Real and Present Sin

I encourage the reader to take time for a slow, meditative reading of today’s Scripture. It is pertinent to our modern situation in so many ways. We will use the easier-to-process New Living Translation today.

2 Peter 2:4-21 (NLT)

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment. And God did not spare the ancient world—except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood. Later, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority.

These people are proud and arrogant, daring even to scoff at supernatural beings without so much as trembling. But the angels, who are far greater in power and strength, do not dare to bring from the Lord a charge of blasphemy against those supernatural beings.

These false teachers are like unthinking animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. They scoff at things they do not understand, and like animals, they will be destroyed. Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice.

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life.

By Chuck Griffin

French poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire wrote, “The devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Just short of that, I suppose, would be Satan’s success in convincing us that sin really doesn’t matter.

Both are notions flatly contrary to the Bible. Sin not only exists, the acts constituting sin are clearly defined, even if people want to limit themselves to post-resurrection New Testament texts. Sin at one point corrupted the realm of angels, and it most certainly continues to corrupt the abode of humanity.

Sin is in us; sin is among us. False teachers openly carry it into our most sacred places, saying, “Oh, don’t worry about that.” As they do so, they move their arguments along in stages.

Stage 1: Play a game of Theological Twister with me, and I will show you the Bible doesn’t really say what the church has claimed all these centuries.

Stage 2: If you really think about it, there are whole sections of the Bible that need to be thrown out.

Stage 3: Are we really going to trust those musty old writings over what is in our own hearts?

Our reading from 2 Peter makes it clear that sin scoffers existed among the church in the earliest days of Christianity. They have always been nearby; that same old song of the false teachers simply receives a new tune now and then. It always remains a song of destruction, though.

Yes, there is love. Praise God there is love! Only magnificent love would be so patient with such nonsense. It took far more love than we can imagine to keep the holy Christ on the cross, dying for all our sins.

The pursuit of holiness is the perfectly appropriate response to such an astonishing gift of love. Holiness is simple: It is the committed effort to cease sinning, an effort made possible by repentance and the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life.

To be flip about sin—to deliberately, consciously draw others back into it—is to disregard the cross, the source of our salvation.

Lord, as we continue through this season of Lent, search us and show us where we deviate from your will. Amen.

For, Against and Undecided

Mark 9:40 (NRSV): “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30 (NRSV): “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

By Chuck Griffin

Compare these two statements from Jesus and you may find yourself a little puzzled. They seem to be in conflict.

Those who work against Jesus clearly are his enemy; those who actively declare him Lord and Savior, seeking his will, obviously are his supporters. But what about the status of those who have yet to make a decision regarding whether Jesus is the promised Messiah?

Mark’s verse seems to indicate that those who do not actively oppose Jesus are for all practical purposes with him. The words found in both Luke and Matthew, on the other hand, seem to equate indecision with opposition.

Each statement has its own context, of course. In Mark, the disciples have complained to Jesus about a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, even though “he was not following us.” Jesus says what he says as part of an admonition to leave the man alone.

In Luke, Jesus has been doing the casting out of demons himself, and stands accused by some onlookers of working on behalf of Satan. This leads to a somewhat cryptic lecture from the divine exorcist about how that would make Satan a kingdom divided, doomed to fall. There also is talk of how even a strong man can be overcome and plundered by one who is stronger, a reference to the power Christ has over the evil, temporary ruler of this world.

The story found in Luke also is in the 12th chapter of Matthew. There, Jesus is recorded as going a little further after saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

“Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32.)

Here’s one way (my favorite way) to look at these passages. Jesus is patient with the undecided—to a point. Where people are seeking to understand salvation, doing good in the process, he wants to give them much leeway as they explore what it means to follow him.

Simultaneously, Jesus expects people to be respectful when the Holy Spirit is at work driving back evil, healing, and lovingly providing what should be convincing evidence to the undecided about God’s grace. Flippant or sarcastic remarks from anyone in the presence of holy moments are unwise, amounting to active opposition to Christ’s mission.

To the undecided, I would say this: God is lovingly patient, but if you genuinely seek God, do so humbly and reverently. Take your search seriously. After all, what you seek would be by definition holy and eternal.

Lord, we thank you for the tremendous patience and love you show all of us. Grant continuing grace to those who wrestle with their unbelief, helping them toward salvation before the final chance to decide passes. Amen.