Sin — and God’s gracious answer to our most pressing problem
Hello again from Ian Greig and Alison Greig with another episode of The Living Word podcast to encourage you and get you hearing God for yourself and grow into relationship with Him.
That’s a whole lot different from religion — any religion, really, with its rules and condemnation and trying to lead a better life without much help, if any.
- Why is it different? Some churches do seem to be all about rules and recitations…
Where we are coming from is a different place. It’s about a person — Jesus, who is not just a historic figure from first-century Palestine.
- Doesn’t the Bible say something about how He was involved at the beginning in Creation?
And He is alive and with us now! After being put to death on a Roman cross and buried in a sealed tomb He was seen again by the disciples and many others, alive and well.
- He was scarred but not incapacitated,
But this the point for us to grasp -- He coached them on their new life with Him present, but not visibly present, before being seen to ascend to heaven.
- But most religions have a historic figure they look to…
Yes, but here’s the difference. And it’s a big difference. Unlike any religion, this is all about a relationship. A personal relationship. Jesus is actually present with those who believe in Him now. We can ask Him to come and to draw near. He doesn’t just expect us to carry on His mission and ministry -- He does it with us and helps us.
- And that’s not just in church?
No, it’s a relationship, so it is a constant thing — not limited by time or place.
- So it’s like, if someone is my friend, they are my friend wherever I am?
That’s right. You text your friend from the beach or the café, at home or abroad — and you can talk to Jesus wherever you are.
- What has that got to do with this week’s theme which explores the problem of sin — ’sin’’ sounds like religion telling us we can’t do things...
You have picked up on the mindset we inherit from medieval monastic Christianity. Mortifying the flesh with a life of austerity.
- And guilt -- plenty of guilt for our wrongdoing?
But that’s without Jesus. If we hear His knock and we open the door to Jesus — that is not a religious demand but an invitation to a relationship.
- So, would it be true to say that sin is our independence resisting God’s offer and wanting our own selfish way?
That is a big part of it. Jesus takes the problem of our historic independent wrongdoing. By His self-sacrifice on the Cross, He has paid the penalty for that.
- So where does the relationship help us?
Through this way of living in relationship with Him, He gives us a better pathway. He helps us when we fall short, as we often do. He doesn’t tell us we’ve blown it — He helps us back onto His better path.
- Let’s turn to what the Bible says — taking a look at the set readings that many churches and chapels follow on a Sunday.
Our story starts in the Old Testament, in Exodus 12, with the account of the institution of the Jewish Passover.
Exodus 12:6-8 NLT
"[On] the fourteenth day of this first month… the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight [and] take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.” From Exodus 12:6-8
A plague of death was about to fall on Egypt, and the Egyptians in particular — God's judgment on them for the way they had oppressed his people.
- So what is the lesson here for us?
The lesson here is that, whoever we are, if we rebel against God and refuse to listen to him, we invite His judgment. He is a holy God who cannot countenance sin or evil. On the other hand, because fundamentally He is a God of unconditional, merciful love, He always provides a way out from His judgement.
And we see here something fundamental about sacrifice and how the lifeblood becomes a sign. The Israelites would show themselves to be covered by that shedding of blood, and the judgment would pass over them.
This of course is a pre-figure or prototype of the way out from sin that God would provide through His son Jesus, and His shedding of blood in self-sacrifice for all who would believe and turn to Him.
- So how do we relate to this idea of sacrifice? Is is relevant for us?
We’ll meet sacrifice in another way in a minute. Sacrifice is essentially giving yup to God something that is precious to us. It doesn’t have to be a lamb — but even that points us to Jesus.
So even in the Old Testament teaching, we keep Jesus in view. He is the living embodiment of what we read. He helps us understand how we live out what we read, together with Him — with His help.
- Talking about sin, why is it such an issue? We're created to be thinking and independent. so what's the difficulty?
Let’s look at it from God’s perspective. God is separated, pure and holy; and His thoughts, ways and standards are way above ours.
Coming back to us — we inhabit a world dominated by man's selfishness, need for domination — and sheer evil, like that causing hundreds of death a day in Eastern Europe. How do we, made unclean by association, let alone all our self-centred misdeeds, approach God in His separated holiness?
We’re going to see that the Bible shows us three connected things — an action, an attitude and an aspiration. Something we do, a mindset we adopt, and a desire, a goal. We aim for all three, but there is a progression; and that’s to do with how weak or strong is our relationship with God.
- So how does that work, if we are only just getting to know God?
Where faith is weak and God, for us, is still distant, the action is a starting point. Churches are good at coming up with actions. Sometimes in a formal setting, what is expected is attending and watching someone else perform actions. But more is needed…
- That sounds like somebody else making the connection for us.
That is what a priest does. The problem is, this is not a pattern we see in the Bible except in the Old Testament. That way was made obsolete by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, enabling us to believe and trust in that work that paid for our sin, so we could know and relate to God ourselves without any intermediary.
