It's a running joke I have with my sister. When we get the chance to visit, she will occasionally ask me what I've been preaching on lately. My answer? "Sin, and hell!" We both get a good laugh, not because I don't take these topics seriously (because scripture does), but because in our childhood church environment these were often the dominant topics of any given sermon. Our church had a strong focus on both evangelism and how we lived as Christians, but the predominant motivation behind evangelism was fear of hell, and the predominant motivation for how we lived was fear and guilt associated with sin. If you had to sum up the general thrust of daily life as we were taught, it could be with the two words "sin awareness." Or, as one author described the weekly teaching he received growing up, "God is good, you are bad, try harder!"
Then, in my own testimony, came the soul awakening revelation that the Christian life didn't have to be centered on sin. In my early thirties I had the gift of being shown the revolutionary New Covenant truths of New Life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20), our identity in Christ (Colossians 3:1-4), and our union with Christ (Colossians 1:27, John 14:19-20, Romans 6:5-7). Alongside many other scriptures, and with the backdrop of the entire New Testament, there emerged the miraculous way of daily life that could be summed up with the two words "Christ awareness." Or as we see in Romans 7, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." In Romans 6 Paul puts it this way- "You have been set free from sin (a life characterized by sin awareness) and have become slaves to righteousness (a life characterized by Christ awareness). Friends, that is Good News!
But here's the deal. Just as religion obsessed with sin leads to a joyless life of guilt and performance, so also Christian spirituality that ignores the reality of sin will lead to a powerless life of passivity and moral laxness. While these two paths may seem diametrically opposed to each other, they in fact both lead to the same destination, which is bondage, not freedom.
This Sunday we take our second step into Romans, and after introducing himself and declaring the miracle of Righteousness by Faith, Paul rips off the bandage and cuts to the core issue of why mankind so desperately needs the Gospel. With scalpel like precision, Paul lays out the case of humanity's very real and very fatal disease that Scripture calls SIN.
Church, there's no way around it- this Sunday's message is going to be challenging. We don't like to face the reality of sin, unless of course, we are pointing it out in someone else. This is often what we like to do with the second half of Romans 1, using it as a lens to focus on the sin of society, rather than a necessary diagnosis of our own need of God. And unless we allow the diagnosis, we will never enter into the redemption, freedom and fullness of Life that Paul will spend rest of Romans unpacking. And herein lies the blessed irony: for all the intensity with which Paul addresses sin in Romans chapters 1 through 3, the result is not an emphasis on sin, but a revelation of the only way to experience freedom from sin and the suffering it inevitably brings. And church, that is Good News!
If you have arrived in the valley, I can't wait to see you at our Sunday service! But wherever you may be in our country or world, I pray that your are blessed by gathering together with other believers as we are mutually encouraged by each others faith. Love you all!
Growing with you,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people...