Each season of the Christian year enables us to focus on various topics or themes that are a part of our desire to grow in our faith in Christ.
At Advent, our central focus is waiting in expectation for Christ’s coming and what it means to await Christ’s return. During Christmas and Epiphany, we remember that Christ is our shining light that guides us in our dark world. Kingdomtide, or Pentecost, reminds us of our participation in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ through the witness of the church, both local and global.
Lent is no different. The calendar has turned, once again, to a new season in the life of the church. Since Wednesday, we have been in this season of Lent, which prepares us for Easter, our celebration of the hope of Christ’s resurrection. Lent serves a specific purpose, more than just preparing us for Easter. It sends us on a journey into the wilderness. For 40 days, not counting Sundays, we partake in this important period of self-examination to see what hinders us or might prevent us from true faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ. In this season, we want to look deep within our souls, through the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to see where we are in our faith and how we might experience God’s love more.
Our journey into the wilderness is symbolic of the journey our Lord took at the beginning of his earthly ministry. After being baptized, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness in a deep fast. At the end of the fast, he faced temptations that challenged his identity and the Father’s will for the kingdom. Jesus was able to overcome these temptations and went forth on his ministry in fulfilling the Father’s purposes.
Today, we begin our journey into the wilderness. For the next few weeks, we are going to look deep within ourselves so that we are prepared to worship the glory of the Lord on Easter morning. On Easter, we celebrate that Christ died and rose, winning the victory over sin and death. By his act on the cross, we who believe receive the free gift of grace and forgiveness from our sin. We are called justified in the eyes of God, pardoned from the penalty of our sin, and renewed in our relationship with the Father. We are going to walk through each step in the process of forgiveness. There are multiple benefits to this. Two are worth pointing out this morning. It helps us to see what it means to receive the free gift of God’s grace in our lives. As well, it helps us to be people known as forgivers and reconcilers in a community and world that need to hear God’s love.
Our journey to forgiveness includes many steps. The journey ends when two people, or a community, are reconciled after being apart for some time or reason. That is where we are going. We are working toward this moment of unity and coming together. But to get there, we have to understand why we need reconciliation in the first place. We have to understand why we are in need of grace and forgiveness. There is a need to understand repentance and confession, as well. But, first and foremost, we have to understand sin.
This isn’t a topic we like to talk about and, to be honest, it’s one we can ignore in the church. We would rather talk about things that make us feel good, instead of talking about things that call attention to how we are living our life and how it might be counter to the Father’s will. Our inability to speak about sin and our culture’s inability to call right right and wrong wrong has led to a gap in our knowledge of what is sin and what it means that we are sinful people.
To understand, we need to go to the beginning of God’s story. In Genesis, we see that God created the world. Even more, we were specifically created. There is nothing accidental about humanity. We were made and formed to reflect God’s image in the world. Each one of us is a reflection of God’s love, grace, and character. Everything in God’s original creation was good. There was nothing out of place, nothing defective, and nothing impure about what God created. Now, why did God create all of this? Why did God create us? We were created to be in relationship with the Father. The basic reason for our existence is to be in relationship with God. That is what we see with Adam and Eve, our spiritual parents, who had a deep intimate relationship with God. It is this relationship that God intended for all time.
Yet, something happened. Something took place that fragmented the relationship between humanity and God. Genesis 3 took place. Adam and Eve were told that they could roam the entire Garden of Eden and eat of its fruit, except for the Tree of Knowledge. In this chapter, we see the serpent, Satan, convince Eve to take the fruit, which both Adam and she eat. In this moment, sin entered the world. It entered as an act of disobedience.
At its most basic level, sin is our disobedience towards God. Sin is when we put our wills, our desires, and our goals above that of the Father’s desires for us. Sin is about us wanting our way, instead of us wanting God’s desires. Sin came into the world, as James 1:13-15 tells us, as a desire that is counter to God’s desires. When temptation was felt, Adam and Eve allowed their desires to control them, and it created a distance between them and the Father.
