Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Knowledge of sin is a gift


One says "Church talks about sin too much. I don't like it."
Another "You don't talk about sin enough - I've been so unaware of my sin in recent months. You've failed me."
Another asks "What sin are you into at the moment?"*

Call it, as Spufford does, the HPTFTU. Call it the many names it's given in the Bible. Call it sin.

In an age ('human history') that trivialises sin, that sees it clearly in others... the knowledge of sin, my sin, is desperately needed.

The story of Old Testament Israel can serve us in seeing this.

Twice Paul asks "What advantage in being a Jew?" in Romans 3:1 and 3:10.

Firstly, much advantage - because they had the oracles of God. Paul's approach is Biblical Theology as he retells the story of Israel in Romans 1-3, how they betrayed God, how he gave them over to their sin, how his arms were wide open to receive them in repentance but they received his kindness as freedom to harden their hearts further and store up wrath against themselves, how they failed to be a light to the Gentiles caused them to blaspheme instead of to worship (by and large).

Having the oracles of God is great and is a key plank in a New Testament theology of the Old Testament: God's word written. And their unfaithfulness doesn't make God's word a failure, rather it justly leads to condemnation. Exposure to the word of God is encounter with God but at times people harden their hearts.

And then in a necessary tension because not all questions are yes or no, some are both...

Secondly, no advantage at all. Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. A litany of Old Testament quotes proves what is already clear - the Jews are sinful to the core, as also are the Gentiles. The law God gave them should've been a diagnostic as well as a provocation - it should've bought knowledge of sin, and 'stopped every mouth' among them. No boasts. No defence. But rather, to proclaim the kindness of God to them... and so holding the whole world accountable to God for their response to his kindness...  and if they have rejected that kindness themselves and still seek to defend themselves, then 'their condemnation is just.'

God's design through Israel was to use them as a trophy of grace, a light to the whole world, shaped by his word, their hearts exposed by his word, called to repentance by his word, proclaiming his amazing grace to them. A deep knowledge of sin combined with open arms of kindness --- requiring an answer to the question: He justifies, but how can he do this justly? (Which is answered in 3:21-26)

Imagining there is no way I can be justly justified is one of the many reasons I might what to play down my sin and fake it to God and people that I'm really not so bad... because I suspect I might need to be able to make a defence for myself. How dark my heart, how slow to believe, how self-seeking...

In the gospel of Jesus, the knowledge of my sin is a gift to me.
In the gospel I am invited to repent of my sin.
In the gospel I can come to Christ as I am.
In the gsopel I can come as I am IN HIM on the basis of his crucifixion.

Knowledge of my sin is uncomfortable and yet I need knowledge of my sin. Without the word of God calling me I will not turn again to him. Knowledge of sin isn't about being picky. Nor judgemental. I might look down on Old Testament Jews for their sin but mine is no different. In the gospel community, one broken and betraying person speaks to another and says: let us go to together to the fountain and drink Christ.

And if when I've been dull to my sin - what a gift to realise for therein lies the opportunity to repent. I reach a fresh vista of grace. I am in fact always dull to my sin. At times I think I'm holy, but I'm not. Time and grace reveal my past ignorance. Tim Keller notes that we tend to look back on ourselves and see how foolish we were, so we might be well served to assume present folly as a starting point. At times I don't think I'm holy, in those moments: I might just be on the cusp of holiness. I'm more sinful than I could ever know, far more than I realise today - and in the days to come I might just begin to see a little more of that.
"There is no substitute for receiving love, grace and spiritual feeding from others in an environment of care." Honeysett. Fruitful Leaders.
In the company of friends over breakfast, Romans 3:1-20 has been part of that gift to give knowledge of sin this morning. Neal Plantinga's Not the way it's supposed to be has also served me well in this. I don't have to fake that I'm not sinful - I dare not. And we mustn't expect sinlessness of leaders in the church either. We are people in need of change helping people in need of change. And with God's word ringing in my ears let me embrace this knowledge as a gift, and much more the gift that is Christ who receives me.

* This question is lifted from an example in Fruitful Leaders by Marcus Honeysett
Image - Creative Commons, Nik.

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