My buddy, Wes, is a pancreatic surgeon. Yeah, you don’t run into too many of those guys. Anyway, Wes is a guy I fought side by side with to survive the rigors of Citadel life. I respected him then and I certainly respect him now. One day I asked him why he chose this route of medicine. Wes told me that while in medical school his professors told him that the pancreas was the one organ you don’t want to mess with. Of course no doctor worth their salt would truly advise a student to ignore such a critical organ, but the point was that the complexities and dangers of working in, on and around the pancreas was something not to be trifled with. Well, that’s all it took. The gauntlet was thrown. The challenge made. And in proper Bulldog fashion, Wes felt compelled to go where no one else dared go. He was going to tackle the pancreas.
Our world (both the church and non-church world) tends to handle sin like the medical school professors handled the idea of treating the pancreas. Don’t mess with it! Don’t talk about it! Leave it alone! Let someone else deal with it! These are the prevailing sentiments regarding the handling and treatment of sin. Many see the complexities and dangers of working in, on and around sin to be so troubling that they would just assume not deal with it at all. But can we really treat sin in this way?
This week I was rereading the first chapter of J.C. Ryle’s book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (please read this book if you haven’t already…and if you have, please read it again). As I was reading I was struck, once again, with the importance of rightly studying, understanding and engaging sin. Why? Well, because in the words of Ryle,
“He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption.”
In the words of Marty McFly, “This is heavy” (for all you Back to the Future fans). But seriously, this is a weighty matter. Not many people like talking about human corruption, but ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. In order to have a healthy view of holiness we must have a healthy view of sin. Isn’t this what we want? Don’t we want to understand holiness? Don’t we want to be more holy? If you’re a Christian, then the answer has to be, Yes!
So, what is holiness? Holiness is that totally “other than” characteristic that only God possesses. It’s what separates Him from everything else in the universe. God’s holiness rests in His complete separation from sin. Amazing! Think about that statement for a minute. Imagine being completely, utterly, 100% separated from sin. We don’t have a category for that kind of an existence…BUT…holiness isn’t something we just dream about. God invites us to imitate Him in this divine attribute. He says, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy” (originally commanded in Leviticus 19:2, and later repeated by Peter in 1Peter 1:16). Once again, amazing! The Lord of the universe desires for us to look more like Him in holiness.
But if you’re like me, then you don’t always feel holy. That’s because there is an enemy that stands in the way of our being holy as God is holy. That enemy is sin. Sin is the greatest enemy to us living the Christian life. Even though sin’s enslaving power is broken in those who follow Christ, its active presence still remains. And every day we are in a war. So we can’t ignore this great enemy any more than a city under attack can ignore the vast army outside its walls. Action must be taken. And so it is vital for us to study sin, for us to understand sin, and for us to engage in the battle against sin.
Over the next several weeks, with the aid of Mr. Ryle, I hope to answer the question, how is it helpful to have the right understanding of sin? In Ryle’s chapter, he outlines 5 ways in which having a scriptural view of sin is an antidote to the challenges we confront in our daily lives. May God speak to us through his word and Spirit as we fight to love, honor, and glorify Him.