Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

October 21, 2004

The Sin-Problem

Sin is the fundamental problem, the single intractable dilemma that lies at the root of all other human problems. Once we get this fact straight, we begin to understand ourselves, and we begin to understand others.

I know many people, Christians, who find this talk of sin somehow distasteful and unnerving, like talking about an embarrassing physical deformity. Something better left unmentioned. And of course unbelievers, even the best of them, I think, consider it needlessly negative and dangerously judgmental. This observation often angers Christians, but it is not without its grain of truth.

I myself consider the doctrine of sin a great mercy. This understanding of the human condition, revealed to us by God and confirmed to us every day in experience (not to mention our own hearts and minds), is a necessary piece of the Gospel of grace. We ignore it only at our own peril.

When I remember that all men and women, whether believers or not, struggle with this problem of sin, and when I recall the truth that I myself am in need of abundant grace because of my own sinfulness, I grow merciful toward others.

And this mercy is, to quote Van Morrison, "a part of the plan / for a new kind of man."

Folks, that's all I want to say. That's all I want to offer the world as I walk through it on my way to the Kingdom.

In Matthew 9, when the Pharisees take Jesus to task for consorting with "sinners," Jesus replies: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Many Christians today are operating under the same faulty understanding of sin with which the Pharisees were burdened, and by which they burdened others. It leads them into judgmentalism and self-righteousness, instead of mercy.

I have been there. I know this trap well. It leads to a myriad of problems. Not wanting to disregard sin, we stray into an us versus them mentality. We rank ourselves above others and say, Thank you, Lord, for not making me like one of them, when the truth is, we are more like them than we want to confess.

This is not a dour and morose doctrine. That old accusation must be put to rest once and for all. Those who think themselves righteous will never know their need for a savior. The Cross will remain for them an inexplicable and disgusting display. But Jesus went to that Cross for everyone, because everyone was caught in the dilemma of sin. God saw the dilemma, and mercy was His response. This is a doctrine of grace indeed, not of judgment.

So, should we who have been shown such mercy offer now judgment and condemnation to others? When we do so, the Devil rejoices. He used one little piece of the Gospel as bait (as is his way), taken out of context and twisted into a new self-serving "truth," and then he set the trap and waited. So many of us blunder in. Thank you, Father, for mercy.


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