Archive for the ‘Sin’ category

Honest Liar or Dishonest Priest?

September 20, 2018


Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’  So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:   “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Matthew 15:1-9 ESV


And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”…. Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20 ESV

Jesus leveled his criticism at people who seemed to honor God in the way they spoke and acted, but they didn’t honor God in their hearts. He quoted the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel who carried a similar theme in their writings. The prophets were as harsh on the religious and political leaders of their day as Jesus was in his day.

The statement, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, seems to miss the mark in light of the importance Jesus places on the heart, does it not? Not that what we do isn’t important. It’s just that what we do starts with who we are, and who are is in our hearts.

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All The Little Things

August 18, 2018


I spend some Saturday mornings meeting with people at a low-income, legal aid clinic. Many people come with “one” big issue, but the conversations often reveal a myriad of things they are dealing with. The one big issue brought them to the desperate point of reaching out, but that one big issue often belies many little things that plague them. The little things they tolerate in their lives, often lead to the big them that brought them to the point of desperation.

The circumstances aren’t always the result of bad decisions, bad behaviors or other failures, but often they are. We can be our own worst enemies, and lack of knowledge and understanding compounds the problems that result from those failures.

I often feel overwhelmed by the loads that people carry. Simple answers are rarely available. Many peoples’ lives are bogged down by a thousand little things, and the one big thing is the just tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The best I can do in our short session on a Saturday morning is to identify the key issue(s) to be dealt with and a strategy for dealing with them, but I can often only recommend treatment for the symptoms. It isn’t hard to see evidence of the virus behind the symptomatic issues that are demanding immediate attention. We might call that virus sin.

Sin, in its etymology, means simply “missing the mark”. We miss the mark in many small ways that we might assume are insignificant, but the little things add up. They form habits of thought and behavior that are counter-productive to achieving the things we all want – comfort, security, harmonious living with our family and world, and satisfaction in life.

Sin isn’t just doing something that God frowns upon. Sin is falling short of the way we are meant to live. A thousand little bad decisions, a thousand misunderstandings that are unwittingly adopted, a thousand little things that we allow to creep and remain, without addressing them, pile up and weigh us down.

To be fair, we all struggle with sin that threatens to undo us. Some of us just manage it better than others. Some of us learn to use our sinfulness to our own selfish advantage. Others are steamrolled by it and the sins of others that leave destruction in its wake. Regardless of our ability to manage our sins, it catches up to us – now or later. The most beautiful, white-washed tombs are as empty as a pauper’s grave. Sin also has real consequences for us and for the people around us.

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The False Promise of Pleasure

August 12, 2018

Statue of writer and playright Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin, Ireland.

“Meaninglessness does not come from weariness with pain. Meaningless comes from weariness with pleasure….  No one is more fed up with life than one who has exhausted pleasure. Some of the loneliest people in the world are those who have lived indulgent lives and emotionally and physically drive themselves to impotence.”

This is a quotation from Ravi Zacharias in a talk he gave titled, the Problem of Pleasure. If you listen to Ravi Zacharias much, you will note that he returns to this theme often, and he often mentions Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet and playwright. He was a brilliant writer and thinker who was an outspoken atheist and lived a hedonistic lifestyle.

Wilde is described as “the supreme individualist”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, is described as a “novel of vice hidden beneath art” tinged with “self-conscious decadence”. The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced, but continues the same theme, as do all of the works of Oscar Wilde. (See Wikipedia)

We know much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court case that publicized his private life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist. Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was the person who introduced Wilde to “the Victorian underground of gay prostitution”. Queensberry’s defense was to prove his statements true by hiring private investigators to uncover the “salacious details of Wilde’s private life”. The trial that Wilde initiated left him bankrupt as the defense proved the truth of Queenberry’s statements.

Wilde, the “colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society”, spared himself no pleasure and wasn’t shy about his lifestyle. Like Solomon, though, he retained a sort of wisdom borne of experience. Having been baptized as a child, he often used biblical imagery and characters in his writing, though his use was, perhaps, sacrilegious.  During a two year prison sentence for homosexual actions, he requested the Bible in multiple, languages, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works with Christian themes. When he was released from prison, the Catholic Church turned down his request to spend six months at a monastery, and Wilde wept at the news.

As I sit here thinking of these things, I am also thinking of the unfolding story of a friend, a very enthusiastic and committed believer in God. He is a lover of the stage, a former Shakespearean performer. In that sense, he shares something in common with the playwright, Wilde. My friend is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a series of strokes that could leave him incommunicative and paralyzed. Even in his desperate physical situation, he and his family have experienced the presence of God sustaining them in faith. They exhibit a transcendent joy and peace even in the middle of the difficulties they face.

We are naturally attracted to pleasure and pull back from pain, but sometimes the pleasures we seek cause us pain. We tend to think that pleasure is good and pain is bad, if not in a moral sense, then certainly in an experiential sense. God gives us the ability to experience pleasure and pain. In that sense, God gives us both pleasure and pain. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad. CS Lewis implies this when he says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

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Sin, Salvation and Righteousness – God’s Plan for Us

June 25, 2018


I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read  it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.

In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.

To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.

These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.

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What Is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It?

June 25, 2018


One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.

A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.

These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?

Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?

I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.

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Sinners and the Struggle Against Sin – The Resistance of Love

June 12, 2018


In Part I of Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury, I highlight a connection between enduring hostility from sinners, as Jesus did on the cross, and our own struggle to resist sin, looking at Hebrews 12:3-4:

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

We might think of our struggle against sin as a completely internal affair. Hebrews 12:3-4 suggests that there is an external component to it. The hostility we endure from sinners is part of our own struggle against sin. It isn’t hard to see why: the hostility from sinners triggers a guttural, visceral pride response in us, and pride is the root of all sin.

Think of any time you were slighted and how you responded to it. This is what the hostility of sinners triggers within us. We want to fight back. We want to return insult for insult. We want to defend our honor. We want vindication. We might even want vengeance.

In this passage, though, we are exhorted to look to Jesus who resisted sin to the point of actually shedding his own blood. We are reminded by the that we have not yet resisted to the point of shutting our own blood. It isn’t resisting sinners, but resistong sin, that is the key point here.

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Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury

June 11, 2018


In Hebrews 12:3-4, the writer says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

When I read these words this morning, I saw for the first time the connection between these phrases: “endured from sinners such hostility” and “your struggle against sin”. There seems to be a link between enduring hostility from sinners and struggling against (resisting) sin.

When I think of sin, I think of my own sin that is within me. I don’t think of struggling to endure hostility from sinners as struggling against sin, but that seems to be what this passage is suggesting. The last phrase sheds some light on this connection: “You have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

I have been thinking about the strong encouragement to resist sin in these verses for many days now. I have been thinking of the metaphorical point of resisting sin to the point of shedding blood. But I had not seen the more direct connection between the hostility of sinners and my own struggle to resist sin.

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Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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