1. Sin is serious. This is one of the most recurrent themes in the Bible. Yet with the characteristic blindness of human nature, it is one which fails to register with us as it should. 'Just' one sin in Eden led to death- and so much more than death. Time and again people missed the Lord's attempt to convict people of their sin. When He tells the Samaritan woman of the five men she'd had in her life, she responds by ribbing Him about whether God should be worshipped on Gerazim or in Jerusalem. She tried to move off the delicate issue of her morality into theological argument and strife about conflicting traditions (Jn. 4:18-20). Later, the Lord warned the Jews that "I go my way, and you shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, you cannot come. Then said the Jews, will He kill Himself? Because He says 'Whither I go, you cannot come'? And He answered them... I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins. Then said they unto Him, Who are you?" (Jn. 8:21-25). Here the Lord twice seeks to confront them with their sin, and yet they ignore this matter and get lost in speculation about His more cryptic statements. And this is why a man can spend hours or even a lifetime in 'Bible study' and come out with a conscience untouched as to his personal sin. Because humanity has a terrible way of footnoting the Lord's conviction of our sins and getting endlessly lost in striving about words and their interpretations. As we daily read, almost every chapter hammers home the same point: that God sees sin as far more shocking than we do. Consider these almost random examples:
- Even with very sinful men, their continual sins still register in the feelings of God. The way God progressively senses the weight of accumulated sin is reflected in His description of the Amorites' iniquity filling up (Gen. 15:16); or Israel marrying Gentiles " to increase the trespass of Israel" (Ezra 10:10). “The iniquity of Israel is bound up, his sin is kept in store” (Hos. 13:12). God sees some wicked men as more wicked than others; for He is sensitive to every one of their sins (e.g. 2 Kings 17:2). " For three transgressions and for four" of Israel or the Gentiles, God would still punish Jew and Gentile alike (Am. 1,2)- i.e. He still feels the fourth sin, He doesn't become insensitive after the third sin. And this doesn't only apply to His people; but to all sin, committed by anyone, anywhere. Thus Herod " added yet this above all" when he imprisoned John after also sinning with another man's wife (Lk. 3:20). We have an uncanny ability to become numb to sin the more we see or do it. But not so Almighty, all righteous God. This is a feature of His nature that needs meditation. " The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob [i.e. Himself, so important is this], Surely I will never forget any of their works" (Am. 8:7). " They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness" (Hos. 7:2). Sin is serious.
- The sins of the Gentile world still register with God. Jerusalem sinned more than the nations around her- implying that their sins also registered with God (Ez. 5:6). Tyre is condemned for not honouring her covenant with Edom (Amos 1:9); Moab for being too harsh in judging Edom (Am. 2:1); Gaza likewise for being too cruel (Amos 1:6). Even amongst the Gentiles, God sees some as sinning more than others (Ez. 7:24). And even amongst God’s people, some sins are “greater abomination” than others (Ez. 8:13). This doesn’t mean that the ‘smaller’ ones don’t count. But it reflects God’s great sensitivity to human sin. The varying scale of sacrifices for various sins reflects this too. And of course our Lord Himself spoke of the man with “greater sin”, and of other men who owed varying amounts to the Father.
- The casual rejection of the message of the prophets was likened to the hearers actively beating and killing the prophets (Mt. 22:7). The man who deceives his neighbour and passes it off as 'Just kiddin!'' is described as a man is madly throwing around firebrands and arrows (Prov. 26:18,19). This apparently extreme language is surely to highlight the seriousness of sin.
- God will judge sin. This will be the terror of His latter day judgments. I would paraphrase Am. 3:6,7 like this: ‘If there’s evil in a city, God will do something, i.e. He will punish it. But He now does nothing, but He reveals His future judgments to His servants the prophets’. In the context, Amos has been forth-telling judgments to come on various cities (Am. 3:9,12,14,15).
- Therefore God's eye did not spare or pity Israel, because they thought that sin was a light thing to Him (Ez. 8:17,18). They thus insulted His essential nature.
