It’s hard for people who are dishonest to get away with things today. My brother-in-law used to work for a security firm and it was his job to try to catch employees who were stealing. He would put hidden cameras over the tills where they thought that an employee might be stealing and they would catch them in the act.
Have you ever gotten away with something? Perhaps as a child you took a cookie and your mother didn’t find out. Perhaps as an adult you drove through a speed trap too fast and they didn’t come chase you. Perhaps you gossiped about someone and you were not called to account for it. If we believe God then even though we seem to have gotten away with these things the fact is that we haven’t. Numbers 32:23 says, “…you may be sure that your sin will find you out."
If that is true, then we need to pay attention to sin and its presence in our lives.
I. How Does God View Sin?
The main reason we don’t get away with sin is because God is Holy, God knows everything and He hates sin.
Luke 8:17 warns us, "For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light" so we won’t get away with sin.
Not only does God see, but because He is holy and hates sin, He will deal with it. Isaiah 6 reveals the holiness of God. When Isaiah saw God and realized who He was, he was absolutely devastated because of the contrast between the holiness of God and his own un-holiness. Proverbs 15:9 reminds us that, "The Lord detests the way of the wicked..."
But what does it really mean that God hates sin? Is it simply that God doesn’t like it when we break His rules or do we need to look a little deeper than that?
Certainly God hates it when we break His rules. James 2:10, 11 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." But when we read in Romans 14:23 that, “… everything that does not come from faith is sin" and when we read in James 4:17, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins…" we realize that there is more to it than just violating a list of rules. I believe that if we view sin as simply breaking a list of rules we have not understood God nor have we grasped what sin is. If we view sin as simply breaking a list of rules, we have not understood that God is not a person with a clip board and a pencil marking off when we fail. If we view sin in that way, we must always ask, what is on the list and have I violated it and we fail to understand what God really wants.
We begin to get a glimpse of how God views sin in Proverbs 6:16-19 where we read, "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." Here we see that sin is an inner evil which begins in our heart. In fact, Matthew 15:19 is very clear about this when it says, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." God views sin not only as a violation of a list of rules, but as evil that begins in the heart and acts out in ways of wickedness.
II. The Seriousness of Sin
Have you ever knowingly sinned and told yourself, “It isn’t that serious?” It is very tempting for us to not to view sin as dangerous, but if God is holy and sin is a deep fault in our heart, then we cannot ignore it. Sin is serious because of what it is, what it does and what will happen because of it.
A. Because Of What It Is
Sin is very serious because of what it is. If it is not just a breaking of a list of rules, but a deep brokenness in the heart, then it is something to be taken very seriously.
The first story in the Bible which describes where sin begins shows that fundamentally sin is disobedience to God. God told Adam and Eve that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose to do so anyway and did so in defiance. As soon as they did so, it was clear that they had not only broken the rule, they had engaged in rebellion against God. Such disobedience is described in Exodus 34:7 as "…wickedness, rebellion and sin” thus further indicating that it is an act against the very heart and will of God which breaks covenant with Him.
In John 16:9 we read of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit who will judge the world, "in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me…" We see in this verse that there is a connection between sin and unbelief. If we do not believe in God then we will not believe that He is holy and we will not believe His Word and we will not believe the consequences of sin and our sin will be an act of unbelief.
Sin is also serious because it is so pervasive. David says in Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." All of us have sin deep in our hearts and this has always been true. In fact, 1 John 1:10 reminds us that, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."
B. Because Of What It Does
Sin is also serious because of what it does.
First of all sin deceives us. Hebrews 3:13 warns that we should not be “…hardened by sin’s deceitfulness." Sin is like a Venus Flytrap which is an attractive flower which is actually carnivorous and eats insects. It looks good, but is deadly if you are a fly or some other insect. Sin may look attractive, but its attraction is deceptive. For example, wanting money is attractive and we are all motivated by it, but it can so easily trap us in greed and jealousy and all kinds of other evil.
