Real Sinners


(Spectrumbot) #1

The Jewish Mishnah is a record of the oral teachings or traditions of notable Rabbis who attempted to amplify or explain God’s revelation as expressed in the Torah. The Mishnah lists thirty-six deadly sins that may result in the offender being cut off from the community. To be “cut off” (Hebrew: Kareth) had various interpretations, but the most serious application of the punishment meant that the offender would be put to death and would be denied entrance into a higher spiritual afterlife. It is interesting to note that the first fifteen of these thirty-six transgressions are sexual sins.

When I shared this with a friend, he quipped, “Well, the Rabbis must have had a pretty good imagination to list fifteen different sexual sins.”

Whether or not the Rabbis had a good imagination is debatable, but it is clear that they expressed in no uncertain terms their utter distaste for the sins of the flesh and the sinners who committed them.

It occurs to me, however, that some of the religious leaders in Israel accused the greatest Teacher who ever lived of mingling and eating with sinners. As it turns out, the accusation is true. From the very start of His public ministry, Jesus interacted and placed Himself in the company of sinners.

Even a Roman Centurion, in the presence of the Savior, makes a confession that becomes a part of God’s Divine Revelation for future generations: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV).

This simple, powerful statement should come as no surprise, for when Jesus talks about His impending death He predicts, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV).

Jesus did not mean that His death draws a crowd of curious bystanders eager to see a spectacle. Make no mistake, the casual onlookers are there, but this is not what Jesus means. In another teaching, Christ uses an analogy to help us understand. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV).

Just as Moses fashions a bronze serpent to save Israel from a plague of fatal snake bites, so Jesus sets Himself up as the remedy to save His people from certain death. And who are His people? Jesus says, “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” This is joyous, good news! The gospel of Jesus Christ does not exclude anyone from eternal fellowship with the Savior!

Sometimes we completely ignore the truth of the gospel in favor of an entirely different calculation. Somehow, we are uncomfortable with a universal call to sinners to come to the foot of the cross for healing. Religious people on the far right of the political spectrum are eager to point out what they believe are the horrific sins that degrade society. Homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion top the list of perceived transgressions they believe God hates more than all other sins. With some creativity, a person might be able to add a few more items to the list of fifteen sexual sins found in the Mishnah.

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey just signed a bill that restricts almost all abortions. While it will certainly be challenged in the courts, this legislative action demonstrably proves that Christian zealots seem more determined than ever to force society to comply with their religious beliefs. Some of us have detected a double standard when it comes to these matters. While the religious right decries any sexual misconduct that results in abortion, they are at the same time willing to completely ignore the blatant sexual misdeeds of political leaders who are sympathetic to their cause.

The debate over which sins are most offensive to God is as old as time itself. Early Christians struggle to know whether or not to welcome uncircumcised gentiles into their fledgling church. The apostle Paul spends an inordinate amount of time combating the intolerant and divisive thinking that emerges almost immediately after the ascension of Christ. The church argues over which foods to eat, what laws to keep, the practical definition of chastity, Christian dress, how worship services should be conducted, and pretty much everything in between.

Through it all, Paul forges ahead and finally concludes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV).

The Apostle Paul resolves to exclusively point people to the cross of Christ. There is a sense of resignation in these words. Paul wearies of the struggle and just wants to rest and rejoice in the knowledge that Christ paid the ultimate ransom for His children. But sadly, human nature is alive and well. The Christian Church puts up barriers to control membership. Church doctrines provide a litmus test for who is in the faith, and a list of deadly sins serve to sort people into general categories. These seven deadly sins, as identified by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

It is generally understood that all sins emanate from these seven categories and yet the third category seems to attract the most attention. Much like the Rabbis of old, modern society seems to be preoccupied with sexual sins. Some of our modern television talk shows illustrate this phenomenon. DNA results translate into uncontrollable tears, anger, certain choice words, and broken furniture. It turns out that people love to talk about sin and sit in judgment of sinners. The audience laps up every morsel of degradation and begs for more.

The Christian Church often mirrors society at large. We love to highlight the failings of our brothers and sisters in the faith. The third deadly sin, once again, seems to get the most attention. The sins of the flesh cause the rumor mills to go full tilt, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. These sins produce enduring stigmas and seem to have no meaningful forgiveness or redemption. Christians sabotage the universal invitation to accept Divine healing and instead create a separate category of unpardonable sins. Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself, and whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

The Church is not so sure about such a simplistic approach to the sinners who walk among us. We rob some of our brothers and sisters of the joy and peace that comes from knowing that Jesus is more than able to, “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We purposely grant favor and acceptance to some, while we ostracize and dish out condemnation to others. We pretend to know the heart, when nothing could be further from the truth. We are even willing to sentence certain sinners to a lifetime of ridicule and shame. If we truly believe that God can forgive and transform the human heart, then we should not hesitate to extend the grace we claim for ourselves to every believer.

