Sin, The fire of our own actions or the fire of His presence: the choice is yours
Three pictures behind the word ‘sin’.
To describe sin in a nutshell, so to speak, is to recognise that sin is the result of a broken relationship with God and our failure to live as God’s son or daughter. In ignoring or denying God we become a slave to our own smallness and yet, at the same time exercise a power that destroys the very life we seek to protect and promote. We are flawed people and live with a flawed view of God, the world and ourselves, as we live with a worldview that is based on our experiences and little else.
Due to sin we live with fragmented pictures where we have joined up the dots in the wrong way and end up in emotional turmoil and uncertain of what to do. All too often we seek to deal with our vulnerabilities by building walls around our life and fiercely protect in coming against those who have hurt us or are wrongly perceived as a threat. Apart from this we can also end up blaming God for all that is going wrong. Whether we like it or not the truth is that when we live life our own way we hurt ourselves and we hurt those around us.
"A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves. That is why we are inclined to commit such acts as a way of deliverance"
Simone Weil in Gravity and Grace.
The second picture concerning the word sin is to miss the target – it is shooting at the target yet never hitting it. In sin we are never able to get the best out of the life that God desires for us. Now let’s turn to look at a third picture behind the word sin.
In Hebrew thought sin speaks of ‘the fire that destroys the name’. When we realise that ‘name’ speaks of nature and character (eg Dopey the dwarf is called Dopey because he is dopey), we gain a very clear picture as to what is happening. Our sinful actions burn and destroy the very life we think we are preserving. No one in his or her right mind would burn a five-pound note, yet when we sin we are doing much more than this. We are effectively setting fire to the life we think we are preserving.
Yet this ‘unholy fire’ does not only consume us, it also destroys the lives of those around us.
For example, think of a child that has been made to feel useless by parents who ignore their needs and spend all their time talking at their children instead of talking with them. All around our country and out across this world there are children and adults who feel lonely, unloved and as if life is not worth living.
Sin hurts; it burns and destroys our lives and the words that we speak can be like a fire that destroys others (James 3:6). Apart from this there is a person who desires to manipulate us in our sin, with Paul speaking of the ways of Satan as ‘fiery arrows’ (Eph 6:16), the arrows of the one who always seeks to accuse and pull down.
“Death may come from greater and greater devotion to sensation (sex, violence, or drugs) or from retreat into the isolated, machine-like world of the careerist ego – cold, calculation, often fuelled by amphetamines. In either case there is an ever-tightening self-inflicted solitary confinement based on continually repressing the need for love.”
Prof P.Vitz in Psychology and Religion.
God does not give up on us.
God is the Creator of the heavens and earth and wants us to know and benefit from His love. Although sin separates man from God it cannot quench His love for us, yet, at times, our own actions can prevent us from receiving this love. Our own actions consume the very life we so often seek to protect – like a fire raging through a house - yet God still reaches out to us. He is the One who brings life, love, strength, power and great blessing into the place in our hearts where pride has damaged us, wrong-doing has crushed us and a wrong view of life has isolated us from all that is good and powerful and true. So be encouraged – God is in the restoration business and at great cost to Himself. His Son became the Sacrificial Lamb so that we could live ( 1 Corinthians 5:7).
God is the business of taking our broken lives and making something good out of them as He brings us back to our true home in Him.
“Once I saw a beautiful church building made up of rejected pieces of marble that were brought together into a whole. It made a very beautiful sanctuary. I have picked out certain things; pieces left over from the wreckage of my life, and am trying to put them together into a temple of God – a workable way to live. If our life has gone to pieces, take the pieces and give them back to God, and he will make something out of them. It is amazing what God can do with a broken heart, or life, when you give him all the pieces.”
Dr Stanley Jones in ‘The Divine Yes’ page 117
In looking at Adam and Eve we see the effect of sin almost immediately. They became vulnerable and clothed themselves. They heard God walking in the Garden of Eden and ran and hid. They were afraid and on being called out by God started making excuses with Adam seeking to blame God for giving him Eve in the first place. Yet look at what else we see? God knew what Adam and Eve had done and walked in to the Garden calling out to them. As the all-seeing One He already knew where they were but, in calling them, encouraged them to approach Him. He then clothed them and even though partial judgement was going to fall, the full judgement for their transgression was going to be paid for another who was going to step into history: Jesus Christ, God’s One and only Son (John 3:16).
The God of the Bible has always sought to reach out to man, to pick him out of the mud and dirt, to set him on the foundation of God’s saving work and enable him to live in and by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit; God wants people to draw near to Him (James 4:7-8). No wonder the priests of Israel are spoken of on occasion as ‘those who approach me’ (Lev 10:3) and no wonder the Tabernacle is called the ‘Tent of Meeting’ (Exodus 33:7) with the Temple being spoken of as a place of prayer for all the nations (Is 56:7, Luke 19:46). No wonder then that Jesus is ‘Immanuel’, God with us (Matt 1:23), God stooping low (Phil 2:5-11) to bless us (Numbers 6:24-5) – with Jesus being the reason that any blessing can be received at all (1 Cor 15:45). In seeing the love, grace, mercy and compassion of God it is no wonder that God chose to be clothed in our rags (2 Cor 8:9) so that we can be clothed in His riches. No wonder then that Paul prays for the Ephesian church asking that out of God’s riches He would strengthen people with power through His Spirit in their very hearts and minds (Eph 3:16-19). And no wonder that Paul prays that we would have power with all other believers to grasp how great the love of Christ is and to know this love. Knowing this love means engaging with and thus experiencing love so that we may be filled to the measure of fullness that God desires and stand as rebirthed (2 Cor 5:17) sons and daughters.
The effect of sin as seen in the book of Isaiah.
