Category  |  Sin

Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Giving in to Jesus

They call it “The Devil’s Footprint.” It’s a foot-shaped impression in the granite on a hill beside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. According to local legend the “footprint” happened one fall day in 1740, when the evangelist George Whitefield preached so powerfully that the devil leaped from the church steeple, landing on the rock on his way out of town.

Though it’s only a legend, the story calls to mind an encouraging truth from God’s Word. James 4:7 reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

God has given us the strength we need to stand against our adversary and the temptations in our lives. The Bible tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14) because of God’s loving grace to us through Jesus Christ. As we run to Jesus when temptation comes, He enables us to stand in His strength. Nothing we face in this life can overcome Him, because he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As we submit ourselves to our Savior, yielding our wills to Him in the moment and walking in obedience to God’s Word, He is helping us. When we give in to Him instead of giving in to temptation, He is able to fight our battles. In Him we can overcome.

Destroying the Divides

A writing deadline loomed over me, while the argument I had with my husband earlier that morning swirled through my mind. I stared at the blinking cursor, fingertips resting on the keyboard. He was wrong too, Lord.

When the computer screen went black, my reflection scowled. My unacknowledged wrongs were doing more than hindering the work before me. They were straining my relationship with my husband and my God.

I grabbed my cell phone, swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness. Savoring the peace of reconciliation when my spouse apologized as well, I thanked God and finished my article on time.

The Israelites experienced the pain of personal sin and joy of restoration. Joshua warned God’s people not to enrich themselves in the battle for Jericho (Josh. 6:18), but Achan stole captured items and hid them in his tent (7:1). Only after his sin was exposed and dealt with (7:4–12) did the nation enjoy reconciliation with their God.

Like Achan, we don’t always consider how “tucking sin into our tents” turns our hearts us from God and impacts those around us. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, admitting our sin, and seeking forgiveness provides the foundation for healthy and faithful relationships with God and others. By submitting to our loving Creator and Sustainer daily, we can serve Him and enjoy His presence—together.

Time to Flourish

Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.

But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.

My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.

God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.

Unfinished Works

At his death, the great artist Michelangelo left many unfinished projects. But four of his sculptures were never meant to be completed. The Bearded Slave, the Atlas Slave, the Awakening Slave, and the Young Slave, though they appear unfinished, are just as Michelangelo intended them to be. The artist wanted to show what it might feel like to be forever enslaved.

Rather than sculpting figures in chains, Michelangelo made figures stuck in the very marble out of which they are carved. Bodies emerge from the stone, but not completely. Muscles flex, but the figures are never able to free themselves.

My empathy with the slave sculptures is immediate. Their plight is not unlike my struggle with sin. I am unable to free myself: like the sculptures I am stuck, “a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Rom 7:23). No matter how hard I try, I cannot change myself. But thanks be to God you and I will not remain unfinished works. We won’t be complete until heaven, but in the meantime as we welcome the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, He changes us. God promises to finish the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

Rings and Grace

When I look at my hands, I am reminded that I lost my wedding and engagement rings. I was multitasking as I packed for a trip, and I still have no idea where they ended up.

I dreaded telling my husband about my careless mistake—worried how the news would affect him. But he responded with more compassion and care for me than concern over the rings. However, there are times when I still want to do something to earn his grace! He, on the contrary, doesn’t hold this episode against me.

So many times we remember our sins and feel we must do something to earn God’s forgiveness. But God has said it is by grace, not by works that we are saved (Eph. 2:8–9). Speaking of a new covenant, God promised Israel, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). We have a God who forgives and no longer calls to mind the wrongs we have done.

We may still feel sad about our past, but we need to trust His promise and believe His grace and forgiveness is real through faith in Jesus Christ. This news should lead us to thankfulness and the assurance faith brings. When God forgives, He forgets.

Finding the Way Out

There’s a street with an intriguing name in the city of Santa Barbara, California. It’s called “Salsipuedes,” which means “leave if you can.” When the street was first named, the area bordered on a marsh that sometimes flooded, and the Spanish-speaking city planners dubbed the location with a not-so-subtle warning to stay away.

God’s Word cautions us to stay away…

Mistakes Were Made

“Mistakes were made,” said the CEO as he discussed the illegal activity his company had been involved in. He looked regretful, yet he kept blame at arm’s length and couldn’t admit he had personally done anything wrong.

Some “mistakes” are just mistakes: driving in the wrong direction, forgetting to set a timer and burning dinner, miscalculating your checkbook balance. But then there are the deliberate deeds that go far beyond—God calls those sin. When God questioned Adam and Eve about why they had disobeyed Him, they quickly tried to shift the blame to another (Gen. 3:8–13). Aaron took no personal responsibility when the people built a golden calf to worship in the desert. He explained to Moses, “[The people] gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came the calf!” (Ex. 32:24).

He might as well have muttered, “Mistakes were made.”

Sometimes it seems easier to blame someone else rather than admitting our own failings. Equally dangerous is to try to minimize our sin by calling it “just a mistake” instead of acknowledging its true nature.

But when we take responsibility—acknowledging our sin—and confessing it, the One who “is faithful and just . . . will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our God offers His children forgiveness and restoration.

Ring of Invisibility

The Greek philosopher Plato (c. 427–c. 348 bc) found an imaginative way of shining light on the dark side of the human heart. He told the story of a shepherd who innocently discovered a golden ring that had been hidden deep in the earth. One day a great earthquake opened up an ancient mountainside tomb and revealed the ring to the shepherd. By accident he also discovered that the ring had the magical ability to enable the wearer to become invisible at will. Thinking about invisibility, Plato raised this question: If people didn’t have to worry about being caught and punished, would they resist doing wrong?

