Magazine article The Christian Century

Sin Insulation

Magazine article The Christian Century

Sin Insulation

Article excerpt

Sunday, September 16
Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10;
1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

THE SINS REVEALED in these first three scripture passages are blockbusters--betrayal, idolatry, adultery and violence--the raw material for larger-than-life stories and films. The Bible does not whitewash the sins of its major characters. Their awful failures and wrongdoings are part of the story, as are the human consequences, divine judgment and forgiveness.

On their journey to the promised land, Aaron and the children of Israel craft a golden calf and worship it, crediting it with their rescue from Egypt. Despite their close relation with the Lord/Yahweh and their previous promises not to make any idols, the Israelites turn to idolatry. Generations later, King David, in a moment of lust, calls for Bathsheba and sleeps with her. Then, finding her pregnant, he attempts to cover his sin by arranging for her upright husband to be killed. And Paul, an apostle and leader in the church, was once "a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence."

Each of these passages describes a personal response to sin. Moses learns that his brother and his people have betrayed their God, rewritten their history and denied their identity. Still, he pleads with God on their behalf--to remember the covenant, the promises and the work God has already done with and for them. Exodus 32 records an extraordinary dialogue in which Moses pleads and God hears.

When David grasps the magnitude of his sin, he is overwhelmed (2 Sam. 11-12). Faced with the evil he has done and his betrayal of God, David repents, and cries out to God for forgiveness, cleansing and restoration.

In 1 Timothy 1 we are drawn into Paul's amazement that God would embrace a person like him and call him into ministry. Paul, the persecutor of the church, the man of violence--forgiven, transformed. He describes himself as the foremost among sinners--and uses the present tense. Paul recognizes his own capacity for evil, his actual sin and the forgiveness he has received, and his words explode into a doxology. If God could forgive and find a place for him, than his merciful God could do it for anyone.

Because facing and addressing sin is never easy, we do our best to avoid coming to grips with it. Many of us rub off the roughest edges of sin and convince ourselves that in comparison to the larger culture or our favorite Bible characters, our sins look pretty small. Nothing outrageous, although fears, jealousy, greed, lust and arrogance do continue to pester us.

Just last week a friend of mine asked if there was anyone who consistently spoke truth into my life. She wondered whether I was careful not to surround myself exclusively with people who depended on me and thus were wary of challenging me. …

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