6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10)
How serious is a believer’s sin to God? I’d like you to hold on to that question in the back of your mind for a few minutes, and ponder it – we’ll come back to it. We know from Romans 1 that God’s wrath will be revealed from heaven against the ungodly and unrighteous. Verse 18 of that chapter says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. But that’s not for us, not for the believer. If you are a true believer, one that has placed your faith in Christ and Christ alone for your salvation, then God’s already forgiven all of your past, present, and future sins, hasn’t He? So sure, He doesn’t like us to sin, we know that, but are our sins really that serious if they’ve already been dealt with?
So back to my original question. How serious is a believer’s sin to God anyway? That’s what I’d like to focus on this morning: the seriousness of our sin. And in doing so, I’d like for us to look at four aspects of dealing with our sins. The first is we must contemplate the gravitas of our sin towards a Holy God. Secondly we must confess our sins. Thirdly, we must combat our sins. And finally we must celebrate our freedom from the bondage of sin. So contemplate, confess, combat, and celebrate. We are going to unpack each one of these points this morning together.
Let’s look at the first point, which is contemplate. We must contemplate the gravitas, or magnitude of our sin towards a Holy God. We need to consider, ponder, and understand that our transgressions, no matter how big or small, are offensive to God, whom we know is holy and without blemish.
This is an area where we as believers fall short on a regular basis. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we tend to rank sin, and in so doing, minimize the offensiveness of our sins against God.
Case in point, I grew up in a particular system of religion that taught that there were different rankings of sins. If I remember right, they called one type of sin venial sins, ones that they said do not break the covenant with God. And another type of sin was mortal sin, which I guess is more egregious than the venial sin. Although neither of these are even mentioned in the Scriptures. In fact, there is no support of ranking of sin in the Bible, as we read in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” I know you might be saying, “Now come on, my little lie that I keep living with is not as big a deal to God as when my friend cheated on his wife.” Well, maybe…but is it?
Listen to what John MacArthur says about James 2:10, “The law of God is not a series of detached injunctions or commands but a basic unity that requires perfect love of Him and our neighbors. Although all sins are not equally damaging or heinous, they all shatter that unity and render men transgressors, much like hitting a window with a hammer at only one point will shatter and destroy the whole window.”
I believe that to some extent we’ve become desensitized, somewhat ambivalent if you will, to sin. Jerry Bridges in his book titled “Respectable Sins” touches on this when he says, “We who are believers tend to evaluate our character and conduct relative to the moral culture in which we live. Since we usually live at a higher moral standard than society at large, it is easy for us to feel good about ourselves and to assume that God feels that way also. We fail to reckon with the reality of sin still dwelling within us.”
To help put this in proper perspective, here’s what A.W. Tozer had to say about sin: “No one has ever overstated the seriousness of the sin question. It is a question that continues age after age. It comes to every human being: ‘What am I going to do about sin?’ That question takes precedence over all other questions that we are called upon to answer. Whether we are world famous or an unnamed member of the human race, we must make confession concerning our relationship with sin. If each of us is willing to be honest, we will answer, ‘I have been involved in sin. I have played along with it. I have taken it to my bosom and it has stung me. The virus of sin has entered my life stream. It has conditioned my mind; it has affected my judgment. I confess I have been a deliberate collaborator with sin.’ But sin is more than a disease. It is a deformity of the spirit, an abnormality in that part of human nature which is most like God’s. And sin is a capital crime as well. It is treason against the great God Almighty who made the heavens and the earth. Sin is a crime against the moral order of the universe. Each time a man or woman strikes against God’s moral nature and kingdom, he or she acts against the moral government of the entire universe.”
Now do any one of these quotes give you a sense that your little sins, your little white lies – who knows where that term came from – are insignificant or inoffensive to God? Cosmic treason, I remind you, is what they are compared to. Of course these quotes are from mere mortal men, I understand that, so perhaps we should go to an untainted source to see how serious sin is to God, so let’s turn to His perfect and inerrant Word. I’d like you to turn to Leviticus 9 with me. I’m going to start in verse 22. This is the story of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Moses’ brother Aaron.
