For the past few years, when my parents come down for Thanksgiving, we try to visit a historical site in Arizona. We’ve been to the Ghost Town in the Proving grounds, Tombstone, Oatman, and Wickenburg. This year we went down to the Yuma Territorial prison. For what it was, I thought it was a good little site. What struck me was some of the crimes, mostly by the women. You had the usual, burglary, manslaughter, murder, but then you had adultery and polygamy; two things nowadays would barely catch people off guard. But there was one criminal act that stood out above the rest for me. One lady was in there because she was dancing and her brother didn’t like it, so she shot him with a shotgun.
And it was a fitting place to visit, because it brought into focus how easily it is for humans to do evil. Which brings us back to our fall apologetics series where we are looking at five heresy that come out of a Ligionier Ministries survey; to which Christianity Today wrote an article stating, “Overall, adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year (Stefani McDade, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/september-web-only/state-of-theology-evangelical-heresy-report-ligonier-survey.html).”
In week one we covered how 26% of Evangelical Christians agree that the Bible was helpful, but wasn’t true. So we walked through both the internal and external consistencies of the Bible, showing that it is non-contradictory, logical on the subjects it speaks on, fundamentally unchanged throughout the centuries, and archeologically prove time and time again. To which we talked about, that the problem isn’t with the truthfulness of the Bible, but rather an issue of submission to what is being stated through it.
In our second week, we combined two of the heresies because they both dealt with the person of Jesus. The survey found that an average 58% of Evangelical Christians believed that Jesus was a created being, less god than God the Father. Here we went through, what I called, mystery passages in the Old Testament, that when originally heard in the context of Israel didn’t make a lot of sense. These passages held two seemingly opposing truths together: there is one God, yet a plurality exists with this one God. This is conundrum that Jewish theologians prior to Jesus were struggling with. Yet, when Jesus came on the scene, this conundrum became clearer with the understanding that within God, there are three persons. Co-eternal God and yet within this being of God, are unique. We walked away from this week with the understanding that we must worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equal persons and as one God.
This brings us to our last week, where we covered the issue of the exclusivity of Jesus. We saw that in response to Ligionier’s survey, 56% of Evangelical Christians believed the God accepted the worship of all religions. This translates into an understanding that there are many paths to salvation. Here we gave three reasons as to why this isn’t true. First we gave biblical reasoning through several passages of Scripture that claim there is One Savior and only through Jesus can a person be saved. Then we gave a philosophical reason as to why the mere existence of the universe points to only one God, to which Christianity follows. Finally, we gave a religious reason. This reason looks at the religion’s of the world, where everyone gives a caveat to Christians’ salvation, but Christianity does not do the same.
This week we’ll finish up both the heresies from this article and our fall apologetics series. And I must warn you that this one we’ll be a downer at first, but I hope we end on the hope we have in Jesus, which will then lead us into our Christmas series on the joy of Christmas. So let’s get into it.
In the survey, Ligionier Ministries asked the respondents if they agreed or disagreed with this statement, “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.” 66% of the average US population, who responded, agreed with that statement. The response from the Evangelical Christians wasn’t that far off, with 57% also agreeing with the statement. What this means is that, for most people, the idea of sin isn’t that big of a deal, and that people are generally good.
But why is that? Why do people downplay sin and up play human goodness. I think there’s at least two reasons: First, we up play human goodness because we look to ourselves as the standard. I can justify my actions therefore I am good. I can then carry that logic to other people in general, with the except of those that I might politically or social disagree with, or who do horrendous things. A reason for then downplaying sin is that our definition of sin is not consistent with a biblical definition. I’ve run into people who tend to hold that sin is a curse word, a white lie, or being a murder. In other words, either things that are common in everyday life that have no true repercussions, or acts so heinous that the average person wouldn’t even commit. So if a person doesn’t commit serious acts, such as murder, then the common sins don’t mean anything. This then strengths the idea of the goodness of humanity.
Yet this far from what God says on the subject. 1 John 3:4 gives us a simple definition of what sin actually is. It reads, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” The law being spoken of is not human law, but God’s law. And not simply the law of Moses, but the natural law that God established at creation. Sin is not bad things a society says are bad, whether socially unacceptable things or things codified in law; no, sin is the breaking of God’s creation law, not just in a physical outwardly way, but inwardly as well.
Jesus teaches this inner breaking of God’s law. In the Matthew chapter 5, the sermon on the mount, Jesus takes the issues of murder and adultery, and then proceeds to speak of the internal, not merely the external, issue of sin. So the breaking of God’s law starts with the inner thoughts. Murder happens not just when you take the knife and stab the person to death, but when you first hold anger towards them. You didn’t only break God’s law when you slept with that person who wasn’t your spouse, you broke it the moment you looked at someone who wasn’t your spouse and desired them. To this Jesus says these words in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
The biblical understanding of sin, is that it flows from our heart into our actions. So, though I have never murdered, I have held anger, therefore I have broken God’s law to love. Though I have never slept with someone who isn’t my spouse, if I have desired someone in that way, then I have broken God’s law of faithfulness. This is why Isaiah states in his 64th chapter, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (v.6).”
Paul references this Isaiah verse in Romans 3, and adds this in verse 23 of that chapter, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” When we understand that sin is the breaking of God’s creation law on both the internal and external level, we remove the idea that there are small sins and there is human goodness. Because, though there are sins that may effect the greater world in different ways, they still effect our standing with God. True you’re in right standing with society because you didn’t murder that neighbor that threw his dog’s poop in your yard, but you’re in bad standing with God because you plotted how you were going to make him eat it.
This standing is what is spoken about in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God…” That word iniquities means guilt. The guilt from the sin we have both inwardly and outwardly committed by breaking God’s creation law.
