Now to a certain extent that is true, we should not dwell on our sin. But the problem is that we not only do not dwell on it, we rarely even talk about it. And if we do talk about it, it becomes a rather abstract discussion using theological terms so that the discussion doesn’t hit very close to home. But it is important to at least talk about sin so that we can understand it. For if we don’t fully understand the depth of sin, then we cannot fully appreciate the height of God’s grace either. Let’s read Romans 1:16-32.
I. Let’s look first of all at the foolishness of sin.
There are several aspects of sin that Paul describes in these verses. In verse 18, Paul defines sin as godlessness and wickedness. A godless person has no respect for God at all. A wicked person rebels against God’s law or what God says. In verse 21, Paul defines sin is not giving glory and thanks to God. Not that mankind couldn’t see God in creation; they could see God clearly. Rather, mankind deliberately chose to ignore God in creation. Verses 22-23 say that as a result of sin human beings exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of “mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” People still felt they needed some type of god in their lives. So they made idols and worshiped and served them instead of God.
The result is pure foolishness according to Paul. Imagine that someone gave you something that you really wanted or needed. Perhaps a different car or maybe someone paid off all your debt. Now imagine that when you received it, instead of thanking the person who gave it to you, you instead made a little figure out of wood. And you said, “This little block of wood gave this wonderful gift to me. I thank it and express my appreciation to it.” Moreover, you ignored the person who gave you the gift; in fact, you didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the person who gave you the gift. That is sin: exchanging the glory of God for ridiculous substitutions. Verse 25 states that sin is exchanging “the truth of God for a lie, and worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator.”
These verses certainly describe many people today. People are increasingly living for and worshiping the creatures rather than the Creator. People worship money and the things that money can do. People worship all of the advances that human beings have achieved. With all that people have today in our culture, it is easy to say “who needs God.” Even we Christians believe in God, but we tend to want to create God in our image. We say that God is the one who wants us to be healthy, wealthy and wise. We tend to create God in our own image. That is wrong; it is sin and we need to see how God deals with such sin.
But God’s purpose in punishing sin in this way is to let them to see the kind of meaningless life this life of sin will bring. The thief would live in a society where nothing is secure. He would be the victim more often than the criminal. He would live in a place where everyone was like him and there would be no trust and no security. The drug abuser would be allowed to hit bottom and despise his or her life. God wants us to know that sin unchecked leads to complete misery.
Paul gives several specific examples of this. Verses 26-27 say that such a life of sin led to blatant homosexuality. An ongoing active homosexual relationship is wrong, not only because the Bible says it is wrong, but because it is so far removed from what God intended for us. But God allowed this to happen to show exactly where the distortion and misunderstanding of sex can lead. Verses 29-31 describe other things that happen when sin is fully pursued in life. There is evil, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. People become cold-hearted gossips, slanderers, God-haters, who are insolent, arrogant and boastful. That is the miserable world of sin that God let people go over into.
But the sad thing is that people still love to live that way. Verse 32 says that they know that what they are doing is wrong and they know that they will be punished by death but they continue to do their evil in spite of this. Several years ago, Frederick Buechner told of an advertisement he saw on a bus once on his way home. He wrote:
That is the life of the one who persists in sin when God allows him to fall.
And not only that, those trapped in sin encourage others to do the same. It’s like being in quicksand, knowing you are going to die. But you approve of it and encourage others to jump in with you. No wonder that Paul calls sin complete “foolishness.”
Article 15 of the Belgic Confession says, “We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature; an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring.” So what is the cure?
III. So what is the hope for overcoming sin?
In verse 16, Paul begins by referring to the amazing gospel that he loves to preach. He is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is power for saving people from such death. But Paul knows that it doesn’t seem that amazing or powerful until you realize the depth of sin. So Paul must first clearly lay out just how hopeless our condition is. Salvation is not an aspirin you may take to relieve a headache. It is the antibiotic or the anti-venom that you must take or else you will die.
And so after Paul has slammed the door shut on our ability to get out of sin on our own, he points to another door later on in the book. That door is Jesus who saves us from the misery in which we were trapped. Romans 3:22-24 says: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Jesus saves us from the hopeless situation that we are in.
The Belgic Confession in Article 15 continues, “Nevertheless, sin is not imputed to God’s children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy; not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the ‘body of this death.’” Now we can shout with Paul at the top of our lungs, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It was late and dark when I got there after a long bus ride, but there were lights on in the house. My wife and daughter were there. They had waited supper for me. There was a fire in the woodstove, and the cat was asleep on his back in front of it, one paw in the air. There are problems at home for all of us – problems as dark in their way as the dark streets of any city – but they were nowhere to be seen just then. There was nothing there just then except stillness, light, peace, and the love that had brought me back again and that I found waiting for me when I got there. Warmth, light, peace, stillness and love. That was what I felt.”
That is what believing in Jesus is like to those who are lost in sin.
However, let’s not keep this amazing news of salvation just for ourselves. There are many people around you and me who are sinking in sin and loving it. They are calling to others to come in and join them in their way to eternal death. And these are people you know; people you work with or who live next door to you. They may be your children or your family members. And their needs are very clear as we see them sinking in sin.
Our task today is to let others see our gracious God as he really is. How can we do this? First of all shouting and pointing at their sin doesn’t really help. I suspect that many non-Christians are keenly aware of their own sin. They may not care, but they know that what they are doing is wrong. Second, don’t be ashamed of the fact that you are a Christian. Let others know who you are and what you believe.
Let others see that being a Christian really makes a difference in your life. It makes a difference in the way you do your work. It makes a difference in your family and the way you use your money and time. And when others ask you about your beliefs, point them to Jesus! How can anyone read the Gospels and not be moved by the grace and love of Jesus? How can anyone read about Jesus dying on the cross and not be moved by his immense love for this world?
The results of sin are real in this world, but Jesus has given us the hope and the cure. That is what we are going to be focusing on in these weeks leading to Easter. What will you do to share that hope with someone who is sinking in sin?