The Uncomfortable Truth of Sin

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NIV)

In a recent Sunday sermon I was talking briefly about sin and realised what an alien concept the idea of sin is in 21st Century Britain. Even back in the 1970s the American psychiatrist Karl Menninger was able to write a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? I suspect we are now much further down the path of the side-lining of sin.

The Bible, however, is straight-forward on the subject as we see in this one short sentence from Paul in Romans 3. Up to this point in Romans, Paul has concluded that both Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jews have sinned. Sin in these chapters is seen particularly as breaking the law of God whether, like the Jew, you knew the law because you had the Old Testament (Romans 2:27), or whether, like the Gentile, that law is innately known (Romans 2:14-15). Now if to talk of sin is alien, I suspect to talk of the law of God is even more alien. But the truth is that as the Creator and Ruler of the world, God has standards and rules which he requires his creatures to keep. Despite our reticence these days with the idea of rules and laws, we all know they are right and necessary - none of us wants a free-for-all on the roads for example! If God is the creator, then he is presumably best-placed to set the rules and he has done so. It’s just that none of us, at heart want to listen.

That striking little word at the start of Romans 3:23 “all” is shocking. At best, in 21st Century Britain, the discussion of sin and sinners is reserved for those people we have currently decided are bad - terrorists, murderers and so on. The rest of us, well we may not be perfect, but surely God can’t lump me in with the sinners! Well Paul’s summary is consistent with the rest of the Bible. From the decision of Adam and Eve to sin, we have all been born with a will that leads us to sin. Any parent knows that you don’t have to teach your child to do wrong - that comes naturally enough to all of us. In God's eyes we are all sinners and law-breakers.

The last phrase is also striking. What does it mean to fall short of God’s glory? Well it means we do not keep God’s law as we should. It means we fail to reflect the image of God with which we were created (Genesis 1:27) and we do not reach the glory required for heavenly eternity. The bishop and theologian H.C.G. Moule puts it like this in his book on Romans:

"The prostitute, the liar, the murderer, are short of it; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they."

Now, this is all part of Paul’s preparation to show us the great work that Jesus has done in dealing with our sin and guilt with his death on the cross. Paul is preparing us for the good news by spelling out the depths of the bad news first. I wonder if we need to rediscover the reality of this bad news in our lives, our churches and our culture, so we can begin again to be in awe of what God really did for us in sending his Son to die for us.

Let me give you a couple of questions to think about.

1. In what ways do you see society, the church and even yourself going “soft” on sin?

2. What impact will going “soft” on sin have upon the impact of the good news of Jesus in our lives, our churches and our cultures?

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