Victory in Jesus
1John 2: He solved the sin problem for good.
An old preacher’s line is when asked the topic of his or her sermon is to reply “I’ve decided to preach about sin…I’m going to take a stand against it.” In this passage we find John doing just that. He tells his readers that he’s writing “to guide you out of sin.” Then, if a believer falls back into sin, he points us to the remedy, our “Priest-Friend” Jesus. Beyond that, as I consider the broader problem of sin, I’m told that Jesus has already dealt with sin at that level too. Sin, which breaks our relationship with our Heavenly Father, has been decisively dealt with through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. “He solved the sin problem for good.” When sin is an issue in my life there’s a remedy and his name is Jesus. From this passage I learn, then, that Christians can live in victory over intentional spiritual failure. I learn that if that failure comes anyway that Christ’s victory can yet be mine. I learn that, even as I’m dismayed by rampant, destructive sin in the world that there’s hope, a way out through the Lord. Because of him I’m set free from the domination of sin. That opens the way to abundant life. For every person who struggles with some old sinful habit; for everyone who sometimes feels the tug of some especially powerful temptation; for everyone who wants to live freely in Christ – for everyone – this is a wonderful, hope-filled Word from the Lord.
Take Away: At the cross Jesus defeated sin and death once and for all.
Living in an immoral society
1Corinthians 5: Shouldn’t this break your hearts?
The members of the church at Corinth came out of, and still live in, an immoral, corrupt society. Well, come to think of it, “came out of” is too strong a phrase. When the immorality of their society comes knocking at the church door, they make little effort to keep it out. One of the church members, Paul is told, is involved in sexual immorality. There’s also rude behavior, drunkenness, greed, and dishonesty. In other words, the insiders are acting a whole lot like the outsiders. How does this happen? I think the Christians at Corinth, being around such behavior every day, are dangerously comfortable with sin. When it appears in their number, rather than be horrified by it, they brush it off. Before the dentist does some drilling, the patient receives an injection that numbs the area. Otherwise, the work would cause great pain. In Corinth, the Christians have been “numbed” by their constant association with sin. Rather than be horrified by its appearance in their number they shrug it off. What a warning for us! The same immorality that’s rampant in Corinth is rampant in our society. Every day we wade through this cesspool. If we aren’t careful and if we don’t stay very close to Christ we’re desensitized to its awfulness. Oh Lord, as we encounter sin out in the world, help us to see it for what it is. When we see it in the church, let it break our hearts. If we find it in our hearts, let it drive us to our knees in repentance.
Take Away: Jesus prayed that we’d be in the world but not of it.
The greatest need of the believer
Romans 7: But I need something more.
In this passage the Apostle describes the frustration of many of God’s people. He’s been set free from sin’s prison and now wants to live God’s way. He understands that God’s ways are right but under the influence of sin even the purity of the Law becomes a tool of temptation and failure. He’s been freed from prison but some of that prison remains in him. He declares “I need something more.” A believer doesn’t have to attend a particular brand of church to identify with this statement. Having been forgiven of sins I set out to live a new life of righteousness in fellowship with the Lord. However, I come to the conclusion that this isn’t as easy as it appears. In fact, the harder I try to live that life of righteousness the clearer it becomes that, in Paul’s words: “I obviously need help!” Is this passage a pitiful surrender to sin? When all is said and done, is the Christian life all about grimly holding on through repeated spiritual failure? The Apostle will more fully answer these questions as he continues writing in what we call chapter eight, but he tips his hand when he says, “The answer, thank God, is…Jesus Christ.”
Take Away: Without the deeper work of God the Christian life is one of constant struggle.
Romans 5: When it’s sin verses grace, grace wins hands down.
Obviously, it all starts with Adam, the first human being. This first man’s failure puts in motion a whole string of failures. Humanity is in a death spiral. One man’s sin results in the sins of many. One man’s sin results in the deaths of many. Without an intervention this story is going to end badly. Then, God’s own Son, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, steps into history. Adam’s disobedience brings death. Jesus’ obedience brings life. For humanity it’s a gift beyond understanding. Our sin: our crushing, destroying, death dealing sin seems insurmountable. Now, through Jesus, the remedy is given. Sin, as powerful as it is, meets its match. Grace wins.
Take Away: No matter how great the sin, it meets it match in God’s matchless grace.
Acts 22: I paid a huge sum for my citizenship. How much did it cost you?
The captain isn’t having a good day. He’s arrested a man thinking he’s caught an Egyptian troublemaker but now realizes he has the wrong man. He then lets the man address the crowd, and to his surprise he addresses them in Hebrew. In a few minutes, there’s another riot and the man has to be rescued again. At this point the captain has had enough; he’ll beat the facts out of the fellow and be done with it. Then, as soldiers prepare to do the flogging the man informs them that he’s a Roman citizen. To be guilty of detaining and torturing a Roman citizen could be disastrous to his career. Additionally, the captain takes Roman citizenship quite seriously because obtaining his own citizenship had been an expensive process. Now, he’s come within a few minutes of jeopardizing his career because of this mysterious man. He asks Paul how he obtained his Roman citizenship and Paul responds that he was born free. Commentators aren’t sure how it is that Paul’s a Roman citizen but the best idea is that his home town, Tarsus, has been declared “free” by Caesar. Such a town is bound to allegiance to Rome, but its citizens are unfettered by the heavy hand of Rome. These people have the rights of a Roman citizen. The captain’s impressed that Paul was born with a privilege that has cost him dearly. For my part, I’m somewhere between the captain and Paul. I wasn’t born free. Rather, I was born a slave to sin and the price for my freedom was far beyond anything I could pay. However, the price was paid, in fact, had already been paid 2000 years earlier. My freedom was obtained at great cost. How much did it cost me? Nothing; but it cost Jesus everything.
