Robert's Sermons

If My People

Part 21: The Problem of Sin (3)


2 Chronicles 7:14  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my faceand turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

In my last two sermons I have been looking at the issue of sin from the perspective of our relationship with God.  I have spent most of the time in those sermons re-establishing and pressing home the truth of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the message of grace and forgiveness which God spoke to us in these last days through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you missed either of those sermons, I want to encourage you to go online and read them several times – they contain vitally important foundational truths which need to be firmly established before what I say later in this sermon can be understood in context.

In those two sermons, I was focusing on sin in the context of our eternal, spiritual relationship with God, whereas later in this sermon and the next one, I want us to look at sin face-to-face, in the here-and-now, cause-and-effect, human realm where were live. However, I want to remind us, yet again, of the backdrop to this study of sin. We can never be reminded of this too many times – it is a safeguard.  So here is the story of creation, sin, law, grace, redemption and salvation in a nutshell. This is the gospel story.

Once upon a time, we were created by God for His pleasure; to be in close relationship with Him; to walk in the Garden of Intimacy with Him day and night, sharing our heart and life and enjoying this wonderful creation and life in close harmony with our Creator. We were created with total freedom, which included the freedom to step outside the boundaries set by our loving Father God … therefore, we were free to disobey Him … and we did. He told us lots of things we should do in this freedom and one thing we should not do … and we allowed the enemy of God to lie to us and tempt us and we rebelled and broke the heart of our Heavenly Father.

Sin entered this perfect world and changed everything. Sin will always bring a consequence – then and now. It certainly brought a huge consequence back then. Our sin repelled us from God’s presence and drove us out of the Garden of Intimacy.  A holy God cannot look upon sin without burning against it in judgement – God’s love for us was unaltered; He was not being mean; He was just being Holy; He can be nothing less and holiness cannot co-exist with unholiness any more than light can co-exist with darkness. Put light and darkness together and light will always repel the darkness.

So, the wrath and judgement and holiness of God was revealed against sin. The Law of God was then given through Moses to define our sin. The Law was not needed before sin entered. The sacrificial system was introduced to try and appease God and somehow deal with this barrier which had risen up between God and His much-loved children. All through the Old Testament we see God going to incredible lengths to provide for our sin and warn us and call us back to Himself.  Day after day after year after generation, God was calling us to repentance and calling us to return to Him.

The Old Covenant provided a way for that to happen – but it didn’t work. There was nothing wrong with the Old Covenant. There was nothing wrong with the Law of God and the sacrificial system and everything else God put in place to provide for our sin.  What was wrong was us.  We were the problem – not the Old Covenant.  We could not make the grade. We could not obey the Holy Law of God.  We kept slipping and falling into sin again and that kept us at arm’s length to our God and that broke His heart, for He was desperate to walk with us again in the Garden of Intimacy. The Old Covenant was not wrong, but it certainly was ineffective in the final analysis.

So committed was our loving God to us, that He launched the most radical rescue bid in the history of the universe!  This rescue mission made Rambo look like a wimp! This was radical. This was incredible. God was going to save the whole world, but not in a way that anyone expected. God Himself took responsibility for our problem – the problem of sin. Even though it was our fault; even though we were the ones who messed up and failed to obey the Law of God; even though this was our problem – God made it His problem – because He was a hundred times more committed to His relationship with us, than we were.

So, the God of this universe; the Creator and Sustainer of all life; stepped out of eternity and into time and space; He left the glory of heaven as a spiritual being and entered a teenager’s womb, to be born as a mortal human being, named Jesus. This God-man, Jesus, was the long awaited Messiah and Saviour Whom the Jews had heard prophecies about for generations. Although wholly God, He set aside His status and power and humbled Himself to become one of us. He submitted to the limitations of time and space. He had to communicate with the Father, through the Holy Spirit, just like us. He was wholly man – facing all the struggles, limitations and temptations we all face.

As a man, Jesus was the first human to obey the Law of God fully and completely. He fulfilled the Law, the Bible says. Whilst doing that, He also gathered some disciples together and taught them about what God was doing and why.  He planted truth in their hearts and a seed of life that would last well beyond His time here in the flesh. When that teaching and training was over, He then completed His earthly mission. Not only did He have to fulfil the Law, on our behalf, He also had to pay the price for our rebellion, because the wages of sin is death.  So, Jesus died. This innocent man was murdered as a criminal, in accordance with the God’s will.  There was no other way to redeem us.

