Notes for Bible Study on Sin & Repentance[Walter Jones prepared and led a study on repentance on 4/11/96. During which, Daniel Chang (alumn, visiting from Duke Med) pointed out the obvious: if we're talking about repenting from past sins, maybe we should talk about what sins are first. So, following the "we got an extension on the first half of the study" philosophy, we're talking about sin on 4/18. All Bible quotes taken from the New International Version, accessible online at http://www.gospelcom.net ]
This is also a slightly extended version of the handouts I gave out on 4/18 to attenders of Ruddock/Blacker. Please read it over; there are some important things that I didn't quite have time to type them in for that handout.
What is Sin?A short answer can be found in Romans 8: "7The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." God created us, God sustains us, God sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment for our sin. (Romans 8:3-4). In accepting Jesus Christ as our lord and savior, we have accepted a rebirth in him, submitting our will to his. We can never atone for our own sins, but through the blood of Jesus, we have a way to be cleansed of the stains sins put on our soul: confessing the sins to Jesus and those we have sinned against, and repenting.
Why should we be concerned about sin?Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Summary: you sin, you die and go to hell. Fortunately, God isn't that pessimistic, and has provided a way to escape that.
Implicit definitions of Sin in BibleThere are several words for it in the Old Testament; one of those that has both a literal and figurative definition is means to miss the target, such as the target when shooting slings (Judges 20:16), or God (Exodus 20:20). There is no partial credit with God-- one must follow all of his commandments and laws; following eight of the ten commandments means breaking the other two. The next word is used for crimes, grievous offenses, and sins in general.
The worst form in Hebrew is the above, but qualified with other words meaning to `twist' `do wickedly' or `lead others astray.' That is, if you are leading others away from the true path of Christianity, it is more than just you sinning; you have caused them to sin as well. There are then two sinners instead of just one; a worse problem. Jesus has something very pointed to say about those in Mark 9:42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck"
The New Testament is not much different. The main word for sin, hamartia, such as in John 8:46, has the same context of `missing the mark.' Others, such as asebeia, are stronger, in terms of wickedness and ungodliness. But, in addition to the deliberate wickedness, there's also the concept of unintentional sin in paraptoma.
Fine, nice, so you probably don't read Greek, and almost certainly don't read Hebrew. What was the point of going into all of that? Well, in English, we have `sin,' `tresspass' (if you know the more traditional Lord's Prayer), and that's about it. But, the variety of words in the Bible should tell you that this is a thing that God cared deeply about-- enough to send his own son to die for our sins.
The consequences of sinThe precise origin of sin, Satan, and the like could be the subject of many long debates, but for this article, we will assume the following: sin exists, and as long as we're breathing, we're sinners. (For further reference, check out the CCF library or your local Christian bookstore) In attempting to be as like God, instead of the calling to praise, worship, and submit one's will to him, Adam & Eve's fall brought sin to the rest of us, with the following consequences:
Why is God concerned with Sin, anyhow?Sin is an act against God, in breaking his rules as to how we are to live. God has two choices for action: 1) Do nothing, 2) Get angry. Since God created the whole world, each of us, and wants desperately for us to love him back, when we reject him, his stated response is to get angry. Fortunately, in the Old Testament, he provided a way to mitigate (but not remove) the anger. In the New Testament, he did more.
The Old Testament & SinningAfter Moses received the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20, if you can't remember all 10), and the Tabernacle was built according to God's layout and dedicated with sacrifices. The first three sacrifices listed in the book of Leviticus are for voluntary worship, devotion, and thanksgiving. But, next on the list of sacrifices was for sin. There was a very specific sacrifice for sin, detailed in Leviticus 4. It was the mandatory atonement for specific unintentional sin, confession of sin, forgiveness of sin, and cleansing from defilement. Further, for the guilt resulting from unintentional sin, Leviticus 5 details a sacrifice. God's plan in giving us this list of sacrifices to perform was that he is first to be glorified, but humans will sin, and so 40% of the sacrifices are for our failures.
The plan was simple: after sinning, confess one's sins (Lev 5:5), barbecue a few animals as the symbolic victims of the sin and punishment, and God promised forgiveness. (Lev 5:13). Did the Israelites listen and follow, as they promised? Nope. Read the books of Judges through 2 Chronicles for the history of the Israelites over many hundred years. They were called by God, promised to keep the covenant (Deut 29-30), and fell away. The history of Israel's kings starts off with Saul, who had the kingship taken away because of his sins (1 Samuel 15), David & Solomon do a fairly decent job, and then things start sliding away. 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles has many kings who's main description was "King X did what was wicked in the eyes of the LORD" and end with Jerusalem's fall in 586 BC at the hands of the Babylonians because of the Israelites sin. After the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites repented of their sin (more on that in the section on repentance), and swore to uphold the covenant. Still didn't work.
God is serious about sin. Sodom was nuked to rubble, and Ninevah almost got a similar fate, except that they heeded Jonah's warning. Sin will separate you from God. God's mercy is what keeps us all alive each and every day. God's love keeps our hearts breathing. God's patience will come to an end one day, be it by our own deaths, or by the second coming of Jesus. Do you want to be permanently and separated from God? It isn't a pleasant thought at all.
The New Testament and sinIn addition to the Old Testament concept of specific actions or inactions being sins, Jesus makes it `harder' for us. It is not necessarily the outward actions that are sins (for the Pharisees would keep the outward law), but one's heart and thoughts. Hating your brother (not just the biological one, but anyone else in the fellowship) is as bad as murdering him. Looking at a woman with lust in your eye is just as much a sin as the more physical acts of adultery. (Matt 5:21-28) Wanting to sin is just as much a sin as the actual act.
