I am going through Romans, one chapter at a time, between other series. Today is the final sermon from Roman’s one: the foundations of transformation. I want to see people’s lives changed and transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to see people discover that extraordinary peace that only comes from the Spirit of God within you. An understanding of sin, and how to deal with sin, is foundational to committing yourself fully to God. Ruthlessly weeding the garden and admitting that there ain’t a whole lot of corn is far more healthy and more productive, and the sooner the better so that you can replant, so you can nurture that which is healthy. I don’t even like all the words I read in this scripture, and I am not going to go through in detail the catalog of sins. You can read it and know its there.
The point for why sins have to be listed: so that we know there are standards. If you don’t ever know what is expected of you, then you have no way of knowing right fro wrong. The most irresponsible parents are those who don’t ever correct their children, otherwise all is permissible. Some of you might enjoy no speed limit laws, but not me, I want to know. As humans, we need to know expectations, limits, right and wrong. We have to have that discipline. The point of knowing sin is in v. 20: we are without excuse. No excuse. We know. We know. We know.
Romans 2:1 says the same thing: you…have no excuse. The healthiest people are those who quit playing the victim. Undoubtedly bad things happen to us beyond our control, we truly are victims of circumstances beyond our control. However, this scripture is not about the things that happen to us from the outside, but rather, if you look carefully at each of these sins, they all come from within. Here is a little limerick that maybe puts a bit of perspective on sin:
“All the water in the world,
however hard it tries,
can never sink the smallest ship
unless it gets inside,
and all the evil in the world,
the blackest kind of sin,
can never hurt you in the least,
unless you let it in”
In order to fully embrace God, we must admit our own role in turning away from God, that which is within. doing that which is against what God values. Admitting our part of wrongdoing.
Without excuse. As I have listened to people in Sumas, the spiritually healthiest people are those who take responsibility. That’s the beginning. I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but we’ve all seen tv shows, ads, “I’m Carl, and I’m an alchoholic.” I’m Carl, I am a sinner.
Understanding God’s standards is necessary to understand sin. Taking responsibility is freedom, for that is when God can begin to work within us, change us, transform us, re-create us.
For God to transform you, recognize sin, admit sin… not easy, yet it is freedom. Recognizing and admitting sin, a summarizing truth found a little later in Romans and then two golden nuggets buried within this list of sins.
In America we talk about how we are all equal. It’s a good thought. In Romans it is almost an opposite truth. Rom. 3:10 “There is no one righteous, not even one.” …. All have sinned. The truth: we are all equally unequal. … that enlarges my perspective, equally unequal, we are on the same footing as we approach the cross of Christ, God sees us all the same. Our tendency is to think either too much of ourselves or not enough. Which is your problem? If I tend to think too much of myself and fill myself with pride and arrogance, then to understand the absolute truth that we are all unequal before God is freeing, for, then I have all of you as a reminder that I am no better than you, whatever sin I see in you that causes me to elevate myself, I am no better off…
And If I have a tendency to think too little of myself, to beat myself up, to wallow in my horrible condition, then to understand the absolute truth that we are all unequal before God is freeing, for then I have all of you as a reminder that I am no worse than you, whatever I admire in you that makes me feel inferior, I am no worse off than you.
Equally unequal, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is freedom for it is truth. Until we know where we stand, we don’t have a hope of knowing how to go forward. For all have sinned, that may not be good news, but it’s a great perspective, for it tells us that God begins with each of us at the same place…
Two golden nuggets…
Read Romans 1:20. This is what gives me great hope for all people, this is why we must never give up on ourselves or others. An innate understanding that there is a God, God is real. A person can deny God, he can reject God, he can rationalize God away, find reasons to hate God and doubt God’s existence…yet according to this scripture, somewhere within the fabric of our being, we know God. Maybe it is the smallest spark of light. In spite of the depth of sin, the answer for transformation is already within, for there is an awareness of God.
If God uses me to help bring somebody to Christ, my task is to help the person turn the key so that they can see what is already there, to explore what they are afraid to recognize within – a knowledge of God. God does not abandon people in their sin.
Some of you are far more gifted than me in teaching children. If I’m the only one around then I’ll do whatever I have to do, but put me in a room with children for the morning and I don’t really enjoy it. I’ll be a helper, behind the scenes, but not the teacher. However, one of the most delightful/inspiring quality of children that amazes me – you don’t have to prove God’s existence. You tell a group of young children that Jesus is the Son of God they look at you like that is the most obvious thing in the world. You don’t have to follow up with three points in triplicate of how that is, it just is. The existence of God is as obvious to a child as the wetness of water.
Adults think too much. For some the existence of God is doubted, denied, but some of that child belief is never lost. This means nobody is without hope, for God is within all and is seen by all…. All have sinned, All have seen God. Twin truths. God has already revealed himself to all, nobody is beyond reach, including you.
One more golden nugget. I hope I can adequately express the words of scripture, for there is no intellectual point, but rather the golden nugget is a reminder. In the beauty of scripture/the Bible, sometimes truth is expressed in its brevity. For example, in the whole of scripture the truth of God’s creation is rather small, yet the impact of God the creator is huge…. Or a closer parallel to our Romans scripture is found in Lamentations. Five long chapters about the destruction of Jersusalem, and the lamenting of the beloved City, trying to come to grips with the devastation, and right in the middle of the trajedy, the questioning of God, the questioning of the future, the teary eyes, the extreme disappointment, are these words, Lamentations 3:22-24. These words penetrate like a candle on a dark night, when all is seemingly lost, there is God. To get the full impact of this golden nugget, you have to read the entire book – in the darkest hour, God never abandons us. God never leaves us. There is always a glimmer of God, a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of life, a glimmer of abundance, a glimmer of peace.
Look back at Romans 1:18-32. Sin is the undeniable topic. A wave of sin, a wave of evilness. I don’t even like to read the list, I would think something is wrong with you if you told me this was your favorite scripture. But its necessary, because we have to know who we are and what God wants of us in order for us to make ourselves vulnerable to God in order to be changed. Yet, if we are that bad, how can there be any hope?
Check out this verse. Sometime in scripture a truth is most noticeable by its brevity. How easy to quickly read right past this truth, in the middle of the catalog of human sin, the very end of Romans 1:25…
You know why Paul proclaims AMEN? Pause and linger on that truth. Don’t get sidetracked by the power of sin, for God is greater still. Don’t lose hope. When you are feeling overwhelmed by life, by sin, by struggles, by doubts of self, be reminded of the Creator, who is forever praised, Amen!
Sally and I were on the side of the freeway once in a dead car, a few miles from moving to our new home in Pasadena, no money for anything, not knowing anybody in the area, and it is struggle to remember that God is good. When we are overwhelmed by life, knowing some of it is of our own creation, overwhelmed by our sins, doubts…it can be a struggle to remember that God is good, not only is God good, but God is our creator, not only is God our creator, but God is to be praised! AMEN!
Take that single word with you as the most important word today! AMEN. Forget everything else if you want, but internalize that single word, AMEN. When you find yourself beating yourself up and thinking all is a lost cause and you cannot take it anymore, somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind, listen to the Spirit of God in a small but confident voice say AMEN. And pause. AMEN. Let it be a reminder that God is the creator and he is to be praised. A reminder that we are all unequal before God and you have the same need as anyone else. A reminder that God is within you, and will never abandon you.
AMEN says Paul. So be it. Sin is real, but God is good. AMEN!