head and it stays a problem until you get to the last chapter. Only then has sin disappeared from the earth and has the reign of God been restored to what it is supposed to be.
In the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve begin their rebellion. They choose themselves; they choose their pride; they choose all the things that they want and they ignore what God would have them do; and sin is in the world. Of course, the message passes through the Gospels in the cross and it passes through Paul’s Letters. We have that great statement, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
My purpose today is not to describe how bad we all are, but to interpret life correctly. You can see an arsenal of counselors, you can have a Ph.D. in anthropology, sociology, psychology or many other things, but if we don’t understand that sin is in the world and shapes who we are and the way the world is, we sorely misunderstand life.
People ask me sometimes, “Do you ever doubt there is a God? Do you ever doubt some of the things that are written in scripture?” Yes, I do. I don’t mean that I spend weeks and months in a funk about it, but there are moments where things pass through and I have to wonder, Why do I believe that?
I will tell you that I became a Christian because I was raised in a Christian home. I felt the call of Christ in my life and wanted to follow him, but over the years I have stayed a Christian because I believe that scripture as we have in the Bible, as inspired by God, and as lived by Christ is the true explanation of the way things are. In no other place is the context of sin explained like it is explained in scripture. We are not getting better as a society because sin will always be with us. As individuals we can grow in our awareness of Christ. In our hearts, we can now be ruled by Christ instead of being ruled by sin, but the truth is we are all still subject to the temptations of this world and we are still frail enough that we find ourselves tempted back to something else and we still sin. The Christian understanding of the fact is that we are all sinners. We throw it out as if it is a casual thing that we say. Of course, we have to believe it. We are in church. We are sinners. But if we don’t understand that, we do not understand why we need Christ. We do not understand appropriately how to minister to one another or why so desperately we need God’s grace, why we would extend grace to others, and why repentance and forgiveness are such watch words of our world.
If we don’t understand sin, we become like Adam and Eve. That story really is our story in which we try to cover it up, ignore it, and pretend it will just go away. We think if we hide from God, everything will be OK. But everything that happened after the sin of Adam and Eve shows the dire consequences of lives in a world where sin has been let loose. Everything is tainted, everything is broken, and without turning back to God in order to be healed, we are helpless and hopeless. Whatever we think about politics, the military, money, power, pleasure or any other number of things that we think will satisfy our lives, the one true answer for why things are the way is found here. This is the truth: Sin is real. It is why my grandchildren will face the same temptations that my grandparents faced. It is why each of us, even when we have our best motives, sometimes find them tainted by something that is darker than we would want to admit. It is why we have to be on guard against anger, jealousy, and envy. It is why we even have to be on guard against the possibility of something as evil and obvious as genocide because sin operates in the world and it has afflicted every single one of us. It is everywhere.
I am a Christian because I believe the Bible describes that correctly, but more than that, because the message of scripture is that God, through Jesus Christ, has the only solution that will ever help us be set free and be victorious over this sin that would kill us all.
It is always interesting to me that after Adam and Eve have sinned and after all the pronouncements of how dire the world will be and what the consequences in their lives will be, God does an unusual thing. He makes clothes for them. Recognizing their shame in that moment, it is the first act of redemption in the Bible. It is the first act of God to try to help us to get past the moment. If we can cover the shame, we can have access back to God again. We are not afraid to come out from underneath the shrubbery where we are hiding all the things that we want to keep in the dark, and to be able to come face to face with God again.
Of course, what he began with those clothes sewed together in the Garden of Eden continued through his invitation to the prophets. It continued through the very physical invitation of Jesus and through the Letters of Paul. Not only is the prescription the right prescription but the cure is the right cure. All the other paths that we find ourselves on, all the other things that we look for to somehow satisfy the emptiness of our souls will not be satisfactory unless we understand that the problem is sin.
There is a story told many years ago of a man on a street corner in Chicago. He obviously had some things wrong with him. The man would stand very erect. As he would stand there, someone would walk by perhaps on their way to lunch, and he would spring forth and point his finger in their face and say, “Guilty!” Of course, it would shock the person terribly. Then the man would go back to attention and somebody else would come by, and he would spring forth and point his finger in their face and say, “Guilty!” It went on for a while and people began to be amused by it. They would gather around and wait for some unsuspecting person to walk by and the man would jump out and say, “Guilty!” and everybody would laugh.
One man walked by, and the man sprang out with his finger right at the other man’s nose and yelled, “Guilty!” and the people laughed. The man dropped his head, and as he walked into the crowd to pass on the way where he was going, he was heard to say, “How did he know?”
Within us, we know. We know the reality of sin. We know the reality of guilt. O that we would all know the only answer, the answer offered by God for us through Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of our sins by his death on the cross.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.