Posts Tagged ‘judgement’

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 21: Sin is its own Punishment

 Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. John 5:14c

In my opinion, there are a number of misconceptions about sin. First and foremost is that sin is offensive to God. We are created in the image of God, and it is an inescapable consequence of our being that we sin. God may not be amused, but God is not surprised. A second misconception is that God keeps track of our sins and, like a big Santa-in-the-Sky, one too many puts us on the dreaded Bad Child List. Another misconception is that we must somehow be purified of our sinful nature in order to be loved and accepted by God.

For me, one way to view sin is like hitting my thumb with a hammer. There is no one to blame except me, and the resulting pain serves as an effective teacher to become more attentive in the future. As I noted in an earlier Life Note (July 28, 2016), sin is that which separates us from God and others. God does not abandon us in our sin, but we separate ourselves from our awareness of God’s loving presence as a natural consequence of our sin. If we believe, as I do, that God lives in, through, and with us, then God must suffer with us in our sin. If we become obese and live with diabetes or other health issues, God suffers with us. If we commit a crime that lands us in jail, God joins us in our cell. Similarly, when we suffer an illness or condition with no traceable connection to anything we have ever done, God never abandons us. So, the consequences of sin are never just borne by us, God shares our burdens with us. God never leaves us, however, nor does God love us any less passionately. It is only our awareness of God’s love that waxes and wanes.

Frequently, it is our suffering that motivates us to make needed changes. When life is pain-free and comfortable, we naturally try to maintain the status quo. When we hold to the status quo too tightly, however, we do not grow. The Gospel is an invitation to grow toward Christ, to become evermore Christ-like. Paradoxically, our sin – at least the pain of separation it causes – motivates us to grow in ways that help us better experience God’s presence. God neither wants nor wills our sin or suffering. But whenever  we hurt, God crawls into the hole – or onto the cross – with us. Contrary to how it may feel at the time, God never runs from our suffering, God runs to it. And in our times of darkness, we find ourselves craving an ever nearer experience of the divine. We are motivated to transform those actions that separate us from what is good – our sin – and grow toward a life more expressive of loving union with God and others. Because sin is its own punishment, God neither has to keep track of our sin, nor specifically punish us for it. The price of sin is automatically included in the cost.

Sin is its own punishment. How did I miss that?


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Christian Values: Justice 

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

-Amos 5:18-19,24

The second most referenced value mentioned in the Bible is justice, according to research done by Ben MacConnell. Dictionary.com defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness,” with a secondary definition of “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.” Justice is often symbolized as a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. She is blindfolded to indicate that justice is determined the facts of an issue and not its appearance. The scales designate the unbiased weighing of the evidence from both sides. The sword is for punishment, should a proceeding find the accused guilty. Thus, justice is the product of an objective consideration of the facts, at least in theory.

The prophet Amos writes about the justice of the Lord as a day of reckoning, along the lines of the second dictionary definition above. He warns that the Lord’s application of justice will not be pleasant experience for us. Further, he says the justice of the Lord is not something we can escape. The image of fleeing from a lion only to run into a bear is a revealing image. Amos portrays an unavoidable judging of our decisions on earth.

There is another aspect of justice expected of Christians, however – social justice, which is assuring that every member of society has access to opportunities for life, liberty, and happiness. For the body of Christ, social justice is a mandate. We are to care for the disadvantaged members of our communities. Several years ago, I visited with a nun who had worked beside Mother Teresa for a time. She and her fellow sisters felt guilty for having cots to sleep on, food to eat, and shelter from the elements, when many they were serving had nothing. Why should those “necessities” not be given to the unfortunate folks they were to help? Mother Teresa explained that disadvantaged people needed to see a better life to reach for, to grow into. The sisters’ purpose was to help the people to an improved and sustainable state for themselves, in ways that could be continued once the sisters were gone. Mother Teresa told them we cannot lift another up unless we are in a higher position relative to them – sinking to their level makes it that much harder to assist. At times we argue over whether justice and mercy require us to give people a “hand up” or a “hand out.” The fact is that justice for folks in need often requires both. Certainly, we are to seek just and sustainable solutions. And we will almost certainly be held accountable for the justice we work towards in this life.

Come home to church this Sunday. Let justice roll down like waters…

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Life Notes—September 5, 2013 

  “…they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?’  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’”  John 8:5,7

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Everett, taught me not to point at others.  She illustrated how each time I pointed a finger at another, three fingers pointed back at me.  The point was to use care when accusing others of wrongdoing.  All of us make mistakes and do things we should not do.  Jesus made the same point several times in his ministry.  In Matthew 7:3 he says, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Likewise, in Luke 6:37 Jesus is quoted, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…”

The Gospel of John records the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery.  A group drags the woman to Jesus.  They remind him the Law of Moses commands she be stoned. Jesus does not deny she deserves death for her sin.  Instead, he reminds the crowd of their own shortcomings by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone.  He knows everyone in the crowd has sinned.  No one dared throw a stone at the woman.  To do so would imply he or she had never sinned, an admission of impossible piety.  As the crowd disperses, Jesus asks who has condemned her.  She replies, “No one, sir.”  Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin, again.” 

This story is intriguing in a couple of ways.  First, Jesus shrewdly warns the crowd about judging others.  He does so in a way that does not condone the woman’s sin.  Rather, he reminds the crowd of their own sinful nature.  We are often too quick to condemn others.  Second, while Jesus forgives the woman of her sin, he also tells her not to sin again.  In that sense, her forgiveness was not free.  She was told to alter her lifestyle so she would not continue to sin.  In order for forgiveness to result in positive change, we must repent of our sin.  Repentance requires (1) acknowledging we have sinned, and (2) turning away from that sinful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card allowing us to freely judge others or continue unhealthy behaviors.  Mrs. Everett and Jesus remind us that one finger pointed at another leaves three pointing back at us.

A new sermon series begins this Sunday on “The Sermon on the Mount.”  This week’s sermon will be “Redefining Happiness: The Beatitudes,” based on Matthew 5:1-11.  Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Leave your stones at the door.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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