Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Those Really Bad Sins," or "The Sin Rating Game."

In the popular arena, some sins are raised to a "higher status" than others. When it comes to branding somebody a "sinner," there's usually one or two favorites that are considered "really bad sins" (as opposed to . . . what? sins that aren't that bad, even though they're still wrong?) Usually, the sin or wrong being focused on is one that's either a political hot-button, or one that's out in the open and easily accessible to public knowledge.

How would any of us handle scrutiny of our lives, our thoughts, and how we behave when nobody is looking? The Bible makes it clear that if we violate ANY of God's commandments, we're guilty of violating the whole law. There's not a truly righteous person on the face of the Earth . . . it was because of this that Christ took the burden of the law on Himself, being truly righteous, as a sacrifice for all of us, putting us all on equal standing before God. Everything now comes down to a personal choice: to either accept the gift that Christ gave us, and to live according to the guidelines He laid down in His own life and words, or to reject it.

We all stand under the scrutiny of God, and there's nothing that escapes His attention. It sounds callous and unfeeling to equate something like murder with, say, being envious of your neighbor's new Lexus, but from God's standpoint, they're all violations of His law. It's easy to pinpoint a murderer, a rapist, a homosexual, a member of a hate-group or a cult . . . but less easy to scrutinize on a level that would reveal envy, greed, usury (that's charging ANY interest, not merely charging undue interest--and our entire economy is based on something that the Bible calls sin), or other sins deemed "less evil." Sorry, you don't get a pass on those, either. Just because you haven't murdered somebody, but have spent your whole life coming up with ways to profit on other people's misery, doesn't mean you can strut around as a "righteous" man.

The Bible also makes it clear how we are to deal with sin when we discover it within the body of Christ--the church--and how we are to counter it. Christ made it clear, telling us that we're to go to the person, one-on-one, in an attitude of loving reproof. If that doesn't suffice, take a couple of witnesses (by this, He meant not two of your cronies, but two impartial witnesses), and if THAT still doesn't suffice, bring it before the body of Christ as a whole . . . and if the individual's sin continues, and he refuses to accept the determination of the church--of which he is a part--then "let him be to you as a heathen or a tax collector," basically treating the person as an "outsider." Still, even in that extreme case, there's Christ's command that you are to forgive someone who commits a sin "seventy times seven" if they come to you and repent. That means that the Church must also stand ready to receive back an individual who repents of their sin. Paul continues to expound upon this doctrine of "loving reproof," an attitude that is sorely lacking in today's Church. Just because person X is a Baptist and person Y is a Methodist, you're still part of the conceptual whole of the body of Christ. Here's another: just because one member of your church is a Democrat and another is a Republican, they must put aside political differences when coming together as part of the body. But this kind of infighting between denominations or factions has become so commonplace that it's tolerated! "Loving reproof" just went out the window!

Scandal after scandal, within and without, daunts us all as Christians. The empty-headed masses are greedy for scandal, maybe because when it attaches to a person of "status," it pulls them down to the same level as the rest of us (nevermind the stupidity of elevating a person to a higher status just because they're actors or have a lot of money to throw around or have some standing in the political arena). Guess what? They're human, and the fact that they're in the public eye more often doesn't make their scandals any more sinful than those of anybody else. I'm not saying just to give them a free pass; when it comes to leaders, Paul makes it quite clear that those who lead are, in accepting leadership, putting on themselves a heavier burden, and are in effect setting a higher standard for their own behavior. What we need to do is quit keeping track of other people's "sin scorecards" and start focusing on our own! It's really easy to throw your weight around when you're a member of the body of Christ and the people you're dealing with are not . . . but that's an abuse of the name of Christ, in effect "taking the name of the Lord in vain." Do you expect the World to accept your pronouncements simply because you're of the body of Christ? Why would you? The world is set against us. We have to be in the world, but not of it . . . we have to live with these limitations, but not give up. There were a lot of people i hung out with in Union Square Park who did things that i wouldn't do, but they knew what i believed and what i represented, and i never felt like an "outcast" because of it (maybe because the world as a whole has also rejected so many of them . . . which is one reason why many of them are closer to Christ than the ones who look down on them; all it would take, in some cases, is a little nudge for those "park rats" to embrace Christ).

We live in a culture--a world--that makes having "things" something to aspire to. Making more money, having more possessions, being able to "consume" more; these are the values that the economy, politics, and wordly power make pre-eminent. There is public outcry against kids who engage in immoral sex, but the culture as a whole glorifies it, practically screams sexually charged messages from every billboard, mall, newspaper, and television show. Marijuana, of which there has never been a single recorded overdose or fatality attributed to, is still rated a Schedule 1 Drug, right up there with heroin; yet drugs with life-damaging and potentially lethal side-effects are freely marketed by pharmaceutical companies whose "cost-benefits analyses" make a few deaths acceptable losses when stacked up against making a profit. Homosexuals are subjected to hate, vilification, and rejection; yet bankers whose crimes often escape scrutiny cause more harm and misery with the stroke of a pen. Those of you who look to politics and political leaders to "make things better" are just whistling in the dark. When Christ was tempted by Satan, He was led to a high mountaintop, and shown all the nations of the world, their riches, and their glory. Satan said, in Luke 4:5-7, "I will give you their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Now, you know if Satan had been saying something that was untrue, Christ would have called him out on it. But He didn't. Instead, He refused to worship Satan, to give glory and worship to anyone but God. Kind of makes you think, doesn't it? No, i don't think all world leaders are worshipping the Devil, but they are making some pretty shady deals with Mammon, and Christ said, "You can't serve God and Mammon." Mammon is an idiom representing material wealth and its attendant power. So one has to wonder, really, what our culture is coming from, what it's teaching, and who it most stands to benefit.

Sin is sin. There's no getting around it, and all of us are apt to stumble. If you're looking for a religion that allows you to put yourself on a high-horse and throw a parade for yourself while flinging mud at people who practice your personal hit-list of sins, then Christ isn't for you. We all have need of loving reproof. We all have need of a fellowship of believers who can understand our failings and build us up when we're fallen. And, most of all, we have the need of Christ's representation in Heaven, His salvation and perfect love, that are the only things that can stand us on our feet and make us ready to resist the temptations that the World constantly flings at us. You've got your own bed to make, your own house to clean. Until they're spotless--and they never will be on this side of Paradise--you can't go around grumbling about how bad other people's houses look.

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