He then rose from the dead and returned to the right hand of the Father, thereby conquering sin, death and Satan and completing the mission of saving the lost children of God. In our powerless, hopeless, rebellious, sinful, spiritually dead state – God came to us and breathed life into our spirit!  What grace!  What mercy! What a mighty and loving God we serve!

Now, as we embrace His free offer of salvation, we are, in spiritual terms, ‘united with Him’ in His life, death and resurrection. Which means His perfect obedience becomes our perfect obedience before God. His death becomes our death and His resurrection to new life becomes our resurrection. Jesus came to earth and scored straight A’s on the report card of life and then, in the most mysterious, glorious and wonderful exchange in the history of the universe, Jesus put your name and mine on the top of that report card – that perfect performance – and He handed it to the Father and said, “It is finished.” He paid for your ticket to heaven with His life.

So now, as we embrace that truth in faith; as we accept the good news – the gospel; our eyes are opened and we see that we have forgiveness of sins, past, present and future! We have righteousness and holiness and eternal life and hope and grace and mercy and love and power flowing in us and through us because of Jesus Christ.

When we receive the salvation offered to us in Christ, we die to our old life … we die to the law, which we could never obey … and we receive new life –  His life. That’s why Paul said this:

Galatians 2:19-21  “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Praise God for His love! Praise God for His amazing grace! Praise God for His wonderful salvation. Once and for all – Jesus has done it. His was the final sacrifice. Holy we stand before His throne, because Jesus paid the price!  Paul said it even more clearly to the Colossians:

Colossians 2:13-15  “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

The law which defined our sin was fulfilled in Jesus and thereby rendered irrelevant in terms of the judgement of God against us. A new covenant, a new agreement, a new day was ushered in by Jesus.  Praise God! So, what then do we say about sin now?

We are forgiven, cleansed, reconciled and made holy before God because of Jesus. Our eternal destiny is secured by God in Christ. Our salvation was secured 2,000 years ago before we even committed our first sin or asked for forgiveness! So, what do we say about sin?  Sin is still with us; sin is still very real. We still trip and fall and disobey. We still lie and steal. We still commit the sin of laziness and idleness. We still gossip and slander and destroy relationships – and that’s just in the Church!

Sin is still sin and sin is still our daily companion. So, is sin still a problem?  Given that we are forgiven for all sin, is it something we should still be concerned about? Absolutely!  No question about it.  Read the New Testament; read page after page of exhortations from Jesus and Paul and others to face our sin head-on and deal with it ruthlessly.

We know where we are headed.  As we pray that the Kingdom of God will come in power and glory, we know that one day we will not have to struggle with sin in our mortal bodies – but for now, we do. Even Paul, the great Apostle of God; the one who preached grace and forgiveness and freedom from sin more than anyone who ever lived; even Paul had a very human struggle with sin.

Romans 7:19 – 8:11  “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So, I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Please read that passage again some time over and over again!  It is one of the many passages where Paul paints the big picture for us. In such a masterful way he shows us the problem of sin and the solution for sin in one concise teaching and in a balanced way which communicates the wonder of our salvation, redemption and forgiveness, yet deals with the reality of sin in our lives today and what we need to do about it.

As New Covenant, born-again believers; as Christians, we have a choice every morning when we wake up; we have a choice every second of every minute of every hour of every day to live according to Spirit or to live according to the flesh. In Romans 8:1-4, Paul makes is very clear that we have been set free from the law of sin and death by God in Christ. Paul does what I have attempted to do in the last few sermons, and indeed the last 40 years of teaching, he establishes the truth of our forgiveness and redemption from sin. However, in the following verses he immediately talks about the daily choice that we face to live according to the sinful nature or live according to the Spirit within us.

Paul has identified with you and me and all Christians everywhere who desire to please God and live a life worthy of His calling.  He has admitted that he still struggles with sin. Then he tells us why that is the case.  We struggle with sin because we choose to.  We struggle with sin because we make the choice to submit to the sinful nature within us rather than the Spirit of God within us. Basically, that means we continue to sin because we want to sin.

It’s our choice and it’s our fault when we sin and we have to face the consequences of that sin like grown-ups and not pass the buck to other people, to God or even to Satan.  Yes, even Satan! In Jesus’ name listen to this!  Adam and Eve were the first people to say, “The devil made me do it,” and billions of people have followed in their footsteps. Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus disarmed the Devil and took away his authority over us.  The New Testament tells us to resist the Devil and he will flee from us. We are told to not give the Devil a foothold, implying that he cannot take a foothold without our permission. There is no question that the powers of darkness can come against us in a myriad of ways.  The Bible warns us about Satan and how he prowls day and night seeking to devour us – and he will, if we let him –  but he can’t if we know how to close the door.

