Tag Archives: sin

It Makes No Sense

Once there was a young man hanging out with his friends.  They were bored so they decided to do something exciting.  One of the people in the neighbourhood had some pear trees.  He was one of those people obsessive about his trees.  He didn’t want people on his property taking his pears.  In other words, he was the perfect target for these bored young people.  They jumped the fence, snuck into his yard, and stole a bunch of his pears.  They ran back out as quickly as they could, hoping not to get caught — or maybe to get caught and make a close escape.  Once they made their get-away, they looked at the pears.  They were ugly and inedible.  They threw the pears to some pigs.

The young man was Augustine, who later became known as one of the church fathers.  He wrote about this in his classic book Confessions – which, if you’ve never read it, you really need to.  It’s the most readable book by Augustine and tremendously edifying.  Augustine reflected on the pear incident in Confessions.  Why did he do it?  Simply, he says, for “the excitement of stealing and doing something wrong.”  Augustine goes on to write about how sin is always irrational and self-destructive, and yet we love it just the same.  This is what he says:

I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself.  It was foul, and I loved it.  I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself….I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake.

Augustine did this when he was still an unbeliever.  He wasn’t converted to Christ until much later.  But if you read further in his Confessions, it becomes clear how the irrational and self-destructive nature of sin hounded him his whole life, even after becoming a Christian.  He’s really honest about that.

I can relate and I’m sure you can too, if you’ve given it any thought.  Why do we sin?  If we’d stop and think for a moment, we’d see the utter stupidity of what we’re doing.  But sin blinds us.  It makes us deaf to reason.  Sin turns us into fools.  We know God is holy.  We know he hates sin.  We know he will punish sin with unquenchable wrath.  Yet we do it.  We sin every day with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

Now the gospel tells us that God will forgive all our sins through Christ and so we go to Christ to escape the coming wrath.  We’re assured of forgiveness through him.  You’d think that would make us into people filled with love and thanksgiving, people wanting to obey and please our Father in heaven who has loved us so much.  Yet instead, so often, we forget his love, we trample on the gospel, and still want to do things our own way.  Does it make any sense?  Not to me.  And yet, sin has compelled me and sin will compel me.  The same is true for you.  For all of us, we’re burdened with the utter irrationality of our wickedness.  For a Christian, it’s totally frustrating.

But let me encourage you.  If you see the senselessness of sin, take heart because this is God’s work in you with his Holy Spirit.  If sin frustrates you, it’s because God has opened your eyes through regeneration.  The way forward involves awareness of your plight and God grants that gift to all his children.

God doesn’t stop there.  The Holy Spirit also works with the Word so there is actual growth in our lives.  True Christians can and will make progress in holiness.  The growth may be slow and many times it can be imperceptible.  Sometimes, sadly, Christians backslide too.  Nevertheless, the overall trend in a Christian’s godliness is upward.  That’s something we want, something we strive for, and something God graciously grants.  By God’s grace, we are being set free from the senselessness of sin.  We are on our way to a place and state where everything we do, say, and think will finally make sense.


What is sin?


Sin Separates?

Sometimes you hear it said that the most horrible thing about sin is that it separates you from God.  Along the same trajectory, the most horrible thing about hell is that it is eternal separation from God.  It makes sense if hell is the eternal consequence of sin, the ultimate punishment for sin.  But is it true?  Does the Bible actually teach that sin separates the sinner from God?

You could be tempted to think it doesn’t.  After all, God is omnipresent.  In Jeremiah 23:23-24, God says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?  Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD.  Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”  If God is present everywhere, how could sin separate you from him?  Moreover, doesn’t David say in Psalm 139:7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?”  If God is inescapable, then how can you ever be separated from him?

Moreover, when it comes to hell, there too we’re confronted with God’s inescapable presence.  Christians are saved by Jesus from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9).  That wrath is expressed with unbearable fury in hell.  God is present in hell to punish unrepentant sinners.  So, how can anyone say that hell is eternal separation from God?  The worst thing about hell is that God is present confronting sinners with his justice.

It might seem like an open and shut case.  However, we do have to reckon with everything the Bible teaches on such things.  As it happens, the Bible does teach that sin separates the sinner from God.  It also clearly tells us in what sense this is true.

First, Isaiah 59:2 says:

…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,

and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

The language of separation here is unambiguous.  Now there is a feature of Hebrew poetry that helps us in discerning what it means:  parallelism.  The first part of the verse is explained by the second.  “Separation” means the hiding of God’s face in such a way that he does not listen to the prayers of the sinner.

