Get to Know Your Enemy

15 Jun
I’ll always remember a sweet, little old grandma who heard I was studying to be a pastor and wanted to give me a little advice before I headed off to serve at my first church. “Whatever you do” she said, “don’t talk about sin. I used to go to a church where the pastor always talked about sin. It made me miserable. But at the church I go to now, the pastor never talks about sin, and I love it.” Sadly, her attitude toward sin is not all that unusual.
Many view talking about sin as offensive, others view it as discouraging, and still others as pointless. God’s attitude toward the subject, however, is far different. He views talking about sin as important. So important that if you don’t “get” what the Bible says about sin, you won’t “get” anything else.
If you are serious about growing in your relationship with Christ, there are few subjects more important for you to consider than what the Bible teaches about sin. You don’t understand sin and you will struggle to comprehend the justice of God and His judgment on the lost.
During my first year of college I doubted God like I never had before. I was studying the Old Testament and I was shocked by the way God treated sinners; a man puts out his hand to steady the ark and he’s struck dead, Moses gets angry and he’s not allowed to enter the Promised Land, Adam and Eve eat some fruit and the whole world is sentenced to judgment. After about a year’s worth of struggle, I finally figured out what the problem was, and it wasn’t with God. It was with my view of sin. I didn’t think sin was as bad as it really was and as a result I couldn’t come to terms with the way God judged it. His reaction to sin was completely just, mine totally warped. You don’t understand sin and you are not going to be amazed you’ve been forgiven. I think about the Pharisee who was sitting across the table from Jesus judging the woman who was weeping at Jesus feet. He was so blind that he had the audacity to go a step further and judge Jesus himself. Jesus explained that the woman was overwhelmed with love for him because she realized she was a sinner who needed his forgiveness while the Pharisee wasn’t, because he didn’t.
Unfortunately, too often we’re more like the self-righteous Pharisee than the weeping woman. We’re not overwhelmed with love for Jesus. Truth is, Jesus seems pretty boring to us. If we get tired of singing about Jesus, talking about Jesus, thinking about Jesus, I guarantee you, the problem is not with Jesus, the problem is with us. We don’t take our sin seriously enough, and as a result aren’t amazed by Him and the forgiveness He provides.
You don’t understand sin and you are not going to be motivated to deal with it. I’ve found that many people say they want to change, but don’t really want to change, at least not enough. Mostly, they just want to say they want to change. That way they can appear to be holy while continuing to indulge in the very things that keep them from being holy. They like the benefits they see that result from a godly life, but do not want to make the sacrifices required to experience those benefits. They want to be godly, but they don’t really want to be godly, because they love their sin too much. That’s because they don’t really understand just how awful sin is. Fail to come to grips with that, and you’ll end up complacent. You’ll be willing to live with your sin. And sometimes you’ll even indulge it. You’ll betray yourself. You’ll aid and abet your enemy. You’ll help the very one who wants to destroy you.
The goal of this post is simple. I want to prove to you that sin is awful. I want to show you why it is so foolish to play with sin. And I want to motivate you to hate sin with everything you’ve got. At first, you might think it’s a little strange that I would sense the need to do that. After all, you are a Christian. You go to church. You know sin is bad; that’s one of the first things you learned in Sunday School. Unfortunately, though many of us know sin is bad, I don’t think many of us understand just how awful it really is. I say that from personal experience. One of the primary reasons I was motivated to look more carefully at what the Bible teaches about sin is because I realized that even as a pastor who spends hours in God’s Word almost every day, my attitude towards sin was slipping and it scared me.
I could blame society for that. The world gets mad at us for trying to convert them, when they are trying to convert us. They want us to think the way they do. In particular, the world in which we live wants us to think the way they do about sin. Our culture is constantly telling us that sin is not a serious issue. In fact, on most popular television shows the main goal is to show that sin is funny, not awful. And if we’re not careful it’s very easy to begin to laugh at the very thing Christ died to save us from. What God calls evil can slowly begin to appear normal, even good.
Or I could blame sin itself. Sin is deceptive. It doesn’t show its’ true colors. Sin disguises itself. It’s a beast, but when it comes knocking on the door of your heart, its dressed up like a girl scout. It wants you to think it just wants to sell you some ‘cookies’ when all it really wants to do is destroy you. To see how awful sin is, we have to rip off the disguises it puts on.
