Sin is a complicated topic to tackle from the Old Testament. When we look at the Old Testament and ancient cultures it’s easy to see sin as mere rules; rules you keep to appease your god.
In the morning of the earth, tribal nations worked tirelessly to appease the gods. The earth groaned under the duress of sin’s consequences—the earth refused to bring forth grain, and the skies refused to bring forth rain, by the sweat of his brow man labored, not to thrive, merely to survive.
The gods must be angry.
Ancient people worked tirelessly to keep the rules to appease their gods.
The Bible must have a more sophisticated view of sin.
Christianity has to be more sophisticated than the tribal religions of old. Certainly, sin is not merely the breaking of arbitrary rules set by God. And righteousness isn’t simply the keeping of arbitrary rules to appease God.
And that’s precisely where I struggle with rules of all kinds; when they are arbitrary.
- Rules are only beneficial when they add value to life.
- Rules are only good when they keep people from suffering.
- Rules are only righteous when they deter people from evil.
Rules cannot be arbitrary. Indeed the Bible gives us rules that are more than arbitrary. The rules in the Bible are purposeful.
When God forbids an action and calls it sin, I must believe that…
- …it robs life from myself and others.
- If it is a sin, it adds to my suffering and the suffering of others.
- If it is a sin, it causes my heart to yearn for evil things.
So, we return to a passage that has somewhat been a theme passage for our series Killing Stuff. It’s Genesis 6.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5–7, ESV)
When sin was rampant on the earth, bleeding life from the people God had created, characterized by endless suffering, and evil waged war against the heart of the creation; God stepped into the battle. He blotted out humanity from the face of the land.
Why did God kill all humanity?
Because God is in the business of killing sin.
God hates sin. Not out of pride or arrogance.
God doesn’t make arbitrary rules like we do as father’s sometimes, like where you have to leave the clicker when you’re done watching TV—that’s one of my arbitrary rules.
God’s rules don’t have something to do with His personal comforts. God’s rules have everything to do with life, providence, and righteousness.
- God’s rules give life.
- God’s rules relieve suffering.
- God’s rules breed righteousness.
Obedience to God’s rules is good for us and we should want to follow them. But it’s hard to get away from sin. It’s not as if you can agree and say, ‘Yes, God’s rules seem good to me; I think I will live by them.’
There is a battle waging between human flesh and God’s righteousness.
The iniquities [sins] of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
(Proverbs 5:22, ESV)
Sin is a curious thing, lurking in the shadows, waiting until you look the other way and it springs on you like a trap. Sin seeks to bind you as with a cord, that you would ever be tied to your sin.
Though you pray for deliverance, sin infects your mind. Though you desire righteousness, lust, anger, and envy consume your hearts desires. And although you may find you have deliverance for a time, the moment you let your guard down, the enemy lies in wait to drag you again into his trap, to drag you again into the filth of your sin.
God is in the business of killing sin. And lest our sin bind us, we must be ever present in the battle to kill our sin.
So, today, I’d like to look at three characteristics of sin from the Old Testament that will help us to identify our sin and provide along the way some tools for killing sin. Let us not be a conflicted people who profess the righteousness of Christ and yet remain in the bonds of the enemy.
The first characteristic is that…
Sin is Deceitful
Sin never delivers what it promises.
By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. (Malachi 1:7–13, ESV)
The Israelites were coming to the altar to offer a gift, a sacrifice to God. God had commanded that their sacrifices be the best of their flock, a pure, unblemished animal. And they were bringing Him lame and sick animals.
Doesn’t God deserve our best?
God asked the Israelites for the first fruits of their harvest. He wanted the cream that rises to the top. God commanded the Israelites for a day of their time to focus on Him. He wanted their trust. And God determined that their sacrifices be from the best of their flock.
And you understand their struggle if you’ve been a Christian very long, what the temptation is. You know the deceit of sin. You know that voice that tells you not to reject God altogether; not to refuse to give wealth to God; not to refuse to serve God with your time. But you understand the voice that says, you don’t necessarily have to give your best.
- We’re tempted to give, not when we get paid, but if there is anything left over at the end of the month. That’s the deceit of sin.
- We’re tempted to serve God only if there’s a day in our schedule that isn’t already full, but we often don’t prioritize service to God when we plan our time. That’s the deceit of sin.
- We often read the Bible and pray when it’s convenient, but we wouldn’t get up early or stay up late or watch less TV to spend time with God. That’s the deceit of sin.
And Israel was deceived. Malachi said that they were offering lame and sick animals to God. They were saying to themselves, “We can’t eat this lamb anyway. It’ll never grow into a healthy herd animal, so who cares, at least we are offering something.” They didn’t refuse God’s gift, but they were deceived into giving a half-hearted gift.
And it gets worse because it always gets worse. The Israelites were deceived so much that they resorted to theft and violent means to procure their sacrifice. They didn’t want to give God something they rightfully worked so hard for, so they robbed and stole to get their sacrifices.
