In the previous article we looked at what was involved in becoming a well-balanced Christian. One who is able to draw upon the Lord’s resources to become the person God wants one to be. Also learning to do the things He wants one to do. The diagram in the previous article has the 3 R’s and the 3 S’s involved in living in Christian maturity. The first “R“ is for Repentance.
Repentance? We need to realise what sin is, in order to understand what it means to repent of it. What is sin? One could simply say that in the Old Testament, the breaking of any of the 10 Commandments [the Decalogue] given by God to Moses on Mt Sinai, would constitute sin. Likewise in the New Testament the breaking of either of the two Great Commandments taught by Jesus would also constitute sin. For example in Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus answered this question by a lawyer, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 36. He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”22:37-40.
It doesn’t take a great deal of humility to realise that everyone has been guilty of breaking both of these Great Commandments taught by Jesus. Just think of the most holy upright person you know. No! Not you! Think of another wonderful person! Can you imagine that person loving God for every millisecond of their life with all their all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind? Have there not been times when that person failed to worship God as they should have done? Were there not times when they failed to obey perfectly one of more of the 10 Commandments? Coveting the neighbour’s car or his wife or his status in the community? Or for country readers, the neighbour’s better looking crops or his latest John Deere tractor? Or was it a Case or a Kubota or a Massey Ferguson? Or the only tractor I ever drove in the 1950’s, a McCormick-Deering?
St Paul thought he was doing pretty well at obeying God’s commandments until he realised that he too was guilty of covetousness, Rom 7:7 “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” It was the command not to covet that highlighted his own covetous nature. In fact Paul wrote in that Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. No one has ever perfectly loved (and obeyed) God for every moment of their lives.
Even the Second Greatest commandment Jesus gave us is pretty challenging as well. Loving our neighbour as ourselves. Again thinking of that person you so much admire as a “good” person. No! No! Not you! I mean the other person you were just thinking of! Were there not times when he could have helped you but he didn’t even offer to do so? Were there not times when he drove into the spare parking spot just ahead of the much older driver who was endeavouring to park there? Were there not times when he took the best seats, leaving his neighbours to find seats further away from the action? Were there not times when he allowed the music to play too loudly at his party next door while you were trying to get to sleep? Yes, he has sinned! You recognised it! But haven’t you done similar things to a greater or less degree? He was not perfect. Neither are you or any of us. St Paul expressed it like this in Romans 3:10, “… None is righteous, no, not one.” And in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one has shown the love and attention to others that they have shown to themselves. So all humans are guilty of breaking the two Great Commandments that Jesus taught us.
I once read the story of a young Christian who was trying to get a friend to understand the sinfulness of sin. Eventually he said with some degree of exasperation, “Do you realise that you have been guilty of breaking the greatest command of all?” He wasn’t quite prepared for his friend’s vehement retort, “How dare you say that! I’ve never committed adultery at any time in my life!” Well it was good that his friend understood that adultery was sinful. But it was sad that he failed to realise that there were a whole lot of other things that were sinful as well. Especially failing to love God with all one’s being.
Some years ago I thought that I should do some teaching on the way sin is described in the New Testament so that we might better understand what it entails, how we might recognise it and how we might have victory over it. At the end of one of those seminars a woman came forward to thank me for the teaching. Her thanks could have been better worded! She said, “Thank you Canon Holbeck for the teaching. I didn’t really realise what sin was until I met you!” It was not that she thought I was the incarnation of evil! Rather she had never been exposed to Biblical teaching on the nature of sin until she attended that seminar!
One cannot understand the greatness of the love and mercy and grace of God in forgiving sin until we realise how horrific it is in the sight of God and come to see how damaging it is to us and to others. In the next article we will look at how sin is described in the New Testament and why it was that both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with the command for their hearers to repent. [John in Mat 3:1 “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” Jesus in Mat 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.”]
The apostolic church also began with the message of repentance from the lips of Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, Act 2:38 ‘And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repentance on our part is necessary to enable us to receive forgiveness from God.
The next article will bring out some of the main terms used in the New Testament to describe the various types of sin that humans commit against God and against their fellow creatures. But there is no need to be depressed! It will be followed by the good news that God can forgive sins of various types if we trust Him and receive His Son in whom alone all forgiveness is to be found.
Blog No.221. “REPENTANCE. Everyone needs to repent of sin to have victory over it. But just what is sin?” Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 3rd July 2017