Unifying Element #1: We’re all Sinners (Rom. 1-3).
We’re all sinners. Yep. Thank you, Apostle Obvious. I learned this in Sunday School years ago. But I think we may “know” this concept a little too well for it to affect us as it should…
You are a sinner. Hopefully, that is no shock. But for many of us, we got saved at a young age and didn’t realize our sinfulness beyond reaching in the cookie jar once or twice. That’s why, I think, many of us struggled with assurance as we moved into teenager-dom. We never really knew how much of a sinner we really were. Now, I believe I was saved at a young age, but I also believe I grew in my knowledge of what I had received in such simplicity. Especially as I realized how much of a sinner I actually was (and still am).
Have you ever just been overwhelmed by your own depravity? I hope you have. If not, stop and think right now about all the sins you have committed…in the past hour. Every hateful word or thought, whether to a family member or those dumb drivers. Every lustful thought. Every obsession with something material and temporal. Greed, even over a cup of coffee. Selfishness, even for that last bit of milk. We are selfish, greedy, lustful, hateful, evil people.
I often say that the sign of a good movie or book is when you want to punch the villain yourself. And I felt that recently while watching The Hobbit. Goodness, when that Orc sent his goons to attack the innocent men, women, and children in Dale, I felt like stabbing him myself! In Mockingjay, when President Snow blew up that hospital, I wanted to grab a gun and head toward the Capitol. And it’s not just in fiction. When I look at all the grievances caused by racism, I would really like to go punch Governor Wallace in the face. When I read about the atrocities of Hitler, I feel like I could go back in time just to slug him. Maybe I need to see a counselor, but don’t those things move you too? The slaughter of innocents. The injustices. Doesn’t it make you want to hit something (or somebody)?
Did you know that your sin this morning is just as vile as all those actions? Just as disgusting and revolting. God looks down and sees that sin and feels wrath. You are taking His blessings and treating them like dirt. You are taking the body He gave you and using it for filth. That’s why Paul says in Romans 1:18, that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Sin is vile to Him. And Paul wants to show that to the Romans.
So, he starts in chapter one by detailing all the most atrocious sins. Sins that the Gentiles in that church may very well have committed before they were saved (and may have been still committing). Things like murder. Inventing evil. Heartlessness. Ruthlessness. Sounds like a description of the main antagonist to a superhero. Except he’s describing them. He’s describing you! Before we were saved, we were those Gentiles in the world, given over to filthy abominations. And even now, Christians though we are…we’re still…how do I put this nicely? Dirty, rotten sinners!
Now, maybe you grew up in a Christian home and didn’t fall for many of these “big” sins. No fornication or homosexuality. You didn’t even pull the tail of your cat, much less killed somebody! No, you were a good little boy or girl, with stickers in your Bible to prove it! Well then, chapter 2 is for you. You’re a lot like those Jews, who thought they had kept the law and were good people in the eyes of God. Verse 3 is particularly striking: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” Paul says these people are hypocrites, outwardly “okay” while inwardly “evil.” And he says their hard hearts are “storing up wrath” for themselves. That’s a dangerous place to be.
Paul concludes this discussion in chapter 3, verses 9-10, by saying, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written, ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’” But lest you think you can work your way out of this mess, Paul says in verse 20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…” Ouch. Talk about doom and gloom.
What a fun way to start off your week, I know. And next week we will move on to the drastic and glorious turn of events. But first, realize what Paul is getting at here. The Jews in the church saw themselves as so much better than the Gentiles. They didn’t commit those heinous sins. Similarly, the Gentiles saw themselves as so changed, so transformed by the grace that the Jews couldn’t possibly understand what salvation was all about. They’d never experienced the grace of God completely change their lifestyle!
These same dynamics are at play in our churches today. You got people who’ve been in church since the days of Roosevelt, who see themselves as “practically perfect in every way.” Then, there are all these young twenty-somethings who just got saved out of LGBT or drugs or all sorts of “unmentionable” sins. And those two groups just can’t understand each other. They’re on different planets. There’s no possible way these two groups can get along.
Enter our God. He saves both groups, because both groups are depraved and dead in sin. Both groups were doomed. Both groups needed grace. And both groups STILL need grace because both groups are still dirty, rotten sinners!
If every member of the church would see how heinous his sin is to God and how merciful God was to save him…then things like using PowerPoint would seem a little less important. Things like guitars wouldn’t matter quite so much. Arguments over “thee’s” and “thou’s” would be put aside for the growth of the body. For the unity of the church.
After all, you’re just a dirty, rotten sinner filling that pew next to someone who is different and dirty, but declared righteous in Christ. And that will be our discussion next week…