9:22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
10:1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 9:22-10:3)
Now I ask you, from the account that I just read, does sin sound like something that God takes lightly?
Here’s a little bit about Nadab and Abihu. They were Aaron’s first two sons, and their uncle was Moses himself. They had two younger brothers, and all four of these men had been set aside as Levitical priests. So let’s think about them for a second. Their father is Aaron, and their uncle is Moses. What a privileged upbringing they had. In addition, they were singled out by name in Exodus 24:1, where God says, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.” They had a personal invitation from God to witness what He was doing with Moses on the mountain. These were not your average, run of the mill sinners here. No, they were men with large reputations for being “in ministry.” As newly ordained priests, they had no doubt spent the previous weeks and months preparing for priestly service, getting all the specific instructions on how they were to worship the Lord. They had been instructed by the Lord on what they were to do, and they had agreed. They had agreed to obey the Lord’s instruction to the letter.
Yet we read that they did what instead? “Each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.” And their punishment was death. Pretty serious offense I would say. We don’t need to speculate why God dealt with these two men in this way. After all, He’s sovereign and owes no explanation for His actions. We know that. What I think we do need to do though is learn from this account. And we need to not underestimate the gravitas of our transgressions against a Holy God. We need to be a people who are humble and tremble at His Word. We need to guard against becoming too familiar with God’s Word and therefore being flippant with it and treating it with carelessness. We should get into a habit of contemplating, pondering, and giving careful consideration to just how serious of an offense our sins are to our Holy Father.
Moving on to the second point now, which is the need to confess our sins. It is amazing how we think we can hide our sins from the all knowing God. We see this throughout the Scriptures as well as in our own lives, don’t we? Think about Jonah. Hiding out in the cargo area of the ship that was bound for Tarshish, in an act of defiance to the God given command to go to the city of Nineveh. Did Jonah think he could hide his sin of disobedience from God? How did that work for him?
And what about us? Do we really think we can hide our sins from God? Confession of sin is a biblical mandate. Early on in Leviticus, God promises to respond unfavorably to His people when they walk contrary to Him, but then He states that if His people will confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers and accept their guilt, that He will remember them.
But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies — then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26:40-42)
Confession is just one aspect of this point. It is one thing to confess your sin. It is another to possess a contrite heart and repent. As we will see in this next verse, God is so faithful to forgive us when we repent.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14)
It is not enough to merely confess that we’ve sinned, but the Scriptures instruct us to repent of our sins, to change direction and move towards Christ and His attributes and characteristics, and away from our flesh and sin nature.
There are so many models of confession in the Scriptures for us to reflect on and learn from. One excellent example is found in the book of Nehemiah, where we find one of the most moving confessions in Scripture.
“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.'” (Nehemiah 1:5-9)
Notice what Nehemiah says in verse 7 – “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” This is not a hollow confession or one that is just thrown out there without much thought or consideration. No, this sounds as though Nehemiah had been contemplating the transgressions of both his father’s house and the nation of Israel, because he gets specific here in his confession to God, doesn’t he? And he is pleading for God to remember his promises to Moses. This confession sounds like more than just lip service, it sounds like the reflections of a contrite and repentant heart.