Take Away: I’ve been set free a great price: the blood of Jesus.
Farther than you want to go
Hosea 4: That whirlwind has them in its clutches.
Hosea’s personal parable soon gives way to his prophecies concerning sinful Israel. The background of his own experience is especially evident in his constant references to the debauchery of Israel and descriptions of God’s disgust with their practices even as he loves them and calls them back. The experience of Hosea with his unfaithful wife is a reflection of all that. In this passage Hosea complains about their idol worshipping, sexually explicit religion. They think promiscuity and drunkenness is their ticket to happiness and satisfaction. Instead, as some wise people have said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go.” They’re willingly giving themselves to something that won’t satisfy and will ultimately destroy them. What starts out as willful sin (“I can quit anytime I want”) becomes obsession and possession. What they thought they could control now controls them. People start down some foolish path thinking they’re in control. Before long, they’re where they never expected to be and bound by what they never thought could control them.
Take Away: Sin will take you farther than you want to go.
Jeremiah 6: My people are broken — shattered! — and they put on band-aids!
To be apart from God is serious business. The solution isn’t to turn over a new leaf or to try to be a nicer person. Outside of God is death. A doctor doesn’t put a band-aid on a person who needs a heart transplant. The treatment is major surgery by a skilled surgeon. As a Christian I ought to understand this because I’ve been through the spiritual version of that process. However, I tend to forget it. Lost people aren’t simply making mistakes and facing a troublesome future. Spiritually speaking they’re in ICU with worse things yet to come. Jeremiah realizes that the sins of his nation have brought them to the brink of absolute catastrophe. I need to deal with those who are apart from God with the seriousness Jeremiah shows here.
Take Away: Lost people are really lost — condemned and without hope unless they allow the Lord to do a major, life changing work in their lives.
Isaiah 64: We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated.
My hope isn’t that God will look beyond all my failures and decide I’m still basically a good person. I’m not the victim of circumstances and my problem isn’t that I’ve been mistaken about a few things. Isaiah’s words point to the core problem: I’m a sinner. Beyond that, I’m not just a sinner by action; rather I’m a sinner by nature. I’m not a traveler who somehow wandered onto the wrong road; I’m a rebel who rejected God’s way because I preferred mine instead. Even when I try to do my best I’m a failure at it. The picture Isaiah paints is of a human race that’s rebellious, stained, and lost. Any possible hope must come from the outside. That’s where God comes in. This God specializes in mercy and hope. He doesn’t patch up my messed up life; instead he makes it brand new. Isaiah does a frightfully good job of describing my perilous condition, but he doesn’t leave me there. As great as my sin is, Isaiah reminds me of the greater grace of the Lord.
Take Away: The Lord specializes in mercy and hope.
Buried in the deepest sea, yes, that’s good enough for me
Isaiah 44: I’ve wiped the slate of all your wrongdoings. There’s nothing left of your sins.
As I read these words an old Sunday School chorus comes to mind: “Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone.” As a Sunday School kid to me that was mainly just a catchy tune, although I know that it’s important to “train up a child in the way he should go….” The message here is mainly for grownups, especially for those who are troubled by the mess they’ve made of their lives. They look at their lives and see a disaster that can, in their view, never be cleaned up. You may have things in your past that are so ugly that you seldom allow yourself to remember them, and when you do, you’re filled with shame. Or there may be things that everyone knows about: broken promises, failures, and destroyed relationships. The words of Isaiah are so filled with hope that our hearts cannot hold it all. The only One who can deal with the mess that is our lives has already acted to do just that. He cries out, “Come back to me, come back. I’ve redeemed you.” As I respond to that invitation, the words of the old chorus become mine…”gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone.”
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances
B-B’s and Battleships
Job 7: Even suppose I’d sinned — how would that hurt you?
In this passage Job wonders why it is that God is so serious about sin in the first place. He has a hard time understanding how a puny man’s sins can impact the Almighty. Now that’s an interesting question! If God is merely sitting on his throne making up rules for me to follow this argument has some merit. Job, though, underestimates the relational intimacy the Lord wants to have with us. He doesn’t want to be far above me, looking down from heavenly realms, keeping his distance. Rather, he wants to live in me and through me. When he created me, he made me in his own image. Now, even though that image is marred, there remains something of God in me. If this is true, and the Lord has connected me to his life then my sin will touch him in a direct way. Sin not only destroys my relationship with God but it actually wounds him. Now, I don’t intend to be too hard on Job at this point. After all, I have one big advantage Job doesn’t have. I can turn to the New Testament Gospels and watch God being touched by sin as Jesus hangs on a cross. For God our sin is more than our firing B-B’s at a Battleship and it’s more than an academic issue.
Take Away: Because the Lord connects us directly to his life, we actually have the ability to cause him pain or bring him pleasure.