I fully realize that some people will read these words and acknowledge that God offers salvation to any sinner who repents, but at the same time believe that certain sinners should not be fully trusted or accepted into the earthly fold. It seems strange, however, that this way of thinking is never associated with the sins of pride, greed, or wrath. I think we have a hard choice to make. Either we believe that Christ can heal any repentant heart, or we believe that there are certain people who are beyond God’s ability to restore. I recognize there are those who have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to accept God’s transformation, and have no interest in being accountable to others in the community of faith. The church does have mechanisms to deal with extreme cases of ongoing misconduct. But when a believer in the congregation makes a confession of wrongdoing and is willing to be accountable, then we should recognize God’s power to heal any sin.

A Samaritan woman, ostracized by the other women in the village, comes alone to draw water from the well. Even though societal norms may have been quite different than what we are accustomed to in our day, I doubt seriously that human nature has changed very much. The religious leaders treat this woman with scorn because of her choices and lifestyle. It is easy, after all, to target sexual sins that are open and obvious.

Just as it was in ancient times, those who operate from a moralistic point of view are often quick to judge the outward appearance. They are adept at bringing attention to the exterior symptoms of sin. Jesus does not fit that model when dealing with human frailty. Jesus sees the heart and is able to address the deeper roots or causes of sin. And when it comes to this Samaritan woman, Jesus knows her background inside and out. He doesn’t excuse her sin, but He does let her know that she has value in the eyes of heaven. He wants her to see and experience the love of God. After her brief encounter with Jesus, this woman becomes a mouthpiece to share the good news. She runs back to the village to let everyone know; come and see the Man who knows all about me.

Jesus knows how to treat real sinners. I’m not speaking about those who vow to spend an extra fifteen minutes in daily prayer. I’m not talking about those who say they are going to be kinder to their co-workers. I’m talking about real sinners. I’m talking about people who deny Jesus and stand at a distance, while the angry mob takes Him to the cross. I’m talking about thieves, adulterers, and murderers. I’m talking about people who society has completely cast aside. Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all of them to myself, and whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

Jesus teaches that there is not one single person He cannot forgive and heal. Down through the ages of time, His words lift the broken hearted from despair and offer hope to the downtrodden. Help us to genuinely accept and believe in the healing, transforming power of our Savior. As we lift up Christ, the glory and power of His Spirit will guide our attitudes and mold us into ambassadors of heaven. As we get closer to the foot of the cross and embrace the principles of forgiveness and compassion, we can at last be a vessel of God’s love for those who have stumbled and fallen.

Leroy Sykes lives and writes from Alabama.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9656

(Sirje) #2

Interesting you make a distinction here of “real” sinners. Just wondering, …as apposed to what other kind of sinners?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

The worst sin is to know Jesus and deny He is the Christ. Think of Lucifer and Judas. Unfortunately the institutional church has majored in categories of which denying its authority is the worst.


(Maria V. Blair) #4

According to the Bible once Adam and Eve sinned the whole human race became “real sinners”…is there anyone who does not fall into this category?


(Patrick Travis) #5

Leroy,

Either we believe that Christ can heal any repentant heart, or we believe that there are certain people who are beyond God’s ability to restore. I recognize there are those who have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to accept God’s transformation, and have no interest in being accountable to others in the community of faith. The church does have mechanisms to deal with extreme cases of ongoing misconduct. But when a believer in the congregation makes a confession of wrongdoing and is willing to be accountable, then we should recognize God’s power to heal any sin.<<

Consider the sins of Manasseh in 2 Chron.33 and 2 Kgs.21. The ones implied by the article are kindergarten in comparison. Also, note God’s dealing with him and Mannaseh’s ultimate repentance and humility to God.

But for honesty’s sake, what shall “the church universal” do when individuals do not acknowledge their behavior is sinful by traditional standards of the Christian church and thus… “not needing confession, accountability and transformation.?”
These are the honest, real and difficult questions. Is the Christian church honest to ignore? The HS’s work through a faithful pastor includes a message that “convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment” with the hope’s all come to repentance and are healed in and through the blood of Christ.
Regards from a continuous recovering sinner.


