Getting up again

In the rural areas of the middle united states, there are vast stretches of forest. In one of these forests, there lived a family of opossums. This family was a rather large family. Many brothers and sisters and cousins and half-cousins could often be found playing in the same tree. Now one popular misconception about opossums is that they sleep hanging by their tails. Any adult opossum knows that this is impossible, but that doesn't keep the little ones from trying. The adults would frequently become very cross with their children who tried this, as tail-hanging invariably leads to falling. They would warn them sternly not to hang by their tails and threaten severe punishment for those who did so. still, the children would stubbornly disobey, and they would fall to the ground.

One day, a hungry wildcat came by this particular neck of the woods and saw a group of young opossums sitting around the base of a tree. Curious, he simply had to ask them "why are all of you sitting here? surely you must know that a predator like me could come along and eat you up."

"We've fallen." said one of the opossums. "And we can't get back up."
"Whyever not?" asked the cat.
"I have been on the ground for far too long." said one of the young ones. "The ground is all I know anymore."
"My parents told me not to hang by my tail." said another. "But I did. They must surely hate me for what I have done. I can't go back and face them."
"I like it here on the ground!" said another. "I don't care if it's dangerous."
"I just keep on falling." said a fourth. "What's the point of going back up into the tree?"
The youngest of all said "I don't think I'm even a opossum, so I don't belong up there."
The wildcat was amused at such foolishness. "Listen." he said to the opossums. "I'm not normally one to take unfair advantage of young prey, so I'm going to give you fair warning. I am hunting for my supper. If I cannot catch anything in the next hour, I will be coming back this way feeling quite hungry. If you are still here when I return, I will eat you all."
One hour later, the opossums were all back in the tree.

Sinning. It's something that we all do. Sometimes we mean to do it, but in what I hope is most cases, we may not even be aware that we're doing it. While it is theoretically possible to stop sinning in this life, we can be pretty well assured that it's not going to happen. Even the best among us sin all the time. It may be an offense committed in a moment of anger. It may be a hurtful word spoken with innocent intentions. sometimes it's because we're trying to fulfill a legitimate need. whatever the cause, we all do things we know we shouldn't.

First of all, what is sin?
Sin is not merely breaking rules. Certainly rule-breaking is involved, but consider this: Your average dog is capable of understanding and following rules. Certain large hyperactive black laborador puppies may not, but by and large, they do. when Rex chews on his masters shoe because his master has left him alone for the day, he knows that he is breaking a rule. He knows that he will get in trouble for it, and that there will be punishment when his human finds out. But what he doesn't understand is the concept of a moral wrong. He has no idea that destroying someone else's property is evil, or even of what evil is. He only knows that he's angry and doing something his human dislikes makes him feel better.
It is because we are able to fathom right and wrong that we are able to sin.
James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
This is good news for us, because it means that God is less concerned about adherence to the rules than the condition of our hearts. That means that no matter what we do, as long as we are sincere in our desire to be reconciled to God, we're never too far gone to be forgiven.
The one real danger is to reject Jesus until death, and in so doing, forfeit even the ability to sincerely desire that reconciliation.

So we've established that we do sin and that God is willing to forgive us when we do. So when we realize that we've sinned, what do we do?

The answer is simple. We get back to doing what we're supposed to be doing.

Unfortunately, this is something we don't always do. Why? same reasons the opossum children were on the ground. For some, they seem to think that they have been in sin so long that they can't go back, that somehow they're not worthy to do good. That doesn't even make sense. Perhaps they think they can't do right because they're out of practice. That plane isn't going to fly, either. The only ones who are so far gone that they can't even try are dead. If you can move a single muscle- if you can do so much as think, you can try to get right with God.

Sometimes it's shame. We don't want to face God because we've offended Him and therefore He won't take us back because He hates us. Well, here's what the Bible has to say about that.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
If God loved us when we were sinners by nature and impenitent, why should he hate us when we are saints who sometimes sin, but come back and confess and beg forgiveness? God isn't like that. He rejoices when we repent.
Luke 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
And who lives in the presence of the angels?

Another excuse for remaining in sin is that we're going to sin anyway, so we might as well quit trying. What we need to remember is that sin is harmful. It seperates us from God. Our souls need God just like our bodies need food. To me, sinning is like forgetting to take my medicines. if I forget for one day, I can take it again tomorrow and be fine. If I forget continuously for several months, I will die. It's not even a question. I will die. Period. Living in sin because you know you're going to sin anyway is suicide of the soul.

Then there's the one who sins because he likes it, consequences be darned. This is the one who tests God's patience. God will always take us back when we're penitent. The one who is not sorry for what he has done spits in God's face at the same time he's outwardly proclaiming himself a Christian. He's two-faced and duplicitous. Here's what Paul has to say about such people.
James 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
and here is what Matthew has to say.
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
This man is worse off than the previous example. Because he's sinning purposefully, he doesn't just remove himself from God's protection, but by actively setting himself up against God, invites God's wrath.
Of course, once this man repents, God is obligated to forgive him. But if you plan to use this as a lisence to sin, keep one thing in mind: God is NOT obligated to protect you from the consequences of your own dang stupidity. If you sleep with a hundred different people, intending to ask forgiveness later, then end up with AIDS, God is under no compulsion to cure you. It is a self-inflicted woe.

The last of the opossums in our story doubted that he was a opossum because he was not up in a tree. when we read this, it seems terrifically silly, yet how often do we do the same thing? Have any of you ever doubted your salvation? And why? Because you weren't acting like a Christian? Paul, Luke... how do we know whether we're saved?
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Acts 16:31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and (the same applies to) thy house.
And as we've established in earlier studies and sermons, when you're saved, it's for keeps. (Rom 8:38-39; 2 Tim 1:12) Nevertheless, satan continuously resorts to the same lie, persuading young and insecure Christians that they have lost their salvation, or were never saved to begin with. Brothers and sisters, never forget what you are. You are a new creature. You have been made alive in Christ. while you may not feel like a new creature, if you have accepted Christ, that's what you are, and thinking that you are not is as silly as a opossum thinking he is not a opossum.

So what do we do when we sin? We stop whatever it is and get back to what we're supposed to be doing. We set things right if it is possible. We apoligize, ask forgiveness, and continue on. if we sin again, we do the same thing. If we sin seven times, we do the same thing. If we sin four hundred and ninety times, we do the exact same thing as the first time. Never give up, never surrender.

My challenge tonight to the unsaved is to realize that you are a sinner, but Jesus loves you anyway, so much so that He suffered and died for you. There is no reason for you to continue your old life. Be reconciled to the one who loves you so.
To my Christian siblings, my challenge is to remember who you are, and that no matter how badly you may sin, how much you do it or how often, God is always there waiting to help us back up again.

Pastor Oren Otter
October 15, 2005