Sunday, July 20, 2014

Captive to Sin

While progressive churches are engaged in a headlong rush to minimize or even eliminate sin, those of us who choose to worship in more traditional denominations, confession of our sins and the affirmation of God’s forgiveness is an important part of the liturgy. Yes, by faith alone we are granted forgiveness, but for us ever sinful Christians, it is a comfort to have God’s grace confirmed in our worship services. We are sinful human beings, held captive by our sinful desires. We cannot escape from the bottomless pit of sin without our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Try as we may to obey God’s law, we fail over and over again. I was reminded of my own shortcomings as a Christian by a non-Christian friend who pointed out that I was not always a very good example of a Christian. I agreed, and told him that is why I need a Savior. My true nature condemns me, but through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, even someone as unworthy as I am, is saved.

Many non-Christians and Christians alike, believe that being a Disciple of Christ simply means obeying the law, or, as some would say, the rules that God has imposed upon humanity to keep us in line. Many non-Christians are offended by what they consider “unfair” rules enforced by an unjust God. Believers are often looked upon as fancying themselves as belonging to an exclusive club that they believe grants them special dispensation. Yet, Christians, far too often, fall into the trap of judgmentalism, lashing out against rule breakers. I’ve often told my kids, my grandchildren and even suspects that I was questioning in my former life as a police officer, “It’s bad enough that you made a mistake. Don’t make it worse by lying about it, blaming others and/or failing to take responsibility for your actions.” We all fall into sin, over and over, and we only make matters worse for ourselves when we ignore our inadequacies by pointing out our neighbor's failings. We “good Christians” cast out our most pronounced accusations upon our neighbors that engage in the sin of homosexuality. We are quick to point out the error of the person that succumbs to desires that God forbids. And yes, God makes it plain in His Word that homosexuality is forbidden.

Jesus said that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you hate yourself when you act on desires forbidden by God, and fall into sin? Yet, we often fixate on our neighbors that succumb to their desires and engage in homosexual behavior. It’s a tangled web we weave. On one hand, as believers, we really should know better and the trap of sin should be apparent and easy to avoid. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. Paul said in Romans 7:14-25, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” When the Apostle Paul, chosen to continue His ministry by Christ Himself, continually falls prey to his sinful nature, how can we call out our neighbor while we sin so boldly?

This is not to say that we are to acquiesce to sinful behavior by our neighbor. When our neighbor does not know Christ, it is our duty as disciples of Christ to lead that person to Him. Condemning our neighbors that engage in behavior that God prohibits will likely lead those neighbors away from God and if they do decide to try and find God they will likely fall into the hands of apostasy driven churches like the ELCA. We need to plant the seed that the Holy Spirit can nurture and grow in order for our neighbor to become part of the body of Christ. Once the love of Christ fills their hearts, they will come to realize what is pleasing to God. Our witness need not be by proselytizing, we can show the love of Christ in our actions towards our neighbor, and being openly critical of their behavior is not acting in love. The law is written upon the hearts of believers and non-believers alike, but if one does not know God, the Holy Spirit does not fill their hearts. Without the Holy Spirit, one cannot come to faith. If our actions only harden the hearts of our neighbor, we fail in the most important aspect of discipleship. For the believer, it is clear that God prohibits homosexuality. For the believer, it is clear that in order to please God the believer must not fall prey to that behavior. For the believer, it is clear that it is God's responsibility to judge the actions of humankind. If God can love me in spite of my continual disobedience, I can love my neighbor in spite of their faults.  A Church of God in Milwaukee boldly proclaims in a large neon sign on their front door, ALL SINNERS ARE WELCOME! That church is welcoming without disregarding the fact that we all are sinners that fall short of the glory of God.

When our brothers and sisters in Christ, those who already know Christ, fall back to the ways of the world by willfully choosing to accept false doctrine, they must be led back to the path of righteousness. After all, it is worse for one to come to the Lord and then fall back to the ways of the world. 2 Peter 2, 20-21, "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." We must endeavor to correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. Our needs are to be secondary to our desire to please our Lord and Savior. Pleasing God entails following God’s will and acknowledging our innate selfishness. Prioritizing the fulfillment of human desires causes us to fall into disobedience. Sin may be pleasurable to the flesh, but it harms our relationship with God.

When a church decides to affirm sin, without repentance, it is no longer a Christian church. The leaders of the ELCA wag their collective finger at God and tell Him (or her in some of their churches) that they know better. The ELCA has abdicated its’ responsibility bring the lost to Christ and help them to travel on the path of righteousness. No one is righteous, as we all fall short, but as John wrote in 1 John 1:8-10, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

The leadership of the ELCA promotes doctrine that claims that sin is no longer sinful, deceiving their membership. The truth is not in them. Confession of sin is replaced with the affirmation of sin by this wayward denomination. The leaders of the ELCA proclaim that God is a liar as they try to rewrite His word to placate the world, rather than to bring His word to the world. His word is not in them. Continue to proclaim the truth and pray that our brothers and sisters adrift in the apostasy that is the ELCA will truly open their hearts and minds and return to the Lord. Reach out to our neighbor with the love of Christ and pray that more will come to know Him.

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