Summary: Sin at its worst is the inability to understand ourselves and to control ourselves, leading to separation from self, others, and God. The cross, the empty tomb, and Christ’s life rescue us.
Well, are you ready today for the fourth step, the step that’s all the way down at the floor level?
Those who were not here last Sunday do not know what I’m talking about. Those who were here will need a little review. Let me explain.
Last Sunday we walked the first mile on the Roman Road ... the one that says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." I worked hard on the word "fall". I said that it was very easy to fall, very easy to trip over obstacles. In fact, I said that the farther we fall, the bigger the obstacle, the more difficult it is to pick ourselves back up.
I used these steps to illustrate the increasing depth of our obstacles and the deepening power of sin.
The first step represented what? Sins; sins, plural; specific acts we commit, knowing that they are wrong. Paul told us in Romans that "there is no one who is righteous, not even one." That is, all of us do wrong things. It is certain we are going to commit sins.
But then I went off the platform to the second step. What is the second step? Sin; sin, not just sins. Sin, not actions, but an attitude, a stance. There is something in us that hardens into a way of being, and that is sin. Paul said it for us, "There is no one who has understanding,” meaning that we do not really see ourselves for what we are. And so sin is harder to get rid of than sins are.
Finally, however, I took the plunge, almost literally, from the higher plane up here down to the third step. That third step, that level beneath sins as actions and even beneath sin as a life-stance; what is that? Evil. Evil; the powers that take us over; the forces that worm their way into us and take us into a realm we never dreamed we could get into. The powers of evil; that something, call it Satan if you like, that begins to use us, ride us, take control of us. Paul’s phrase is, "There is no one who seeks God." There is no one who is close enough to God and God’s goodness to escape the grip of evil.
And you will remember that once I got onto that third step, rescuing myself became impossible. I had to have help. I may be able to correct sins on my own, although I will keep on doing them. And I may be able, with the insights of others, to work on sin, the attitude, to some extent. But once I am in the grasp of evil, once I am in the control of something that is taking me over, I cannot get out. I cannot overcome that obstacle. Only Christ, who enters our space and time; only Christ, who committed no sins, who was without sin, and who defeated evil at the cross, can help me. Only Christ will do.
So at the close of last week’s service I promised that today we would look at another reality, the fourth step. There is a level more evil than evil itself. There is a consequence of having tripped on sins, sin, and evil. The fourth step ... what do you think it is? Any guesses?
The Bible’s awesome words are death and hell. Death and hell. What does that mean? The little lady in the TV ad selling medical paging devices says, "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up." "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up." When we dwell with sin long enough, the situation gets very nearly hopeless. "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up." Death, hell.
That sounds pretty final. But hear the rest of the verse. We will have to look at two issues. The issue of self-understanding and the issue of self-control. Self-understanding and self-control. Remember our theme, "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up."
One of the ways we use to make our lives work is to achieve self-understanding. We think that if only we could gain insight into ourselves, we could live successfully. We like to think that if only we could probe our motives and peer into the inner recesses of our hearts, we could do whatever we need to do and be whatever we want to be. We read self-help books, we consult counselors, we just think about ourselves endlessly, in order to understand ourselves. As the poet Robert Burns put it in his quaint Scottish dialect, “O wad some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as ithers see us." We want self-understanding.
But hear the apostle Paul in his radical honesty; looking deep within, Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Can you identify with that? “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”