January 9, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“For I desire loyalty rather than sacrifice as well as the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6.6)
“Now go and learn what this means: I desire compassion rather than sacrifice. I came to call the sinners [into God’s presence] and not the righteous.” (Matthew 9.13)
Of course, the apostle Paul said it with such fervency that many Christians and all non-Christians will deny its validity: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3.23) So, if someone were to ask you what is a sin, you would not be far wrong to say “I am.” It doesn’t mean that we are not so far gone in life to matter to God. It means that our focus can easily be “squirreled” and we head in the wrong direction for “all the me” reasons. The other day, I sadly noticed more unfortunate squirrels. They were unfortunate because they did not make it to either side of the road. To a driver of a motorized vehicle, these cute and entertaining creatures can be a tremendous challenge to avoid. Usually, when they are near the side of the road there is an attempt to cross it. Once into the road, they dart back and forth seemingly in the last second before your tires hit their space. It seems to me that now, however, more squirrels are simply not fearing those moments which would leave them flat. They do not dart but pursue the other side as if blind to the danger. Have they become so enculturated to “getting to the other side” that their survival instinct has been overcome? Has their desire for “crossing over” overwhelmed the “let’s stay safe”? It would seem that squirrels, like too many humans, believe they can “just do it” and no price will be paid. Obviously, at least for the moment, the lesson has not been learned by the squirrels, that invincibility is not a fleshly attribute. I wonder if the same might be said of humans, too.
Sin is denying our need to focus on what is our first nature. Yesterday, I suggested that our first nature should become what the world calls “second nature.” That means colloquially “something we do without thinking.” Some call it “doing it with your eyes closed.” And while there are many things we are so proficient at doing we could do them with our eyes closed, should we? If our first nature is “abiding in the Spirit and Truth of God,” then it would seem to me that we should want to do all things with our eyes wide open. Why would we want to miss anything that God has done, is doing and will be doing in and around our lives? Grace is not about “living with blind faith.” Paul writes “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” (Romans 11.1) Just because we cannot see it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking for it. Christians are never meant to walk blindly through life believing God will point them in the right direction and provide all that is needed for survival and more without any effort from us. We all should be “seekers” of the faith as well as seers of what should be done faithfully with our faith. And while we cannot overcome the effect of sin on our own, we should not allow ourselves to believe that by faith sin has no effect on us. What is the effect of sin? Paul writes to those Christian faith communities within the Roman empire “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6.23) The consequence of unrepented sin is death but not the death we see in the cemetery, funeral home or daily media presentations of war-torn nations or our city streets. Those are deaths but not “the” death. The consequences of unrepented sin is “eternal death.” It is, what I am fond of saying, “a fate worse than death.” It is a literal “living hell” which many experience in part on earth and which many more will experience for an eternity. It is a death with no finality of an empty life. It is being possessed by the torture of vice, idolatry and egosim which never ceases and never satisfies in a place where there is no hope of escape or fulfillment. It is the absence of a “spiritual life” and the awful reality that “this is all there is for me.” In that place, many will want to die but cannot and many more will not care but continue to believe that it will all turn around one day because they say so.
This is why we should be focusing on the knowledge of God and practicing being loyal to Him in all we say and do. Yes, we will struggle with the perfect execution of right thinking and right actions. We may wonder if we will ever get it right. But, in our striving to stay in tune with our first nature, it will become more and more “second nature” to us. Having said that, let’s reflect on the impact such practices of faith will have on our second nature which is to live as if we do not possess the spirit of God. Sin is when that “second nature” is allowed to become our understanding of what we want to be our “first nature.” Such thinking turns people, events and objects into idols. They are the focus of our attention which then blind us to the truth of God. And the truth of God is that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” All things, everything, is and will be accountable to the love of God. That accountability includes the unavoidable “judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous.” Everything and everyone is subject to that judgment. It is not a judgment of condemnation but an objective discernment of the fruits of our actions and thinking. Good fruit? Bitter fruit? Tasteless fruit? There is only one kind of fruit that satisfies our “first nature” which should become as “second nature” to us. That fruit is, of course, the fruit of the Spirit. It is fruit that we can’t just get on our own. We can’t grow it. We can’t create it. We can’t go to the store and purchase it. We have to be willing to accept it, receive it and believe in it on a daily basis as the only real diet that brings the kind of eternal life we truly desire. It comes from nowhere else but the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Father, feed us till all we want is You. We open our eyes to the awesome reality of so great a love as You have been willing to give us. We receive it now and pray for it fully in Jesus’ name. AMEN.