Now let’s take a look at what I feel is one of the most compelling confessions in Scripture. It takes place in the New Testament, in Luke 23. This is a familiar story to you all. It’s the account of the thief on the cross at Calvary…
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)
This is such an interesting account. The story of two polar opposites, both thieves in the same predicament, with the same desire to be saved from imminent death, yet one accusatory, the other confessional, one arrogant, the other humble, one doubting, the other trusting, one lost, one saved. The penitent thief admits wrong (confesses), accepts justice, acknowledges the goodness and power of Jesus, fears God, and then pleads for help – “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The repentant thief was at a dead end, he had nothing left, nowhere to go, and there was nothing that he could do to save himself. In a matter of hours, he knew that they would come to break his legs and he would be done in. He realized this. There was nothing left to do but to place his faith in Christ, which he did. In reality he was in a good place, wasn’t he? Because as we know, that was all he, or any of us for that matter, have to do: confess we are sinners, repent and turn to Christ, and place our faith in Him and Him alone. We know how faithful God is to forgive. We are reminded of this in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
So what about that lingering sin in our lives that we try to hide or ignore? What are some of the consequences of this unconfessed sin anyway? Well, one key place we can look for that answer is in the life of David. It could be argued that few knew of God’s faithfulness, compassion, and forgiveness more than his servant David. If we want to look to someone who understood the magnitude of his sin, we need look no further than David. And in so doing, I’d like to look at two of the penitent Psalms penned by David: Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. It is believed that Psalm 51 was written before Psalm 32, so let’s look at Psalm 51 first. This is a model Psalm for a confession, and comes on the heels of David’s indiscretion with Bathsheba, and his murdering, or causing to be murdered as it were, of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:1-4)
There is a sense of deep brokenness in this confession by David, isn’t there? It is evident that he has come face to face with his sin, that he is not trying to hide from it, or shift blame, or minimize it in any way. He is crying out to God, acknowledging that he has sinned against God first and foremost, and is pleading for forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation. It is no wonder that God referred to David as a man after his own heart.
It is after David wrote this Psalm that he later penned Psalm 32. So back to my earlier question, what are some of the consequences for the believer of unconfessed sin? I think we can gain some insight into that question by looking at Psalm 32…
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5)
I think this is pretty clear and self explanatory. David was in anguish and misery from the time of his indiscretion with Bathsheba until God sent Nathan to confront him. He clearly states that during the time he kept silent and tried to hide or ignore his sin, his bones wasted away through his groaning all day long. When he slept, when he woke, when he ate, when he ruled, all day he couldn’t escape, it sapped his strength. Ah, but then comes his confession in Psalm 51. His repentance and the loving forgiveness from his Father resulting in the return of joy to his heart, as we read in verse 11, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
So we can see from these examples how important it is for us to confess our sins and seek forgiveness from God, who is faithful to forgive us.
The next point I would like to discuss is that of combating our sins. Of the four points, if I had to pick one that is most important, it would be this one. I say this because I think it is also the hardest one to do. Why? Because we tend to be a lazy people in all aspects of our lives, our spiritual life being no different.
The most obvious place in the Scriptures that deal with this issue, this sin issue for the believer, is in the sixth and seventh chapters of Romans. In chapter six of Romans, Paul makes the point that believers are dead to sin and alive to Christ. He says in verse 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” He then follows it up with one of the strongest Greek idioms for rejecting a statement, which carried the connotation of outrage that anyone would ever think the statement as true, when he says, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” So therein lies the struggle, the paradox if you will, or so it seems, that a believer, one who is made new in Christ and has died to sin, can still struggle with sin. How can this be?
We read on now in chapter seven. Paul, a believer writing to believers, explains the dilemma here…
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)
Paul’s message is so clear here. Make no mistake about it, there is a war raging within us, a battle between our two natures, the sin nature of our flesh and the renewed man that has been made alive in Christ. This is why we must go to war and combat on an ongoing basis. We cannot afford to be timid and hide and run away from this ongoing conflict.
It reminds me of my military training. We were taught strategic military tactics during our infantry training. I remember thinking the things they taught us were strange and counter intuitive, because they taught us that if we are on patrol and were attacked by the enemy, that instead of running for cover, which was the natural thing to do, instead we were to go on the offensive and attack the enemy, no matter what the odds were. For they knew that you cannot hide forever from the enemy, and by hiding, they would only surround you and eventually overtake you.
You see, this is a similar analogy to sin in our lives, is it not? We need to go on the offensive against our sin, killing it in its infant stages, as opposed to being on the defensive and hiding from it or ignoring it, for it will surround us and overcome us. It will strangle the life out of us, will it not? We can’t pretend that it is not there, for rest assured, it will not leave us on its own accord. We are warned that our sin will find us out in Numbers 32.
