Ready Romans 3:10-19 to start.
Not long ago I saw a coffee mug that caught my attention. Well, to be clear it wasn’t the actual mug, but rather a Facebook advertisement selling this particular mug. The mug featured a picture of Santa Claus, specifically a close up on his face. He looks rather unimpressed, and the caption across the top of the picture, in all caps for emphasis, reads YOU’RE ALL NAUGHTY. Then at the bottom there is a reference to Romans chapter 3, verses 10 through 12. And if you look again at the verses we read to start, it’s absolutely clear that scripture teaches that all have indeed sinned, and that none are righteous. We are, in fact, all on the naughty list. Every single person on this planet is on the naughty list.
This is of course a problem, because sin comes with a price, a high price. The soul that sinneth, it shall die, we read in Ezekiel, and similarly in Exodus. The wages of sin is death, we can read that three chapters down in the book of Romans. Or even later in this chapter we read that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Sin is bad, and the consequences are bad. Both are best avoided.
This is not big news to any one here this morning. We’ve all likely heard that sin is bad, and there’s a very good chance that we have experienced that for ourselves. We’ve all made poor choices, we’ve done things that we should not, and we have all suffered the results of these choices. This is obvious, this is known, it should not come as a surprise to anyone. Kids, maybe you have not heard this so much, and maybe you haven’t made so many poor choices. Frankly, you haven’t had the same number of opportunities to do so at this point in your lives. But even so, if you are old enough to know the different between good and bad, between right and wrong, between obedience and rebellion, then you know that you have sinned. Or at least you really should know.
However, there is an epidemic in this world today. No, not that epidemic. And not that one either. And I’m not talking about malaria, or influenza, or cholera, or diabetes, or cancer, or obesity, or alcoholism, or any other number of different epidemics that we might experience. Those are all problems, and those are all serious, and potentially lethal, especially when left untreated. I’m not dismissing those or other epidemics that affect literally millions of people. But I am not a doctor or a medical practitioner of any kind, and so the epidemic that I’m speaking of this morning is not a physical one, but one of the heart and of the soul. It an epidemic of denial.
If you can deny that you are guilty of something, then you don’t have to worry about it. That is the delusional logic at play here. And this is hardly a new thing, it has long been the practice to claim “I didn’t do it,” when accused of wrongdoing. I hear that from my children, I hear it from my coworkers. I’ve said it myself. Listen to the news and you’ll no doubt hear that same claim before long. Yes, something bad happened, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t do that.
Just as popular there’s the excuse that whatever happened, whatever you did, it’s not your fault. Something or someone else is behind it. People are quick to share blame and deflect responsibility. This goes back all the way to Genesis chapter 3. Adam, when God questioned him about the forbidden fruit, immediately blamed Eve for giving it to him. And Eve in turn pointed the finger at the serpent. The serpent, not having fingers, was left with no one to point at. This is a long established behaviour, and while it might fool some of the people some of the time, it certainly does not fool God.
The reason we like to spread the blame around is because it’s easy, and frankly, it’s a lot more comfortable, to point fingers at the sins of other people, than it is to acknowledge our own faults. And since all have sinned, it’s not hard to find someone to throw under the bus, because there’s always someone guilty of something or other. There’s room under the bus for everyone.
Sometimes we feel that we need to take other people down a peg or two, that we need to call attention to what they have done wrong, where they have fallen short, in order to make ourselves feel better. It’s the same rationale as some folks use to justify the way they criticize and mock others, they tear other people down in order to pull themselves up by comparison. But that doesn’t really bring anyone up, does it? It only brings every thing and every one down to a lower level. It makes things worse for each and all. We don’t need to go around pointing out and complaining about the sins of others. We should do something about our own sin.
We’ve talked about denial of action, the old “it wasn’t me,” and we’ve talked about denial of responsibility, of excuses and blame sharing, the claim that “it’s not my fault.” But there is another denial, one that has become increasingly common in our society, one that feels particularly relevant today, and that is the denial of wrong.
