Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (6)

sinThe Guilt of Mankind (1:24-32)

Why, you might well ask, is the Apostle harping on about sin so?  After all, post-modern sophisticates have grown so far beyond the crude concept of sin that it should be considered irrelevant.  And, talking about sin might hurt someone’s feelings, which we all know is the greatest sin, oops, I mean, you know … bad-thought (?).

Here’s a quote from that sums up the situation.

There are some who say that liberal/progressive churches don’t believe in sin.  That we never talk about it—or call people to confess.  I would agree that we seldom talk about it.  When I first came here I soon learned that was the “s” word that was never mentioned.

As a Commissioner to the Presbytery of Chicago I was able to listen to candidates during their ministry ordination examinations.  It was not uncommon for a candidate to proclaim that they didn’t believe in “sin.”  This admission caused not the slightest concern among the assembled Christian saints, and, in due course their candidacy was overwhelmingly approved.

However, the Apostle Paul considered sin to be so central to the Gospel that it had to be the first major point to be examined.  One might logically conclude that there is a direct, essential link between human sin and the Gospel.

So, you now face a choice.  You can press on, trusting that this passage of Scripture in Romans is relevant to our understanding of the Christian Gospel, or, you can pretend that it is an ancient, crude curiosity that we have evolved far beyond.  If you decide the former, welcome.  If you decide the latter, then I pray that you will someday return.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

This opening statement is shockingly contemporary.  What can be more obviously concluded about too much of Western Christianity than that it has chosen to serve “the creature rather than the Creator.”  Churches market themselves as places that will be comfortable and comforting.  Jesus Christ is that wonderful, faithful life coach who is always there to encourage you to “be true to yourself.”  The church programs will all affirm your good intentions and justify your personal choices.  Icky ideas like “sin” and “judgement” and “wrath” will be systematically attenuated.

And yet, the primitive Christian Church grew from tiny to massive under the threat and terrible reality of Roman persecution by preaching a Gospel that bears no resemblance to the above description.  And, in a position of freedom and safety unheard of in human history, the Western Christian Church has dwindled in both numbers and relevance while supposedly preaching the above “improved” gospel.  Perhaps the Creator knows more about what the creatures need than do they themselves.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Here the Apostle steps on what would almost two-thousand years later become the “third-rail” of social and theological conflict.  The Christian Church has much to answer for by its singling out of this sin for greater condemnation than others.  It also has much to answer for by its theological failure to place sin in it proper place and apply it consistently without regard to person or position.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. 29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 

We should all shudder before this list of terrible wickedness.  If you imagine yourself to be righteous concerning murder, please read Matthew 5:21-26.  For all of these vices the only thing standing between yourself and perdition is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness  through an utterly undeserved act of grace by a merciful God.  If only we Christians (myself definitely included) would consistently think and act accordingly.

32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

If we all stand convicted of sin, then how is a Christian different from anyone else?  This verse provides an answer at the point of extremity.  For, while The Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power makes Christians ever more aware of and sorrowful about their sin, the wicked glory in it.  They seek to become better at lying, boasting, slandering and all other forms of evil.  They hold themselves up to others as the standard of freedom and effectiveness to be emulated.  They glory in their wicked skills.  Who can look upon the current crop of political operatives and not recognize this vile behavior?  Who has not found this wickedness increasing in whatever domain of human activity in which they participate?

So, if you find a power not of yourself but yet operating within your life that increasingly illuminates your sin, calls you to repentance in Christ and pushes you to reform, then you can be confident that you are found to be in Christ.

However, if you are always finding new justification for sin, working to become better at it or glory in tempting others to fall into its grip, then may God yet have mercy on your soul.

But even this isn’t the worst.  For, to claim ministry of Christ’s Gospel while denying the concept of sin is a terrible deception.  By so doing you are pledging to deny the repentance and new life in Christ to those who look to you as a Christian guide.  You are working as an enemy of the Gospel while pretending to be called to proclaim it. You are certainly not beyond Christ’s power to save, though you have run almost as far from Him as is humanly possible.

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