Quite simply, Satan ‘inhabits’ the sin we commit.  When we ‘open the door’ to him by choosing to sin, he needs no encouragement to come in and manifest his evil presence in us and around us. We all need to take responsibility for that and stop talking about being ‘under spiritual attack’ in a way which implies we had no control over it. Yes, we might well be under attack, but we need to ask, “Did I invite this attack by the choices I made?”

  • We gossip and then cry ‘unfair’ when relationships crumble around us.
  • We stretch the truth and then cry ‘unfair’ when people stop trusting our word.
  • We punish our bodies for years through neglect and then cry ‘unfair’ when we get sick.
  • We spend most of our time, energy and money on earthly pursuits and then cry ‘unfair’ when those around us who made different choices seem to have a deeper relationship with God.
  • We fill our minds with garbage from television, films and the internet and then cry ‘unfair’ when we find our moral standards have slipped.
  • We make little or no attempt to build relationships in our Church and then cry ‘unfair’ when we feel lonely and separate from the mainstream – we are even deceived enough to think that our condition is someone else’s fault.
  • We treat people poorly and then cry ‘unfair’ when they distance themselves from us.
  • We fail to honour God in the way we live at home and then cry ‘unfair’ when our children reject the Church in later years.

The list goes on. Yes, I know that some things happen to us which are totally outside our control.  Tragedies, accidents, unprovoked attacks and unexpected changes in life’s circumstances.  Welcome to planet Earth!  We all face that, in varying degrees. So what? We are still 100% responsible for our reaction to those situations.  They can make us stronger, or they can destroy us it’s our choice! They can mature us and drive us deeper into God or they can leave us in a whimpering heap on the floor wondering why God has deserted us. It’s totally up to us how we respond to everything life dishes up.

Sin is still a problem for you and me because we keep making the wrong choices – it’s as simple as that.  We need to make the right choices and we need to be reminded of how evil, destructive and horrible sin still is. When we choose to submit to the sinful nature within us and not the Spirit of God, we hurt ourselves, we hurt others, we throw mud on the name of Jesus, we cause others to stumble, we inhibit the flow of the gospel, we destroy relationships and Churches and cities and nations.

We invite the enemy of God to come and lay the guilt and shame of sin upon us again – that guilt and shame which Jesus took away on the cross – it is returned to us tenfold when Satan is given access to our hearts and minds through our sin. When that happens, we feel unforgiven and dirty; we can’t hear God’s voice like we used to; we feel like God has turned His back on us.  He hasn’t, He is right there, where He always was, but our choices, our sin, has muddied the waters so we can’t see clearly anymore. Our sin has introduced ‘static’ in the transmissions from God and so even though He hears every word we pray; we find it increasingly difficult to hear from Him or experience His presence. We effectively re-arm the Devil and give him authority over us again.

We can’t control God.  We can’t control Satan. We can’t control those around us. We can’t control life’s circumstances – things happen when we least expect them. There is only one thing in the universe we can control and that is our choices. Until we understand that simple, but vitally important truth, and take responsibility for the choices we make and the consequences which follow those choices – we will continue to be a sitting duck for the enemy of God and everyone around us who may want to manipulate us or shoot us down.

We can sit and sulk and say, “O woe is me, my life is a mess … people are so mean … God has deserted me … Satan is attacking me …I can’t do anything to get out of this torment…”  We can carry on like that all our life if we so choose … and we may even find a few unhelpful friends who will hold our hand and cry with us and give us sympathy and encourage us in our self-inflicted cesspool of consequences, rather than confront us, in love, with the truth and help us face life like a grown-up.

Your eternal security in Christ is nailed down as a believer; your ticket to heaven is bought and paid for by Jesus; but your poor choices can put you into a living hell in this life. Sin is a choice, a bad choice, a choice that has devastating consequences in this life, a choice which can unleash the powers of darkness in your life, your family, your Church, your workplace, your city and your nation – but it’s a choice nevertheless – it’s your choice, today and every day.

We have the power to choose good and evil – that was restored to us by Jesus. We need to choose good.  As Paul said, we need to “… set our minds on what the Spirit of God desires” and not on what our sinful nature desires, and we need to do that every morning and all through each day.  There is not a second that goes by when we are not faced with that choice.

In my next sermon I want us to take a fresh look at confession and repentance and the actual process of choosing good over evil. Until then, I would strongly encourage you to read this and the last two sermons a few more times and ask God to guide you to His life-changing Word. There are truths in these last three sermons which have still not been grasped by millions of Christians.  Please don’t be one of them – the choice is yours.