CONFUSION-FREE CHRISTIANITY (Romans 5:12-15)
Confusion is a big problem in our world today. Perhaps one of the best examples of confusion I have ever seen is this past week, on TV. They were showing hundreds of Iraqi people, standing in the streets, shouting and screaming their support for Saddam Hussein. After showing those people, the news-casters interviewed some Middle-eastern people living here, people that once lived there. “What do you think of your fellow countrymen, cheering for Saddam?” they were asked. “They are confused,” was the answer.
Those former residents of Iraq who now live here described their country as a very difficult place to live. Everyone is poor, even though the country exports millions of dollars worth of oil every day. Everyone is scared of saying anything against Saddam. Poor and scared. And yet, they stand in the streets, shouting and screaming their support for the very person that causes them to be poor and scared. Why?
“It’s because they’re confused,” the former residents of Iraq say. “They don’t understand how bad off they really are. They aren’t allowed to watch the news or listen to the news. They have been cut off from the truth, and they don’t know anything else. They are poor and scared, and they believe that that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s why they’re screaming in the streets – confusion.” These aren’t my words, but the words of some former residents of Iraq interviewed on TV this past week.
Yes, confusion can be a problem. An even bigger problem, though, is spiritual confusion. A majority of people today are spiritually confused. Listen to a non-Christian talk – what will he say? He will say things he feels very strongly about – perhaps he would even be willing to stand in the street and shout and scream his opinions. “God is not important!” he will say. But watch him pray when he gets in trouble. “I don’t worry about heaven or hell!” the non-Christian will say. But watch him tremble when he is told he is going to die.
People are spiritually confused – you don’t have to look hard to see it. Even within the Christian church there is a great deal of confusion. Some Christians baptize infants, others do not. Some Christians say that we are saved by God’s grace alone. Others say that we are saved by a combination of God’s grace, and us earning our way to heaven. Some churches say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Others say that he is one of many options. Why all these differences? The basic problem is spiritual confusion.
Today, on this third Sunday of the Lenten season, our goal is to sweep confusion out of your minds and your hearts as we study the Word of God. In general, people are confused about two things, and we are going to look at those two things today. First of all, we are going to see how we are worse off than we think. And secondly, we are going to see how we are better off than we think. If you understand these two phrases, and how they fit together, your confusion will melt away.
How bad off are we? “Well, I don’t think I’m all that bad. Life is alright. A few problems here and there, but nothing really bad.” But look at verse 12: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” The Bible says that you, and all people, have been poisoned with sin. How bad is that?
The word for “sin” in the Bible is an interesting one. “Sin” really comes from a word that means “muddy confusion.” Think of it this way. Right now, with all the talk about terrorism, many cities are guarding their drinking water supplies very very carefully. It would be a terrible thing for a terrorist to drop chemical poisons into the water. Even just a little poison could make that drinking water lethal to millions of people. Imagine if a terrorist poured so much poison into the water that it turned black.
The Bible says that this is what has happened to the human heart. At the beginning of time, it was perfect, pure, more pure than the purest of water. But then, muddy confusion, sin, entered the world and poisoned the human heart. And this didn’t just happen to Adam – it happened to all mankind, including you. Your heart has been poisoned with sin, a lethal poisonous kind of mud that changes you into an enemy of God.
“Well that can’t be,” people say. “Look at my children - both of them are very cute, both are being brought up in a good way. And yet, isn’t it interesting that if you put just one toy into a room with two children, they will fight over that toy. “Mine!” one of them says. “No, mine!” the other says. One child pushes the other. One child bashes the other over the head with a Tonka truck. Why? Even though they’re cute, have good parents, their hearts, and the hearts of all mankind, have been poisoned with sin.
Most people have no idea. “We don’t need to baptize that child until he is older,” people say. “I don’t feel sinful. I feel fine.” Bit we are worse off than we think. This verse tells us that sin came to all people, and along with sin, death.
