A house can look ideal from the street. But sometimes a closer examination reveals cracks in the foundation. There’s roof damage from a hail storm. An infestation of termites has compromised the wood beams. Roots have clogged the water and sewage lines. If these serious problems aren’t addressed and fixed it’s only a matter of time before the home will be beyond repair. That’s what sin does to human beings. It erodes the integrity of the heart, mind and soul a little each day. Often before a person realizes what sin’s onslaught is doing to them it achieves its objective and their lives disintegrate. I’m not referring only to ruthless renegades rampaging out on the fringe of society; I’m talking about everyday folks. Especially those of us who were raised in godly homes but went astray. We were taught to obey God’s laws and to imitate Christ but when we got into the real world we yielded to Satan’s temptations one after another until we found ourselves in free fall without a net. Like getting caught in a strong riptide, we didn’t grasp how far we’d drifted from the shore until it dawned on us we were in too deep. Terror seized us as it became obvious we needed immediate help to keep from succumbing to exhaustion and drowning. Everyone, including Christians, must pay attention to the warnings God has issued about the danger sin poses in our lives or we’ll find ourselves going under. Those warnings are readily available in the pages of the Bible.
Sin first infects the mind and spreads downward. It doesn’t matter how intelligent one is, either. Some of the smartest people in the world are dunces when it comes to spiritual matters. God’s Word teaches our minds are veiled. The veil must be removed before we can recognize Jesus as the lone Savior of mankind. Otherwise we’ll remain blind as bats. That condition is what causes otherwise exceptionally astute people to declare Jesus a hoax, the Bible an outdated relic full of myths and contradictions and label Christ followers stupid sheep. What those smart Alecks can’t savvy is this: they can’t comprehend spiritual truths because their minds are clouded and confused by sin disease. Sin is no respecter of a man or woman’s I.Q. level. It’s an equal-opportunity epidemic. It affects everyone and the only cure is Christ’s healing power. Billy Graham wrote, “The Bible teaches sin affects the mind, whether that mind is superior or average. A person may be intellectually brilliant, but spiritually ignorant.” In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 Paul said, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one.” But try telling a know-it-all he/she doesn’t know what they haven’t been shown yet and they’ll just roll their eyes at you. They can’t fathom such a thing possible.
Here’s the miracle, though. No individual, no matter how corrupted they’ve become, is beyond sanctification. The devil’s arms are long, indeed, but God’s arms are infinitely longer and can reach into the darkest of black holes. As a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I’m blessed every other week to hear a live testimony from somebody whose life was forever changed by Christ’s amazing grace. One woman, raised by Satan-worshiping parents, told of being subjected to unspeakable acts as a youngster. She grew up thinking she was worthless and incapable of being loved. But once she surrendered her horrible past to Jesus He healed her and gave her a new life. One man confessed he’d indulged in buying and viewing child pornography for years. He’d gotten arrested, convicted and was about to start a long stint in federal lockup for his heinous crime. Out of desperation he’d turned to Christ for help and had become born again. His plan was serve his sentence witnessing for the Lord inside the prison walls. Another was once a brutal henchman for a drug dealer, meting out punishment to those who didn’t pay their debts on time. He’d stopped because he was tired of seeing so many of his friends get gunned down but the guilt over the pain he’d inflicted was eating him alive. The blood of Jesus washed him clean and gave him a fresh start. Others relate stories of how alcohol, drugs, anger, bigotry, grief, codependency or any number of hurts, habits and hang-ups wrecked their lives. At some point they all hit rock bottom. Out of desperation they decided to place all their heavy baggage on God’s shoulders. And because He’s merciful, forgiving, understanding, tender and loving He not only took their burdens but gave them a new life. God is the cure for sin.