When I last spoke, I talked about four small things, as you can read about in Proverbs 30. In that same chapter, the writer also speaks of four things which he cannot understand nor trace. We won’t get into those, but he follows them in verse 20 with an additional comparison. 20 Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
This metaphor of the person who is a known and blatant sinner who will not acknowledge wrongdoing is exactly the behaviour I’m talking about. That is the main aspect of the epidemic that we see today, of denial, of self-delusion, of wilful refusal to admit wickedness and fault. The particulars of the sin are not the issue at hand, but rather the act of pretending that it is nothing. When we do wrong, and we decide to deny it, that only compounds the error. Pretending that sin is not sin does not solve the issue of sin. It only allows the problem to grow and to linger, to increase and fester.
Often we don’t want to address sin. Are you familiar with the term “the elephant in the room?” I’ll explain for the benefit of the young people in particular, because this has nothing to do with actual elephants. If something is the elephant in the room, it’s an obvious and known problem or concern, something that needs to be considered and resolved, but people often try to avoid it. Think about any number of different conflicts that people might have with one another, disagreements about things, broken friendships or relationships, jealousy, resentment, really anything that would cause strife between people. Much like an actual elephant in an actual room, taking care of it likely will not be easy or fast, and will require effort and attention to resolve, and it may not be all that fixable. So sometimes people refuse to even acknowledge the elephant in the room, because it’s easier to leave it alone than to resolve it. Sure, getting the elephant out of the room, out of the entire house, for that matter, would be much better, but it’s hard to do, it’s painful to do, and so we don’t. We pretend it’s not even there, so we don’t have to fix it. At least not today.
There are countless people who are just like that woman from Proverbs 30. They sin, then they go about their business and say “I have done no wickedness.” I didn’t do anything. Certainly not anything wrong. And what I did wasn’t wrong, there was no reason I should not have done it. Why would I apologize for it? I did nothing wrong.
Does this sound familiar? It feels very much like one side of a conversation that I’ve had with my children, with any one of my children, and on any number of different occasions. How many times have Laura and I had to sit one or more of them down and explain that no, they are not allowed to do such and such, that it was wrong to do so, and that we have told them this in the past quite clearly. And instead of a quick apology and acknowledgment of guilt, instead there is the digging in of heels and the refusal to agree that wrong is wrong, that disobedience is disobedience, that sin is sin.
It sounds like a conversation that I’ve heard on the news, a conversation when people who have clearly done something wrong, whose lifestyles are patently wicked, or who defy God’s laws at every opportunity, when they proclaim that their deeds are perfectly fine and have not gone against God’s laws, and that frankly, God’s laws don’t matter in the least because we live in an enlightened society and everyone can do what they please. The fact that someone might have something negative to say about their conduct, well, that’s their problem, those backwards bigots. Does that sound familiar? I’ve heard it more than a time or two.
And if I’m being honest, it sounds a lot like a conversation that I’ve had in my head, a conversation that I’ve had entirely with myself, to excuse or to dismiss things that I have done, or thought, or said. If I don’t feel guilty about it, then maybe it’s not wrong, and I don’t have to think about it any further.
That’s what we so often do with sin. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to address it or resolve it, and so we turn a blind eye to it, to our own sin in particular. We deny that it is a problem, and then we don’t do anything about it.
I own a house with a decently large lawn, better part of an acre. In the summer, I cut the grass, I like to keep it reasonably neat and tidy. But there are days when I don’t want to cut the lawn. Or maybe I’m busy, or the weather has been poor, and so the lawn does not get cut for entirely too long, and so the grass grows to be entirely too long. There’s an area in the back forty as we call it where the grass gets thick. If left too long it becomes quite challenging to cut, the grass overloads the mower, there’s too much to mulch, and if you bag it you have to dump the bag every 45 seconds. No fun at all. But I know that I can’t turn a blind eye to it, or it will only become a worse problem. It needs to be dealt with, and dealt with on a regular basis, or it will become unmanageable.
Of course, we’re a long way from having to worry about lawn care, winter is just around the corner. And with it comes the snow, and the shovelling. Like the grass, if you ignore the snow, it will pile up deeper and deeper and become increasingly challenging to remove. It will block the driveway and the walkway, and become an obstacle and eventually a serious hazard. You have to deal with the snow or it will come to completely cover and dominate everything. The longer you ignore it, the worse it will become.
