Is Sin Really All That Bad?

One would expect any Christian to answer the question posed in the title with an affirmative and immediate, “Yes!” However, the daily decisions we make often tell another story.

We’re quick to recoil when we hear of horrific acts committed against children, marital infidelity, cold-blooded murder, or, you know, other really bad sins–especially, the sins of others. Yet, it’s our own day-to-day living, in both the major and the mundane, that we are often slow to consider. At times, we fail to measure the words we speak, the attitudes we choose, or the media we consume against the standard of God’s Word. It’s often in the name of cultural engagement that we capitulate to content that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. After all, it’s much easier to row with the current of our culture than paddle upstream.

While preparing to teach at our church’s young adult community, I was reading through Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin. Venning, a Puritan and English non-conformist, had a steadfast desire that Christ be exalted and that any measure of sin be–as it should–abhorred. Here are a few of his remarks that struck me as I read:

“One may suffer and not sin, but it is impossible to sin and not to suffer.”

“Sin can do, without the Devil, that which the Devil cannot do without sin, and that is, undo men [and women].”

“Sin is an evil beyond the skill and power of all creation to cure and to cleanse.”

It is clearly evident that Venning has considered carefully what divine Scripture reveals in no casual terms–that sin, in any measure, is utterly and totally evil.

Contemplate the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus makes it clear that sin is not be tolerated (see esp., Eph. 5:3, 11). Sin must be dealt with swiftly and severely. Think of it…if I were to deal with sin as seriously as Christ commands above, others would surely take notice and likely consider me both foolish and fanatical. The question is, are we willing to be obedient, or is our greater concern what others will think?

Friend, every decision you make either serves to edify or erode your heart, and must be made with the utmost care (see Prov. 4:23-27). There is no such thing as the “neutral” Christian life. You’re either, by grace, pursuing “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Or, because any measure of sin is being tolerated, grievously, you’re moving backward.

Believer, in all of this, remember that you stand securely before the throne of grace solely on the merits of Christ by faith. Indeed, it’s in recognizing the putrid nature of our sin that allows us to view Christ in all his glorious sweetness. Therefore, in view of God’s rich grace toward us in Christ Jesus, let us make it our daily practice to make choices that will stir our affection for Christ, making no room for sin. Or, as John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin is available for free, in PDF format, here.

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SET APART AS HOLY. BECOMING HOLY. BUT HOW?

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:12-13, ESV

The topic of sanctification has been a hot one as of late.  How is the believer sanctified?  How is sanctification related to justification?  What role does the believer play in his or her sanctification?  Where must the believer’s focus lie in the process of sanctification?  These are a sampling of the questions on the table.  (You may read a few of the discussions here, here, and here.)

When we speak of sanctification, of course, we must remember that there are two sides to the ‘sanctification coin’ as it were.  On the one side, we have what theologians refer to as “definitive sanctification”.  Definitive sanctification being the glorious reality in which, when a person is saved, by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, he or she is once for all set apart as holy to the Lord.  That is, the believer in Christ is, in the truest reality, a saint (see 1 Cor. 1:2).  The Christian is a saint, not because of anything they have done, but because of the faith which they’ve been granted to believe in the redemptive work God has accomplished in his Son.

On the other side of the sanctification coin we have what is referred to as “progressive sanctification.”  Progressive sanctification being the process in which God, by his Spirit, through the means of grace, works sin out of the believer and forms the believer more into the image of Christ.  Progressive sanctification is where much, if not most, of the discussions on the topic of sanctification have been focused.  And the focus has been here for good reason, because when we think about progressive sanctification, the reality of becoming increasingly conformed to the image of God the Son, we must consider what our role is in this process.

Rather than rehash what has already been said (you can catch up by following the links above), I wanted to note two quotes that have been helpful to me in considering the doctrine and process of sanctification…

First, Jerry Bridges, in his new book, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, cites John Owen on the relationship between God’s grace and our duty in the process of sanctification.  Bridges, citing Owen, writes:

“We need to consider our own duty and the grace of God.  Some would separate these things as inconsistent.  If holiness be our duty, there is no room for grace; and if it be an effect of grace, there is no place for duty.  But our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification; for the one supposes the other.  We cannot perform our duty without the grace of God [i.e., His enabling power], nor does God give us His grace to any other end than that we may rightly perform our duty.”

[Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2011), 113.]

Bridges describes the process of sanctification as “dependent responsibility” which I find an incredibly helpful category.

Second, D.A. Carson in his brief exposition of 2 Tim. 3:1-4:8 entitled From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, provides us with a full-orbed gospel, one which goes beyond simply the forensic declaration (which some overtly focus on when saying things such as, “sanctification is the process of simply getting used to your justification.”).  Carson writes,

“…when the gospel comes to us it actually does change people. The gospel does not simply declare us to be just on the ground of what Christ has done, for salvation is more than justification. Salvation includes regeneration, Spirit-empowered transformation of life, such that Jesus himself can say, ‘By their fruit you will recognise them’ (Matt. 7:20).”

[Don Carson. From the resurrection to his return (Kindle Locations 114-116). Christian Focus.] NOTE: I’ll be featuring a review of Carson’s book as a part of a Christian Focus Blog Tour in March.

Though we as believers have been set apart as holy because of the atoning, redemptive work of Christ (definitive sanctification), we must continue as those who, having been justified (declared righteous by God, because of the work of Christ on behalf of the elect), are now indwelt and sealed by the Spirit of Christ, with new hearts and new minds, and are, by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body (a la Rom. 8:13) and so continuing to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (progressive sanctification).  In light of the indicative reality of God’s redemptive work in Christ, may we vigorously pursue  a life of worshipful obedience to the gracious imperatives of Scripture, as those who have been brought into saving union with Christ!