- Surely that's much better?
Faith to believe and trust in Jesus is far better, because then the action we take regarding sin is our own response in prayer and worship. This is about approaching God through Jesus, conscious of our reliance on Him as our Saviour and Redeemer.
- So by looking to Jesus to help us, it widens the scope of how we resolve sin — is that it?
Let’s look at what Jesus teaches. Here He teaches an action together with an attitude.
"If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offence. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back." Matthew 18:15
There’s an action — going to the other person — in an attitude not of judgment but seeking fair resolution.. There is also an aspiration — that’s more implied than stated. That is our desire and spiritual need to be reconciled, and believing that to be God’s order and therefore possible.
If the problem is between you, as a believer, and another believe., it It is a three-way relationship between you and the other brother or sister and the Lord. There is sin — one has caused hurt to the other — and the action also DOES involve sacrifice, which may come as a surprise.
- Sacrifice? Where does that come in?
In this case, it's pride that must be put to death, in particular our ring-fenced position of ‘rightness’. First of all, it is the pride of the one "sinned against”, knowing it could easily be the other way round, and that most if not all disputes have two sides to them. Humility finds a way to discuss it and find reconciliation, once pride has been bound and put on the altar.
- So I can there is an action, to get together with the other person, and an attitude of humility. Where’s the aspiration?
The aspiration comers through believing Jesus is present and revealing His way in the process.
He asserts strongly that where there is genuine faith in Him and a desire to find agreement, He is there: “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as My followers, I am there among them." This is where the aspiration comes from. The Holy Spirit gives us the desire that Jesus has and reveals His presence.
- So how does it work if the other person is not a believer and says they have done nothing wrong?
Where the hurt or disagreement is with someone who does not know Jesus, He is still present with us and our grace and humility becomes our witness, even though the relationship part is more complicated.
- This aspiration or heart-desire is a bit more difficult to understand. In a dispute, we start from the high ground that we hold.
Aspiration comes from the Holy Spirit— it’s not something we can just generate in a dispute situation. In fact, humanly it goes against the grain! Let’s look at this more closely.
[The commandments] are summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfils the requirements of God's law.
Don't participate in... quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don't let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. That's from Romans 13: 9-10, 13-14.
- How do we know this is possible?
To be instructed "love your neighbour" tells us that this is more than possible. Where does that love come from? Let's not make the mistake of defining 'neighbour' as someone holding the same beliefs and values as us, although in our pride, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, we might fall into that trap. Our love quickly comes up short but we are given an inexhaustible supply of God's non-judgmental love by the Holy Spirit. Loving our neighbour will often mean forgiving our neighbour, whether they apologise or not!
- And it we believe it's possible, how do we do it?
The writers of letters in the new Testament all made the assumption that they would be read or heard by people who had to come into a relationship with God through trust in Jesus, and growing as disciples following the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
So these NMT letters can appear to tell us to do some difficult or even impossible things. But they are not “do this” or "do not do that" homilies.
They teach us God’s values and are our guides to what God is helping us to achieve, beyond our strength and ability. And let's not forget the role of spiritual gifts, both in receiving wisdom and knowing how to apply it.
They speak to a new life of partnership with the Holy Spirit which glorifies Jesus — not just within the church gathering but outside it as well.
Our sin and selfishness, and the friction they cause in our relationships with others, are not going to go away until Jesus returns. But we have a God-given strategy for dealing with them, in a way where we are working in parallel with what God is doing in the unseen spiritual realm. That comes through our Spirit-led actions — we cannot be passive, expecting God to do what is our responsibility — and Christ-like attitudes, sacrificing pride to find resolution. And we have to want what God wants — again, Spirit-led in an aspiration whose source is outside ourselves.
This is how we over come — and it is our witness of Christ and His Way, to the unbelieving, watching world.
Father God, we thank You that in Jesus we can approach You as those counted worthy to enter Your presence. How can we thank You enough for what Jesus has done in taking our sin on Himself — and being present with us now to guide us in putting right the sin we get into.
We long for Jesus to return and establish His fair, just order and deal with sin and selfishness for ever.
For now, we hear the call to play our part in establishing His kingdom by our right attitudes. Forgiveness and reconciliation are hard for us — we humbly ask for You to empower us and give us heavenly wisdom to live and model the relationships You always intended for us.
May our submitted actions, attitudes and aspirations bring You glory, and also grow us as disciples. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, that’s about it for this week. We hope that this exploration has encouraged you and helped you to hear God for yourself. For that it’s best to read the actual Bible passages and you’ll find the references and links in the notes below.
Until next time, then, be blessed in being mindful of Jesus, His presence and peace and not the anxieties of this conflicted world, as we seek to be His peacemakers together. ‘Bye for now.