Now with snow, if you do ignore it, if you hide away indoors and hibernate like a bat, a bear, or a groundhog, you may be able to endure the snow and outlast it. Unless you live on the top of a mountain or in the high arctic, the snow will melt when spring comes. That will take care of it. That’s one way to solve that particular problem, and while it might be inconvenient, it might curtail your lifestyle for a time, but maybe you can wait it out. You may be able to avoid dealing with the snow.
Sin is not like that. You can’t ignore it and hope that it will go away. Sin doesn’t melt away when spring comes, it only continues to grow and build and deepen. You can’t wish it away, can’t pretend that it isn’t there, can’t deny that it is a problem. Not in the long term, as much as people may try that approach.
Sin remains sin, no matter what we label it. Sin remains sin, no matter if we excuse it. And sin remains sin, no matter how we deny it. None of us are immune to it. There is none that doeth good, no not one.
It feels that there has never been a time when people so blatantly flaunt their disregard for truth and divine order, but that’s hardly true. People have always been quick to disobey once they figure they can get away with it. As soon as people feel that they are no longer obligated to follow certain rules, many of them will immediately stop following those rules. It’s why people speed on country roads because there is no traffic and no cops. It’s why looting happens during riots, because normal laws are not being enforced, and so why not go steal a widescreen TV? It’s why people have long since persecuted, enslaved and killed one another because they speak a foreign language, have a different skin colour, or because they belong to some other group.
We like to think that people are basically civilized, but history tells a different story. We like to think that most people are good and kind, but that’s not really true.
My dad used to tell a joke, rather a mean joke, about people being good and kind. He would tell someone they were good and kind, and even as they were saying thank you, then he would add that they were good for nothing, and kind of stupid. Yeah, he thought it was hilarious. Hardly anyone else did. But even at our best we are not by nature good, nor are we by nature kind. Look again at those verses from Romans 3 that we read to start. Consider the behaviour described, the mouths full of cursing and bitterness, the deceitful tongues, the feet that are swift to bloodshed, the destruction and misery and the lack of peace. That is how people behave, in particular when, as verse 18 says, there is no fear of God.
Humanity turns swiftly to savagery when we dismiss the laws of man. How much farther do we fall, how much deeper down do we go, when we discard the laws of God? And when the laws of man ignore God, well, we’re a long way down that road now, aren’t we? We pretend that we are fine, but we are all sinners, we are all guilty, we are all at fault. There is no point in deny it. We are all on the naughty list.
Of course, we need not remain there. Not that we can fix things ourselves, of course. Remember the grass I spoke of earlier, which if left alone will grow into a wild backyard jungle. Last year I had a foot injury in the middle of the summer, and could not cut the grass. Can’t mow when you can hardly walk, and you’re using a crutch and a walking boot. But I could ask the kids to cut the lawn, and they did, and Laura as well, and so the problem was solved without any work on my part, because there was nothing I could do on my own. It was beyond my capability to take care of it myself.
Much as during the winter of 2015 when we got 16 feet of snow in total, that was more than I could shovel. But not more than a snow blower could move. There were times that winter when the snow was so deep that it felt like my shovel was the size of a teaspoon, and then the welcoming sight of an orange Kubota tractor appeared to save the day when the task seemed impossible.
When you know that you can’t do it yourself, outside help is the most wonderful thing you can imagine. When you know that you can’t solve the problem of sin, that’s when God’s salvation is most apparent and most welcome.
God has provided a means of salvation, not dependent on our goodness and strength, not dependent on us at all, but on His Son. I can’t pay for my sin, or your sin for that matter, but He can, and did, on the cross nearly 2000 years ago. When God considers the price due for my sin, when He looks at the bill, it is marked “Paid in full” by the blood of Christ. All that is required on my part is to accept it, to acknowledge that I have sinned, that I am at fault, and that He has paid the price for it.
And that brings us back to the epidemic of denial. Many people will not acknowledge that they have done wrong, that they are guilty before God and before man. And so God will not save them. You cannot save someone who does not admit to being lost. You cannot save someone who does not answer the call.