The sin virus also attacks the will with intent to own it. In John 8:34 Jesus said, “I tell you the solemn truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.” While many of us are blessed to live in a country that promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, millions of citizens still live under the tyranny of conceited pride, jealousy, hateful prejudices and such. And, while their conscience tells them those evils are wrong and destructive, they feel powerless to escape their clutches. After a while they may begin to believe they possess some kind of hereditary defect or are psychologically impaired in some way. Dr. William Wilson, a former Professor of Psychiatry at Duke opined, “One of the greatest causes of mental illness is unresolved guilt. Feelings of shame, inadequacy, missing the mark, not measuring up, are some sources of guilt feelings. The answer to guilt is grace and the new birth. The new birth leads to the forgiveness of sin.” Forgiveness is very hard for some to accept. They can’t believe God would grant them something they’ll never be worthy of. To them forgiveness would be nothing less than a genuine miracle. And they’re right. Of all the miracles recorded in the Bible none are as incredible as the fact that, by faith in Christ alone, we sinners are completely forgiven. By atoning for all our past, present and future sins on the cross Jesus has made total exoneration freely available to all simply by trusting He’s empowered to forgive sin by God the Father. When the suicidal, panic-stricken jailer asked Paul and Silas, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved…’” (Acts 16:30-31). I imagine the jailer reacted with a look of skepticism. He probably uttered the equivalent of “Really?” to which Paul and Silas smiled, nodded and responded with the equivalent of “Yep!” Giving your life to Christ may be the least complicated thing you’ll ever do but it’s undoubtedly the most important thing you’ll ever do, as well. You’ll be healed.
So sin infiltrates both mind and will. It also invades the conscience. Because of worldly distractions we can be slow to detect sin’s covert approach. One example is telling a little white lie to cover your tracks. The first time you tell it you’ll likely feel a pinch of remorse. But if you persist in perpetuating it the voice of your conscience will steadily weaken until you start buying into your own lie! You’ll eventually become desensitized to your God-installed gauge of what’s right and what’s wrong. It happened to King David. Once he ogled Bathsheba he proceeded to let lust run roughshod over his conscience. What followed was a chain of events that went from adultery to deceit to an arranged homicide in short order. Because he repented David was forgiven his despicable iniquities but it didn’t cancel out the earthly consequences of his sins. He lost his son and the rest of his reign over Israel was a complicated mess. We’re no different. When we ignore our conscience we’re headed for a fall. Thank God He’s patient with His children! 2 Peter 3:9 states, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise… but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Bear in mind that, while He’s graciously patient with us, He’s also never unjust. If an individual intentionally hardens their heart they’ll remain deaf to His beckoning voice. Sadly, a day will come when He stops calling. In Genesis 6:3 God says, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” In other words, some people adamantly refuse God’s mercy and for them “There is a sin resulting in death” (1 John 5:16). That sin is blasphemy – rejecting the Holy Spirit whose sole function is to glorify Christ and reveal God’s plan of salvation to all.
When someone shuts off their conscience they’ll employ any excuse to justify their behavior. They’ll blame their family, their coworkers or an unforeseen streak of bad luck. They’ll cut corners on their taxes because the IRS is “staffed with crooks.” They’ll have an illicit affair because their spouse isn’t adequately “meeting their needs.” Good and bad will dissolve into an indistinct gray area where every act can be rationalized as being fair and warranted. But in the kingdom of God only pristine righteousness and holiness are acceptable. Sins are ultimately crimes against God. When Nathan made David aware of the despicable things he’d done in order to have Bathsheba all to himself the king cried aloud, “I have sinned against the Lord!” (2 Samuel 12:13). Sin, like crime, carries a stiff penalty that must be paid. Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death.” Not the verdict we want to hear but wishing it weren’t so won’t make it be rescinded.
We don’t like the word “death” because it’s so… final. But, other than birth, death is the one thing all humans have in common. The Bible references three kinds of death starting with physical death. By the way, Christians should never give the concept of reincarnation a second thought because in Hebrews 9:27 it’s made clear that “…people are appointed to die once and then to face judgment…” This ain’t a carousel we’re on. We’re afforded but one single go ‘round on terra firma. Thus we’re taught to “prepare to meet God” (Amos 4:12) because none of us know when we’ll find ourselves in His presence. It can happen in the blink of an eye. Compared to eternity our life here is remarkably short and to take any day for granted is foolish. This world is full of mortal dangers. When we walk out the door to drive to Walmart it could be the last time we see our loved ones. Job 14:5 reads, “Since man’s days are determined, the number of his months is under your [God’s] control; you have set his limit and he cannot pass it.” We must be ready to give an accounting for what we did with the life God gave us. Yet we need not fear death. Doctors and nurses who see people die almost daily will tell you there’s a big difference in how an unbeliever faces death and how a Christian does. I wasn’t present when my parents passed away but my sister was at their bedside both times. She said there wasn’t a trace of fear in either’s face because they knew without a doubt they were about to meet their precious Savior in person. I can’t imagine knocking on death’s door not knowing what’s on the other side.