And I hope you see the issue. The issue isn’t that God has rigid rules about what he could accept. That’s not the point at all. The point is the heart of the person who gives. The issue is the half-heartedness of the Israelites. The issue is that they were deceived by the temptations of sin.
Sin entices us. And we give in just a little, and just a little more, and just a little more. Until we are completely consumed by our sin.
The sacrifices of the Israelites were polluted by the heart of the one making the offering. The pollution didn’t come from the animal it came from the depraved mind and the deceived heart of the giver.
And there’s a warning in here. Notice again verse 9.
And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:9, ESV)
Malachi is concerned about the favor returned to the Israelite based on their lame gift. Sin deceived them into thinking that they can still receive God’s favor if they gave a half-hearted effort. And that may be offensive to you to believe they were giving gifts to God to procure favor from God, but that’s the way the Old Covenant worked.
The Israelite offered gifts not only to acknowledge the kindness received from God but also to secure favor in the future.
And to provide unworthy gifts is to invite trouble. And I don’t think it’s any different for us. When our convictions shift just a little here and there, when sin deceives us and we are enticed by sin’s pleasures, we invite trouble into our lives.
To illustrate, let’s look at one particular virtue, honesty.
A Gallup survey taken over the past decade demonstrated that people rarely expect others to be completely honest with them. By and large, people only expect accountants to be mostly honest. Mechanics and advertisers are only supposed to be somewhat honest. Members of Congress are meant to be somewhat dishonest.
Honesty is not a core value of our society. So, it’s very easy to get by being only somewhat honest in our world. Even as a Christian, it’s very easy be more honest than most people and yet remain somewhat dishonest.
And for a Christian, I think that’s wholly unacceptable.
But, it’s how sin works. Sin deceives you into thinking you can be a good and honest Christian and still be somewhat dishonest—withhold a little truth here, stretch the truth here, exaggerate the truth over here. And that’s ridiculous. But, that’s the deceit of sin.
That’s one example. Here are some other deceits.
Sin’s deceit says, ‘You can look, you just can’t touch.’ But Jesus says…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27–28, ESV)
You can’t intentionally look at another person with lustful intent. Any argument is the product of sins deceit.
Sin’s deceit says, ‘You don’t have to forgive someone if they did something really, really bad.’ But…
If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15, ESV)
You can’t refuse forgiveness. You can be careful and wise in reconciliation. But, you can’t deny forgiveness as a Christian. Any argument against that is sin’s deceit.
Sin’s deceit says, ‘I worked for my paycheck, why should I give it to others?’ But the Psalmist says,
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1, ESV)
The earth is God’s and everything in the land belongs to God, including you and including your paycheck. We give we give God’s things to carry out God’s purposes. And when we refuse to give, either as a blessing to others or we refuse to support the work of our local church, we fall prey to sins deceit. God is a generous God, and God’s people are generous people. To say otherwise is sins deceit.
It’s our job as the people of God to be always in the battle to kill sin, always watchful for sin’s deceits, and always humble enough to admit when we have fallen prey to the deceit of sin.
But sin is not just an issue between you and God. Sin is a matter between you and your fellow people. Sin is deceitful, but…
Sin is Dehumanizing
Sin is dehumanizing. Sin dismantles human relationships and corrupts the human soul.
We see this play out in the creation of humanity in the first place, where humankind was created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)
To be human is to reflect the character, the wonder, and the righteousness of Christ. And sin is like a veil draped over the image to make humanity appear less than godlike.
The less we bear the image of God due to the presence of sin, the less human we are. We call some crimes savage, beastly, and brutal because they are so debased, so inhuman and inhumane, that we have to reach down for words to describe them because sin dehumanizes us.
Sin, wherever it is present, always tends towards the deforming of the divine image within us, the dismantling of our relationships, and the distortion of our souls.
I can’t think of any story better to illustrate this than the story of Amnon and Tamar from 2 Samuel 13. It goes like this.
King David had a son named Amnon by one wife and a daughter by another wife named Tamar. They were half siblings. And Amnon wanted to marry Tamar. Everyone knows it’s inappropriate to marry your half-sister, but Amnon couldn’t get her out of his mind.
One day Amnon was upset over this, and his friend Jonadab asked him about it.
Have you ever got, just, awful advice from a friend?
Jonadab gave Amnon some really awful advice.
It went something like this. Jonadab figured that if Amnon could get Tamar to go to bed with him, then King David might allow them to marry in order not to bring shame upon his household.
So, they put together this ruse, where Amnon pretended to get sick and sent to the King requesting Tamar come and make him some food to make him feel better. That’s pretty typical, really. They were family after all and probably grew up together, playing together and were friends and all that.
But, when Tamar came to the house, Amnon wouldn’t eat. Instead, he sent all the servants out of the room and begged her to lie with him in his bed. And that’s a euphemism of course, so Tamar asked him,
No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? (2 Samuel 13:12, ESV)
But, he wouldn’t listen to her and got angry and forced himself on her. He forced her to marry him. But, then he did this even more horrible thing to Tamar. She realized that after such an event the best thing to do was stay and be Amnon’s wife.
