May 29, 2005

No Condemnation

For those of you who were in chat late on the previous weekend, you will remember that one of the topics which came up was the interperetation of 1 Timothy 5:20; "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear."

Does this mean that if anyone in the church sins, we are to proclaim his sins before the entire congregation? By no means. This is what I call a far-too-literal interperetation.

Let me give you an example of exactly what this phrase "far-too-literal" means.

My nephew used to have a really annoying habit. He would ask me a question like "When is Uncle Lee going to get home?" I'd reply "About seven o'clock." At 7:01, He would start saying "I thought you said he was coming at seven. Why did you say that if it wasn't true?" This continued for years until I finally explained to him that while the things I said were meant to be taken literally, they were not meant to be taken THAT literally.

I have seen a number of scriuptures taken out of context and taken much too literally, resulting in some pretty strange doctrines which really don't mesh with the rest of scripture. I won't go into them here, except to say that the practice of blurting out the sins of other Christians in publlic is definitely one of them.

The church which we were discussing isn't the only one to employ this practice. It has been done before. The result is never good. The first thing it does is to foster an unhealthy competition. Members of the congregation start being good not for the sake of being good, but in order to be better than others. Those who sin more are treated as scum, not lovingly. The second result is that people begin to gossip and spy. If someone commits a sin and does not proclaim it, there are those who will begin tearing that person down in oder to elevate themselves by comparison. Instead of encouraging, the people bicker and point fingers. Eventually, this leads to the members of the congregation losing trust in their leaders and in each other. If they are lucky, the result is a a schism. More often than not, the church dissolves completely, and it's members are embittered and disenfranchised, angry with God and His people for something which was really their own stupid idea.

So what does the bible have to say about this? Take a look at Psalm 103. Verse 12: As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

God does not associate our sins with us. How can we, whose duty it is to emulate our Lord, do differently? Let's look at some other verses.

Psalm 65:3b; as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.

1 Cor 13:5; It (love) is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Psalm 130:3,4 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

And then in the VERY SAME CHAPTER as our topic verse, Paul writes in the verse immediately preceding: "Against an elder receive not an accusation." (19 a) Does this mean that only elders are to be exempted? No. Look at the verse immediately following the topic verse. "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality." (21)

Well, then, one may argue, scripture contradicts itself here. It leaves no options for carrying out the instructions in verse 20. Not quite so. Remember what we were discussing earlier in the sermon. Scripture is not meant to be taken far-too-literally, but it is meant to be taken literally. The difference in interperetation lies in the phrase "those who sin".

Does this mean Christians? It seems to at face value. Certainly Christians do sin. Paul says in Romans 7:19-21 "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."

So Christians are sinners, right? Well, that is what some say. But hang on a minute... Here's a verse which has a bit more to say on the matter. Look at 1 Corinthians verse 9-11. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (I want to point out that by "homosexual", this refers to action, not to desire.)

So... according to what we have read, we do sin, but we are sinners. How does that work? 2 Corinthians 2:5; "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Let me illustrate this principle in a parable which I'm sure we'll all be able to understand. Once upon a time there was a man who desired to be a horse. He heard about a field of magic cabbage, so he went and ate some and was transformed into a horse. The next day, he went to work, went shopping, watched some TV and went to bed. As time passed, he did these things less and less, and eventually, when he realized how silly they were, he stopped doing these things altogether and began enjoying life as a horse. Why did this horse engage in human activities? Is it because they were in his nature? No, of course not. As a horse, he had a new nature which did not involve television, shopping or sleeping in a bed. He did these things because that was what he was used to. He was not a human, but because he had been a human, he continued to do the things he was used to.

Likewise, Christians do not have a sin nature. Rom 6:2-4; "How can we who are dead to sin live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

We do not have a sin nature because we are no longer sinners, but we USED TO BE sinners, and so we continue to sin because that is what we are used to. This is what I call "Semac's Law". If any of you have read the novel "City" by Clifford Semac, you know that Semac's law say that any form which a transformee takes permanently affects the psyche. This includes the original. But we can be glad of two things. One is that the effect diminishes over time. We may never stop sinning as long as we live, and probably won't, but we CAN get a lot better. Two is that God can override Semac's law, and has promised to do so, transforming us into perfection as we enter his presence in Heaven.

This also means that there is no purgatory. Sorry catholics, but the truth of the matter is that we can never grow into perfection. We can never mature enough to be worthy of entering the presence of God. Not that we aren't required to try. Most definitely we are. But ultimately, it is God who must purge that last vestige of our old selves. Praise be to God.

So what does this verse mean by "those who sin"? We have our answer right here in 1 Timothy. Paul uses as an example Hymenaus and Alexander, two individuals who harbored a rebelious attitude and sinned continually, blaspheming and leading others astray with false doctrines, who were deemed incorrigable and left at the mercy of satan. Paul declares that these two (and later Philetus, in 2 Timothy) have made shipwreck of their faith, which means that they must have HAD faith to begin with.

The conclusion we can draw from this is that it IS possible for a Christian to be one of "those who sin". So where do we draw the line? We draw in in front of those who do not live Romans 6:24. In the story of the man who became a horse but continued to live as a man, he did have the physical features of a horse. He had fur, he had hooves, he could eat grass and run like a horse, but as long as he continued to live like a man, his horse nature was never truly expressed. Likewise, a Christian who continues to live like a sinner has the blessings of a Christian. He has the promise of eternal life, if not reward. But if he continues to sin deliberately and continually, purposefully disobeying the Holy Spirit, then his Christian nature is stifled. Those who sin accidentally, without meaning to, should by no means be punished as harshly as those in deliberate rebelion. This kind of Christian needs only to have his error pointed out. If his heart is right, he will gladly take to the correction. It is the rebel who needs to be punished severely that his heart may be changed. We can see this illustrated in Luke12: 47,48a; "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." And back in Proverbs 15:5, Solomon says "A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent." Where there is a Christian attitude, little correction is needed.

Which brings us to this verse with which I wish to close: Romans 8:1,; There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.