Seven hundred years before Christ, there was a prophet called Isaiah (whose name means ‘God saves’). Isaiah lived near the Temple in Jerusalem and came from royal lineage; but what exactly is a prophet?
A prophet is someone who always speaks of God taking the initiative, as he or she reminds us of who God is and what he is like. In the words of Isaiah we find God speaking into the reign of four kings at a time when Israel was struggling and wandering off in her own strength. The simple true was that although there were strong nations surrounding Israel, the damage that was really being done was through Israel thinking she could walk in her own strength, with devastating consequences.
In looking at how God speaks to Israel through Isaiah we capture a graphic picture concerning the fruit of sin and judgement upon individuals and a nation. Try to picture Isaiah’s words in your mind as you read them….
“Why do you insist on being battered? Why do you continue to rebel? Your head has a massive wound, your whole body is weak. From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed. There are only bruises, cuts, and open wounds. They have not been cleansed or bandaged, nor have they been treated with olive oil.” Isaiah 1:5-7
Although Isaiah was a man appointed by God, and a man who always sought the Lord, he was also made aware of his own sin through an amazing vision that we read in the following verses. Isaiah writes…
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” Isaiah 6:1-4
In reading the above words we note that it was the intervention of God that took away Isaiah’s sin and see, yet again, how this points to God’s amazing love, grace and mercy as Isaiah saw something of the awesome holiness of God. Now look back to Isaiah 1:5-7 and read the words again. Picture the verses if you can and recognise that when we sin we lose our identity, destroy our lives and also those around us. Sin is our responsibility and yet Jesus came and made it His.
Jesus is the most powerful man who has every walked these earthly realms and yet He is also more than just man. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate and yet willingly became the most battered, bruised and damaged man in history as He underwent judgement in our place. He exchanged riches for rags so that we could exchange our rags for riches (2 Cor 8:9).
In looking at how the crowds treated Jesus at His crucifixion and the way in which He was tortured we see the full flowering of sin – man rebelling against the Creator. Yet, as already said He became the sin-offering and endured the wrath of God so that we, the sinner, could be set free and come back to God.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The Fire of God’s Presence.
The Psalmist writes…
“Praise the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are magnificent. You are robed in splendour and majesty. He covers himself with light as if it were a garment. He stretches out the skies like a tent curtain, and lays the beams of the upper rooms of his palace on the rain clouds. He makes the clouds his chariot, and travels along on the wings of the wind. He makes the winds his messengers, and the flaming fire his attendant.”
God’s sheer perfection is often symbolised as a fire, which either cleanses and renews and completely consumes the fruit of sin. In light of this let’s ask ourselves the question: What sort of fire do we want? Do we want the fire of our own making (destroying our nature), or the fire of His presence, which seeks to destroy sin and refine our lives?
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and in Revelation, (known as the book of unveiling), He is spoken of as One who has eyes as like flaming fire (Rev 19:12). Jesus is the holy One, yet He did not come to destroy us but to save us (John 3:16-17). He did not come because He felt sorry for us, or because He had to come whether He like it or not. He came so that we could be forgiven; He came to bring us home and he came to make us holy which means being set apart as special.
Our heavenly Father is the One who forgives us our sins and helps us purges away all the rubbish in our lives when we confess our failure and wrong-doing (1 John 1:9); we can trust Him. He is the One who reaches out to us as a loving Father, helps us make sense of our lives and the world in which we live and helps us see things as they really are. His Son took the punishment for our sin and through His victory alone we are able to walk in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6, Gal 5:25). If we come to Him honestly and openly seeking to be rid of the rubbish that so often besets our lives, He will forgive us and strengthen us as we then live in His Son’s victory because all the promises are yes in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). He will heal us, restore us, uplift and strengthen that which we have abused, damaged and misused in so many ways: self. But do we want His help?
In Isaiah we read of God’s challenge to His people which we could take as a challenge to us by a loving father. Isaiah writes….
"This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15
If we slow down and meditate on the above verse we see the great power and love contained within the words. Isaiah is saying that it is the Covenant-God, the Life-breather and ressurector of broken lives that tells us how to find His help. In repenting (removing the house of protection we have built in our own strength) and resting (refocusing our heart and mind on Him) there is the joy of salvation. He tells us that in quietness (as being in a desert place with no distractions for example) and trust (becoming rooted like a tree planted in good soil) we gain the strength of another who holds our hand, allows us to lean on Him and shares His strength with us.
An ancient king who knew the benefits of doing this having come from a place of sin and suffering wrote,
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2
In all that we do there are always choices to be made. The reason we can make choices is because God has come into the market-place of sin and suffering with the offer of life. I can choose to continually build and rebuild my own ‘house of protection’ as I wander from Him if I want to. Yet to do this means ending up with my old coping mechanisms and then struggling with things like guilt, fear, depression and other emotions that seek to rule my life. Or I can choose to surrender my life to Him each day, trusting that in His love, grace and mercy, and standing in His strength and power. His the One who is willing to heal us and restore us, making something out of that which was broken and discarded by self and others. So let us be encouraged and ask Him to help us learn to trust in Him more and more…..
“Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:6-7
In Isaiah we looked at the graphic effects of sin, yet now, at the end of this short booklet we note God’s encouraging words to those who look to Him; so be encouraged!
“Tell those who panic, “Be strong! Do not fear! Look, your God comes to avenge! With divine retribution he comes to deliver you.” Then blind eyes will open, deaf ears will hear. The lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy; for water will flow in the desert, streams in the wilderness. The dry soil will become a pool of water, the parched ground springs of water. Where jackals once lived and sprawled out, grass, reeds, and papyrus will grow.”
Written and produced by Pastor Jem M.A. c2018