Thursday, 1 December 2016

Of Sin, Ships, and Radar

Worlds Apart

Christians normally have a very high doctrine of human sinfulness.  We mean "high" in the sense of substantial.  Sin for us is not a matter of small peccadilloes.  We believe human sinfulness to be universal (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. [Romans 6:23]).  We believe that in our natural state, before the application of Christ's saving mercy and grace to us, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” [Jeremiah 17:10]
The experience of the Christian is a daily war against one's own sinful nature and tendencies.  The goals, motives, and standards of our actions and thoughts are all too often contrary to God' law.

This "high" doctrine of one's own sinfulness and depravity is part and parcel of the normal, ordinary Christian life.  One is required to see the log in one's own eye, before noticing the speck in our neighbour's.
 When a Christian or a church becomes lukewarm, one of the first things to depart is a conviction over one's personal wretchedness.  Sin becomes a matter of a few weaknesses here and there.  Sin does indeed become an affair of small peccadilloes.

The faithful Christian daily finds himself gasping at his rebellion or unfaithfulness.  He finds himself repeatedly turning to Christ, praying for mercy and forgiveness: "Ah, Lord, I am sorry I said that, or thought this, or became impatient, or spoke cynically or harshly"--and so forth.  Consequently, it is part of the normal Christian life that Christ daily is our comfort, our refuge, our joy and our delight.  For we are cast back, repeatedly, upon His promises to us: if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  [I John 1:9]  We are encouraged and comforted to read that those who mourn are blessed, and shall be comforted [Matthew 5:4].

Because the Christian is aware of his own depravity, he tends to be patient and understanding of the sins of others--others in the particular and concrete.  This, too, is according to God's law which enjoins gentleness and forbearance towards others.  But in the general sense, all Christians hate sin. For example, we hate theft in all its forms and manifestations, but confronted with an actual thief the Christian is often gentle and compassionate, without vengeance, thinking "there but for the grace of God, am I".

Unbelief tends to be the exact opposite: angry and vengeful in the particular; widely accommodating in the principle and the general.  Everyone steals or everyone lies.  It's not a real problem.  Until someone steals from me.

It's not surprising then that the Christian finds himself being in the world, but not of it.  It's not surprising that the Christian prizes family life and love above all human relationships.  It's not surprising the Christian is intensely loyal to the Church, the body of Christ Himself.  But the way of the Christian is incomprehensible to others.  It is as two ships passing in the night.

As the Christian and the Unbeliever pass on the street they are indistinguishably the same, yet profoundly different.  One knows only the kingdom of this world.  The other belongs to a Kingdom not of this world.  Thus pass the two ships--but only one has the spiritual radar which sees the unseen.

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