Adam and Eve’s rebellion altered the course of God’s creation. Our natures were forever changed. Humanity was fallen, and all who would follow Adam and Eve would live into this fallen nature, a nature that is capable of increasing the distance between us and God. In Romans 5:12, Paul points out that this fallen nature was changed by Adam’s act of disobedience, and we all sin because of it. This is the idea of original sin. Sin entered the world because of Adam’s act of disobedience, and we continue to sin. Even though we know God’s law and God’s desires, we continue to do what we want by seeking our desires. We can see it in each of us. We know the bad thoughts we are capable of having about others. We can see the wrongs that we do. We can see the evil that exists in the world.
None of us are immune to this altered state or condition of our humanity. We have the tendency, those of us inside the walls of church, to believe that sin only exists among those who are outside the fellowship of believers. Somehow, we have come to believe that because we are in the church and we come to church every Sunday that we are protected from sinning. It’s only those who are not here who are capable of sinning. Oh, how we believe the trap of the Pharisees. Throughout their interactions with Jesus, the Pharisees believed their own hype. They believed in their own righteousness and claimed that there was no sin among them. It was only the Gentiles who were capable of sinning. Jesus constantly reminded the Pharisees of their own unrighteousness and how they sinned by not following the truth of God’s law. We play the act of the Pharisee when we believe there is no wrong about us, or that we are incapable of sinning. As Paul writes in Romans 3:10, there is no one who is righteous. We are all in need of God’s grace.
There are many ways that each of us, in our own unique ways, violate God’s law and desires. We can lump all sin into two separate categories. There are sins of comission and sins of omission. Sins of comission are what we are most familiar with when we think of sin. These are the acts of sin. These are those acts that violate God’s law. For instance, it’s a sin when God calls us to not covet our neighbor and we get jealous at someone’s new car. We act in sin when we advocate war when God calls us to be peacemakers. We act in sin when we live lives of immorality, when God calls us to strive after discipleship and growth in our faith in God because God is holy.
1 John 3:4 makes it clear that “everyone who sins breaks the law.” This gets to the heart of sin being an act of rebellion and disobedience. God has given us his desires, through Scripture, and calls each of us to be obedient and follow his desires. We sin when we have knowledge of what God wants, but go about life in our own way. Our actions put us in the seat of God when we seek our own will. It is a narcissistic response to God’s love. When we do things that are counter to God’s desire, we sin.
For the most part, sins of omission run along the same line of thought, but are more subtle. These are sins that are violations of God’s law, but something is different. We know what God wants us to do, but we ignore it. Paul writes in Romans 7:15 about knowing what he is supposed to do, but not doing it. We all fall guilty to this type of sin. It’s knowing that God has put it in your heart to call someone and you never do. It’s knowing God has called you to say something to someone and you never say it. It’s knowing that God has called you to give your life to him in service and you never serve. Our acts of omission are just as harmful as our acts of comission. Here, we are saying we’re not good enough. There is no way God could really be calling me to do this. I can’t do it. Once again, we put ourselves above God and say ‘our will, not yours.’
Sin has a cost. We know the cost of sin is death, a spiritual death that separates us from our relationship with the Father. This is a death we can only avoid by faith in Christ and believing that Christ died for us. It destroys our lives. When we sin, we are not what God intended. We are not living to our full potential as children of God. It is a selfish way of life that harms ourselves and others.
Each of us struggling with sin. Lent reminds us of our sin and the temptations that we face. What is the sin that you are struggling with? What is that thing that God has reminded you of in our time together? What is that desire from God that you have put aside for your own will? You each have a card and I want to encourage you to write that sin down. After you’ve written it down, I want you to put that card where only you know where it is and then bring it with you each Sunday. That card, that sin, is going to come on the journey with us.
As we walk through this journey together, I want to encourage you to begin the process of giving that sin over to God. In an act of humility, give that sin to God so that God may begin to do a work in you that is transformative and holy and brings you back into the fullness of a relationship with the Father.
Sin is a part of each of our lives, but as we go forward on this journey we will see that it does not have the final answer. It does not have the final say in our lives. Our faith in Jesus Christ has the answer to our sin. Let us place our hope and confidence in that fact as we journey together this Lent.