“Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven.”
It’s entirely true and sometimes just a little bit smug. Because while we sit comfy in our state of forgiveness, we are also pretty comfortable pointing out to non-Christians the sins for which they aren’t forgiven.
The top three from letters in Bible
For the next few posts, I’m going to look at some inconvenient truths about Christians and our sin from letters that the apostles Paul and John wrote to God’s people in their day. Each was written to all of God’s people who lived in a city or geographic region — so Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus isn’t like a letter to Ephesus Baptist Church, it’s like a letter to all the Christians in Wake County, North Carolina or maybe the Research Triangle Region.
Each letter includes many specific issues related to the specific congregation; but more to the point, each also includes at least one summary listing of the sins that the apostle warns will keep these Christians from the Kingdom of God.
Walk without God, live outside the Kingdom
Understand … we’re not saying that these sins keep Christians out of heaven. Christians are forgiven. But these sins keep Christians from experiencing God’s Kingdom, which is to say, our lives are diminished. When we practice sin, we aren’t living according to God’s principles, so we can’t experience the blessings that come with living as part of God’s Kingdom family.
In letters to the churches at Corinth, Galatea, Colossae, Thessalonika, and then in sections of Revelation addressed to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, Paul and John compile several lists of critical behaviors to avoid. They are less remarkable for their diversity (more than 30 specific behaviors are referenced) than for their similarity. The “cream that curdles” keeps rising to the top. And what startled me most was how little we understand today the Big Three sins that keep us out of God’s Kingdom.
1. Sexually immoral. We think we get this and we preach about it a lot. I won’t say any more right now.
2. Idolaters. Also greedy, which is a form of idol worship. I thought I was doing pretty good on this one. Our household lives simply by many standards — pay cash for used cars, and so forth. But then I looked up what “greed” meant when the Apostle Paul used the word. It meant “desiring more.”
That stopped me in my tracks. If it is sin to “desire more,” then every advertisement I see on television is designed to entice me to sin. Every well-designed display in my favorite store is intended to help me sin.
And what is the difference between the sin of “desiring more” and the aim to grow in one’s gifts? There is obviously much more to consider.
3. Slanderers. When I was about 6, my brother, who was 5, said one of those dumb things that 5 year olds say because they don’t know much about the world and I told my mother, “He’s lying!” She explained to me that he wasn’t lying because he believed he was telling the truth. I retorted: “Well, I think he’s stupid and I’m not lying I because I believe it’s true!”
I would have made a good lawyer. I did make a decent journalist. Western law defines slander as a false statement intended to defame someone. (Libel is the same thing but in print.) And most of us unconsciously read that definition into our Bibles and determine that we’re not slanderers: we’re sharing true information so it’s okay.
Is God against whistleblowing?
Again, going to original intent: the word that Paul and John used refers simply to saying something bad about someone else. So people who say bad things about other people don’t get to experience the fulness of the Kingdom.
Personally, I don’t get that. We’ve experienced way too many coverups within the Christian community in the last two decades for me to believe that God himself has it in for whistleblowers.
And then, of course, like greed, speaking badly of other people is at the core of much of our lives today. Whether as celebrity gossip, lies about political candidates, the on-screen “courts” of Judge Judy and others or the drama of “reality TV,” we are heavily invested in learning the worst of others and sharing it.
Who helps you overcome the desire for more or the habit of speaking badly of others? How?