you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. All of us also
lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and
following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of
(Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV)
Concept of Sin
The word sin has lately become a church word. It is seldom
heard from our pulpit, on the theory that it is unfriendly to those who are
seeking. In the emerging church, God no longer seeks us — but we are seeking
God. Sin, it seems, is a barrier to that search. But as it does occur in the
Scriptures quite frequently we may take the time to define it.
The essence of the word is simple: it means to miss the
target. This, of course, implies that a such a thing as a target exists. For
the Jew of this time, the target would have been the Old Testament Law of
Moses. The target, of course, is the command of God. Those who consider
themselves Christians understand this to be written in the Scriptures.
Sin is sometimes confused with the psychological concept of
guilt. Guilt is a word of two meanings: there is a legal form of guilt
(determined by a court, for example), and there is a psychological guilt — the
feeling of being guilty. Modern psychology holds that feeling guilty is a
mental problem. We often hear from the pulpit how, psychologically, guilt can
be gotten rid of. That is not the guilt of which we are speaking here.
You can tell the difference by the effect: psychological
guilt makes us feel bad. Our emotions are unpleasant. Sin, on the other hand,
separates us from God. This is more subtle, but longer lasting. As we shall
see, separation from God has eternal consequences; emotional guilt may not.
Concept of Sinful Nature
An old preacher once told me that he loved to preach on the
subject of sin. His position, he said, was that he was against it. It seems so
simple: why is it that we just don't reject sin? After all, we are adults. We
can make up our mind.
It is not that easy. As any sinner can tell you, "I can
quit anytime I want. I've done it many times." We seem to keep coming back
to the same sins. This too is something that has been known since the beginning
of man; we are possessed of the sinful nature. St. Augustine explained this in
terms of his doctrine of original sin; the idea is that you are born with this
sinful nature. Whether you are born with it or not, I do not know: what I do
know is this – you have it. And so do I. So why is it that we can't get rid of
Perhaps it is because we cannot distinguish between being
pleased and being satisfied. Being pleased is a short term feeling; being
satisfied means you are content with the long-term state. We are creatures who
live in time, and therefore we love being pleased but have to learn about being
satisfied. Parents are quite familiar with the difference. When your child
takes his first few halting steps you are very pleased. But you would not be
pleased at all to find that this was the best he could ever do. It's like my
father said: he's easily pleased, but hard to satisfy. It seems that being
pleased crowds out the view of being satisfied. If you don't work at it,
pleasure will squeeze out satisfaction. This is particularly true in your
Christian life; you need to develop the maturity to seek satisfaction in Christ
rather than pleasure in the world.
If there is any one thing I could get across to each and
every Christian, it would be this: Satan is real. Not the gentleman in the red
tights with the horns and the pitchfork and the pointy tail, but the leader of
the rebellion against God. One of the large universities in the South recently
had to change its mascot. The previous mascot was a Confederate colonel whose
appearance had become politically incorrect. So the students were left with the
problem of finding an acceptable figure of one who is leading a rebellion. One
suggestion was Adm. Akbar (from Star Wars). That shows you how far we have to
reach to find someone who symbolizes rebellion and yet is socially acceptable.
Akbar didn't make it.
When you are disobedient to God, it's not just that you are
doing something God doesn't like. Rather, you are choosing sides in the
rebellion — and you've chosen Satan's side. This implies that sin, as a whole,
is not a random sequence of events or miscellaneous happenings. It implies that
the rebellion is being planned and led. We think we are sinning on our own; the
Scripture tells us otherwise. When you sin, you side with Satan — which makes
it all the worse.
This might explain why sin is so offensive to God. It is
offensive normally because God has established his laws in our hearts. It's bad
enough to go against what he has told us to do. But this gives him the right to
forgive us; the principle being that only the person offended can forgive. God
is a person; when you break his laws he is offended, and therefore can forgive.
But we often don't appreciate the measure of this forgiveness because we forget
that sin is not just a violation of his laws but rebellion against him. If you
will, this is what makes sin so sinful.
is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it
is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in
advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)
Nature of Grace
Grace is the unique property of God alone. It's not obvious
why. We know that when you sin, God is offended and therefore can forgive you.
Of course, we forgive others on Earth as well. But we usually do it rather
differently. We remember the offense; we are ready to pick it up again if it should
arise once more; and we often think we forgive but don't want to rebuild the
relationship. In short, we forgive partially. God forgives completely.
This is a gift. It has to be, for there is no way we could
earn it. How is this? God is a perfect God; if we could earn it, we would have
to be perfect. If you are perfect, I must ask why you are reading this lesson
from such a sinner. Surely it is obvious to you by now that this sinner has
nothing to teach one so perfect as you.
