This week Linda will help us to explore more ways we can “be the church.” I will talk about God’s view of sin, and I hope we will gain a greater understanding of why it is that He hates it so much. What follows is a modified version of an open letter I shared a couple of years ago after learning of some things that were happening with people I know. It remains just as relevant today and my heart still breaks for the choices we make that lead to death and destruction.
Don’t hurt yourself! We’ve all heard that, or something like it. It probably came from your mom as she watched you swinging from that tree or flying down the street on your bike with your hands proudly waving in the air. Maybe she demanded that you stop immediately. Sometimes parents can be a little too protective, but we grow to understand the motivation. When you got older, the messages may have become more complex, but the underlying meaning was still the same. “Don’t eat too much candy.” “Don’t forget your homework.” “Be home before midnight.” “Stay away from that boy/girl.” Our parents did what they could to help us grow up to be whole and well-adjusted adults and to keep us from the many perils of life in this world until we made it there. Despite their best efforts, some of us don’t quite make it.
I suspect that only one child in the history of humanity accepted His parents’ rules without complaint. We don’t like rules. We don’t like anything that keeps us from having what we want when we want it. Often we rebel and do as we please anyway. When we were children, our parents responded to this rebellion with some form of punishment. In this case the consequence of our action is contrived, but with good reason. If we do not learn that our actions have consequences as children, we will learn it as adults and they will be much more severe. Examine our prison population if you need proof. A majority of the offenders there lacked strong discipline at home.
Why did our parents treat us this way? In most cases, they were not exercising power for its own sake. They did not take pleasure in causing us pain. They did what they did because they loved us. All of the rules, admonishments, lectures, and punishments were intended to shape and protect us. They were saying, “I love you. I want the best for you. Don’t hurt yourself.” Most of us figure that out at some point in our lives. We come to understand that love doesn’t require unrestrained indulgence.
It is no mere accident of language that God defines Himself as our Father. He gives us children so that we can understand that aspect of His love for us. He sets boundaries for us and gives us instruction to protect and nurture us because He loves us. When we read the first few books of the Bible a while back, you saw a whole lot of rules. They are there to help us understand our relationship to a holy God and our abject need for His redemption, but many of them also served to protect His people. In an era when no one could have known about the unseen pathogens that spread sickness and disease, God provided detailed instructions regarding clean and unclean that kept the people as safe as possible. All of the rules were motivated by love.
Though Jesus has made a new and better way (Rom 5:8-9) and we know that salvation cannot be earned (Eph. 2:8,) He has given us instructions that are for our own good. The ultimate tragedy is to refuse the gift that Jesus offers in Himself. Miss that and nothing else really matters. Yet it remains true that following the principles of living that He laid out for us in the Bible will keep us from much harm. This is the ache that is in my heart when I see people making poor choices. When we share the Gospel message, one of the verses commonly referenced is Romans 6:23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We speak of the final damnation in Hell, but one need not look so far to see the truth in this passage. Most of us will experience the consequences of our sin while we yet live on this earth. This is often true even after we have repented and been forgiven. We may be spared the ultimate consequence, but some things are going to happen just that’s because the way things work. Unless God in his mercy intervenes, we will not be spared earthly repercussions.
Oh loved ones, choose life! Enough suffering comes to us just because we live in a fallen world. Please do not add to your misery by choosing short term pleasures that will bring you long term pain. Study God’s word and live by it. He makes no promise of freedom from suffering in this life. In fact if you are truly devoted you may find that too brings you grief, but the reward is eternal! Do not turn away from the One who loves you with everything He has. I would see you truly live and not die. In my own poor way I love you, but His love will never fail.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.