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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

We Believe: In Human Goodness & Human Corruption

This is a sermon preview for the third sermon in the “We Believe: Back to Basics” sermon series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.

“Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin.” - Romans 3:9-18 (NLT)
We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners... - New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith 1833

“Yes sir, that’s one subject you can’t talk enough about– sin.” That’s what Deputy Barney Fife told the preacher after church in an episode of the old Andy Griffith Show. Everyone had been gushing about the pastor’s “magnificent” sermon. The laugh track plays as soon as he says it. The preacher is clearly uncomfortable.

Years later, on another famous sitcom The Simpsons, Reverend Lovejoy holds a Bible in his hand and says to Marge Simpson: “Marge, just about everything is a sin. You ever sat down and read this thing? Technically, we're not allowed to go to the bathroom." (Relax, that’s not true).

Combined these two pop culture portrayals of the Christian faith, a generation apart from one another, sum-up many people’s conceptions of the doctrine of sin.

  • Nearly everything is a sin. Sin, it seems, is breaking a long list of sometimes nonsensical rules.

  • Sin is nearly all Christians talk about – though it’s uncomfortable to point that out directly.

Now, I wouldn’t say those are accurate ideas. But they represent what a lot of people think.

This week, I hope we can see that while sin isn’t the main point of Christianity, we do need to understand it. Frederick Buechner said, “The Gospel is bad news, before it is good news.” The good news is that Human goodness, while lost, is not gone forever. That bad news is, when there’s a problem, the first step to facing it is knowing what it is.

It's common to say that sin is "missing the mark."

Biblically, this is true. It has some relationship to a term in archery. It is a fault. A failure to measure up. But it is also (again, in Scripture), a power that we're under.

Fleming Rutledge, one of my favorite preachers, is fond of saying Sin is both:

  • a fault for which we are responsible

  • a power which holds us in bondage

G.K. Chesterton was fond of saying that a doctrine of sin was the only Christian doctrine that could, really, be proven.

Paul in Romans, seems to agree that sin is everywhere. Jew and Gentile alike have fallen short. Gentile and Jew alike are under the power of sin.

All of God's creation is good. Truly good. Made by God and declared by God. There is nothing you see or perceive, no person you know, no corner of the universe which is not made by a good and glorious God.

And yet, all of sin is corrupted. Truly corrupted. Marred by turning from God and fallen from its good state. There is no part of human senses, no person you know, nor corner of creation which has not been touched by the terrible and miserable corruption of sin.

Knowing the scale and nature of the problem should help us understand our situation. We have a human habit of messing up horribly. It's not just a matter of breaking the rules of a particularly picky home owner's association. It means even our good intentions turn into things which are... anything but.

And, what's worse, is it seems like sin goes beyond our willed actions. And even our actions become incomprehensible at times to us.

As Paul says in Romans 7:15 (NIV):

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."

Yes, sin is bad news indeed. It binds us even as we think we are choosing it. It controls us, though through it we try, in vain, to gain some measure of control through it.

Sin never delivers on its promises, and always takes more than it's owed. Its a parasite on good creation. And it has a terribly successful track record of bringing down humans. With a minute to go in the last quarter, it's Humanity - Zero; Sin ...embarrassingly, uncountably, high. That's the score.

But then, there is Christ. I am uncorrectable, incorrigible as a preacher. I cannot let a sermon end with simply bad news. Barney and Rev. Lovejoy are not right. You cannot just preach Sin. That's not what Christianity is about. Oh, it's part of the story. It's part we can't leave out. But it never has the last word. The score looks hopeless. . . . but then, there is Christ.

I mentioned Frederick Buechner saying the Gospel is bad news before it is good news.

That implies many things. Yes, that there is bad news. But also, that there is good news. And we'll let the good news have the final word:

THE GOSPEL IS BAD news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what? So what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn't believe them or doesn't want them or just doesn't give a damn? In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as in fairy tales extraordinary things happen. Henry Ward Beecher cheats on his wife, his God, himself, but manages to keep on bringing the Gospel to life for people anyway, maybe even for himself. Lear goes berserk on a heath but comes out of it for a few brief hours every inch a king. Zaccheus climbs up a sycamore tree a crook and climbs down a saint. Paul sets out a hatchet man for the Pharisees and comes back a fool for Christ. It is impossible for anybody to leave behind the darkness of the world he carries on his back like a snail, but for God all things are possible. That is the fairy tale. All together they are the truth. -Originally published in Telling the Truth

Pax Christi,

*The Peace of Christ

- Jonathan


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