But there's more to it: it's God's gift, and he gives it in
his own way. God has a style — it's called his glory. He never does anything
cheaply or inadequately; everything he gives is good and perfect.
be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like
shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we
might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
(James 1:16-18 NIV)
Three Fantasies on Faith
This is so simple, so obvious that we often make it much
more complicated. Faith as the source of grace seems somehow to us to mean that
we are doing something worthwhile by having faith. This gives rise to these
three fantasies about faith:
"God owes me." In this fantasy, we think we've piled up
a good amount of credit on God's books by the simple act of accepting his
grace. After all, we reason, there are plenty of people out there who haven't
done this. Clearly we must be much better than they are. Therefore we have
credit on God's books. This might work if you're trying to pay off your auto
mechanic. But God is not your auto mechanic.
"It's a 50-50 deal. I do my part, he does his." In this
view, we see grace as a contract. One of the key characteristics of the
contract is that both sides must give something to the other. The law refers to
this as "an exchange of consideration". God does not work by
contract, but by covenant. The eternal God simply states what is; whether he is
speaking the universe into existence or telling us what it takes to up obtain
his grace. There is no bargain; take it or leave it.
"The faith itself is the work. I have faith in faith."
Your teacher has often found this one particularly difficult to understand — it
seems so stupid. If you'd like to know why, consider this: what if I decide
that God's grace should come to me in a different way — the way that I have
faith in. I'll just invent my own covenant, in effect. As long as I sincerely
believe my covenant will work, isn't God obligated to do what I tell him to do?
If you don't think this is absurd, apply the same concept to gravity.
It appears that God does nothing without a purpose. It is
necessary, however, to distinguish his present purposes from his eternal
purposes. A good example of a present purpose may be found in marriage. We know
that it is intended to be lifelong, but we also know that marriage is dissolved
at death. It is given for our good in this lifetime. Similarly, God has a
present purpose for us in his grace. That purpose is to do good works.
You will note that this is prepared in advance. This is not
just a gracious afterthought on God's part. He intended this from the very
beginning; I suspect so that we might practice being like him. But if you will
combine the thought that this is a present purpose, planned far in advance, it
should be obvious that such good deeds must be done in humility. We cannot be
proud of the fact that we thought them up. We cannot be proud of the fact that
we invented the idea of doing good deeds. In fact, we have nothing to be proud
of at all. But we should be thankful that God has allowed us to share his work
by giving us good deeds to do. It of course follows that doing good deeds
should not be neglected.
because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with
Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been
saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly
realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the
incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ
(Ephesians 2:4-7 NIV)
I have taken this section of verses out of the usual order
so that you might see the progression of God's plan. There is a certain
inevitability to God's plan.
The Future Is Shaped by the Nature of God
You must remember that God is his attributes. If God is
righteous he is righteousness itself. If God is merciful and loving, he is
mercy and love. It is therefore an impossible impossible for him to change.
This is the reason I believe in the coming judgment: God is righteous. There
are many people (Adolf Hitler, for example) who have yet to receive the justice
they deserve. God's character prevents that from continuing forever. Similarly,
his love and mercy will provide for us forever; this is just as inevitable.
What does this mean?
Preach Christ and Him Crucified
The early church had one sermon message. That message was,
"Jesus Christ and him crucified." The death, burial and resurrection
of Christ — those were the three points of the early churches sermons. One of
the site points of that sermon was quite simply this: if Christ is raised from
the dead, then we shall be raised also. It is so certain that Paul, in this
passage, makes that future event into a present tense. He tells us that we
"are alive" in Christ. It is a future fact; we shall live. Death is
Some Christians have some difficulty seeing this. Permit me
a historical parallel. In 1863 the battle of Gettysburg was fought. After that
battle, there was very little doubt as to who would win the Civil War. The
decision was made — but the fighting after Gettysburg was even bloodier than
the fighting before. We're in somewhat the same position; the war is won, but
the fighting is not finished.
The Riches of His Grace
It helps sometimes to review just what God has in mind.
Think of the things that he has planned for us:
He has promised us eternal life. Not just unending existence, but
rather existence eternally as God himself has. We shall be like him.
We shall be eternally in his presence. Have you ever had the
feeling that God was distant from you? Then, when things work out, he suddenly
seems so much closer? Think of that feeling of being so much closer. It will be
much closer than that, and it will be eternal.
We are also told that if we suffer with him we shall reign with
him. We shall be like him so much that we will be considered fit to reign.
And beyond our imagining, there is this: he will bring to us the
new heaven and a new Earth. I do not know what this will be like; but he
describes it as being vastly superior what we have now. If you will look at
what we have now, in those places it is untouched by man, you can see that the
creator produces incredible work. Soon, we shall see his masterpiece.