In preparing this message, I read a lot of the book titled “The Mortification of Sin” by the Puritan author John Owen.
I must say, if there is a group of people that took sin serious, and understood the importance of combating sin in their lives, it was the Puritans. There are so many good quotes and so much practical advice for dealing with sin in your life from this resource, I highly recommend it. One verse he points out that I’d like to share is Hebrews 3:12-13, which says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Owen goes on to say this about this verse, “Beware, he says…use all means, consider your temptations, watch diligently; there is a treachery, a deceit in sin that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God. This hardening is so serious that you heart becomes insensitive to moral influence. Sin leads to this. Every sin and lust will make a little progress in this direction. You who at one time were very tender and would melt under the influence of the Word and under trials will grow “sermon-proof” and “trial-proof.”
So this is why we must remain in the battle day to day, and proactively combat our sins on an ongoing basis. If we become complacent and neglect this all important aspect of our Christian walk, and choose to indulge and aid and abet our latent sins, we run the risk of hardening our hearts and searing our consciences, and that not only creates a miserable and dangerous state to be in, as we read David’s account in Psalm 32 earlier, but runs contrary to our goal in life, doesn’t it? Which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
One of my favorite verses addresses this area well, I think, and gives us good instruction and practical advice…
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
So now we move to the fourth and final point, which is that we must celebrate, celebrate the fact that Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin. So how do we celebrate our freedom from the bondage of sin? By continuing to sin with reckless abandon? By no means! But by working out our salvation, as Paul says in Philippians 2.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
What exactly does this phrase “work out your own salvation” mean anyways? It oftentimes causes some confusion. John MacArthur on this verse says, “The Greek verb rendered “work out” means to “continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion”. It cannot refer to salvation by works, because we know Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. But it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification.”
If we look closely at this passage, we see that the believer is to be actively pursuing obedience in the process of sanctification, which we know is the process of becoming more and more like Christ. So it stands to reason then, that instead of increasing in our sin, we would be determined to be more like Christ, who we know never sinned. So if we are actively working out our salvation, wouldn’t we be striving to sin less and less as we grow in our spiritual maturity?
I understand that we will never be sinless, but by contemplating and considering the magnitude of our sin on a consistent basis, and then confessing and combating the sin in our life, this is the obedience of actively working out our salvation. This is actually celebrating our freedom from bondage from sin, is it not? It’s not succumbing to our sins and feeling utterly helpless and drowning in them, but it is knowing and acknowledging that we’ve been freed from sin’s chains and actively fighting it. This freedom is a cause for celebration and a glorious truth no doubt.
As we recall the hopeless state of the thief on the cross we just talked about, that was once us, was it not? And I pray that it is not you, should you be sitting here this morning and have not placed your trust and faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and his sacrificial death on the cross that paid the price for all of our sins and ransomed the believer from eternal death. If it is you, may I plead with you this morning? If you are sitting here on death row and have yet to come to the end of yourself, take heed, for there is good news here for you this day. For as long as you can draw a breath, like the penitent thief on the cross at Calvary, praise God that you too, this very morning, this very moment, in the quietness of your seat right here, you can confess your sin before a holy, loving and forgiving God. You can turn from your sinful ways and believe on and place your faith in His Son Jesus Christ. And you too can inherit eternal life and one day be present with Christ in His kingdom. How can I say that? How can I make that claim, you ask? Because the Bible says, right here in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This is the inerrant, God-breathed, inspired Word of God. Oh what a glorious truth we are able to celebrate together. Incapable of helping ourselves, He is faithful to forgive. He chooses not to remember our transgressions, and removes them as far as the east is from the west, the Scriptures say. Yes, the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Oh how we celebrate His loving kindness here today, as we read in Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
And so I close with this glorious passage, one that should give us all cause for gratitude and celebration. Romans 5:8-9 – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”