Monday, May 25, 2020

Anonymous Asks (94)

“Is it possible to go a whole day without sinning?”

No.

Shortest Anonymous Asks ever.

Okay, I suppose I could elaborate a little. It is only possible to imagine you have gone a whole day without “sinning” if your definition of sin is grossly deficient, if you are stupifyingly un-self-aware, or maybe if you happen to be in a coma.

Actually, I’m not even sure about that last one. Is it possible to sin in your dreams? Maybe. If you have never awakened with a bad taste in your mouth, deeply conscious of your own fallen-ness, you are probably in a very small minority. At very least, our dreams often manifest to us the nature of our own inner thought lives. That ain’t pretty.

The Ubiquity of Sin

James speaks about just one possible area of human error in this life (our speech) and says this: “[W]e all stumble in many ways.” Jesus said, “It is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” There are conscious sins and unconscious sins; sins of ignorance and sins of open and calculated rebellion. There are sins of thought, word and deed. In a fallen world, sin is everywhere, sadly, and the opportunities to sin — even for the serious Christian — are virtually endless.

Think about it: twelve men traveled and lived with the Son of God incarnate for three years watching everything he said and did. During that time, they sinned with their lips and in their hearts repeatedly, in all kinds of ways. At the end of it, one betrayed him, one denied him, and eleven forsook him and ran for it to save their own skins.

Not a promising start, and they had a perfect example to follow, the protection of Jesus Christ himself praying for them, and all the spiritual advice they could handle on a daily basis. Did any of them go a single day without sinning during that period? I very much doubt it.

Losing Sight of God

To imagine ourselves capable of a sinless day in this world is to lose sight of who God really is. When we really have a biblical vision of God, any pretense of self-righteousness instantly evaporates and we stop kidding ourselves about who and what we are. Witnessing the power of Christ in action, Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Ezekiel saw God at three removes and fell on his face.

To be sinless for an entire day would require something none of us possess, which is a perfect comprehension of God’s holiness. We would have to have a handle on every possible thing which might fall short of God’s perfection in even the most microscopic way. Moreover, we would also have to have a perfect understanding of our own motives, which the Bible tells us we do not. We fool ourselves constantly, and looking too closely into our own heads is a waste of time. But assuming having both these faculties to perfection were possible — which it is not — we would still have to pay unrelenting attention to every detail of every interaction in our lives to the point where we would drive ourselves and everyone around us crazy. We would think of nothing else but sin and self, and we would become unpleasantly inwardly-focused in a world in which God really wants our attention on himself, and on the needs of others. That very self-focus would ultimately become sinful.

So let’s ask ourselves a more important question: In what condition are we least likely to sin? The answer to that, I think, is when we are conscious of God’s presence with us.

Ammonites in the Temple

It’s amazing what people will get up to the moment an authority figure turns his back. I was reading the last chapter of Nehemiah this morning. It’s really rather sad. Nehemiah has implemented all manner of reforms in Israel, and the people seem to have obediently and enthusiastically followed his lead whenever he showed them the commands of God in the Law. Now, his service to the king of Babylon requires him to leave Jerusalem for a while. When he returns, he finds an Ammonite living in the temple storerooms, the people not tithing as they had solemnly promised, the Levites abandoning their responsibilities, the Sabbath broken weekly, and the men of Israel intermarrying with the women of the nations around them. The moment the “conscience” of Israel turned his back, the people started to misbehave.

We are pretty much exactly like those Israelites, even though we have been given the indwelling Spirit of God to inform our consciences, convict us of sin and guide us into all truth. The moment we lose sight of our Lord, we start to sink ... or, to maintain our Old Testament metaphor, we inexplicably allow the Ammonites to move into the temple and make it their home. Christ in us is the hope of glory, but who hopes for what he already has?

Glory is not yet. Glory is to come. A time is coming when we will no longer sin, not just daily, but ever. We will be comfortably and eternally at home where righteousness dwells, and where nothing unclean will ever enter.

In the meantime, we have an advocate with the Father. Let’s not pretend we don’t need him every day of our lives. That’s what he’s there for.

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