Article of Faith #5 – Sin, Original and Personal
Date: Sunday, July 4, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
Before we begin our study today, I’d like to take a moment of pastoral privilege. A couple of weeks ago you took some time to recognize some special occasions in my life; my birthday, and our 7th wedding anniversary. I wanted to thank you for the kind words and the gifts which you gave to us.
As I contemplate those occasions, I’m reminded of one of the running jokes among some pastors on the Maine District. There are those who try to keep me humble by reminding me that churches keep me around because they get Melody as part of the bargain. As funny as that may seem, we all know that there is a great deal of truth to the statement, as she is a vital part and support of my ministry. We’ve always believed that God put us together to be a team, and to minister in His Name. And so, I want to take a moment to thank you, Melody…for being a great support, for using your gifts and abilities so well, and for being the best wife a man could ever ask for. I love you, and thank you…for simply being you!
But, a 7th wedding anniversary is not the only anniversary that is celebrated. I don’t know if you know it or not, but today—the first Sunday in July–is also another anniversary. You may not believe it, but two years ago we moved from Redbank Village in South Portland to your beautiful parsonage on Susan Rd. Two years ago this Sunday was my first Sunday in the pulpit as your pastor. And so, I want to take a moment to thank you for being such a wonderful congregation and for taking such good care of us. I want to thank you for your support in my various ministries, however unconventional they may appear. I want to thank you for inviting us into your lives, to be part of your families. Many pastors identify a moment—usually 3-to-9 months into their ministry with a particular congregation—when the ‘newness’ wears off and the excitement fades. They often speak of that moment as the “honeymoon” being over. While I was at PALCON this week, I was thinking about that, and realizing that I can’t identify any such moment here at Cape Elizabeth, and that is truly extraordinary. Now, I don’t believe for a moment that I am an extraordinary minister, and so I’m firmly convinced that the honeymoon continues for two reasons: 1) because we serve and extraordinary God, and 2) because you are an extraordinary church. I feel blessed and fortunate to have been called here, and want to tell you that we love you, and we look forward to whatever future God has in store for us together! May the honeymoon continue….
We turn our attention this morning to the 5th Article of Faith in the Church of the Nazarene. You can find this article and its supporting scriptures in the inside flap of your bulletin. As we arrive at this Article of Faith, we arrive at a topic which is not a popular topic in our culture today. People don’t often like to hear about sin, unless it is to point out someone else’s sin. Jesus had a keen understanding of human nature when He exhorted His listeners to first take care of the plank in their eye before worrying about the speck in their brother’s eye.
Before we look at the Article of Faith, I’d like to ask you a question to think about. “How are we aware of sin? How are we, as humans, even able to identify sin or bad behavior?” I suppose, first and foremost we would say that our parents taught us right from wrong, and before them their parents taught them, and their parents before them, and so on. But before that, how were people aware of sin? How were they able to identify bad behavior?
I want you to think about this for a moment: the very fact that we are able to identify sin is evidence of the Grace of God at work in our lives. Simply because we can identify evil is evidence that we have encountered good. We know there is a God, because woven into each of our lives is a moral fabric.
If you think about it, you realize that in order to identify sin, we must have some experience with holiness—else we would not recognize sin in our midst. Clearly, humanity has—at some point in its history—encountered a holy God, or else it would be entirely unable to recognize that which is less than holy.
I am reminded of Isaiah’s vision recorded in Isaiah chapter 6. You will recall that he:
“saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
In his vision, Isaiah saw a Holy God surrounded by creatures who could do nothing less than declare His holiness and glory. We read of Isaiah’s reaction to this holy vision in verse 5, where he says: 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
The very fact we can identify sin indicates that woven into the fabric of our being is an awareness of a Holy God. That, my friends, is evidence of God’s grace at work in our lives before we even knew we were in need of that grace.
When we understand that, we realize that the story of the Bible does not begin with sin, but that it begins with perfection. Before there was a fall, God said that it was “good, good, good, and very good.” Before there was an apple, there was fellowship in the Garden. The message of the Bible doesn’t begin with sin, it begins with God. It begins with holiness. It begins with pure relationship. It begins with grace.
It is only after Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit—as recorded in Genesis 3—that relationship between God and humanity was broken. It was only after they succumbed to temptation that sin began to play a role in human lives, tempting us, leading us astray, and keeping us from being in right relationship with God and with one another.
And so, because of the decisions of Adam and Eve, “We believe that sin came into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, and death by sin.” Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and later on Paul tells us that “The wages of Sin is death.” Because sin entered the world, death entered the world.
Our article of faith states that “we believe that sin is of two kinds: original sin or depravity, and actual or personal sin.”
“We believe that original sin, or depravity, is that corruption of the nature of all the offspring of Adam by reason of which everyone is very far gone from original righteousness or the pure state of our first parents at the time of their creation, is averse to God, is without spiritual life, and inclined to evil, and that continually. We further believe that original sin continues to exist with the new life of the regenerate, until the heart is fully cleansed by the baptism with the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, Original Sin, is the condition or state in which we find ourselves. Each one of us was born into the state of Original Sin, just like some of us were born into the State of Maine, or the State of Massachusetts .
Now, someone born into the State of Massachusetts is not accountable for their birth place—they had no choice in the matter. We don’t hold it against them, just because they were born in Massachusetts. BUT…if an opportunity arose for this person to move out of Massachusetts and into the glorious state of Maine (this would be a redemptive move), and they failed to do so, then we could hold them accountable for that decision.
