Romans 6:15-18 NRSV
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Can a Christian be a Christian and still sin? I think that all of us know that is true. Unfortunately, our churches have been teaching (for many years) that it’s possible for a Christian to be a Christian and still embrace sin. And that’s not true.
We would like it to be true. All of us have “pet” sins that we do embrace, attitudes, expectations, desires, lusts that make us feel good, that help dull the pain in our lives. And, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we don’t want to give those up. It’s that simple.
I have watched the growing problem (within the Church and without) of homosexuality, marriage, and ordination with interest because, frankly, we have done this to ourselves. The Church in America has created a social and emotional environment where this was the next logical step. We ourselves—the supposed light of the world—embraced our own sin and then asked the sinners around us to reject theirs. To be honest, it seems a bit hypocritical. If Christians can’t be stringently righteous, how can we expect anyone to even approximate that behavior?
Paul was clear in Romans 6 when he demanded (yes, demanded) that Christians be prudent, watchful, and mindful of their behavior by being “slaves to righteousness.” To be honest, I think that part of our problem is that our society is too far away from slavery, from the idea of complete submission without thought to our own desires or ideas. Being a slave means that we have no choice, no choice at all. In other words, it doesn’t matter what we want or feel or even need. We do what the slave master commands. Period. And in this case, the slave master is the righteousness of God. We don’t have a choice in whether or not we want to do something, want to give up a habit, want to turn away from sin. We simply have to do it!
Paul wrote in chapter 12: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (v. 1-2 NRSV).
“Do not be conformed to this world.” A choice. Choose not to be conformed. I think about conforming. Conforming means to look and be like something else. It’s time we looked into a mirror and asked if we look like our unsaved neighbors. Do we dress like them? Act like them? Talk like them? Do we have the same interests, the same goals, the same stuff? This gets it down to the nitty gritty, doesn’t it? I had the wonderful opportunity to know some really committed Christians in my early life. Their lives were very different from the lives of the majority of Christians today. There are so many “accepted” behaviors in our lives they would never have even considered doing. Here are some questions to ask ourselves:
In movies or television, do we watch nudity or listen to profanity?
Do we indulge our children (or grandchildren)?
Do we make food choices (particularly when we go out to eat) based on health and finances or based on what we want to eat?
Do we buy new, discard old, and buy new again (even when something is still usable or worth repairing)?
Do we hold onto our anger and our grudges?
Do we believe that there are things in this life we can’t live without?
Are we devastated by life’s losses?
Do we feel we need a vacation from life, from family, from church?
Do we know anyone who is still in need?
When was the last time we focused our entire life on prayer and Bible study?
While I’m not for gay marriage or ordination, I do think that we need to look at the true cause of what’s happening. It’s not that we don’t have the right to judge; we do! Only, we have the right to judge within the Family:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:11-12 NRSV).
Judgment wasn’t about having an opinion, but rather about executing a sentence. As Christians, we have the right to execute the sentence of isolation and rejection of relationship which the other Christian is embracing sin. We don’t do that. Why? I think perhaps because we don’t want it done to us. We don’t want our sin to become public and for us to lose our friends because of our immoral choices. And yet, this is how God established the dynamic of the Church.
Notice first, in this passage, that the sins are listed as “sinners.” This is what differentiates someone who sins once and immediately repents and someone who embraces the sin (even, perhaps, tries to justify it). Unfortunately, in America, we have as a Church embraced greed. We have! And some churches, by approving homosexuality, are embracing sexual immorality. So have many other churches that have “accepted” easy divorce, the use of pornography, and watching R-rated movies. (There are reasons for divorce, but most divorced Christians don’t meet the criteria and most of their pastors don’t insist that they do.)
We don’t teach repentance anymore. We teach easy “sorry’s” and try to move on, saying that we have no right to judge. When we take that tack, we aren’t helping our brother or sister; we are allowing them to sink deeper into the mire. When are we going to get the kind of backbone that the apostle Paul had when he wrote this passage in chapter 6? He stated: Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! The NRSV translates one word as “By no means!” The NKJ translates it “God forbid.” It is a strong declarative. It means no! Simply put, as Christians, we shouldn’t sin. Ever. Not for any reason.
The question perhaps we should ask ourselves is, if we are embracing sin, then who do we love? If we love ourselves more than God, then perhaps we’re not really Christians. If we love Him more than ourselves, then why are we choosing the sin?