Do you know Christians who seem to think that their job while following Jesus is to point out exactly where and how other people are sinning? Here’s a hint: I’m pretty sure that they know, already.
After enumerating a number of sins practiced by those who did not acknowledge God (see Romans 1:18-31), even though they should have known better, we arrive at this verse:
Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 1:32 NIV
Yes, there are truths about sin that we must share. Sin is ugly, it separates us from God (the source of all truly good things), and it sentences us to death. Still, some understanding of right and wrong is known to each of us, and – at some level – I don’t think that most people really think that their choices are completely morally correct (or, at least they knew at some time that certain behaviors of theirs were wrong).
Now, within the family of God, I think that we have an obligation to help other Christians get out of sin-habits that they are stuck in. This should be done out of love, though, because we don’t want them to suffer (and because we care about the health of the body of Christ and the reputation of Jesus).
However, if our conversation with others (outside of the family of God) is limited to enumerating all of the different ways that they are sinning (and just stopping there), then I think that this is pretty hateful. That’s a strong word, but – to paraphrase a reported quote from Penn Jillette – how much would you have to hate someone to know the means of salvation but keep it from those who need it?
Trust me, a single sin is enough to separate us from God. As long as a lost person appreciates that they have sinned and fallen short (see Romans 3:21-26), and sees that this separates them from God, then that’s probably enough time dwelling on their sins. Someone in that situation needs to know how to have all of their sins paid for and thrown away, no matter how many or how few sins they may have accumulated. This is also a good time to point out that salvation isn’t just about getting out of Hell, but it also includes a relationship with a loving God, starting right away. That is, the blessings of having our sins paid for start here on earth, even before we get to Heaven.
Having spent several studies in the latter half of Romans 1, we have found that sinful behaviors are the result of not acknowledging God. When the vacuum in someone’s life isn’t filled by God, they turn to other things (like idols), and end up following their own selfish desires, which can lead to a real mess.
However, as we find an explanation for sinful behaviors in these verses, perhaps we also have the solution.
What if, rather than trying to change behaviors, we got to the root of the problem? It seems to me that this passage of Romans shows how the root cause of people’s bad behavior (their response to what they know about God) flows naturally into the consequences that they face. As a result, if followers of Jesus think that we can just switch off sin by legislating against it, or complaining about it, or having the church hide out from “that world out there”, then we have ignored the facts that Paul shared with us here.
While there are ways to protect the innocent in society (that is, I’m not against laws or separating children from content that they aren’t yet ready to handle), the root cause of sins here seems to be people failing to recognize, acknowledge, and accept God as God.
Perhaps instead of trying to change sinful behaviors, our culture today needs an overwhelming flood of Christians who get out there and share the truth about God with a lost world.
- We must tell people the simple message of a God whose creation is amazing, but whose love for us is even more spectacular.
- We must show that a loving, holy God is a much better explanation (versus atheistic or humanistic constructs) for what we see around us.
- We must demonstrate – by our transformed lives – that living according to God’s instructions (versus trying to give into every sinful desire) makes us more joyful, more valuable to society, and more hopeful.
Don’t get me wrong: I get angry at those who promote sinful behaviors as “normal” or “healthy”. I really don’t like people who claim to be wise, but are trying to persuade others about the merits of bad ideas. In fact, this might even be justified as righteous anger on my part.
However, trying to push back on the behaviors of people who have rebelled against God is kind of like pushing back on a wall of water downstream, after the dam has broken. Instead, I’m pretty sure that we would be better if we tried to re-route the root cause of these behaviors “upstream”, helping people discover the joy and privilege of glorifying God with their lives, even as we try to do the same thing.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 2, 2022
- The Lookout, January 2, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.