- Ezekiel goes on to speak of how every act of idolatry was seen by God as the fickle wife of a faithful husband deceitfully liaising with another, worthless, man. And there is a similar shocking terror associated with our infidelities to the Lord who bought us for His own. The self-hatred of repentant Israel before they accept the new covenant is described with a purposefully terrible idiom: a woman plucking off her own breasts (Ez. 23:34). These words must be seen in the context of Israel offering these parts of her body to the hands of the Gentiles (Ez. 23:3,8). And now, with her own hands, Israel would fain pluck off her breasts in realization of her degradation. This self-loathing must be part of every true repentance; for we too, in advance of Israel, ought to have repented a like repentance, and entered the very same covenant. Just reflect upon the self-loathing in repentance of Ez. 6:9; 20:43; Job 40:4; 42:6. This is how sin is serious.
- We will either be crushed and broken by the Lord at His return, or now fall upon Him and be broken (Mt. 21:44). Yet falling upon Christ is a figure for sinning against Him (Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:7,8). So for those who will not be destroyed by Him at the final judgment, we must inevitably stumble, but rise up again unto salvation. Simeon foresaw all this when he spoke of how the Lord Jesus would be for the fall and rising again of those whom He would save (Lk. 2:34).
- The world is therefore seen by God as actively sinful. For the man who does not accept salvation in Christ, " the wrath of God abideth on him" (Jn. 3:36)- it isn't lifted. We are therefore subject to the wrath of God until baptism (Eph. 2:3). It doesn't seem or feel like this. And yet God experiences this sense of anger with sin, albeit unexpressed to human eyes.
- The servant hopelessly, desperately in debt to his Lord is a picture of the believer's debt to God (Mt. 18:25). The Lord didn't say 'Well, don't worry about it, I've got plenty, just forget it'. He reckoned up the exact debt, calculated it with the servant progressively panic stricken as the full figure registered: and " his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made" . Only then- and this is a crucial feature of the story- " the servant therefore fell down, and besought him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all" . This was of course a nonsense; he had no way of paying it. But in his desperation, at the very and utter limits of human feeling, he fain would pay it all. And only then, " the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him" . This is not to say that the Lord is a hard man. But His frank forgiveness is not lightly given. Remember that God is elsewhere described as the magistrate who is to be feared, " lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite" (Lk. 12:58). And yet again, the Lord is not a hard man. In the context of our spiritual bankruptcy, " He constantly lendeth to thee" (Job 11:6 Heb.); and yet He demands our deep recognition that He deserves and in a sense should be given it all back. This will be our attitude, if we appreciate that indeed sin is serious..
- To not honour ones’ parents is, in the Lord’s book, to actively curse them, even though it is doubtful those He was critizing ever actually did so (Mt. 15:1-6).
- Paul reels off an awful list of sins in Romans 1, and builds up to a crescendo at the end of the passage. We're left waiting, with dropped jaws, for him to come out with some yet more awful sin. And Paul fulfils that expectation by listing the sin of having pleasure in those who commit sin (Rom. 1:32). Immediately we who are not grossly perverted and immoral are shaken from our seats. For in our generation like no other, one can secretly view sin, in movies, novels and on the internet, and vicariously get involved with it whilst not 'doing it' with our own bodies. This sin really is serious. It tops and caps and concludes the list of awful sins.
- James 4:9 tells some believers in the Jerusalem ecclesia that their joy ought to be turned to heaviness, implying the downcast look of the publican who could not so much as lift up his eyes to God (Lk. 18:13). This man is held up by the Lord and James as some kind of hero and example to us.
- Rom. 5:17,21 draws a parallel between Adam's sin and ours. His tragedy, his desperation, as he looked at his body, at his wife, with new vision; as his wide eyes wandered in tragedy around the garden: all who fall are in that position, eagerly reaching out to the clothing of the slain lamb.
