PreCon 05: Sinner saved by grace

“Second, … do you truly detest and humble yourself before God because of your sins and seek your life outside of yourself in Jesus Christ?”

A Christian recognizes that there is something fundamentally wrong with him/her. This wrongness we call “sin”. Only if you understand that your sin is real, can you appreciate what it means that Jesus saves you. Only if you learn to look away from yourself for something better, will you look in the right direction to improve your life.

Speaking of sin

The Bible teaches clearly that all human beings are sinners. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The purpose of our life is to serve God and so bring out his glory. But more often than not, we serve ourselves and aim at our own glory.

Sin is present in our actions. What we do is often not right. It is unfair to others. It is disrespectful to God’s world. It is dishonouring to our own bodies. It is contrary to God’s design for life.

Sin is present in our motivations. The Bible speaks often about our “heart”. In Gen. 8:21, God said: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” (He said this immediately after the flood, when the only people left on earth were the righteous Noah and his family!) Sin is not just on the outside, but comes from the inside, in every human being.

Sin is with us from the beginning of our life; we speak of original sin. When David confessed his terrible sin in Psalm 51, he admitted: “Surely, I was sinful at birth, / sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Read the description of “Original Sin” in Belgic Confession, art. 15. What are some of the images used here to illustrate original sin?

Sin makes us guilty before God. This is serious. Any sin, no matter how small, is rebellion against God. The Heidelberg Catechism (q&a 10) underlines how serious it is:

[God] is terribly angry with our original sin as well as our actual sins.
Therefore he will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as he has declared:
Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things
written in the Book of the Law, and do them (Gal. 3:10).

Our attitude to sin

Sin is real. Even when you are a Christian, sin remains real in your life. The Bible says it most clearly when Paul talks about himself in Romans 7:

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

“What a wretched man I am!” As a Christian, you must learn to say this about yourself, sincerely and honestly. The form for profession of faith uses strong language: “Do you destest yourself?” That is, do you loathe yourself, think that your sin is gross? That is the only way you will be humble enough to look away from yourself and expect everything from God.

The traditional Reformed forms for baptism and for the Lord’s supper both emphasize this aspect of our faith. What do they say about this?

The form for the Lord’s supper describes very practically what our life as a sinner is like. “Daily we have to contend with the weakness of our faith and with the evil desires of our flesh.” We need daily conversion. The Bible describes the Christian life as a fight against the devil, the world, and our own flesh—that is, our own, weak self.

And we must realize that we cannot win on our own. Our only hope of living is a Saviour who is more powerful than we are. Therefore you must “seek your life outside of yourself, in Jesus Christ.” Martin Luther said it like this, in his famous hymn:

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

Simul iustus et peccator

If you really know that you are a sinner, you will look for a saviour. “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Paul cried out. But a Christian also knows the answer:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

You cannot be a believer if you are blind to how serious your sin is. But you also cannot be a believer if you do not know that you have been saved. Our sin may be terrible, but God’s grace is even more terrific.

The famous Reformer, Martin Luther, adopted as his personal motto: Simul iustus et peccator. “At the same time righteous and a sinner.” This is a great summary of the Christian life until the Lord returns to make us perfect. God has declared us righteous because of Jesus. But we are still fighting our sin.

A modern Christian preacher, Tim Keller, summarized this gospel as follows:

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe,
yet at the very same time
we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

This is worth thinking about, often. Know who you were without Jesus, and who you are now because of Jesus, and celebrate the infinite difference.

Discussion

  1. Sometimes we distinguish between sin by commission and sin by omission. What is the difference? Which sin is worse?
  2. Do people naturally understand that they are sinners? How can you learn to recognize your sin better?
  3. Isn’t it depressing to keep saying that we are sinful?
  4. Is it true that we cannot do anything that good? (See HC q&a 8.)
  5. In some churches, after the reading of the law there is a prayer or song of confession of sins. Do you think that is a good idea? What else should there be, connected to such a prayer?

Homework

Memorize: Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, q&a 6, 7, 8.

Journal item: Read the prayer in Daniel 9:4-19.
Either discuss how Daniel talks about sin, guilt, punishment, and forgiveness (about 200 words);
or write a prayer of your own, in a similar style, that applies to you (about 100 words).

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