Sin destroys. I read Psalm 73 in my devotions this week and part of the Psalm describes the perspective that people seem to be getting away with sin. Psalm 73:3 says, "… I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills."
Yet in most other places the Bible teaches that sin always destroys.
It is destructive first of all in the fact that it separates us from God. This was the first evidence that something was wrong when Adam and Eve sinned. When they heard God walking in the garden, they were afraid and hid from him. That was the first time that had ever happened and should have been a clue that something was seriously wrong. That separation from God continues to the present day.
Sin is destructive in that it enslaves those who participate in it. In John 8:34 Jesus warns those listening, “… everyone who sins is a slave to sin." Some sins are obviously enslaving for some people such as alcohol, drugs and gambling. But every sin has an enslaving quality about it. Once we have let ourselves sin, it doesn’t take much before that sin becomes a habit and we find that we are always doing it.
Ultimately sin is destructive simply because it will always destroy those who engage in it. James 1:15 shows us the process of sin which is desire àsinà death. So according to that verse, sin always leads to death. Romans 6:16 describes that process in another way when it says, "Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death…"
I mentioned a moment ago the lament of the Psalmist in Psalm 73 who wondered why it was that wicked people seem to get away with sin? Yet the Psalmist goes on in Psalm 73:16, 17 "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny."
C. Because Of What It Will Do.
This brings us to the other reason why sin is serious and that is because even if it does not lead to destruction in this life, ultimately it does.
The Bible has much to say about this ultimate destruction. It is alluded to in Ephesians 2:1 when it says, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…" To say that we were dead is to say that ultimately there is no hope for the person who is a sinner. In fact Galatians 5:21 after listing a whole bunch of evil things says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
Even more strongly we learn that there are many places in the Bible which tell us that the destiny of those who live in sin is hell. Hell is described in Matthew 25:41 as an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…;" as a place of eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46 and as “darkness and everlasting chains” in Jude 6. II Thessalonians 1:9, describes what will be the destiny of those who sin when it says, "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power." From this verse it seems that one of the greatest tragedies of hell is the absence of God. It is hard to know exactly what hell is like because I believe that the pictures the Bible presents are literary images which help us understand in human language something that we do not have on earth. What is very clear to me is that it is a place that I do not want to be.
You know those movies where the hero tries to restore justice and in the process buildings are destroyed, vehicles are trashed and there is a path of destruction as he rushes through the streets fighting evil? That is sin. The image of violent destruction is fitting for sin. It is terrible, it is serious, everyone of us is implicated by it, we all sin and so we are all caught in its terrible path of destruction.
III. Forgiveness for Sin
Is there any way out? Is there any way to avoid the destructiveness of sin? Is there any way to get out of the grip of sin? The good news is that there is. Jesus is the way and the only way out of sin. The Spirit of God has been sent by God to convict the world of sin. John 16:8 assures us, "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." If the Spirit of God has convicted you of your sin and you want to clean it up, God has provided the way for it to be dealt with.
The first step towards cleansing from sin is repentance. David described that desire in Psalm 51:2 when he said, "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."
Repentance is an acknowledgement that God is right. As we hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit and recognize it as true, that we are trapped in sin and that we are helpless to overcome sin, then we acknowledge that God is saying the right thing about who we are and what is in our heart. If sin is first and foremost a deviated heart, then the acknowledgement of that must also begin in the heart. We need to say, “I am broken!” “I am lost and trapped and tired of the evil within me and the evil consequences which follow.” Repentance is the expression of a desire to be done with sin as we understand how evil and wicked sin is and as we understand how much it has a hold on our life.
When we repent, there is hope. God has done something so that we can be set free from sin.
God sent Jesus to die on the cross in our place. Since sin is always destructive, pervasive and since we are trapped by it, God decided to provide a way for the destruction of sin’s power to be spent on Himself rather than on us. God sent Jesus to die on the cross. Since Jesus was absolutely holy, he was not destroyed for his own sin, but since sin always destroys, He was destroyed in our place. The punishment for sin was carried out on Jesus and all we need to do is believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to die on the cross for our sin. When we do we are set free from guilt for our sin and also from the punishment for sin.