- A man who deceives his neighbour and then laughs it off as "I was just kiddin'!" is described as a madman casting firebrands, arrows and death (Prov. 26:18,19). What we may shrug off as a small sin is perceived by God as deeply wounding.
- After his sin with Bathsheba, David was a desperate man. Sin is serious. He had to die, and he was shamed before all Israel. What he had done could not be undone, nor could it be forgiven through sacrifice. No amount of re-interpretation of the texts could get round it. Having been confronted by his desperation for 9 months, he found a miraculous forgiveness. And he uttered a soliloquy: " Blessed is he (himself- David) whose transgression is forgiven" (Ps. 32:1). Rom. 4:6,7 slightly changes this, with the preface that these words describe " the blessedness of [any] man" who finds true forgiveness: " Blessed are they whose iniquities [plural] are forgiven" . The point is plain: David's desperation is that of every one redeemed in Christ. Through his experience, David came to know what he calls 'truth in the inward parts' (Ps. 51:6): that he " was shapen in iniquity" , and the required sacrifice was a desperately broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:17). According to Paul's use of the Bathsheba incident, David's learning curve must be ours. There are other links which show that David's sin, desperation and restoration are typical of the experience of all God's true people (e.g. Ps. 51:7 = Is. 1:18).
- Job repented at the end, in dust and ashes. And yet, of what did he repent? He was, on God’s own admission, a just and upright man. He hadn’t committed any gross sin. And yet his ‘little sins’, the general sinfulness of the otherwise upright believer- this is what he had to suffer so much to be convicted of. And this is a powerful, powerful pattern for comfortable, upright living (or appearing) believers. Moses too was an upright man. But he had to be humbled, until he cowered in the rock as sinners will do before the excellence of God’s glory (Is. 2:21), before he could appreciate Yahweh’s glory. And Elijah too had to go through the same experience (1 Kings 19:9-12). Eliphaz likewise recounted how an Angel had passed before him, as the Angel passed before Moses and Elijah, and through this he came to realize the essential truth of man’s sinfulness and desperate need for repentance and God’s gracious acceptance (Job 4:16).
- John places complaining about wages [a common human fault] in juxtaposition with doing violence to others (Lk. 3:14)- to show that in his serious call to a devout and holy life, there are no such things as little sins. Ez. 16:49,50 defines the sins of Sodom as including “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor…they were haughty, and committed abomination”. The abomination of their sexual perversion is placed last in the list, as if to emphasize that all the other sins were just as much sin. Likewise Paul writes to the Corinthians about their failures, but he doesn’t start where I would have started- with their drunkenness at the memorial meeting. Instead he starts off with their disunity. Those things which we may consider as lesser sins, the Bible continually lists together with those things we have been conditioned into thinking are the greater sins. Clearest of all is the way Paul lists schism and hatred in his lists of sins that will exclude from the Kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon worldview has taught that sexual sin is so infinitely far worse than a bit of argument within a church. But is this really right…?
- That sin is serious was shown pre-eminently by the terror of the cross. The Lord in His time of dying was not merely an example; His living and dying in the way that He did, and rising again, was the way to real atonement for sin in all its forms and in all its implications.
All these points need to be increasingly realized and felt by us. For we live in a world that increasingly devalues sin and encourages us to commit ‘virtual’ sin, vicariously, through the viewing and viewer-involvement in the things which the entertainment industry produces. Legal systems also encourage us to devalue sin. It has truly been observed: “The accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be; one should only punish as a last resort, and then only so far as is necessary to prevent the evil having too grievous social consequences. Willingness to tolerate evil up to the limit is seen as a virtue” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 148). Yet God feels sin, and His judgments condemn it for what it is. This is so different to how men deal with sin.
God feels every sin, and judges it at the time, searching our hearts even for our motives- and He rewards sin with the death sentence. For the wages of sin is death. And yet, we don’t die. The fact God views sin like this, and yet by grace forgives us, makes that grace and forgiveness all the more wonderful. David grasped this wonder: “Unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for [because] thou renderest to every man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12).