Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Wretched Character of Sin

By Bruce Mills

How wretched of a sinner are you? I am convinced that if you asked that question to most people, they would immediately say, “Well, actually, I’m not that bad. I try to treat others nicely; I don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I’m not that bad of a sinner.” I am convinced that is the answer people will give because I have asked numerous people that question (or one similar to it), and the answer I get is virtually always the same. People simply don’t feel that badly about their sin.

I was once presenting the gospel to a lady and commented that we are all sinners and that we all sin multiple times per day. She looked at me with an indignant expression and said, “Not me! I haven’t sinned today. All I’ve done today is mow the lawn and wash the dog. So I haven’t sinned today.” She obviously viewed sin as a matter of external deeds rather than internal attitudes. I responded, “Jesus said the greatest commandment is ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). Since that is the greatest commandment, if we don’t do that, it is sin. Can you say that you have done that perfectly today?” She looked at me with even greater indignation and said, “Well, if that’s going to be your definition, then I guess I have sinned today.”

The problem is that her perspective on sin, as well as that of all of unregenerate humanity, is that it is in direct and gross contradiction to what God’s Word says about sin. According to the Bible, man is corrupt and depraved to the very core of his being; a creature who goes about continually lying and deceiving, who hates God and rebels against everything He stands for; and who follows after his own desires and plea-sures rather than that which pleases God. In Romans 3: 10-18, the apostle Paul describes man’s condition in these words:
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
But I expect those who are not Christians to see their sin that way. It is not until they are confronted by the Law of God and His standards that they are even willing to admit that they are unrighteous sinners. What bothers me are those Christians who don’t seem to view their sinfulness as being all that bad. When they talk about their sin, it is often in the forensic sense in which sin becomes some kind of abstract concept which they know infects us, but which they feel capable of controlling most of the time—at least externally when they are around people other than their family. They fail to appreciate the fact that apart from the saving grace of God and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, they would be just as enslaved to sin as their unregenerate family, friends, and neighbors.

Sin is not something which any human is capable of controlling within himself. Sin is the master, not the human will. Sin enslaves, controls, and destroys. No person, in and of himself, has any ability whatsoever to subdue the sin that runs rampant through their fallen flesh and wages war against their mind (cf. Romans 7:23). That includes believers. Yes, Christians are new creations in Christ, but their newly created soul is trapped in a fallen fleshly body which continues to be enslaved to sin. So the Christian walk is a continual war against the desires of the flesh.

If you ever get to the point that you think you have achieved mastery over the sin in your life, just look at your response when someone breaks a promise they made to you, or someone challenges your integrity. You will find that immediately a war breaks out within you. You will begin to seethe with anger and bitterness; perhaps it will even burst forth in verbal outrage.

You may try to justify your anger by calling it “righteous anger” over the sin which that other individual committed against you, but the reality is that in your heart, you have determined that you are so important that no one should dare to violate your trust or to challenge your honesty. You have allowed pride to swell, and the respect and honor of others to become an idol of your heart. And when you set up an idol in your heart, you forget that it is a subversion of the eternal God’s righteous reign over your life. Instead you become more concerned with another person’s offense against you than the gravity of their sin against God.

But sin doesn’t only involve and affect other people and your relationship to them. David committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, then covered it up by murdering her husband Uriah. Yet when he came to God, pleading for forgiveness, he recognized that ultimately his sin was against God. He cried out, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4). He wasn’t denying the offense against Bathsheba and Uriah; he was simply acknowledging how great and awful sin really is. It isn’t merely an offense against other people; it is an offense against an infinitely holy God who is absolutely just in inflicting upon us an infinitely eternal punishment.

Don’t ever minimize the gravity of your sin. You and I are wretched, depraved sinners. Every area of our life is tainted by the poison of sin: our thought processes, our attitudes, our motives, our actions, and our inactions. Without Christ, the human heart pursues sin like a starving lion pursues a wounded deer. With Christ, you can for the first time in your life, overcome sin, even though you will find it to be a continual, lifelong battle, fraught with both victories and defeats.

So if you are a believer, acknowledge and grieve over the depths of your sin, confess it, turn from it, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in your life, pursue righteousness. If you are not a believer, recognize that so long as you cling to your sin, you will never see God except on judgment day, and then it will be too late. Admit you are a sinner, turn to Christ who paid the death penalty for the sins of unworthy sinners, and receive His forgiveness. Only He can give you the ability to defeat the sin which presently controls your life.

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