Secondly, the Bible speaks of spiritual death. Billions of folks around the world are healthy and hale in the physical sense but are spiritual zombies. When God opens our eyes and ears to the truth we start seeing their hopelessness and hear their anguished cries. Their lives have lost meaning and purpose because they’re separated from the love of the Father in heaven. Without Jesus they don’t know what it’s like to be truly alive because He is the life. Stop and think a second. As bad as things are, what would this planet be like without Christ? The suicide rate is astronomically high but I suspect it’d be a thousand times higher if there was absolutely no hope for salvation. No other religion in existence acknowledges God’s grace as the only way to be forgiven of sins. All others insist a soul must work hard to earn its way into paradise and, because we know ourselves too well, that task is impossible. And when a person comes up against something unachievable they quickly lose all hope and suicide begins looking like a reasonable way out. But Christ is the embodiment of hope. He’s the bright future they yearn to anticipate. Therefore we must do whatever we can to inform them they can become adopted sons and daughters of the great I AM by simply laying all their fears, anxieties and worries at the foot of the cross where Jesus made a way for them to be holy and righteous in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. Otherwise, even though they’re walking around breathing air and perhaps even thinking everything’s hunky dory, they’ll stay like the woman described in 1 Timothy 5:6, “…dead even while she lives.”
Yet it’s the third dimension of death that terrifies most – eternal death. Yes, I’m talking about hell. It’s so ghastly a subject most preachers avoid bringing it up. The phrase “hell on earth” gets tossed around often, especially after some devastating natural disaster occurs, but there’s a hell not only worse but certain. If hell was some kind of fairy tale concocted to keep kids in line Jesus would’ve never given it credence. Instead, He warned us about hell every chance He got. In Matthew 25:46 He said of the selfishly unrepentant, “And these will depart into eternal punishment…” In chapter 13:41-42 He told the disciples, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sins as well as all lawbreakers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Graham wrote, “The Scripture teaches we’ll be in hell alone and bearing pain alone. There’s no fellowship in hell except fellowship with darkness.” Barry Bailey used to preach on the perils of living a selfish existence. He’d say, “I can’t envision a hell more torturous than having to spend eternity with no one but yourself for company!” Timothy Keller wrote, “Hell… is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.” To me hell is being stripped of all stimuli and sensations, being “aware” but utterly alone, constantly stagnating in a dark, silent universe where there’s no detectable light whatsoever. Not even fire. Nothing but the anguish of loneliness. Like being in a coffin. Frederick Buechner wrote, “People are free in this world to live for themselves alone if they want to and let the rest go hang, and they’re free to live out the dismal consequences as long as they can stand it. The doctrine of Hell proclaims they retain this same freedom in whatever world comes next. Thus the possibility of making damned fools of ourselves would appear to be limitless.” It’s imperative Christians inform unsaved souls of what awaits them after death if they don’t accept God’s free gift of salvation. They must be told they have a choice of where they’ll spend forever.
Some contend a loving God wouldn’t allow hell to exist, much less let souls dwell there. But Satan built hell, not the Lord. Because God’s created beings have free will a place like hell is logical and inevitable. People must savvy that ever since Adam and Eve sinned mankind is in a fallen state, alienated from God. God refused to step in and stop those two from disobeying Him. What God could do and did was to provide a way for us to overcome and defeat the evil that’s surrounded us ever since Eden. God descended from heaven and became one of us. His name is Jesus Christ and through the power of His shed blood believers in Him are redeemed. Revelation 1:5-6 proclaims Him as …the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. …the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father…” Everyone needs to be told that without becoming washed in the blood of Christ sin is an incurable disease that kills. It’s our job to tell them before their time on earth runs out.