WHAT IS SIN? PART 2
By Rev. Ted Pike
26 Feb 14
Editor's Note: You can hear the audio of this Bible study under the same title at Truthtellers.org.
(Be sure to read What is Sin? Part 1 and What is Sin? Part 3)
In this section we will analyze a number of ways Satan attempts to confuse the sincere Christian, trying to persuade him he has sinned when he hasn’t. A quote from our Lord Himself seems to suggest that we are inescapably sinful just by being in human bodies:
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matt.5:27-28).
This verse, which is almost always misinterpreted, goes like a spear into the hearts of many Christian men, who say, “I have looked at women and had sexual thoughts. Thus, I have committed adultery!" This verse is brought forward by Calvinists and Augustinians who believe that just having a sexually illicit fantasy pass through your mind is the same as committing adultery. Largely because of misinterpretation of this verse, Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy. They enter monasteries and avoid women lest they experience a lustful thought. Did Jesus really teach that having a sexual thought was as bad as adultery?
The crucial word in this passage is "lust,” which should be translated "covet." What Jesus really taught is that “epithumeo" (to covet) means to desire a woman so intensely that if the opportunity presented itself you would commit the act. Jesus returns to the Ten Commandments, saying coveting your neighbor's sailboat, house, job, or wife is all the same thing. We are not to want anything so much that we would steal it if we could get away with it. Correct translation thus reveals that Jesus is not teaching an extreme, indicting, and unworkable definition of sin, as is suggested by the common misunderstanding of this crucial verse.
Satan constantly bombards us with accusations, sometimes true, about our shortcomings. He says, "If you were what you should be, you would witness more, be more loving, study the Bible more, act in a more compassionate way…" Since it is impossible to experience "what we should be" and must be ourselves in the present, it is difficult for the sincere but tempted believer to disprove Satan's charge. Satan also says: "If you are worrying about having sinned, you undoubtedly have sinned. If you were without sin, your conscience wouldn't be bothering you. You would know for sure that you have not sinned."
Are we free of sin just because we are meeting a standard of performance? No. Jesus considers us pure in heart because His blood purifies us as we trust in a childlike way in Him, refusing deliberate rebellion in this moment. We can always grow in stature. We can always become more like Him, for as long as we live and even in eternity. No Christian can say, “I’m perfect now, I don’t need to change.” Life is a continual process of discipline and becoming more like our Savior. But the failings of our humanity and our distance from the perfection of Christ do not mean we are in sin! Christ promised to make us holy and count us holy and justified by faith, childlike faith, in His atoning work on the cross. No matter how much we may see our need to grow, we can be perfect in heart right now if we trust blindly in Jesus and say "no" to sin as it presents itself. This is not because we have performed well. Trust is not a work. It is an abandonment of work, an abandonment of self, to the care of Jesus. It means refusing to look to our performance at all for self-justification. Instead, we trust wholly in Him who died for us. When our hearts (or demons) accuse us, we can respond, “Even if I failed—even if I sinned—right now I am trusting in Jesus to have mercy on me! I am rejecting sin right now!”
This brings us to a very important distinction: Is a correct definition of sin the secret of true spiritual victory? I have stressed the importance of such coherence as we navigate the treacherous seas of life, but the correct definition of sin is not the secret of spiritual victory or peace with God. The essence and power of true Christianity is complete trust in Jesus, not knowledge. We must trust in Jesus beyond our mind and our understanding, beyond our fears and apprehensions. Salvation does not come from having a perfect definition of what is right and wrong and choosing the right thing. Christ alone is our salvation, rescuing us as we cry out to Him, trusting only in Him and what He has done at Calvary to save us.
When we receive from Christ the ability to trust Him, and we choose to trust and obey Him to the best of our ability, we can’t be lost! We can’t be condemned. It is not reasonable to think that we can trust in Jesus, crying out to Him, "Lord, have mercy on me. I trust in You," and Jesus would say, "Your trust doesn't mean much to me. I wanted perfect performance out of you and I didn't get it. I'm going to send you to hell!" Can you conceive of a God that callous and twisted? He is not. To paraphrase Jesus in John 6:37: Whoever comes toward me like a little child and crawls up on my lap and trusts Me, I will in no way cast him out.
Childlike trust in Jesus, not knowledge, is the great anchor and foundation of our spiritual rest, joy, and certainty that we are accepted by God. God simply cannot be angry at the believer who is sincerely trusting and obeying Him.Some old-fashioned Calvinists would suffer through their whole lifetime without that assurance. They waited for a mystical experience to prove they were really one of the predestined ones. Maybe they never had that experience. Even today many Christians evaluate themselves by whether they have produced works and have a good reputation that strongly indicate they were really born again.
The best way to know you are absolutely pleasing to God is to say right now, "Lord, regardless of what I have done and how I have failed and even feel like I am failing right now, I trust in You!" When we come as sincerely as we can to Jesus in trust, we cannot be lost. In such vertical movement toward Christ, we send up to the Almighty all the sincerity we can muster. With the precedents of the thief on the cross and the publican who cried out to Jesus for mercy and were approved by Him, we have every right to rest in the Lord and refuse the devil's demand for perfection. Jesus is our perfection. By trusting in Jesus and abiding in Him, we have true spiritual transcendence. This is the faith that overcomes the world.
The simplicity of this is very important. As we become more like Christ, we become more aware of the ways we are not perfectly like Him. Interestingly, the Bible itself can be a source of anxiety with its seemingly conflicting solutions to a multitude of moral questions and dilemmas. Life also presents many situations where we are not sure what is right or wrong. The very complexity of the subject of sin can be so daunting that even pastors throw up their hands and refuse to deal with it. In fact, the doctrine of eternal security is an end run around normal consideration of these moral issues, saying, "It's very simple. Don't worry about whether you have sinned because we are all sinning every day in thought, word, and deed. Just say the sinner's prayer ("I accept You, Lord Jesus, as my Savior"), and you are eternally secure. You can start enjoying life."
Yes, God's way is simple, but not simplistic. Ultimately, God's way to deal with what is and is not sin is by our first saying, "Jesus, I absolutely trust in You. I give all to You. I will obey you to the best of my ability for the rest of my life." When we do that sincerely, His Holy Spirit is free to come to us and gently lead us into all truth as Jesus promised.
I am not saying there will not be consequences and reverberations in your life if you have done evil. I am saying that when you come with singleness of heart vertically to Jesus and cry out for His mercy it really does not matter what you have done in the past. In that simple repentance and trust in Christ’s atonement, God has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has morally made you as fresh and clean as snow. You are freed to forget those things which are past—though making restitution wherever possible— and look forward only to more of the same kind of grace.
Let's conclude with a powerful passage from I John 4:17-18:
17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19 We love him, because he first loved us.
There is a place of spiritual rest that remains open to all believers, and we must labor to enter into it, as Hebrews 3 tells us. It's a place in which we can become convinced that if we love and trust in Jesus there is a casting out of the possibility that we are displeasing to God. When we come to Jesus with the childlike faith He requires, John tells us Jesus throws out fear and torment. If you still fear for your salvation and are in a state of anxiety, he says your love has not been made perfect, nor is your knowledge of the simplicity of God's requirements for peace of soul. God is a reasonable God Who comes more eagerly to us than we to Him once we come according to His terms.