Articles 15 and 16 Sin and the Christian Sunday 2nd February 2020 9.45 & 11.30
By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2020 05:54PM
I was on the train this week and I overheard 2 women talking to one another. I didn't catch all their conversation, but I did hear the reply from one "And she calls herself a Christian!" You may well have heard people saying the same thing, either when someone's behaviour doesn't match up to society's morals or when a Christian has actually done or said something they shouldn't. The assumption is there in everyone's minds "A Christian is someone who is good, who does the right thing." I've even heard people say that they don't feel they can come to church because they are not good enough. Even as Christians, we can be confused about sin and how it affects us as we go on with Jesus, and we can be dismayed about its ongoing presence in our own lives. Once again, our Anglican Articles of Religion really help us to sort out what the Bible says about these things, so that we can understand ourselves from God's perspective. Today we're going to be looking at 2 of the Articles as they are effectively two sides of the same coin, tackling 2 different assumptions about sin. The first assumption is the one the two ladies on the train held "Christians should be good people who don't sin." and the second is "I'm a Christian but I keep sinning. Can God really forgive me?" Let's look at them in turn:
Christians should be good people who don't sin. Now, as with most false teachings, this assumption can be argued from a partial understanding of Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect." and he was picking up the words of God in Leviticus 11:44 "I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy". Taken on their own, without the rest of Scripture, you could come to the conclusion that a Christian can get to a point of sinlessness. But that is the danger of reading parts of scripture in isolation from one another. If you've been studying the previous Articles of Religion with us, your alarm bells should already have been ringing. Haven't we seen that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"? Don't we know that original sin impacts all of us? We do. And even if you could argue that receiving Jesus' new life did away with these issues, you couldn't get around what Paul says in Romans 7:15-20
" I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
Though we are forgiven, and God's Holy Spirit is at work in us, shaping us to be more like Jesus, sin is still there and there is a battle going on within every Christian. It's vital that we remember this, because believing that a Christian can be without sin leads to lots of unwanted consequences. To begin with, it causes judgemental attitudes towards Christians who mess up. Someone loses their temper or gets drunk and does something stupid, or gets mixed up in an unhelpful relationship and the finger pointing can begin, both from outside the church and from within. A fellow Christian hurts us in some way and we become shocked and bitter. We don't forgive them because 'as a Christian they shouldn't have done or said those things'. We get disillusioned with church when we realise that it isn't perfect, and we either shop around to find one that is, or we give it up altogether. And even worse, but much harder to spot, it downgrades Jesus, because it assumes we can be as good as he was.
Article 15 sums up what the Bible teaches in its proper context (it's printed in the Bulletin):
" CHRIST in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Jesus is the only human being ever to be without sin, and if we think that we, or the Christians around us, can ever achieve that in this life, then we are like the Pharisees, raising a far higher bar than God himself ever did. In the words of John, from our reading today " If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us." We are and continue to be sinners, but Jesus died so we can be forgiven. So we can keep on being forgiven. This isn't just a truth about ourselves. It's a truth about each other. We will each keep on sinning. Yes, it should gradually become less as God is at work in us, but it will keep happening. What would our churches be like, what would our relationships be like if we loved each other like Jesus loves us, and forgave each other? So don't be shocked next time one of us messes up. Rally round, forgive and help to restore.
The second assumption we are tackling this morning is: "I'm a Christian but I keep sinning. Can God really forgive me?" If we have subconsciously assumed that we can reach a point in our Christian lives where we don't sin, then knowing that we do can really impact our assurance. The words in our gospel reading this morning can seem to imply that we can lose our salvation. Matthew 12:31 "Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." I have had tender hearted Christians over the years really worried that they have done something which can't be forgiven. Article 16 speaks into this dilemma:
NOT every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
It makes clear for us what the Bible teaches: that even baptised Christians sin, but God's grace covers us. As we repent, God restores us and helps us to change our ways. This isn't time limited. Remember this conversation between Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’
22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
We are to forgive like this because this is how God forgives us. Even after baptism. Notice Peter was talking about a 'brother or sister'. There is an unforgiveable sin, a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and that's the sin of rejecting his prompting to turn to Jesus as Lord and receive the forgiveness offered. God doesn't force his presence on us, so the only way to be unforgiven is to reject him and his gift of grace. So friends, if you're struggling with sin, or if you've done something you think is really bad and you wonder if God can ever forgive you, the answer is he can and he will. Come to Jesus. Return to him and he will wash you clean and stand you on your feet again, ready to serve him.
So some really important teaching about the part sin plays in the life of a Christian. We do and will all sin. It is a part of our human condition. But God loves us. He loves us so much that Jesus, the spotless lamb, died in our place so we can be forgiven. And so much more than that: so we can keep on being forgiven until we're perfected in heaven. What a patient and kind saviour we have. Let's be patient and kind with one another too.