The “S” Word

In modern society, we don’t want to say the word “sin.” In my generation, at least, the concept of sin has been so maligned that the word itself is uncomfortable to speak, even for those of us who know its reality. It’s one of those trigger words that automatically discredits the speaker, relegating something that should be serious to the level of unicorns and pixies.

Even among believers, the concept of sin is so misused that it has been rendered toxic (and before I could speak to society’s sin dysfunction, I have to look at the confusion in the church.)

Sin Among Christians

For a meaningful proof of this, take a concordance and look up the word sin. Do a quick count of how many times sin is associated with condemnation or destruction and how many times it is associated with forgiveness or repentance.

My point is simple: In God’s vocabulary, sin would be defined something like this: “Sin is man trying to run away from the best possible thing that could happen to him.” God’s vocabulary also has words in it like “condemnation” and “destruction” but their meanings are almost directly opposed to that of sin. Sin is damage done to our relationship with God that must be repaired.

Try this: When you think of sin, instead of associating it with condemnation or destruction, think of it in terms of a sad mistake to be fixed. As I’ve come to understand, that’s quite close to how God sees it.

Society’s malady

Secular society mocks sin in the same way that Atheism mocks God. To society, sin is the ultimate acknowledgment of personal guilt.

There are only two responses to such an acknowledgment. First is to accept and attempt to live with guilt (which leads us to the cross and Christ). Second is to deny the reality of that guilt.

This is the malady of society. They deny their guilt, and in so doing deny reality and substitute their own delusions. Because God’s reality is always there, the bedrock on which everything is built, the only way to deny it is to run from it. This can be done with mockery or simple denial, or by keeping one’s attention entirely away from that reality.

In the end, the reality is that our sin is a terrible separation from the God who loves us. It is not an arbitrary judgment on us or a condemnation. It is a simple acknowledgment that we’re running away from Him.

Judge Not

Matthew 7: 1-2 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Romans 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Judgment is a difficult subject.

On the one hand, it is fair to say that in order to live holy lives we have to make judgments about what behaviors are right and wrong. This is a tautology.
On the other hand, it is also fair to say that we are all God’s servants and that we must not judge each other. We stand or fall before God alone.

Is it fair, then, to say that we should judge behaviors and not people?

If only it were that simple.

As human beings, it is a natural thing to see other peoples’ behaviors as reflecting on them and defining their personal character. And, to bring the point squarely home, that is exactly how God Himself sees people, isn’t it? We ARE made in His image.

The difficulty comes from that original sin, when Adam and Eve chose the “knowledge of good and evil” over “life” and thereby took on themselves the “right” to decide what is good and what is evil.

Behavior naturally bleeds into character, and character naturally bleeds into value. Once we start to judge someone, we naturally move from behavior to character to value, sometimes very quickly. (Most people will deny that–“I don’t see him as being less valuable, just wrong.” When you start to examine your heart, though, you’ll likely find that in some way you hold that person in contempt, and contempt is an explicit denial of another person’s value.)

So how can we do this RIGHT?

It comes down to the attitudes of the heart.

We MUST understand our proper place in this equation. God alone determines value. We are usually accurate about behavior and sometimes we can take a stab at character based on that behavior (usually a guess more than a judgment). Beyond that, we have no place at all in the equation, even in regard to OURSELVES.

The purpose for our judgment is entirely confined to two items.
First, the condition of our own hearts.
Second, the elevation of those around us.

Exercising judgment in regard to other people outside these two purposes leads us inexorably into evil.

Romans 14: 12-13 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

We must look to the condition of our own hearts, and we must do our best to give aid to those around us. If your design is purely to give aid and your heart is right, then you may be able to contribute something of value to those around you. This is part of our responsibility to our brothers and sisters. The instant you give in to frustration or contempt (“He’s not LISTENING.”), you have nullified your usefulness.

Beware the demander and the commander.

I lived for a long time in an environment where peoples’ first instinct on seeing another person “doing it wrong” was to set them straight.

The central point of this topic is as follows:  a useful offering comes from a helpful heart, one that loves and does not think of self.

Anything that enters the realm of a demand or commandment bears the mark of witchcraft–coercing someone else to do things your way against their will. Examine yourself. Be certain that your own actions do not demand or command others, and reflect on your heart before you cast judgment.

The First Lesson

The hardest lesson I have ever learned was the lesson of Shimei, son of Gera. (See 2 Samuel 16: 5-14 to see what I’m speaking to.)

King David was God’s anointed to be King of Israel. If there has ever been any man in history who had a right to demand respect or reject a lesson offered in the wrong spirit, it was David. Yet, when a man followed him and his entire entourage, cursing and throwing rocks, he told them to leave the man alone.

Likewise, for myself, there was a time in my life when I was in a position to be constantly wronged by another person. During that time, the first lesson I had to learn was that no matter what was done to me, my first responsibility was to do right MYSELF regardless of everything else.

I have an extremely pronounced, one might even say overblown sense of justice. When someone commits injustice, it enrages me. There is no shrugging it off–nor does it matter the size of the issue. The principle is what matters, and the intent (even carelessness or laziness) entirely eclipses the results. This is especially true when the person causing the injustice is in some position of authority.

So, when I was mistreated, then held to the highest standards in my own conduct, it brought this point directly into focus. It was among the top five hardest things I’ve ever done–looking to my own misdeeds first. In the end, I had to correct my own failings, even when I was having my nose rubbed in them by someone who, according to the splinter test (Matthew 7:5), had no business teaching me anything.

What not to do…

Normally, I try to focus on what to DO rather than what to avoid, but this is something we all need to pay close attention to. I almost never meet someone who has really taken this point to heart. Check yourself, see if you shift your focus from yourself to others when you do something wrong and have it pointed out.

1. Do you make excuses? (about anything at all?)
“But he said…”
“But all I did was…”
“But it’s my birthday, so…”
“I just can’t handle…”

2. Do you blame?
“You JERK! How could you…”
“If you don’t stop treating me like…”

Whatever it is, STOP. Change that habit.

The point here is really simple.

Your sins and wrongs should be your first concern.

And your second.

And your third.

And your fourth.

Maybe by the time you’ve thought about your own wrongs five or six times you can see if someone else is doing something wrong, but ONLY if your goal is to help them out. (Because really, it’s not your business anyway unless they want help.)

The only thing you have any influence over in an eternal sense is your own heart. Over everything else, God is the sole master.