“The Condition of Sin”
31 October 2004
Texts: John 8:31-37; Isaiah 61:1-3
It was over thirty years ago that Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin?. The book was hot, something novel--a world-famous psychiatrist talking about sin. It’s a good thing, too because in most pulpits, I am afraid to relate, serous consideration of the condition of sin had simply ceased to occur. This is unfortunate because when sin gets out of our sight, we are heading for deep and troubled waters. Dr. Menninger had some really provocative things to say. However, so did Jesus and what Jesus has to say is much more compelling. We were all captive to sin--some of us are simply less in touch with this universal truth than others. And Jesus came and died to set us free--free from guilt, free from evil, free from “religion,” free to serve God and free to enjoy life as sons of the Most High God. Three negatives and two positives. We’ll be covering those below.
Let‘s begin with our Lord‘s teaching, Jesus declares at the outset of His public ministry, reading from a scroll in the synagogue at Capernaum:
Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners; Isa 61:2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
Isa 61:3 To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Now, when you’ve said that, you have declared a mouthful. Jesus declares that He is the Anointed One. The astounded reaction of the people in the synagogue underscores that. Bringing good news to the afflicted, healing to the broken hearted, liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners--sounds like three separate agendas on first reading. But if we understand that affliction, broken-heartedness, captivity and imprisonment are all four aspects of the condition of sin we are moved forward in our understanding of Jesus’ rescue mission to planet Earth.
There is a significant, but rough parallel here to the favorable year of the Lord declared by Moses many centuries prior to Jesus‘ day:
Exo 3:7 And the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. Exo 3:8 "So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Exo 3:9 "And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Exo 3:10 "Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt."
There I hope we hear God’s concern for affliction and the sufferings of His people as the same theme of divine compassion for the lot of humanity is expressed repeatedly throughout Scripture. The first deliverance was from the social, economic and political oppressions of slavery to the Egyptians, to a dominant, polytheistic and pagan culture. In the second deliverance, although it was mistaken by many Jews contemporary to Jesus to be a carbon-copy of the first, simply with Roman culture plugged in for Egypt, Caesar for Pharaoh. But that proved then to be a serious mistake--and remains so today. No, what’s up in Jesus’ mission (He has sent me )is a deliverance from the condition of sin--a spiritual tyranny which is both deeper and broader than any other tyranny. And what makes this tyranny so desperate is its stealth nature. Yes, its stealth nature. We have, all of us, the capacity to ignore what we don’t want to see.
The Jews brashly declare in v. 33 We were never in bondage to any man: how sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free?” In our day, those who deny their bondage to sin are hugely indifferent to the offer of freedom. We think that we are already free. This conviction forms a bridge between us and the listeners hearing Jesus. Listen to Jesus’ response to their foolish and ignorant claim:
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
By the act of sinning, a person demonstrates that he/she is in the throes of an alien power. That alien power has captured that person, and the act of sinning rivets the chains and increases the tyranny. Let’s be plain here that Jesus is not talking about moral transgression, or external behaviors here but He is teaching us that the condition of sin prevails in the depths of our being, in the inner man. For it is there in the hidden-ness we are all acquainted with that we must go if we are to understand the soul-piercing words, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“The truth is that every man, however noble his aspirations, however pure and high his convictions, and however honest in the main may be his attempts to do what is right, when he deals honestly with himself” finds with the Apostle Paul that “when I would do good, evil is present within me.” That something which “thwarts our aspirations towards good, and inclines to evil” (Maclaren, pp.343-4) is the principle of sin. That principle is coercive, a foreign foe which may, God willing, be driven from the country! That is what we must cling to! We have a sinful nature, but that nature can be purified and our heart region can be occupied by the Holy Spirit which will not, cannot cohabit with sin. The sheer fact that we are enslaved raises the hope that we may be redeemed. We can look for emancipation. The spirit-controlled man governs his flesh by a redeemed will, and that will is directed by a pure conscience.
Sin, however, is not merely a stealth entity; but is also an invasive force. We may understand the operation of sin as akin to habit formation, or even addiction. It gets stronger and stronger until nothing is left that can oppose and defeat it except Him, Christ our Redeemer. But sin would have a much tougher time gaining a foothold if we were only paying attention. Sin is a parasite to spiritual sloth and indifference. Listen to the impassioned plea of Pastor Baxter:
And even the godly themselves are too lazy seekers of their everlasting rest. Alas, what a disproportion is there between the light and the heat of our profession and prosecution! Who makes such haste as if it were for heaven? How still we stand; how idly we work; how we talk and jest and trifle away our time; how deceitfully we perform the work of God; how we hear as if we hear not, pray as if we prayed not, and examine and meditate and reprove sin as if we did it not, and enjoy Christ as if we enjoyed him not; as if we had learned to use the things of heaven as the Apostle teaches us to “use the things of this world!” What a frozen stupidity has benumbed us! We are dying, and we know it, and yet we stir not; we are at the door of eternal happiness or misery, and yet we perceive it not; death knocks and we hear it not; God and Christ call and cry to us, “To-day if ye will hear my voice, harden not your hearts; work while it is day, for the night cometh, when none can work.” Now ply your business, labor for your lives, lay out all your strength and time, now or never! And yet we stir no more than if we were half asleep. What haste do death and judgment make; how fast do they come upon us, and yet what little haste we make! Lord, what a senseless, earthly, hellish thing is a hard heart! Where is the man that is in earnest a Christian? Methinks that men everywhere make but a trifle of their eternal state. They look after it a little by and by; they do not make it the business of their lives. If I were not sick of the same disease, with what tears would I mix this ink, with what groans should I express these complaints, and with what heart-grief should I mourn over this universal deadness!
I spoke initially about the five freedoms to them I now return. Listen, the Christian walk is a work, a very great work: we must daily and everywhere with everyone practice spiritual renewal, putting to death the flesh, conquer our worldly interests, maintain our Christ-centered perspective preferring Jesus to all others, our conscience needs daily purging and we must secure fresh evidences, or assurance of salvation and pardon. There is so much to do in our own hearts that trying to reform others--which may cause us to become busybodies and a nuisance--must await our own reformation. There is encouragement in that Christ has set us free from guilt, evil and the spirit of religion (“formality”). And by His virtue He has made us free to serve God as sons and free to enjoy eternal benefits in the here and now! What has become of sin? It has been vanquished on the cross. Now we must occupy the territory regained for His glory!