In that culture she was seen as defiled and would never marry and never have children, so she wanted to stay with him. That was her only hope.
But he didn’t want a wife who didn’t love him, so he sent her away.
And she began to mourn as if someone had died because, in a way, she died that day. She knew she would never marry and never have children because that’s how that society worked. So, Samuel concluded the story this way, he wrote,
So Tamar lived, a desolate woman. (2 Samuel 13:20, ESV)
Amnon was deceived by his lust, and when sin is acted upon, sin dehumanizes people. Amnon dehumanized himself, no longer a man, but a monster. But, notice what he did to Tamar. He ripped the image of God from her. She became an outcast of society. She never married, never got to raise children—and that was everything to women in her day.
- She didn’t get to reflect the creativity of God by having children.
- She didn’t get to reflect the love of God by unconditionally loving her husband.
- Amnon even denied her the opportunity to reflect the mercy of God by taking a sinful husband when he sent her away.
Sin always makes us less than God intended us to be. And sin makes others less than God intends them to be. Sin deceives and dehumanizes, and it’s just a short stone’s throw to see that…
Sin is Damning
Sin results in damnation in life and damnation in eternity.
There was a man named Asaph who was a temple musician. He was sort of like what we call a worship leader. Asaph led the procession of singers and musicians when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem. King David appointed Asaph as the chief musician for the tabernacle. He was a man who knew and loved God. And he wrote a Psalm about those who oppose God.
In Psalm 73, Asaph confessed that he almost fell to sins deceits. He said,
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
(Psalm 73:3, ESV)
Asaph lamented that the unrighteous went through life with luxuries and no pains. He said they were fat and sleek—which means they are prosperous. He said they were prideful, violent, foolish, malicious scoffers. They oppressed others, and they even spoke out against God. And yet, he said he almost became like them, because they prospered.
But, Asaph was thankful that he kept his heart pure, that he didn’t fall to sin’s deceits. He was grateful because he eventually saw what happened to those wicked people.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
(Psalm 73:18–19, ESV)
God allowed the wicked to indulge in their sin and to slip into complete ruin. Sin is always a slippery slope leading to total destruction. But, it’s not just a ruined life. Asaph continues in the Psalm,
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
(Psalm 73:26–27, ESV)
Asaph knew that he awaited blessing forever with the Lord because he kept himself right with God and he kept himself free from sin. But, he knew that those who continued to indulge in sin would slide into ruin until the day when they would perish, when they would be eternally, forever separated from God.
God will put an end to those who are unfaithful to Him forever.
Sin is damning. Sin is eternally damning. Because sin separates us from the God who gives us life.
For me, the worst part about this isn’t believing how damaging sin is. I think most people—even Christians—don’t realize the severity of sin. Paul wrote:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)
In other words, ‘If God forgives sin, then why should we stop sinning?!’
I think it’s pretty clear that the people in Paul’s day didn’t see sin as a real big deal.
And I just don’t believe that it’s much different today. But, like I said, the hardest part for me is not understanding how deceitful, dehumanizing, and damning sin is. It’s not even a struggle for me to identify the utter depravity of my own flesh. The hard part for me is, what to do about it.
How do we battle sin? How do we kill sin and live for Christ in every area of life?
And I’ll answer that question with a story as we move towards our next steps.
In Greek mythology, there’s a story about a man named Ulysses. He was on a dangerous journey home following the Trojan War. One of the dangers Ulysses and his crew faced were the alluring Sirens. The Sirens were beautiful women, who lured sailors with their beguiling beauty, enticing voices, and enchanting songs. They would lure the sailors close to the shore so their ships would crash on the rocks.
Desiring to hear them sing, yet leery of their seductive power, Ulysses filled the ears of his fellow sailors with wax and had himself lashed to the mast of the ship so that he could hear the Sirens’ voices without succumbing to their mesmerizing music. Had it not been for the ropes, Ulysses would have perished.
And the Sirens showed up in other stories. Another story is the story of Jason, leader of the Argonauts. Like Ulysses, he too faced the alluring beauty and enticing music of the Sirens. But his strategy didn’t involve wax or ropes. Instead, Jason brought a man named Orpheus, a musician so talented that he could tame any beast. The more alluring music of Orpheus broke the spell of the Sirens so that Jason and the Argonauts were unmoved by their enchantments.
This is why I tell the story. Some people try to fight sin by metaphorically filling their ears with wax or strapping themselves to the mast with the ropes of external rules and regulations. But their hearts are still captivated by the Siren song of sinful pleasure.
I once asked a group of teenage boys what it takes to repent of sin. Innocently one of the boys responded, ‘Stop doing it!’
But, that’s not the Gospel way. Rigid adherence to rules and regulations isn’t the Gospel way. The gospel provides a better way. The Gospel offers freedom through the power of a new affection. And that affection is Christ. By setting our hearts on Christ, we can be captivated by a sweeter, more satisfying song.
The Apostle Paul tells us pretty succinctly how to be captivated by the power of Christ’s affections. He says,
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:15–16, ESV)