Do you think the Bible identifies any particular sin as the worst of all possible sins?
While you ponder that, a quick review here:
When we talk about sin, we’re talking about more than bad habits or moral lapses. Sin, the Westminster Divines said, is “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” In other words, sin is when we don’t do what God requires of us, or when we do what God forbids. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer reminds us that we can sin in thought, word or deed, by things we do or things left undone. All have sinned. You. Me. Everyone. There is none righteous. No, not one.Any sin worthy of judgment and punishment. We minimize our sins, thinking to ourselves “that was just a little thing” or “I’m only human.” God views sin very differently than we do. Paul writes in Galatians 3:10 “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” And James declares “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10).Even noble acts can be rightly judged as sin if our goal is not to bring glory to God.
Even though every sin is an act of rebellion against God and worthy of His judgment, there are degrees of sin. Committing murder and having hate in your heart toward someone are both sins. One is more grievous than the other. And Jesus indicates that there will be greater punishment for some sins. When He is handed over to Pontius Pilate in John 19, Jesus says “he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” And He rebukes the Pharisees for being scrupulous with the minutiae of the law while neglecting “the weightier matters.”
So back to my original question. Is there one sin that is the worst sin?
Through the years, most people have identified the sin behind every other sin as the sin of pride. In the fourth century AD, the desert fathers – specifically a monk named Evagrius Ponticus – listed pride as number one of his summary list that became known in church history as the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride is the root of all other sin, he said. It motivates and energizes every act of disobedience. The angel Lucifer was led into rebellion against God when his own heart began to swell with pride.
I remember a long conversation with a friend years ago who proposed a compelling antithesis to the idea that pride is behind all sin. “It’s not pride,” he told me. “The root sin behind all sin is the sin of unbelief.” Pride, my friend said, emerges from a heart that must first reject God and His word.
I tend to think that pride and unbelief are a little like the proverbial chicken and egg. I’m not sure whether pride fuels unbelief or unbelief fuels pride. But the two do go hand in hand.
So I think it’s possible to conclude that either pride or unbelief are perhaps the worst of all sins. Because at some level, pride and unbelief are the source of all sin.
But I want to nominate another sin as the sin that is most often rebuked by our Lord. It’s a sin that’s in each of our hearts. A sin that we’re hard wired to commit.
It’s the sin of self righteousness.
Let me define that term. Or better yet, let me have Jesus define it for us. He does so perfectly in the parable to the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
Self righteousness is the mindset that somehow, your goodness – however you define that – makes you acceptable before God. It’s the idea that you earn God’s favor by some work you do.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the churches he had planted, he almost always began his letters with some commendation or words of encouragement for the work God was doing in those churches. He even commends the members of the church in Corinth for using their gifts to minister to one another while they await the second coming of Christ. And then he spends the next 15 chapters in his letter correcting sinful pattern after sinful pattern that is on display in the church!
The glaring exception to the apostle’s rule of beginning his letters with words of praise is his letter to the Galatian churches. Paul skips any affirmation and jumps right to a rebuke. This church was drifting from the gospel of grace and was thinking that their works of righteousness or their religious activities (specifically, the act of being circumcised) were necessary for God to be pleased with them. That kind of thinking is anathema to the apostle, and he says just that.
Paul himself, who had spent most of his life scrupulously seeking to keep the Jewish law as a Pharisee would later compare his good works to “filthy rags.” Paul was a devout and moral man as a Pharisee. But when he understood the gospel, he understood that his devotion and his morality counted for nothing. In fact, it made him, he said, the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Pride and unbelief do indeed fuel all kinds of sinful thoughts and actions. But as the parable of the prodigal son reveals, God is ready to throw a feast for an immoral man or woman who repents and comes to Him. Meanwhile, God keeps the self-righteous older brother out of the celebration until and unless that brother rejects his own righteousness and embraces the grace of God.
For me, the sin of self-righteousness is a stubborn, persistent weed that I must be diligent to uproot whenever I see it in my life. I do it by confessing my sin regularly. I do it by humbling myself before God and reminding myself that what the Bible says about the deceitfulness and wickedness of my heart is truer than what I often think.
In other words, I address the self-righteousness in my own life by regularly repenting and re-believing the gospel.
And as the Bible promises, “if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Are there any noxious self righteous weeds sprouting in the soil of your own heart? Uproot them quickly. Don’t give the devil any opportunity in your life. Don’t allow yourself to dabble with what may be the most heinous of all of the sins in scripture.
Many of you know Eric Dahinden. Eric has been a part of our church for many years. We grieved with Eric three and a half years ago when God called his wife Sherry home unexpectedly.
You may have seen Eric in church in recent weeks joined by a new friend. In the midst of this unusual year, the Lord has brought a very special woman into Eric’s life. Vicky Salkheld has been an answer to a prayer Eric has been praying for the past few years. On September 6th of this year, Eric proposed to Vicky. And she said yes!
Eric and Vicki’s wedding is planned for this Saturday December 5th at 2 pm. It’s the first wedding we’ve had in our church building. And while the in person attendance for the wedding will be limited by the pandemic, Eric and Vicky would be honored if you would plan to join them and celebrate their uniting together in marriage via live streaming.
Here’s your official invitation:
DAVID O’DODD ELEMENTARY
|This week, we’ll begin shopping for the 170 David O’ Dodd students we’re buying Christmas gifts for. We need to hear from you this week if you’d like to cover the cost of a gift for one or more student ($25 per child).|
This year, in light of COVID, we will be shopping and packing for all of the kids this year, rather than having you create your own gift box. This way, children will receive gifts that are similar in value. And each child will also receive a small tract that explains the Christmas story and presents the gospel.
Please let Pastor Matt know this week how many gifts you’d like to provide. You can text him at 859-771-6581. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then simply mail your check, bring it to church and put it in the giving box or click here to make your donation to cover the cost of the gifts.
And pray with us that God will bless our efforts. Pray that the seeds we’re planting might bring a spiritual harvest in their lives of the students, their families and the teachers and staff at the school.
To celebrate Christmas this year, we have a few special events planned for our church later this month. A family pajama party get together. A youth group Christmas party. And our annual Christmas Eve worship service. All socially distanced events.
Here are the details:
|On this second Sunday in Advent, we’ll continue to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth by thinking together about the longing for peace that is in each of our hearts, and how that longing can only be met when the Prince of Peace comes.|
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!