Questions from Being Clear on What is Wrong

This past Sunday I closed out our series in Genesis 1-3 by preaching on Being Clear in What is Wrong with Our World.  Below are some questions that were sent in during the sermon.  I will not be doing a video this week as I am on vacation and don’t have time for more than a few quick points.  I hope this is helpful though!  As always, these answers are not necessarily fully nuanced theological responses.  They are just my gut level, initial responses from scripture.

-  Pastor Jeff

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Question #1 If we cannot separate ourselves from our sin nature, why can't we accept that we are sinners and try as we may, we cannot cease sinning; why strive for perfection we cannot attain. Not that we live in sin habitually, but that we accept it as part of ourselves?

There are a couple different angles that I could go to tackle this question.  I think the first thing that needs to be clear is that Christians are not called to strive for perfection, but to live to honor God.  

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)

Worship means to declare the worth of something.  God wants us to declare his great worth by living holy lives.  Holiness means to be set apart.  God desires us to be set apart from the sin that is in this world, by living according to his commands.  His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), but always meant to lead to our greatest joy. (John 15:11)  This is why we fight our sin, so that we might experience the deepest joy of living for the worship of God.

Also, while it is true that we cannot separate ourselves from our sin nature, the good news of Jesus is that he can!  

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:6-11 ESV)

When Christ died on the cross, through his death, he broke the authority of sin.  The wages of sin is death and when Christ died he received that wage.  Therefore, sin has nothing more to pay out to him.  And Christ didn’t just die.  He also rose from the dead.  Therefore, he conquered sin.  He took its worst hit and overcame it.  And so, for any who are united to him by faith, we live in the good of what he has done.  This means that not only is his record credited to us, but his life is now in us.  And so, just as Christ is not enslaved to sin, so too we are free like him.

However, this does not mean that Christians will never sin.  While we have been made new in Jesus, our old self still does exist (Romans 7).  Scripture after scripture tells the Christian to flee sin, to put it to death, to wage war against Satan, etc…  And so, while the final victory has been won, it is very clear that there are still battles to be fought.  These battles must be fought for several reasons.

One, we are fighting for our experience of God.  

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mat 5:8 ESV)

The inverse of this is that if we don’t have purity of heart, our sight of God (our experience of a relationship with him) will be hindered.  Therefore, as those who know the unsurpassing beauty and joy of God, why would we ever settle for not experiencing him to his fullest?

Second, we are fighting as a testimony of the life that is in us.

How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:2 ESV)

To live in perpetual, habitual sin just can’t be so for those who have been united to Christ and his death for sin.  That doesn’t mean that we won’t have temptations, struggles and at times failures.  But if his life is in us, then our lives will be growing into more and more conformity to him.  (1 Cor 3:18).  The cross gives us freedom from sin, power to say no to sin and strength to grow in pursuing holiness.  To say anything less robs the cross of its power.  This is why Scripture would raise some hard questions for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, but isn’t working hard to follow him in all areas of their lives.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Heb 10:26-27 ESV)

Again, this is not saying that Christians can achieve sinlessness in this life.  But through the gospel, we can pursue sinning less.

Question #2  Can you go into more detail about how sickness, such as cancer is related to sin? Is it because of previous choices of food, smoking, etc.?

Sin has thrown this whole world out of harmony.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:20-21 ESV)

This whole world has been corrupted by the curse of sin.  God did not originally created our bodies to have disease, but now because of the curse, we can suffer terrible things.

This does not mean that there is necessarily a direct link between a person’s illness and sin that they may have committed.  Jesus got asked about this in John 9,

"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Joh 9:2 ESV)

What was Jesus’ answer?  Neither!  "It was not that this man sinned, or his parent (Joh 9:3 ESV)

There is not always a one to one correspondence between our sicknesses and our sin.  Making that false link was what Job’s bad friends did and they were judged by God for it.  Sometimes sickness is just a result of living in a cursed world.  Why some people get sick and others don’t is a mystery of God’s will.  I have suffered for decades from Crohn’s disease and I do not believe it is because of any sin that I have committed.  This is just the effect of living in a cursed world.  Praise God that Jesus is making all things new!  The hope of anyone suffering with illness is that there is a day coming when all sickness and suffering will cease.  I believe in miracles.  I pray for healing everyday.  However, while I don’t know the day when God will heal me, I do know that there will be a day when I am united with Christ in heaven forever and on that day I will be healed.  

Now, while sickness is not necessarily a result of sin, that doesn’t mean that it never is a result of sin.  God can use sickness to judge people (Acts 12:23, 1 Cor 11:30, James 5:16).  This can come as a direct consequence of your sin.  For example, getting a sexually transmitted disease from being sexually promiscuous.  Or sickness could not be directly a consequence of our sin, but a judgment that God is bringing to get our attention about our sin.  I believe that a flare of my Crohn’s disease that I had in my late teens was a judgment of God for sin that I was committing.  However, it is important to understand that God’s judgment is never meant to be punitive in this lifetime, but redemptive.  God breaks so that he can heal.  He brings low, so that he can exalt.  His judgments are his warning for us to turn from our sin, so that we might turn to him in a time when he may still be found and forgiveness still be ours.  

And so, while we must not be like Job’s friends and question our friends about what sin they are committing that is causing their sickness, we should question ourselves and see if God is trying to get our attention about anything in our own lives.  That doesn’t meant that we need to go on an overly introspective sin hunt.  Just like a good parent, if God is trying to get our attention, he isn’t going to make it hard to see what he is getting our attention about.  If God is using sickness to get your attention about sin, then you will know what that sin is very clearly.  If you aren’t sure, then there probably is nothing and you are just experiencing the sadness of living in a cursed world.

Whatever the cause of our sickness, the redemptive effect that it can have is that it can be used to push us closer to God.  

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  (Rom 5:3-5 ESV)