Do you know what’s really twisted? Most of us can easily see that other people’s sin is terrible. We’re good at exposing sin in others, and we are great at denouncing it. But when it comes to our sin, we’re even better at ignoring it. You see this kind of thing happening all the time. A parent screaming at a child for screaming at his sister, a wife refusing to talk to her husband because she thinks he is being selfish, a person gossiping about someone they think has offended them.
The truth is, while it would be easy to say that the main reason we don’t hate sin the way we should is because the world is lying to us, or sin is lying to us, I just don’t think that’s the case. The main reason we don’t hate sin the way we should is because our own hearts are lying to us. That’s Jeremiah 17:9, look it up. We deceive ourselves into believing we’re better than we really are, and that the sin we are indulging in isn’t all that serious, at least not as serious as the sin of those around us. It’s pretty sad to meet a person who has been deceived by someone else. It’s even more tragic to meet a person who has deceived himself. Yet that’s the way many of us are. As one writer puts it, “We deny…what we know to be true. We assert…what we know to be false. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions…We become our own dupes.” We sit in church and amen when the pastor says sin is awful, and yet when we go out in the world, the very sin we denounced in church appears pretty enticing. So we give in. Then we persuade ourselves that although sin is awful, our sin really isn’t. Our very own hearts betray us.
While there are a number of reasons we fall into this trap, one of the primary reasons is because we only have a vague understanding of what sin really is. We’ve heard the words sin and sinners over and over, we know it is bad, but beyond that everything gets a little hazy. If we are going to grow in our hatred of sin we have to grow in our understanding of exactly what sin is.
If I tell you there’s suffering in Africa, you might feel a little sad. But that statement is so vague, it’s not likely to break your heart. I’m guessing after hearing that, you’d still be able to get on with your day. You probably wouldn’t even think too much about it again. If I really want you to be moved by the suffering in Africa, I’d need to get more specific, and go on to describe what’s happening in greater detail, explain some statistics, perhaps even show some photos. Probably the best thing I could do would be to take you there and introduce you to some of those who are actually suffering because the more you see and the more you understand, the more likely you are to feel compassion. In a similar manner, if your understanding of what the Bible teaches about sin is vague, you are not likely to hate it that much. You might be a little bothered, but you are going to be able to get on with your day. If you really want to hate sin, you need to go to God’s Word, look at some “photos” and then learn to view your own sin in light of what Scripture says.
God gives us many vivid descriptions of sin throughout the Bible. As you study the Scripture you’ll find that there are a number of different words for sin, iniquity, transgression, wickedness, to name a few. That’s because the authors of Scripture used all sorts of different Hebrew and Greek words to describe what sin is. (Over seventeen distinct terms, in fact.) Each of these words adds a little to our picture of just how awful sin really is.
Sin is described as rebellion.
When we think about sin we tend to think horizontal, about our relationships with people. But we need to realize that all sin is vertical, all sin is against God. That’s why after David committed adultery and even murder, he still cries out to God, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.” (Psalm 51:4) It’s not that he didn’t sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, but the person most offended by his sin was God. God is holy. He has laws we must obey. These laws are not arbitrary. It’s not as if God is up in heaven saying do this or don’t do that for absolutely no reason. No, the laws He has given us are the very definition of what is right. Sin is any failure to conform to God’s holy law, in action or in attitude. The slightest, most minute departure from absolute obedience to God’s law is sin. Sin is doing what God forbids or failing to do what He commands. The apostle John puts it like this; “sin is lawlessness…” (1 John 3:4) As one pastor puts it, “You sin when you do, when you say, when you think, or when you don’t do, say, or think what God commands you to.”
One of the words used throughout the Old Testament to describe sin is ‘transgression.’ That word literally means to revolt or rebel against a rightful authority. When you sin, you are shaking your fist at God. You are treating God like He is your enemy. You are fighting against Him. You are despising Him. You are committing treason. Imagine an American hiding Ossama Bin Laden in his house, taking him out to dinner, going to local amusement parks. If a person did that, he’d be a traitor. When you hide sin in your hearts, that’s exactly what you are doing, you are being a traitor to God.