In John’s gospel we find Jesus taking this idea in a different direction. There, Jesus, known as the Good Shepherd, speaks of hearts that stay in the cover of darkness to hide what they are doing (John 3:19-20). He isn’t calling attention to our desire for cover-up to condemn us, but to offer us salvation through Him (v. 17). As the Shepherd of our hearts, He brings the worst of our human nature to light to show us how much God loves us (v. 16).

God in His mercy calls us out of our darkness and invites us to follow Him in the light.

Related Topics

Sin > Temptation

Giving in to Jesus

They call it “The Devil’s Footprint.” It’s a foot-shaped impression in the granite on a hill beside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. According to local legend the “footprint” happened one fall day in 1740, when the evangelist George Whitefield preached so powerfully that the devil leaped from the church steeple, landing on the rock on his way out of town.

Though it’s only a legend, the story calls to mind an encouraging truth from God’s Word. James 4:7 reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

God has given us the strength we need to stand against our adversary and the temptations in our lives. The Bible tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14) because of God’s loving grace to us through Jesus Christ. As we run to Jesus when temptation comes, He enables us to stand in His strength. Nothing we face in this life can overcome Him, because he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As we submit ourselves to our Savior, yielding our wills to Him in the moment and walking in obedience to God’s Word, He is helping us. When we give in to Him instead of giving in to temptation, He is able to fight our battles. In Him we can overcome.

Finding the Way Out

There’s a street with an intriguing name in the city of Santa Barbara, California. It’s called “Salsipuedes,” which means “leave if you can.” When the street was first named, the area bordered on a marsh that sometimes flooded, and the Spanish-speaking city planners dubbed the location with a not-so-subtle warning to stay away.

God’s Word cautions us to stay away…

Watchful and Alert

My desk sits close to a window that opens into our neighborhood. From that vantage point I’m privileged to watch birds perch on the trees nearby. Some come to the windows to eat insects trapped in the screen. 

The birds check their immediate surroundings for any danger, listening attentively as they look about them. Only when they are satisfied that there is no danger do they settle down to feed. Even then, they pause every few seconds to scan the area.

The vigilance these birds demonstrate reminds me that the Bible teaches us to practice vigilance as Christians. Our world is full of temptations, and we need to remain constantly alert and not forget about the dangers. Like Adam and Eve, we easily get entangled in attractions that make the things of this world seem “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6).

“Be on your guard,” Paul admonished, “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13). And Peter cautioned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). 

As we work for our own daily bread, are we alert to what could start consuming us? Are we watching for any hint of self-confidence or willfulness that could leave us wishing we had trusted our God?

Sin > The Fall

The Talking Tree

One of the earliest Christian poems in English literature is “The Dream of the Rood.” The word rood comes from the Old English word rod or pole and refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified. In this ancient poem the crucifixion story is retold from the perspective of the cross. When the tree learns that it is to be used to kill the Son of God, it rejects the idea of being used in this way. But Christ enlists the help of the tree to provide redemption for all who will believe.

In the garden of Eden, a tree was the source of the forbidden fruit that our spiritual parents tasted, causing sin to enter the human race. And when the Son of God shed His blood as the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity’s sin, He was nailed to a tree on our behalf. Christ “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).

The cross is the turning point for all who trust Christ for salvation. And ever since the crucifixion, it has become a remarkable symbol that represents the sacrificial death of the Son of God for our deliverance from sin and death. The cross is the inexpressibly wonderful evidence of God’s love for us.

Listening to God

My young son loves to hear my voice, except when I call his name loudly and sternly, followed by the question, “Where are you?” When I do that, I am usually calling for him because he has been into some mischief and is trying to hide from me. I want my son to listen to my voice because I’m concerned about his well-being and do not want him to get hurt.

Adam and Eve were used to hearing God’s voice in the garden. However, after they disobeyed Him by eating the forbidden fruit, they hid from Him when they heard Him calling, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). They didn’t want to face God because they knew they had done something wrong—something He had told them not to do (v. 11).

When God called for Adam and Eve and found them in the garden, His words did include correction and consequence (vv. 13–19). But God also showed them kindness and gave them hope for mankind in the promise of the Savior (v. 15).

God doesn’t have to look for us. He knows where we are and what we are trying to hide. But as a loving Father, He wants to speak to our hearts and bring us forgiveness and restoration. He longs for us to hear His voice—and to listen.  

What Will Be

You and I have something in common. We live in a mixed-up, tarnished world and we have never known anything different. Adam and Eve, however, could remember what life was like before the curse. They could recall the world as God intended it to be—free of death, hardship, and pain (Gen. 3:16-19). In pre-fall Eden, hunger, unemployment, and illness did not exist. No one questioned God’s creative power or His plan for human relationships.

       The world we have inherited resembles God’s perfect garden only slightly. To quote C. S. Lewis, “This is a good world gone wrong, but [it] still retains the memory of what ought to have been.” Fortunately, the cloudy memory of what the earth should have been is also a prophetic glimpse into eternity. There, just as Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, believers will see His face and serve Him directly. There will be nothing between God and us. “No longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). There will be no sin, no fear, and no shame.

        The past and its consequences may cast a shadow on today, but a believer’s destiny carries the promise of something better—life in a place as perfect as Eden.