But, there was also a message of hope. Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, and the reason why Christians do not need to visit the Temple or transfer our guilt to animals. Jesus, as part of God, took God's wrath upon himself, and died for our sins. By repenting and accepting Jesus into our lives, we can become cleaned whiter than snow.
This does not mean by any means that since we have had our sin taken care of that we are home free. As long as we live, we are sinners, and so will transgress again. When we do, since we know that we have broken God's laws, we should be convicted, both in a judicial sense and as well as mentally to deal with the sin. Knowing the law, we have no excuse to break it and think there's a way out. This is where we must make
RepentanceWhat does repentance mean? The Greek in the the New Testament has a distinction between various levels of repentance that we should definitely care and be concerned about. There is the repentance where you realize what you did was wrong, but you don't seem to care that much about it. Then, there is the repentance where you see what you've done is wrong, change your heart, and do not do it again. The first falls into the category of "nice, but not good enough;" it's the second that is required.
Given that we have sinned against God, no matter whether it's also against someone else or not, we must repent to God, possibly in addition to the person we wronged as well. By the act of Jesus's dying on the cross, we have a way to do this-- we can pray and talk to God directly.
There is also the person(s) we have sinned against. We have hurt them, even if they don't realize it, and so we should repent to them as well. Going to them and admitting your sin is a good first step. John the Baptist tells us in Matthew 3:8 to produce fruit in keeping with repentance; if we sincerely repent, we will behave differently. Who we are or how important we think we are makes no difference; we have to produce this fruit, as John commands in Luke 3:8. Repentance is a change of attitude and action, not just muttering, "Oh, I screwed up. God forgive me," and not restoring your harmed brother.
What is restoration? Something that depends on the sin committed, and what God convicts you to do. If you have stolen, giving it back would be a good start. Concerning sin that results in physical damage or loss, the Old Testament demands full restitution plus 20%, something which is a good model to start with. Yes, paying back all that extra hurts, but remember that you hurt the other first, and that the 20% is an added incentive not to sin in the first place.
Repentance, obviously, should be sincere and should be accompanied by actions that reflect a change of heart. It is not a trivial matter. The Bible does give a few examples of repenting to other people. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:21) is one example. David repenting to Nathan (II Samuel 12:13-15) is another example. Notice that since David sinned publicly, he paid for it publicly. As stated above, you must repent to God and whomever you have sinned against; sin publicly, you must repent publicly.
Once we have repented, we have the promise of forgiveness. 1 John states it quite well: 9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Thus, by properly and in a timely manner dealing with our sins, we have the promise of total and permanent repentance. What a great thing.
Is there a statute of limitations on repentance?You may eventually forget that you sinned against your brother. The other may eventually forget as well. Problem is, God's been around a heck of a lot longer than any of us, and his memory is very, very good. One's sins are remembered, and if bad enough, the problems will affect your descendants. Once the Israelites were restored to Jerusalem, as seen in Ezra 9, as a whole, they were convicted to make public and vocal repentance for the sins of their forefathers, those whose unrepented sins had caused the Babylonian captivity.
We cannot make repentance for our ancestors sins and help them; once we are under the new covenant, we are personally responsible our own sins. But, the model of Ezra still applies-- we always able to repent for all of the sins we have committed throughout our lives. Jesus has promised that we are always able to repent and receive forgiveness for our sins.
We can be convicted at any time of our sins, and dealing with them is such an important thing that even worship can and should be put aside if there is sin that has not been dealt with. Jesus said it best at the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5 23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."
Another view on sin(Thanks to Daniel Chang for mentioning the idea to me) If we take the concept of sin being breaking God's law, what laws did Jesus affirm? Should be a fairly quick thing to remember. Here's the quote from Matthew 22:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Fine, so what's love? Try this quote from John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
In short, putting others, such as God and your friends, above yourself is love. Thus, Jesus's listing of the commandments in Matthew takes on a far more serious meaning. When you put your interests above your friends' that is not love, therefore breaking God's commandment. That's a sin. What about when you go to Church not to glorify God, but for personal gain, you're putting yourself ahead of God, which is a sin.
Are you reexamining your motivations for things now? God should be first in your life, we all know somewhere in the backs of our minds, but we get uncomfortable when that fact is pointed out to us. Surrendering all control to God is always a tough thing, but very necessary.
Listen to your conscience.There is no single list of sins in the Bible. Thus, how would you know if and when you have sinned? One solution is to pray that the Holy spirit would tell you about things, and deal with them as you are told. Another is detailed above: when you put your feelings and desires above God's or others. To quickly check if things are a sin, examine your heart, and see if your intentions are for personal gain or others.
Further, if your conscience is warning you about something, but you can't find an explicit commandment against it in the Bible so you go ahead and do it anyhow, that is a sin. Once you are warned, there is no excuse for not listening to your conscience.
Questions to think about for later (write up your answers for the Fishline!) Are there various levels of sins for which the punishment is not as much or God doesn't care? For example, would it be ok to steal a paper clip from someone, but it's obviously not ok to murder a friend. This sets up a slippery slope-- at which point does God care? One way to deal with this is to be very concerned about ALL sins.
Given that we are always tempted to sin, there is no real way to stop sinning forever, short of death, and that's not an option. Despite repentance, we all seem to sin again in various areas. Could you lift up those concerns to Jesus and see what can be done when it is not just your actions working against sin, but your will and God's?
For further readingThe book of Romans is rather good. Look for it in Bibles everywhere!