Sin is described as perversion. To pervert something is to twist it or distort it. Many times when you sin you are taking something that is good and warping and twisting it into something evil. You are perverting that which is right. Think about idolatry. God designed us to worship Him. That’s the great purpose of our lives. When we worship someone or something other than God, we are being perverted. We’re taking that which is right, worshiping God and twisting it into something evil, worshiping someone else. The same is true for sexual sin. God has a good plan for sex. A plan which when followed brings joy and satisfaction. But people twist it into something awful. Very often I find when I talk to people that their problems stem from good desires improperly directed. A young man wants to do well in school, but allows that desire to become an obsession, and suddenly doing well in school becomes his chief objective in life. Or perhaps a young lady wants to have a boyfriend, but allows that desire to dominate her, and is willing to compromise what she knows to be true and right in order to achieve it. A pervert is not just someone who sits up in his room looking at dirty pictures. Anytime we deviate from what God commands, we are being perverted. Fix that thought in your mind.
Sin is described as emptiness.
When you choose to sin, you are choosing to do something that is inherently futile. One of the Old Testament words for sin literally means empty. When the Old Testament writers saw someone sinning, they could say he was doing emptiness. The sinner chases after the wind, pursuing something he’ll never catch. That’s why Paul describes the way we thought before Christ saved us as “meaningless…” (Ephesians 4:17) As one old theologian has explained, sinning is like getting into a bathtub filled with water, grabbing the sides and then trying to lift the bathtub to the ceiling. You can work and work but you are not going to get anywhere. Ultimately, you are wasting your energy doing something that is pointless.
Sin is described as breaking a trust.
Sin is often called ‘unfaithfulness.’ When you sin you are not only breaking God’s law, you are violating a relationship. The word for unfaithful is actually the same word you would use if someone committed adultery. Sinning against God is committing spiritual adultery. Ezekiel’s pretty graphic. He says that when God’s people sinned they were acting like prostitutes. “…you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing.” (Ez.16:14) We like to trivialize our sin. But realizing sinning against God is like being a prostitute, or committing adultery puts things in perspective.
Sin is described as veering off the road God wants you to travel.
There are some scholars who think this is the primary emphasis behind the three most important Old Testament words for sin. There are two paths to travel throughout life; the way of godliness and the way of wickedness. When you obey God’s law you are walking on the way of godliness, when you sin you are walking along the way of wickedness. When we sin we are turning aside from the way God has laid out for us to follow. We are wandering off of God’s path. We are crossing over the boundaries that God has set, trespassing in forbidden, dangerous territory.
Sin is described as offending God. Sin is more than doing what you want, it’s doing the exact opposite of what God wants. It’s doing that which God hates. That’s why sin is so often called an abomination to God. In other words, sin is disgusting to God. To take it a step further, when we sin we are doing what the devil desires. God hates sin. Satan loves it. When we sin we are doing what God hates and what Satan loves. Thomas Watson explains, “Sin gratifies Satan. When lust or anger burn in the soul, Satan warms himself at the fire. Men’s sin feast the devil…How he laughs to see people giving up their souls for the world, as if one should trade diamonds for straws…” To hate our sin, we’ve got to see it for what it really is. When we sin we are “missing the mark, straying from the fold…” We are acting like people who are “spiritually blind and deaf…” We are being “unfaithful to our faithful God…” We are committing “spiritual adultery…” We are stepping off the path God has graciously revealed to wander about on a path that is anti-God; we are doing the very thing that God hates, we are choosing to disrupt our relationship with our God. The world, sin and our own hearts are going to tell us that sin is not serious. We must respond by speaking the truth to ourselves. If we don’t, we are placing ourselves in great danger.
A little over a hundred years ago, in May of 1902, a volcano on the island of Martinique was beginning to concern the residents of the city Saint-Pierre. Unfortunately, the volcano was heating up in an election year. The governor of Martinique was worried that if too much attention was given to the volcano, the candidates of his party would suffer in the upcoming election. So he went to work. He told the editor of a local paper to minimize the danger of an eruption. He stopped people from sending telegrams which warned of the threat. He even visited the city himself several days before the election just so that people knew things were safe. The day after he arrived in Saint-Pierre, the volcano erupted. It ended up killing the governor and thirty thousand others in under two minutes.
Listen, Satan, sin and our own flesh often act a lot like that governor – downplaying the seriousness of sin, of the “volcano.” Don’t be fooled. God promises, “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of his ways will die…” (Proverbs 19:16)
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