As a church, we hold to a doctrine of accountability, which states: “We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”
The State of Original Sin is an “inherited propensity to actual sin.” It is as if we had an old-fashioned balance, with two pans on each side suspended from a fulcrum. If the balance was empty, we would expect both pans to be at the same level. However, our tendency to sin means that we are already at a disadvantage. The scales are tipped, our hearts are turned inward, our pans are off-balance, as though the crooked shop keeper was keeping his thumb on the scales so that the grain cost more. In other words, all other things being equal, we tend toward doing the wrong thing. However, since “Sin is not taken into account where there is no law” (Romans 5:13) one is not held accountable for their original sin until they neglect or reject God’s Divine plan of Salvation.
In tension with the concept of Original Sin is that of Actual (or Personal) Sin.
“We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. It is therefore not to be confused with involuntary and inescapable shortcomings, infirmities, faults, mistakes, failures, or other deviations from a standard of perfect conduct that are the residual effects of the Fall. However, such innocent effects do not include attitudes or responses contrary to the spirit of Christ, which may properly be called sins of the spirit. We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love; and that in relation to Christ sin may be defined as unbelief.”
We could probably take a few weeks to unpack all of our doctrine of sin, but we don’t have the luxury of that time this morning. Let me focus on the next-to-the-last phrase in the paragraph, which says “We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love.”
“What is the ‘law of love’?” you ask. Well, I’m glad you asked! You can find the “law of love” in Matthew 22, verses 36-40:
36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Do you remember Article of Faith #1? It was about the Triune God. You remember that God was eternally existing before time as the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is Love because God is Triune. Three persons in One, eternally existing in relationship with the other. The Father giving Himself in love for the Son and the Spirit. The Son pouring out love into the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit offering pure love to the Father and to the Son. Three distinct persons, living in Holy Community—God is Love because His very essence is relational.
Since sin is the opposite of God’s nature, then we can see sin as that which breaks relationship. Sin is that which violates the law of love. Sin is that which comes between humanity and God, or between a brother and a sister. Sin breaks down relationships.
When we understand that Sin breaks down relationship, we realize that we are entrapped or enslaved by our sin. Because of the sin which comes between us and God, we can’t approach His throne in order to right the wrong. In ourselves, we are unable to correct the relationships which are broken. Therefore, sin entraps us and enslaves us. We find ourselves in destructive patterns of behavior which keep us from becoming all that God intended us to be. The shackles of our sin keep us from walking in fellowship with God in the Garden. We are prisoners of sin, slaves to our own temptations and desires.
Paul speaks of this slavery to sin in Romans chapter 7, verses 11-24:
11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Indeed, who will rescue us from these bodies of death? Who will set us free from the slavery of sin? How shall we escape our shackles that we might be in right relationship with God?
Do you remember where we started this lesson? God’s grace came before all of this. We recognized that in order for us to even be aware of the slavery of sin, God’s grace must already be present in our lives. In order for us to recognize our dark hearts, we must have once recognized something holy.
25Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul doesn’t stop at the end of chapter 7, but continues on to write these words:
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
God does not want us to live in sin. He does not want us to live in broken relationship. After all, He created us in His Image, so we are designed to be in right relationship with others. Sin keeps us from being what He has made us to be. And so, in order to offer more grace to us, He offered His Son Jesus to form a bridge of relationship that our sins might be forgiven, that there might be a remedy for sin, and that we might find ourselves once again in right relationship with God.
We can be set free from sin and guilt. We can be set free from despair. We can be set free from the traps of our own temptations and sin. We need only accept the forgiveness of sins offered through the blood of Jesus , and the cleansing of our hearts offered through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While I have no intention of minimizing the Patriotic Celebration which occurs this weekend, we recognize today that as Christians we celebrate a greater sort of Independence Day. Our Independence Day has little to do with men in wigs gathered around a document placing their signatures upon it. Our Independence Day has little to do with an inter-continental squabble about taxes and tea. Our Independence Day is not so much about “hanging together or hanging separately.”
No. Our Independence Day was 2000 years ago when the Son of God climbed the hill called Mount Calvary and poured out every drop of blood so that you might have forgiveness of sins. Our Independence Day was when He went to the place of the dead to loose the captives and lead them forth into the heavenlies. Our Independence Day was when He busted out of the tomb, bringing new life to all who believe. Rejoice, for you have been set free!
“But,” you say, “I don’t feel free. I feel trapped in my sin. I don’t know what it means to be in right relationship with God. I understand exactly what you’ve said about a tendency to do the wrong thing, and I find myself doing that wrong thing all the time. What should I do?”
Let me tell you this. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for you on a cruel Cross. Jesus lived a sinless life in order that He might be sin offering for you and for me. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood can wash away my sins. Nothing but the Blood of Jesus . Not only did He die on that cross, but He was buried and rose again on the third day, so that you and I might experience new life on this earth, and the resurrection of the dead—and eternal life with God.
To receive that free gift, you need to pray, talk to God—admitting that you are a sinner, believing that Jesus’ death can cleanse you, and confessing that Jesus is Lord. He will forgive your sins, He will set you free, if you…by faith…ask Him to.
In just a few moments, we will celebrate our Independence Day by partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This table is open to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ and are in right relationship with Him. In a moment we will affirm our faith together by reciting the Apostles’ Creed, which outlines the essence of our faith. Then, we will pray. As we pray, I invite you to enter into a time of confession, where you seek God’s forgiveness for any areas where you have fallen short. If you do not know Christ , let me assure you that He is reaching out to you and waiting for you to respond to Him. Should you ask Him to enter into your life, you can rest assured that He will set you free from the sin which entangles you.
Benediction: I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.