Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
If you want to win on the battlefield, you need to know your enemy and yourself, as Sun Tzu outlined in The Art of War. We are engaged in a spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6.11–13). As a result, in order to arm ourselves against sin, we must first recognize sin and its nature. Additionally, we need to be aware of how God will respond to any sin not atoned for by the blood of His Son. Finally, we must also properly respond to sin’s threat.
How can sin be identified?
First, it is a transgression of the law (1 John 3.4). By definition, transgression is “the act of passing over or beyond any law or rule of moral duty; the violation of a law or known principle of rectitude; breach of command” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). Accordingly, “transgression” describes instances in which we break the law, whether on purpose or accidentally. This infringement only needs to happen once to be considered a transgression.
Second, all unrighteousness is regarded as sin (1 John 5.17). Looking back to Webster’s original definition, we can see that unrighteousness “may consist of a single unjust act, but more generally, when applied to persons…denotes a habitual course of wickedness.” In other words, this is a condemnation of willful sinners. This is more than just breaking the law; it’s a deliberate decision to disobey God.
Third, anything not of faith is a sin (Romans 14.23). As Burton Coffman observes: “Where the conscience is in doubt, the definition of proper conduct must be made on the basis of what the word of God says; and, lacking any clear knowledge of what the word says, or, if knowing it, lacking full confidence and faith in it, the person is bound by his scruples.” This principle does not extend to situations where the conscience is not threatened.
Contextually, Paul is referring to the consumption of meat offered to idols. Meat offered to idols was technically forbidden (Acts 15.20). However, if the origin of the meat was unknown, you could gladly accept it. If, on the other hand, your host identified the meat source as coming from a pagan sacrifice, you couldn’t eat it for the sake of your conscience and the consciences of those who might see you and stumble as a result (1 Corinthians 10.27–29).
Fourth, God defines sin as not doing something. “So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin” (James 4.17 NASB). This sin is the most concerning of all the ways we fall short. We’re aware of potential threats, but can we also spot opportunities? We can become so preoccupied with avoiding what is wrong that we miss out on what is right.
Now that we have identified sin, what is its nature?
First, sin is deceptive (Hebrews 3.13). You’ve probably heard the phrase “bait and switch.” That is what sin is. It makes promises that it cannot keep. It lures us with the appearance of pleasure, success, and freedom only to enslave us with guilt, shame, and emptiness.
Second, sin hardens the heart (Hebrews 3.8). It’s worth noting that the original Webster’s Dictionary from 1828 contains a definition for “harden” in this context. To harden means “to confirm in wickedness, opposition, or enmity; to make obdurate.” Oxford Dictionary defines obdurate as “stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.” As a result, the practice of sin causes one to become stubborn and reject God’s goodness in favor of the allure of sin.
Third, sin progresses (2 Timothy 3.13). David is a fantastic example of this. When one reads 2 Samuel 11, he finds David atop his palace when he should have been in the field with his soldiers. David could see into Bathsheba’s courtyard from his rooftop. He was moved with lust when he saw her bathing and had her brought to him. He had an affair with her, and she became pregnant.
Instead of admitting his sin, David brought the woman’s husband home, assuming they would have marital relations and that others would perceive his illegitimate child as her husband’s. Because he was such a great soldier, the woman’s husband forsook home comforts while he and his comrades fought. As a result, David orchestrated his death on the battlefield. When David paused atop his roof that fateful day, he had no idea what would happen. We can see, however, how quickly and far sin led him.
Fourth, sin’s pleasure is fleeting (Hebrews 11.25). Consider the phenomenon of intoxication. While under the influence, one may feel giddy or relaxed, but when sobriety returns, there may be things to deal with, such as headaches and the stupid things you did while drunk.
Fifth, sin’s price is astronomically high. (Romans 6.23). What a dreadful boss! Sin rewards you with death for your faithful service.
Sixth, sin dulls the conscience (1 Timothy 4.2). Paul depicts a conscience seared with a branding iron. He is discussing false teachers in the immediate context. One might wonder if such a person would repent if lovingly shown the truth. Unfortunately, there are times when one’s conscience is seared. They continue to teach falsehoods despite knowing they are false.
Note how God responds to sin.
God takes vengeance upon it (2 Thessalonians 1.7-9). We find this thought-provoking discussion about vengeance in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
“The infliction of pain on another, in return for an injury or offense. Such infliction, when it proceeds from malice or more resentment, and is not necessary for the purposes of justice, is revenge, and a most heinous crime. When such infliction proceeds from a mere love of justice, and the necessity of punishing offenders for the support of the laws, it is vengeance and is warrantable and just. In this case, vengeance is a just retribution, recompense or punishment. In this latter sense the word is used in Scripture, and frequently applied to the punishments inflicted by God on sinners.”
God punishes it (Matthew 25:46). This outcome is because, as Webster stated, God’s actions are just. God does not punish sinners because He is sadistic or because He can. Instead, God takes action because the punished person has done something deserving of the punishment. And this punishment is eternal (Matthew 25:46). Words like “eternity” are mysterious to us as beings defined by time. However, from our perspective, even one second of our skin’s exposure to fire feels like a long time. Consider a scenario in which the flames never die, and one cannot escape them.
Now is the time for a proper response to sin and its character.
We must adequately address sin. (Proverbs 28.13). However, hiding sins will not remove them. God reminds us that sin will eventually betray us, revealing its presence to all (Numbers 32.23). We can’t avoid our sins by pretending they don’t exist (1 John 1.8–10).
No, God has provided the means to save us. This method is known as the plan of salvation. “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” Peter says (Acts 2.38 NASB). We must walk in the light of God once He adds us to Christ’s body (1 John 1.7; Acts 2.41, 47).
However, because everyone has sinned, including God’s children, repentance never loses relevance (Acts 8.22). Similarly, we must confess our sins (1 John 1.9). By doing so, we have the assurance of Christ’s cleansing blood.
Lastly, keep away from sin by obeying the Lord’s command. “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NASB). Paul also urges us to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5.22 NASB). Trust in the Lord and obey Him to cleanse your life of sin and receive your soul’s salvation.