17 But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ:
18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.
19 These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction;
23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
How do we know what is a sin? Developing on ideas proposed during the seventeenth century, modern philosophers like to say that, as a society, we can come to a natural conclusion about what is and is not a sin simply by consulting our own consciences and also by reflecting on the effect that our actions have on society. So, for example, if something offends the sensibilities of most people–for example, someone having sex with animals or someone committing murder–then we can assume that action is sinful. If, however, an action does NOT offend most people–at least, not to the point where they actually say something about it–then it is, according to modern philosophy, not sinful. By extension, our modern society also says such “acceptable” behavior is not a crime. Our legal system has evolved to decriminalize many behaviors that once were thought both sinful and criminal, and our modern churches have followed suit, allowing the secular humanist influence to change views on sin and morality. But the question still remains: How do we know what is a sin?
At the rate we’re going now, by the end of this century, most contemporary Christian churches will no longer consider ANYTHING sinful. You may think I’m joking, but if we look at where we started fifty or a hundred years ago and where we are today, the slide into a “no-sin” church would seem inevitable. The measure of sin for many modern denominations seems to be the notion of “love” and harm. If an action does not harm another individual, then it is not sinful. Or, if a person does something out of “love” for another person, then it is not a sin, either. So, despite the clear teaching of God in His Word, despite the clear teaching that the Bible is to instruct us about what is and is not righteous behavior, many believe that so long as we do not harm others and we express what we believe is “love,” then we are not sinning.
Of course, we can see the slippery slope of this “love and harm” morality, because so long as there seems to be no physical harm to another person–or, perhaps, no obvious emotional or psychological harm to them or to society as a whole–then we assume our actions are without sin. Isn’t that a nice notion, that we are without sin?
1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
And if the other criterium is that we do things out of love for our fellow man, then we similarly run into problems. I often mention that Jesus told us that the GREATEST commandment is to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) And then He said that the SECOND greatest commandment was to love others as ourselves. Just to be perfectly clear: our love of God must come FIRST, and our love of our fellow man comes SECOND. And if we place God first in our lives, then our measure of what is sinful CANNOT be how much we love other people or avoid harming them, but instead how much we love God Himself and the things He finds righteous and just.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.
9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
What is the first of the Ten Commandments? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) No men, no women, no love, no money, no job, no family, no nation and no church–NOTHING should come between us and our love for God. If we truly love God with all our heart–our emotions and feelings–and with all our soul–our spiritual belief and our conscience–and with all our mind–our thoughts and reasoning–then we will revere His Word, the Holy Bible, and we will adhere to His commandments. We will love what He loves–righteousness, true justice, His Creation, and our fellow man–and we will abhor that which is an abomination to Him–sin, immorality, hatred and destruction. The measure of what is abomination and sin is not OURS to set. GOD sets the standards, and His standards are utterly clear in His Word.
Yes, we are no longer under the Law, no longer beholden to keep feasts and Jewish holidays, no longer meant to kill the sinners among us, no longer forbidden certain foods or drinks. But we ARE to measure our lives by the standards of God. Thus, while we no longer stone an adulterer to death, we are yet bound by our faith in Christ to bring adultery to light and to try to bring the adulterers to repentance and faith. While we are no longer called to slay those who commit other sexually immoral actions–homosexuality, bestiality, incest–we nonetheless are called by God to make known that it is a sin IN THE EYES OF GOD, and that those who commit such sins are to repent, to change their ways and come to Christ in all truth and love. While we are no longer required to slay diviners and mediums and pagan worshipers, we are still prohibited from consulting them, and, once again, we are called to bring them to the true light and knowledge of Christ that leads to repentance. These things I have just mentioned are all abominations to the Lord our God. How do I know this? Because God’s holy Word tells me so. Therefore, if we place God first in our lives, then we will look to the Bible and place His standard of sin above our own, and if we place His standards first, then all manner of what we now consider “acceptable” behavior will be shown as true sin and unrighteousness. It is exactly this kind of self-examination of our own lives in the light of God’s Word that helps us understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Brothers and sisters, God did not suddenly erase all of the Old Testament when Jesus came to town! Jesus did not say, “Okay, out with the old law and in with the new.” And the apostles never encouraged anyone to only consult the sayings of Jesus for their standards of behavior. On the contrary, Jesus and the apostles continuously point back to the Old Testament and the measure of God’s righteousness we see there. And, as Jesus noted, what we find there is that the law and the prophecies ALL depend on this love of God which we are to place first in our lives. (Matthew 22:40)
So why did I mention these verses today from the Epistle of Jude? Because in our present time, there are “mockers…who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.” I mention these verses because so many of God’s children are being led astray by “sensual [soulish, worldly] persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” I mention these verses because we who truly hold fast to our faith in Christ are, in this troubling age, being called to build ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Spirit–which so many utterly ignore–and keeping ourselves in the love of God. We simply cannot ignore the “inconvenient” parts of the Bible, we cannot just discount some things in God’s Word as no longer applicable to our modern age, nor can we allow science to color our view of what is right and holy and true in the Bible. On the contrary, as we look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, we are to cleave ever the more closely to God’s Word, and we will have compassion on all sinners such as ourselves, and we will reach out in fear and trembling to save as many as God will allow us, “pulling them out of the fire” even as their garments of sin are consumed in the purifying fire of God’s mercy and grace. Ours is not to condemn and ours is not to judge, and we are not any more holy than the sinner next door. But we who see and hear and understand the true message of the gospel–that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8)–we must stand up for what GOD HIMSELF sees as true and noble and just and pure and holy and righteous. We must no longer allow our morality to be dictated by the changing whims of an immoral society, but instead base our notion of sin and righteousness upon the one standard that remains unchanged: the Holy Word of God.
I know I have probably ruffled a few feathers with this message today, but I cannot do less than speak the truth in love. Yes, the gospel is offensive to those who will not accept their own sinfulness, and speaking the truth about what God sees as sin has meant persecution and even death for more than a few believers. Jesus Himself was persecuted and slain for what He taught, but His seemingly senseless death served as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all who choose to believe in Him as the Christ, our Lord and Savior. Jesus did not preach a new morality, and nor can I–and nor should you.
So this day let us stand up for what God has written in His Holy Bible as the true measure of sin. Let us no longer simply accept what society tells us is moral or righteous, but let us consult the Source: God Himself and His clearly recorded Holy Word. Let us answer the question now: How do we know what is a sin? By reading and knowing God’s Word, the Holy Bible.
Almighty God, as Your Son told us, You alone are good. You alone are holy and just, and You alone are worthy of all honor and praise. Father, please instruct my heart, teach me the full measure of Your Word. Let me not be led astray by people who oppose Your Word, but let me be led into the gospel by people who preach only Christ, and Him crucified for my sins. Help me to be bold in declaring Your truth, in speaking the prophecies of old in this new age, in pronouncing Your judgment and Your mercy. Make me, mold me, use me as Your Word would declare. Amen.