Second Thessalonians 1:9 speaks about hell and the punishment awaiting unrepentant sinners:

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…

This passage links hell with separation from the Lord.  However, it too qualifies this separation by adding, “and from the glory of his might.”  In the following verse, the Holy Spirit speaks about the glorification of the saints.  Witnessing “the glory of his might” in this context is meant to be a positive thing, a blessing.  That blessing will be missed by those in hell.

Obviously Scripture teaches that there is some real sense in which sin does separate sinners from God.  That sense is this:  sin separates you from friendly fellowship with God.  Sin separates you from a relationship with God whereby he will listen to your prayers and bless you.  The ultimate expression of that separation is indeed in the eternal fires of hell.  There unrepentant sinners are permanently separated from any positive relationship to God.  Sin separates by alienating and creating hostility.  That said, sin will never separate the unrepentant sinner from God as Judge.  Sin will never separate such a person from God’s justice or his wrath.

The gospel addresses this problem of separation caused by sin.  It does so with the reconciliation worked by Jesus Christ.  Reconciliation brings the alienated and hostile back together into a harmonious relationship.  Through Christ, our separation is bridged and we’re brought back to God in fellowship.  It was all because he endured the separation we deserved – he bore our hell on the cross.  God hid his face from Jesus.  He ignored his cries.  Jesus was “away from the glory of his might” – all blessings were snatched from him.  Since that happened in their place, Christians can be confident that absolutely nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39)!


Stockholm Sin-drome

Oftentimes we don’t see sin the way we should:  as a major problem.  Instead, we have a love affair with sin.  We’re bewitched and entranced by it.

On August 23, 1973 a man walked into a bank in Stockholm, Sweden.  Jan-Erik Olsson was a convicted armed robber and that day he was intent on doing it again.  Things didn’t go the way he planned and he ended up taking four hostages.  A stand-off with police lasted for five days.  It finally ended when police launched a gas attack into the vault where Olsson was holed up with his hostages.  What was remarkable was that afterwards the hostages seemed to sympathize with Olsson.  They were critical of the police and felt bad for the hostage taker.  Psychologists took an interest in this case and it led to observations of similar behaviour in other kidnapping and hostage situations.  People who are kidnapped or held hostage sometimes get emotionally attached to the kidnapper or hostage taker.  This became known as Stockholm Syndrome.  It’s exactly what sin does to all of us.  It enslaves us, it threatens to kill us, and then we become attached to it.  We may defend it, rationalize it, and even love it.  If we could see things rationally, we would see that what enslaves us will later kill us.  If we could see things the way they really are, we would see that we need deliverance.

Moreover, the world tells us lies that help keep us from seeing things the way they really are.  The world tells us that our captor is loving and kind, looking out for our best interests.  The world tells us that our captivity is not a problem, in fact, there is no captivity.  Slavery is freedom.  How can you have a depraved nature when there is no such thing as good and evil?  Or, if someone is inconsistent and does maintain the reality of good and evil, they’ll tell you that we’re all basically good.  “We all have good hearts,” they’ll say.

It should be clear that the Bible calls this what it is:  falsehood.  It’s all lies and snake-think.  It’s what the devil wants you to think so that he and his minions can keep you from finding hope and salvation in Jesus Christ.  If you don’t have a sinful nature, if you’re not enslaved by sin, you don’t need deliverance.  If you don’t need deliverance, you don’t need Jesus Christ.  Those are lies.  The truth is we all have a sinful nature, in the raw we are all enslaved by sin, and therefore we all need deliverance.  1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We have sin, we need rescue.  Because we all need rescue, we all need Jesus Christ.  This is the truth the Bible lays before us.

(The above is an excerpt from a recent sermon with Lord’s Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism as the lesson – you can find the video here)


A Different Calvin

As noted yesterday, I’m reading Cornelis Van Dam’s The Elder: Today’s Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture.  So far, it’s a good read and I would recommend it — I hope to post my full review of it here in the next few days.  A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of the biography of Calvin by Herman Selderhuis.  I was troubled by his characterization of Calvin’s relationship to God.

In The Elder, Van Dam discusses the approach that elders should take to sin in the congregation.  He advocates graciousness and patience, especially when sin is committed out of weakness and ignorance.  Along the way, he quotes Calvin:

In Calvin’s words, as children of God we offer our best to God without fear of condemnation, “firmly trusting that our services will be approved by our most merciful Father, however small, rude, and imperfect these may be.  Thus also he assures us through the prophet: ‘I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him’ (Mal. 3:17).”  Calvin goes on to note that the word “spare” is used in the sense of “to be indulgent or compassionately to overlook faults.” (187)

That sounds more like the Calvin that I’ve come to know.  We can firmly trust our most merciful Father.