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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Worst Sin

Ask around and you're likely to get a host of answers to what "the worst sin" is. Today's younger people seem to prize excitement and entertainment as the highest good, so "boring" would be the worst sin. Saying it out loud makes it sound as corny as it is. To others it is holding an opinion different than their own. Oh, that's not the term they use. They call it "intolerance", by which they mean something different than the dictionary term. "Tolerance", by definition requires opposing opinions while modern "tolerance" means agreement and affirmation of opinions. But to these folks a failure to embrace opposing views is evil and they won't, even at times by force of law, tolerate it. Or there's "judgmentalism", the recognition that something is actually wrong. These folks are pretty judgmental about judgmentalism. To a growing number it's simply holding a religious view of the world. That last one is a little strange, of course, since "sin" is typically reserved for the religious folk.

Among Christians, then, the list is different. There was a time when it appeared as if the worst sin was divorce. Divorcees entering the church would find themselves stigmatized while coming in saved by the blood of the Lamb. Of course, much of the American church is shifting to a larger acceptance of that particular sin as no longer much of a sin, so maybe not so much today. To a large number, based on the strength of their response, it would appear that it is "homosexuality". That is just the worst of the worst. Other more discerning Christians will apply a larger, biblical term -- sexual immorality. That would include everything from premarital sex to adultery to homosexual sex. And we can understand why, given the amount of time and texts dedicated in Scripture to these sins in both testaments. The most obvious one would come from the lips of Christ Himself. "I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven." (Matt 12:31) It would seem obvious that the "unforgivable sin" would be the worst. And, yet, we aren't all in agreement as to just what that is.

I think that there is another. In fact, I think that this other sin explains a lot. This sin was the cause of the demise of multiple nations, including God's chosen people in the Old Testament. It was the repeated warning in the New Testament as well. John ends his first epistle hanging out on this sin (1 John 5:21). Paul claims it is the basic origin of all sin and the reason we all need salvation (Rom 1:18-23). What sin is this? It is the sin of idolatry.

Idolatry seems remote to us these days, but I'm sure, if you think about it, it's actually still very present. We've just replaced handmade statues with new forms -- cars, money, power, fame, prestige ... self. People who call themselves Christians worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25) when they place God under their purview, either passing judgment on His views and acts or expecting Him to satisfy their whims and demands. All humans suffer from this fundamental "missing the mark", placing ourselves in the place of God and thereby falling short of His glory (Rom 3:23). It is this position of serving the creature -- primarily ourselves -- that is the very cause of every sin you could list, from failing to love God to coveting your neighbor's stuff. It is the source of sin, perhaps even the definition of sin. In English, the word "sin" has an "I" in the middle, and that illustrates the problem. "I" -- the ultimate worship of "me" -- am at the center of all my sin.

Idolatry, then, would, in my view, be the primary sin -- the source sin -- and therefore the worst sin. It produces sexual sin and even blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is the evil in the heart out of which proceeds all evils (Mark 7:20-23). And it is this primary sin -- the rejection of God as God and replacement of ourselves in that position -- that explains all the trouble -- the sin, the violation of God, the need for eternal punishment, the requirement of the sacrifice of the perfect Son of God on our behalf. It is big.

Genuine believers -- followers of Christ -- aim to sin less. We aim to glorify God. We want our good works to so shine before men that they will glorify the Father (Matt 5:16). And, yet, we seem to hardly notice our fundamental problem that every day in multiple ways we seek to be God in our lives ... we who call ourselves followers of Christ. It is the worst of sins, the source of our problem. Shouldn't we seek diligently and desperately and constantly to return to placing God on the throne rather than ourselves? Perhaps the devil's greatest work is in obscuring that problem. It should be our constant work to submit rather than rule.

(Programming note: I'm back. Everything should return to normal.)

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