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Monday, April 06, 2015

The Forgiveness Factor (part 1): An Explanation of Sin, and An Objection

One of the joys of teaching through the Bible verse by verse is the absence of agenda. What I mean to say is that when one is systematic in teaching, one addresses issues as they are presented. If God sees fit to align a lesson from His Unchanging Word with the headlines, then it happens by His design, not mine.

In today’s text (2 Corinthians 2:5-11) we begin a new section I call “The Forgiveness Factor.” The incident here concerns a church who does not forgive a man who repented of his sin. Now, before we take up arms in a cause against the church, let us be clear about one fact: Jesus said He would build His church and the New Testament is the record of Him fulfilling that promise. That this church had a problem with forgiveness is really the second half of the story--they actually had forgiven the man, but in the wrong way. Here’s what happened.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul addresses an error: a man who attended the church was having a sexual relationship with his father’s mother (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The church “forgave” the man, turned a blind eye to the man’s sin and let him carry on with his sexual preference. The church clearly had a misunderstanding about sin and forgiveness, especially when the church corrected its position and disciplined the man by putting him out. Since then, the man repented, ended the relationship and the church did not restore him to fellowship.

Here’s a great place to ask some questions that apply still today:

THE EXPLANATION:

What is sin? Why is sin a problem? Why is sexual immorality a sin? What should be the response of the church if someone is caught in sin? What happens if and when they repent?

Let’s think for a moment about what sin is NOT:

  1. Sin is not an accident, but the the direct result of Adam’s disobedience. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Ro 5:19). An “accident” is slipping on the floor. Calling sin “accident” does not undo the damage. If sin were an accident, there is nothing to forgive. 
  2. Sin is not an “balanced Negative” or “natural opposing force” (Yin and Yang). Sin is an active offense against holy God. "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” (Psalm 51:4). There is no way to counterbalance sin with doing good. If sin balances out, then forgiveness does not exist.
  3. Sin is not a fixed point of social evolution, “enlightenment” from which man emerges from darkness as a moral being. This is unscientific, unphilosophical, and unscriptural. If it were possible for morality to rise from non-morality, then flies grow from meat. If we are simply biological machines responding to natural stimuli, how and why do chemicals sense right and wrong? If sin is the springboard of the evolutionary process, why has man not evolved out of sin with all his gained knowledge? Where is the proof that everything is getting better? Clearly, we don’t live in the Star Trek universe.
  4. Sin is not “an admirable weakness,” a quality that makes a person more likable. Sin grows in strength then takes captives! “The strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).
  5. Sin is not necessary. Some say sin is “responsible personal guilt,” that we cannot escape it therefore we must “make the best of it.” But that's not true. 
Sin is a fact that cannot be ignored. God intends that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). Sin can be renamed, reassigned, but the fact remains--sin does not simply go away any more than cancer disappears by calling it “a growth.” J.I Packer wrote, “If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your fellow-men, or the work you live in, or the Christian faith. And you will not be able to make head or tail of the Bible.”

Sin is simply breaking God’s moral law: [1 John 3:4] “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Take a look at Leviticus 16:21 and notice three words: "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send [it] away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man”

The best way to think of iniquity is to think of something bent, twisted, crooked. The Bible equates iniquity with wickedness, moral perverseness. Our English word “wrong” precisely exactly expresses the idea. If sin is not wrong, then we undermine our own argument.

“Transgression” is a word that communicates revolution, a revolt against rightful authority. “I choose not to obey.” Picture someone stepping over a boundary, or abandoning duty.

“Sin” literally means “to miss the mark” referring to God’s perfect standard. The English word itself comes from the Germanic, French, Dutch, Old English words that indicate the truthfulness of one’s guilty situation. “Sin” is the most common word in the Bible that describes any “change of course” or deviation from the divine goal. The idea includes not only willful and ignorant acts, but also state of mind. This is why Jesus can say that the mere thought = the act.

THE OBJECTION:

“You should not talk about sin because Jesus was loving and kind. He did not condemn anyone.”

Did you know that Jesus called the religious leaders of His day “hypocrites” because they did not understand sin? That's right. Jesus condemned the religious leaders. Read Matthew 23 and count how many times Jesus uses the word “hypocrite.” (Seven. He also calls them “blind” 3x).

Do you know WHY Jesus called them hypocrites? "inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28). See 1 John 3:4, above. Jesus calls the religious leaders “sinners,” breakers of God’s law.

We take the time to think on these things because if we don’t understand sin, we make the same mistake the Corinthian church made, and misapply forgiveness.

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