But this where I’ve seen push back. I’ve heard things like, well I’m not that bad. “God wouldn’t punish me for such small infractions…I’m not as bad as Jeffry Dahmer or one of those other psychos…I just don’t have it in me to do such things.”
To this I point to a book by Clay Jones. Clay Jones is our pastor Jeff’s younger brother, and he wrote a book a few years back called, Why Does God Allow Evil? I think one of the most important chapters is chapter two entitled, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” I want to read you two excepts from that chapter.
“Most of us know that during World War II, many Germans participated in the murder of six million Jews. But few realize that an almost equal number of Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies, handicapped, and so on were also killed. And this doesn’t include those actually killed in combat, or those who died in cites (Jones, Clay, Why Does God Allow Evil: Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions. [Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), page 50.]).”
“But still, some resist this conclusion. In smiling, closed-eyed denial, some will say that those who perpetrated genocide must have been abused as children, or raised by severe parents, or something—anything. These people simply do not want to believe, cannot allow themselves to believe, that they and their children were born Auschwitz-enabled. They are desperate to escape the conclusion that we could all do genocide. Nonetheless, skeptics and even many Christians will argue that Auschwitz or no, there are still some good people (Jones, Clay, Why Does God Allow Evil: Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions. [Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), page 62-63.]).”
Earlier in the chapter Jones goes into detail about an experiment called the Eichmann Experiment, conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s. In the experiment participants would be split off into pairs, with each person in a par chosen at random to be either a teacher or a learner. The learner would then be given a list of words to memorize and recite. The teacher was then instructed to press a button that would give the learner an electric shock. This device had a scale for the output of electrical charges, ranging from slight to danger. As the experiment went on, the overseer of the experiment instructed the teacher to slowly increase the electrical charge. Even as the learner became increasingly hysterical and begged the teacher to stop, 65% of the teachers continued to increase the charge all the way up to a lethal shock. In reality, the learner was an actor, the shocks a trick, the real subject of the experiment was the teacher. Average people committing torture.
Isn’t interesting that 66% of the average American citizen believes that people are generally good and 65% of the experiment went all the way to the maximum shock?
This showed that each one of us has the capability of inflicting horrific things on others, to which the Bible recognizes comes from the sin that wells up from within our inner being. It’s something that we all know we have inside us, but we all try to keep in check. Yet it it comes out. During the pandemic, the world saw upwards to a 33% increase in domestic violence calls (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/06/shadow-pandemic-of-domestic-violence/). During the pandemic here in the US, aggravated assaults increased by 11%, Murder rates increased almost 29%(https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/myths-and-realities-understanding-recent-trends-violent-crime). In home violence drastically occurred when we couldn’t get outside to do something else.
We live in a world that doesn’t take sin seriously and errors on the side of human goodness. Do you know why we have a government that is supposed to have such rigid checks and balances? Because the Founders understood that we live a world where humans were sinful and needed to be checked.
We are not good in the sense that we are pure, humanly specking we may do good acts, but even those are tainted. How often do we do something for someone’s else’s good, yet we don’t get recognized for it and then hold bitterness, saying things like, well I’ll never help them again. How often do we do something good for someone and say, well that’s my good deed for the year, or they better be appreciative of all I do for them. If we’re honest with ourselves, none of us achieve pure love in all things. And because we don’t, we break God’s creation law, we become sinners, and are destined for eternal separation from him in a place called hell.
And yet, there’s hope. The Psalmist states, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin (v. 32:5).”
The prophet Micah proclaims, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (v. 7:18-19).”
The Apostle John encourages, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (v. 1:9).”
And the Hebrew writer points to hope when they write, “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (v. 9:28).”
And this is the key: Sin needs to be recognized. When we gloss over it, we lose what truly will change us and this world. When we down play sin and up play our goodness, we don’t deal with the reality of what’s happening within us and what is spilling out to the world. What’s ironic is that we tell addicts the first step in recovery is to recognize you have a problem. No truer words could be spoken to the every human in the world. When we recognize that we are sinners, we can then get help from the only place that is equipped to deal with it. That place is with the Living God, in which the Father gave his Son so that all who put there trust in him would not perish but have everlasting life.
And when we put our trust into Jesus, confessing our sinfulness, accepting that he sacrificed for us, by taking our sin and punishment on to himself as he hung on the cross, sins power is broken in our lives. The Holy Spirit rushes into us and lives with us, combating the last vestiges of sin’s foothold in our lives. Bringing out of us real goodness, which is the goodness of God.
Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
A modern praise song has this chorus in it, “Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God…Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the 99…And I couldn't earn it…I don't deserve it, still You give yourself away…Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.”
Let’s be honest with ourselves and with God. I think that is the hardest part. I am a sinner, I have broken God’s law, and I am deserving of whatever punishment comes from that. Yet, God is merciful and desires that I be his. Through Jesus he cleanses me of all my sin and guilt and accepts me wholly into his love. My life now is his, as he transforms me from the sin I practiced, into the righteousness of the Father’s Son. Not because of anything I did, but because he is pure good, and now I know what goodness is.
My challenge for you this week is to be honest with God. Whether you are a believer or not. Take an inventory of yourself. Are all your thoughts pure? Are all your actions not compromised. Because it only takes one to make us a sinner, a breaker of God’s law. But what really matters is not that you are a sinner, that only matters if you continue in sin rejecting being honest. That will lead to forever separation. But if you recognize, confess, and seek Jesus as Savior, then what matters is his great love for you. That no amount of sin, whether small or large will keep you from being welcomed by God into his presence for eternity.
So let us be people of honestly. Let’s not sugarcoat our sin, or up play our goodness, but deal with it in the light of Jesus. The Savior, Forgiver, Redeemer, and Lover of humanity. Amen.