To illustrate this, here’s a story about an incident that happened last month in Colorado. There was a hiker lost on Mt Elbert, the highest mountain in the state. He set out at 9:00 am, somehow got off the trail later in the day, and when he wasn’t home and no one had heard from him by 8:00 that night, they started looking for him. It’s not easy to find someone in the dark on a mountain. The rescue team tried to call him on his phone, but there was no answer. They looked for him, but they did not find him. He spent all night in the dark trying to find his way back. When in the morning he did manage to stumble across the trail and get back to his car, it was discovered that he had gotten those phone calls from the rescue team. Multiple calls, in fact. He didn’t answer any of them, because he did not recognize the number. Help was not far away, it was as close as simply pressing “accept call” on his phone, but he didn’t.
This story has a happy ending, because he got back safe and sound after spending the night on the mountain, but if the weather had turned bad or if he had fallen in the dark and gotten injured, it could have had a very different outcome. Did the hiker not realize that he was lost, that he was in peril? Or did he think that he could find his way out of it? He could have had help, and not risked life and limb in the dark, but he refused it.
How often do we refuse God’s help? How often do we dismiss the need for His mercy because we do not acknowledge our sin? How often do we fail to ask for His forgiveness because we deny that we are at fault? How often to we spurn His grace because we don’t want to admit how much we need it?
In Luke chapter 19, why don’t we turn there and read a few verses about a man who needed grace. This is the account of Zacchaeus, it’s well known, but it illustrates what we should do. 1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Zacchaeus was a sinner, a man who worked for the Roman government, and who was no doubt corrupt in his dealings. It says he was chief among the publicans, he was a top tax collector. The very system of tax collection which the Romans used was built on corruption and encouraged collectors to line their own pockets at the expense of their neighbours and countrymen. There is no doubt that Zacchaeus had done so, his wealth was evidence of it, and everyone knew that he was a sinner. He knew it as well. He did not try to deny it, he knew that he had done wrong, and he admitted as much to the Lord. He also pledged to make it better, to return that which he gained unjustly. When faced with the Messiah, he did not deny his sin, he acknowledged it, and repented of it. His repentance brought about redemption. This day is salvation come to this house, Christ told him.
Christ also said to him, and this is the key verse in the passage, that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost. Zacchaeus realized that he was lost, and so he could be saved. The Saviour called on him, and he answered that call.
So many today are unwilling to answer that call. So many deny that they are sinners, that they have done anything wrong, and so they are not interested in salvation. You don’t look for help when you deny that you have a problem. Every day there are people who pass into eternity unprepared to meet their creator, not because they were greater sinners than anyone else, but because they would not admit that they needed help. They claimed that things were fine, that there was no problem to resolve. But living in a state of denial does not change truth. It does not cover, conceal, or cancel sin. It does not save your soul.
I don’t know your heart this morning, but I do know that you, like me, like everyone else, have sinned. Even if you have confessed your sin and asked Christ to save you from the penalty of sin, and I hope that you have, still you have done wrong. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably done wrong within the last few hours, or at least in the last day or so. We’re all human, none of us are perfect. All have sinned.
Just two days ago, when I was putting my children to bed, the younger boys got looking at the big map on Levi’s wall, which he loves, by the way, and they of course stalled on going to bed. I told them that I was going to turn out the light, and no sooner than I did then Nate reached over and turned the light back on. But in doing so, he also knocked a picture frame off of Levi’s dresser and the glass shattered.
Yeah, I got angry, both because I had to clean up broken glass and because Nate had disobeyed. And yes, Nate got upset, he realized at once that he had done something wrong, and he felt incredibly bad about it. But after I swept up the glass, apologized for growling him out, and assured Nate that he was not a terrible and worthless person, we quickly reconciled and everyone felt better. Realizing when we have done wrong, and addressing it right away, is far better than the alternative.
For those of us who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from sin, when we do sin, it is important that we do not pretend otherwise. We must not live in denial. It is vital to acknowledge and confess our sins, both to God and to anyone we may have hurt or wronged. When we refuse to do so, well, let me read a few verses from 1 John in closing to show my point. Reading in chapter 1, from verse 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Those verses speak for themselves quite clearly. When we do not acknowledge that we have done wrong, not only do we deceive ourselves, but we call God a liar. All have sinned, as we read to start. But when we confess, when we repent, then we restore our fellowship with God and with our fellow man. That is how we are to live, because while we should all strive to sin less, we are not sinless. Not in this life. It is far better to deal with the problem, to seek help when we go astray, to ask for forgiveness when we do wrong, then it is to suffer in denial.