#6

All have sinned. There is no dispute. The question is how we treat those who have sinned. Do we hold sins against people and if so which ones? If you get angry, and then say, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” Two months later at nominating committee are you going to expect to hear, “Oh no, you cannot serve as a deaconess or an elder because of the deadly sin of wrath” ? Doubtful. Commit a sexual sin and see what happens!


#7

There are sins for which there is no meaningful repentance. Jesus was most frustrated it seems with those who put on piety for public show and at the same time remained in denial of any need for reformation and renewal. We routinely ignore these sins. (Pride, Greed, Envy, etc.)


(Patrick Travis) #8

Leroy, without possibly sidestepping I am referring to LGBTQ where it is posited it is genetic and this thus would not require repentance and transformation.
I am just trying to have an honest straight forward conversation. I appreciated your article. I am trying to utilize your comments in it in a real life present situation


#9

Certainly there are those who would consider the LGTBQ lifestyle as continuing in sin. As you point out the counter argument is that someone is predisposed or genetically set up so that it is not a choice. Since we are not able to sort that out, or read the heart so to speak, then we have to allow the Lord to deal with some of these issues. I think the greater question is not whether a Gay or Lesbian lifestyle is sin, but rather how we are going to treat people who struggle with sexual issues? Do we treat them in a more harsh manner than someone who exhibits prideful moral superiority?


(Patrick Travis) #10

Leroy, if you will forgive me I feel that is lame and a bit of a sidestep. We are not talking about “not knowing the heart.” We are taking about behavior issues which on most things you suggested we needed to repent of and be in a process of regeneration.
The church universal has considered these things as sin until the past approx. 30 yrs. Any part of the church which does not follow is castigated. Where is love and a legitimate understanding for these? Why not allow parties to worship in a comfortable environment to themselves without castigating those who differ?
Next, the comparisons to other sins is lame. It’s like my children, at one time, justifying their mistake because of what their siblings did. Why don’t all take the responsibility for their shortcoming if they actually believe their is one?
Regards


#11

I think you might be missing the whole focus of my article. Sin is defined as transgression of the law. Or as we have discussed the seven deadly sins. There is no repercussion for the sin of greed. No one is demanding reformation or renewal. Try that with a sin derived from the third deadly sin. The result will be quite different.


#12

Patrick,

More later. Must go for now. But will come back to it. I mean no disrespect!


(Patrick Travis) #13

I have no problem and encourage church boards and elders visiting problem makers in the community and addressing all these issues. We simply have become afraid of proper church guidance and correction. It is so much easier to say we have unconditional love and lets get on with doing church as we see it. I have not missed the point at all.
Your original points were good…they just arent practiced. Just seeking an honest conversation over admittedly difficulty issues.
Recently in Brea Calif. a school superintendant defended pedophilia being taught in a middle school class as a lifestyle choice. But… we dont know his heart.
Simply stating where things head where there is never any pushback.
Regards


#14

Perhaps we need to admit that this discussion proves my point. People love to talk about sin and even more about sinners. Your example of the school official is case in point. There is nothing like this topic that gets people all worked up into a frenzy. Perhaps we need a 12 month focus on the Six deadly sins. (Excluding the third one of course.) It would be a pretty boring year don’t you think?


(Patrick Travis) #15

Leroy,
Dont get your point. This was a real issue in the public school system. As a citizen are we to be uninterested.
As to church, why not talk about all the sins? Why omit any?
PS. Where there is no sin pointed out there is no need of grace…is there.
Well at least we know the wise philosophers of Greece often practiced pedophilia. :slight_smile:


#16

By beholding Christ, we accomplish two important things. We see ourselves clearly, and since that ought to occupy most of our time, it distracts us from being too worried about the horrible sins that other people commit.


(Patrick Travis) #17

Leroy,
You do understand the role of a pastor is to preach Gods word and grow people dont you.
There is a misconception about Gk. Krino. It isnt always used to mean condemn but judge whether something is true…the proper rule for us. The condemnation is left to God in the final judgment.


#18

Excellent point. I’m glad we can agree.


(Patrick Travis) #19

Leroy,
I’ve made my points. Thanks for the conversation.
I believe peace and a path forward must be based on truthful, honest dialogue of any issue.
Regards,
Pat


#20

Thank you for the dialogue. Different perspectives can lead to better understanding. Again thank you.