So the second step is to accept by faith what Jesus has done in order to bring forgiveness of sin. Ephesians 1:7 assures us, "In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…"
C. The Promise of Forgiveness
The promise is that if we repent and have faith, our sin is forgiven and we are set free and we are given eternal life. John 3:16 reminds us, "“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
What a glorious hope! We can be set free from sin! We can be forgiven! We can have eternal life!
IV. Victory over Sin
Sin is serious and because we have been forgiven for our sin and set on a new path of life, we cannot continue to live in sin. 1 John 3:9 encourages us regarding the incongruity of people who are followers of Jesus sinning when it says, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God."
Yet temptation continues. How can we overcome sin as followers of Jesus?
A. Love God
I believe that the greatest strategy for overcoming sin in our lives is love for God. Psalm 97:10 says, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
The more in love we are with Jesus, the less we will want to hurt Him, the more we will have a desire to be obedient, the more it will be deep in our hearts to do what is right. So I suggest the first strategy is to build a love relationship with Jesus.
B. Fear God
Another strength is to live in the fear of God. Proverbs 16:6 says, "Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil." When we know and understand the holiness and justice of God, we will know that He is a God to be feared. When we know that He is a consuming fire, devouring sin and wickedness, we will want to avoid that. The more we understand and admire the holiness of God, the greater our strength to walk in holiness as His children.
C. Know the Word of God
In order to get to know God in this way, we need to learn to know the Word of God. Psalm 119:11 affirms that, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." When we spend time in the Word of God, we will learn to know God, we will understand the mind of God, the ways of God and the will of God. Studying the Word of God is not only about learning the rules, but learning to know Him so that we can understand Him and walk in His way.
D. Be Accountable
Brothers and sisters in the church can also be very helpful in gaining victory over sin. We are responsible for each other. That does not mean that we should judge each other, but rather that we care for the life of one another. Instead of gossiping about someone else and the sins they are committing, we need to love one another enough to gently and respectfully ask each other if we are wisely and faithfully walking in obedience to the Lord. James 5:19, 20 directs us when it says, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
Jesus teaches us to pray for victory in Matthew 6:13 when it says, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’" How desperately we sometimes pray this prayer. It is a good prayer and we ought to keep praying it.
F. Rely on the Holy Spirit
The good news is that as we manifest such dependence on God, He does not let us down. He has sent His Spirit not only to convict us of sin, but also to help us live in victory. Romans 8:11 says, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you."
G. Put Sin to Death
Finally, with all those great resources from God and others at our disposal we are called to get rid of sin in our lives
Romans 6.11 says, "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." Hebrews 12:1 challenges us to “…lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…" I Peter 4:1 adds an interesting dynamic when it says, “He who has suffered in the body is done with sin.” How does suffering help us get rid of sin? The book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, tells about how Benedict who was the founder of the Benedictine order did that. “According to Gregory, he was once nearly overcome with lust as he remembered a certain woman. Benedict stripped himself and ran naked into thorn bushes so that “all his flesh was pitifully torn: and so by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain, and by the outward burning of extreme smart, quenched that fire.”
Suffering certainly has an effect to help us overcome sin, but I am not sure that making ourselves suffer is what this text intends. Nevertheless, it does help us understand that we need to be serious in doing all we can to remove sin from our lives.
There isn’t anyone who can say, “this message isn’t for me.” We all sin and so there is something for all of us.
Perhaps you have never dealt with sin. If so, I would invite you to let Jesus clean up your life.
Perhaps you are a follower of Jesus, but you are not taking sin seriously. Please receive the appeal of the warning as a motivator to holy living.
Perhaps you have not grasped that sin is about a broken heart and not only about violating rules. I pray that understanding this perspective will help you reach out to God.
Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the power of sin. If so, please receive the path God has given to live in victory.
Revelation 21:27 reminds us that there is no sin in heaven when it says, "But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."
May we live in anticipation of this great hope as we live on the foundation of the gracious work of Jesus on the cross.