Scientists really can’t figure death out. There is no medical reason for why people age, why our bodies wear out after awhile. It just happens. No one really knows why. And why does death happen to healthy people? It’s not just the elderly or the sick who – young, healthy people die too. Why? And why do some people – really bad people – live long healthy lives? And other people – really good people – die young, and in a tragic way? Why?
It’s because we are worse off than we think. We all have been poisoned by sin. Sin is what causes your body to age and wear out. Sin is why healthy people and young people die. And ultimately, if not treated, sin causes a person to go to hell after they die. According to the Bible, we are much worse off than we think. Once you understand the real problem each one of us has, some of your confusion begins to melt away. And that’s when you turn to God and ask him for help.
What is the solution to this problem? The solution can be summed up in one word, “grace.” The word “grace” pops up again and again in this section. The word “grace” is an interesting one in the Bible – most people don’t understand it, even though they sing and talk about it all the time.
First of all, how much does grace cost? I believe that most people are confused about this issue. Most people don’t realize how generous God really is. Unbelievers think that God is stingy. “God doesn’t give you anything for free,” they say. “You have to earn it yourself. Trust in yourself. Roll up your sleeves and get to work, trust in yourself, because nothing in this world is free.” Christians are confused about God’s grace as well. Many, many Christians talk about God’s grace, but they believe it’s something you have to earn. “God isn’t going to give you his grace for free,” Christians say. “You need to start volunteering more, helping out more, if you want God to be good to you. You better roll up your sleeves and get to work, if you want God to forgive you and love you.”
But we are better off than we think, and the reason why is because God is more generous than we think. Verse 15 tells us, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to them many!”
The Greek word for “grace” means “undeserved, unearned love.” Imagine adopting a child, and there was nothing about this child that was good. Really, he was a horrible person through and through. Disobedient, disrespectful, selfish, self-centered. He would run away for weeks, and then come home and steal out of your purse. And yet, you love him. Why? He’s not even your child. There’s nothing lovable about him. That’s grace – to love someone that doesn’t deserve it. To love someone that cannot earn it – that’s grace, and that’s how God feels toward you. We are much better off than we think.
Verse 15 calls God’s grace “the gift.” A gift, as you know, is free – otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift. God’s grace costs you nothing. And when you open that gift, you find out that it’s exactly what you need – the forgiveness of sins, the sure promise of eternal life in heaven, the sure promise that you will someday live beyond the grave. This gift comes to you through Jesus Christ. He earns it, by living a perfectly flawless life, and giving you the credit. He earns it by taking the blame for your sins on the cross, dying in your place. He earns it by rising from the dead as proof that this gift is real and belongs to you.
Yes, you are much better off than you think, because God is much more generous than you could ever imagine. This verse describes God’s giving as “overflowing.” Imagine being at a restaurant, God’s restaurant, and the reason you are there is because you have heard about this amazing thing called grace that God gives. Sure enough – there it is on the menu. Right behind it, there is the description: “Unearned, undeserved, unending love.” “That’s what I need,” you say to yourself. And sure enough, the menu says it’s free – God’s giving it away.
God himself comes to your table and takes your order. “And just how much grace would you like,” he asks you. “Well, I think a cup of grace would do,” you say. After all, the menu says that a cup of grace is enough to forgive a lifetime of sins, and your sinful nature. “A cup of grace will do,” you say.
But God’s grace overflows. God comes back to your table, and asks you to follow him. He leads you through the restaurant and out the back and somehow, in a miraculous way, you find yourself in front of an endless ocean. “I know you only need a cup of grace,” God says. “But I’m going to give you this ocean. There is enough grace here to pay for a lifetime of sins a million times over. I’m giving this all to you for free.”
That’s what the Bible means when it says that God’s grace overflows to the many. You need a cup of grace, but God gives you an ocean. He is more generous than you could ever imagine, and that is why you are better off than you’ll probably ever know.
Don’t let confusion clutter up your heart this Lenten season. Never forget that sin is in your heart. But even more importantly, never forget that in Christ, God forgives you more generously than you could ever know. Amen.