Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon Starters: Hitting the Mark

Preached at the SAGE service tonight at College Wesleyan.

Text: Romans 14:19-23

I. Introduction
  • Common to hear that sin is "missing the mark." Not really mentioned this way in the Bible.
  • In older Greek literature, a spear might "wander" from its target.
  • In the NT, there are four verses that give us pictures of sin--the one we just read in Romans 14 (whatever is not of faith), 1 John has two (sin is wrongdoing, sin is lawlessness), and James 4 has one (if you know good to do and don't do it).
  • The last one is similar to Wesley's definition: "willful transgression against known law of God."
  • Gave outline
II. Sermon Body
Point 1: It's more about us as archers than it is about the target.
A. Romans 14
  • Background - an issue where different Christians had different convictions (so Paul's not talking about murder or adultery here)
  • Two people can do the same thing and it be sin for the one but not sin for the other.
  • Because sin is primarily a matter of intention ("faith")
  • Be sure of your convictions (without being hyper-sensitive).
  • You can deceive yourself.
  • The impact on others is a key consideration.
B. Matthew 5
  • It is a mistake to see this chapter as Jesus upping the standard. It is Jesus getting to the heart of the person.
  • What Jesus says about killing and adultery is not about hitting a narrower target. It's about what kind of archer you are.
  • So it is not about keeping oaths; it about being truthful. And the eye for an eye thing is completely out the window.
C. "Standards"
  • This skewed sense of sin as missing the target even distorts our sense of what holiness is. Holiness becomes a matter of hitting a higher standard, either doing more things or not doing more things.
  • We talk about the things we don't do rather than the fact that we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Well, we might talk about the self-control part.
  • Mark 7 suggests cleanness is a heart thing, not a "what you don't do" thing.
D. Good news!
  • Sin is not about the performance of the rules.
  • Bad news, of course, if you have the mindset of a biblical Pharisee. They started out well, right? How can I be sure to keep the Sabbath? Reminds me of some holiness thinking in the past. Can I eat out on Sunday? Can I watch TV on Sunday? Can I work if my boss tells me to?
Point 2: God's target is not a bulls-eye.
A. Mistakes are not sins.
  • That is, God's standard is not faultlessness or absolute perfection.
  • We should probably retire the word perfect as a translation of the NT, except maybe James 3:2, which is not talking about sins but about the fact that nobody's perfect.
  • But this is not the normal way the NT talks about sins. There is only one place in the NT that talks about sins of ignorance (Hebrews 9:7), and it is probably alluding to sins they had done before coming to Christ.
B. Common misinterpretations
  • Romans 3:23 is not about falling short of God's glorious standard. It is about "lacking the glory of God," as in Hebrews 2:6-10. Humanity was created for glory, but lacks it because of Adam's sin.
  • Matthew 5:48 is not about perfection but about being complete in our love of others the way God is. It is the climax of the chapter. "You have heard, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' I say, love your enemy too... be complete like your heavenly father is complete."
  • Apart from James 3:2, the Greek word often translated "perfect" either means to be mature or to be complete/whole in some way.
C. Good News!
  • It's about the quality of our relationship with God, not the quantity of our performance.
  • Like in marriage. It's (hopefully) not so much about how much you spend or whether you've checked the box. It's about the quality of the relationship.
  • Bad news, of course, if you're a lawyer of the bad sort. This is the lawyer Jesus of Mark 7:11 who gets out of supporting his parents by invoking "corban." 
  • Reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Liar, Liar." The lawyer has to tell the truth. He beats himself up hoping to get out of the trial, goes to great extremes to make it look like he cannot proceed. But the judge asks him a simple question, "Are you able to proceed?" And he has to answer yes. 
  • When it's about my intent, all my rationalizations and machinations fall away. Am I doing this with a heart for glorifying God? That's the question of sin.
Point 3: Some misses are worse than others.
A. All sin is not the same.
  • This has never been true of the consequences of sin. The sins of Hitler had way worse consequences than any sin I've ever done.
  • There is a sense in which it is true of our sins before we come to Christ. All sins show our need for Christ's atonement, so there is truth there.
  • But the idea that "all sin is sin" is not biblical of our sins after forgiveness. For one, not all sins fully break our relationship with Christ. Hebrews 6, 10, and 12 make this clear. 1 John 5 speaks of sins to death and sins not to death.
  • Certainly Paul does not treat the discipline of sin the same. The Corinthians are arrogant, divisive, and unloving, but he only kicks one man out--the one sleeping with his father's wife.
B. James 2:8-11 is often misinterpreted.
  • The point is that you cannot pick and choose between core commandments like murdering, committing adultery, and stealing. If you are really good and not murdering but commit adultery all the time, you are still a law-breaker. The point is not that if you commit one kind of sin you've done them all. That's not what James is saying.
C. Good news!
  • The divine love of our life is very forgiving. He won't let us accidentally fall out of relationship with him. He is eager to forgive if we forget our "anniversary" with him.
  • But it's bad news if we are looking to get by on excuses or technicalities.
Point 4: Love is the target.
  • Love God and love neighbor--that sums up what sin is. Sin is not loving God or not loving our neighbor as ourselves.
  • These don't contradict. As Steve Deneff said this morning, "You only love God to the degree than you love people. The rest is deception."
  • Some people try to justify not loving others in the name of loving God. Some people try to redefine love in order to justify themselves.
  • It's all pretty straightforward though. Is there anything you do that contradicts your desire to glorify God in all you do? That would be sin. Do you ever act toward others in a way that is uncaring and that you would not want someone to act toward you? That would be sin.
III. Conclusion
Sin is ultimately about the relationship we have with God. Our spouse would not divorce us for one wrong, nor will God. But there is a point where you can break the relationship. But God is not looking for performance. He is looking at what we are aiming at.

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