Ye who think of sin but lightly…

Here is one of my favorite hymns, especially for Good Friday. It is something to think about on this day when we remember our Lord’s passion, death and burial.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God. (Thomas Kelly)

Every scheme designed by humans to take care of sin and suffering will ultimately fail, because the problem is far deeper than we can imagine.

Sin is uglier, deadlier, fouler than we can possibly fathom – and it affects all of us.

It can’t be fixed by purity schemes, modesty balls, virginity pledges. It can’t be fixed with home-schooling, Christian schooling or public schooling. It can’t be solved by patriarchalism, feminism, complementarianism, or egalitarianism. It can’t be fixed by putting all men on the board, or by putting all women on the board, or by having an eclectic mix of everyone.

It can’t be solved by conservatives or liberals. It can’t be solved by moderates. It can’t be solved by good policy or by bad policy.

And it certainly can’t be fixed by the law. Telling people what to do, even if you have a big enough weapon to enforce it, won’t take care of the problem of sin. It is far too ugly and cruel to be fixed that way.

Because sin isn’t fixed by democracy, by republicanism, by representative government or by dictatorship, by law or by compassion, or by anything at all under the sun. If we are to be saved, God must do it. He must come to us, for we cannot go to him.

Where there are men and women, there is sin – and it is far uglier than we think. We won’t even know how ugly it truly is until we see Him Who Is Beauty face to face.


I reject all forms of self-righteousness. It is impossible to add any of our works to our righteousness before the judgment throne of God, for the only works that can stand before God are those works that are perfect throughout, and ours are all defiled by sin. Those who try to merit some kind of favor from God don’t understand the power and ugliness of sin.

A little vomit, a little excrement, spoils the whole thing – and our sins are filthier than we can even imagine.

How bad is our sin? Our sin is so bad that the only solution was the death of the Son of God. He who is perfect innocence, infinite love, immaculate beauty, pure and undefiled goodness….the one who cried out with tears in Gethsemane “If you are willing, take this cup away from me”. But the cup would not be taken away, because it is the only way that sinners can stand before God. His compassion and obedience were perfect, for he is true and righteous man. And his power is infinite, for he is true God. “Not my will, but thine be done.”

How ugly is sin? Look at the cross. See the nails in the hands, the thorns on the head. The nakedness and shame and ugliness. He died – not on a bejeweled cross of gold, but a cruel cross of ugly wood surrounded by jeering soldiers and mocking Jews. Held up in the air to be shamed and mocked and outcast – unfit for human kindness and God’s compassion – he was made sin for us. He was counted among the criminals, the slaves, the outcasts. This is how ugly sin is. It is worse than we think.

Don’t miss it. As you fight to make this world a better place, as you give cold water or clothing to the hungry and naked, as you speak with kindness and compassion to your neighbors and friends, as you weep with those who weep, as you fight for justice, don’t forget Friday. As you fight for social justice and expose evil-doers and help untangle the mess that sin leaves behind, don’t mistake your works for righteousness. Sin is uglier than that.

All of these things are good. Food is good. Compassion is good. Justice is good. Love is good. Works that flow from faith are good. But they can never take away sin. They cannot ever reach the heart of the problem. Sin is far too ugly to be cured by advocacy, activism, politics, education, vows, rituals, works of any kind, or even good intentions and sincerity.

Why must he suffer death? Because the justice and truth of God required that satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God (Heidelberg Catechism, 40)

In no other way…

…see who bears the awful load.

If you haven’t heard the hymn, here is my own arrangement.




Filed under Christology, Gospel, Passion

7 responses to “Ye who think of sin but lightly…

  1. Anu Riley

    I love that you post your posts on Facebook, and hopefully you get a good response there, but honestly—it would be great to have some traffic on this page as well. You’ve obviously worked hard on it.

    Although I am sure you would say it’s not about the amount of or even type of responses :-). It’s about getting the message out.

    I’ve been a believer for a long time now, but I still need this reminder: sin is NOT a “surface” problem (“the problem is far deeper than we can imagine”).

    So we cannot possibly imagine that it can be solved by a “surface” solution (“They can never take away sin. They cannot ever reach the heart of the problem. Sin is far too ugly to be cured by advocacy, activism, politics, education, vows, rituals, works of any kind, or even good intentions and sincerity.”)

    This is where I think the confusion starts to rise and run rampant. I highly doubt anyone will disagree that this world is not a well oiled machine. Even with all its vast resources, and all the human intelligence we are endowed with—-we’ve never been able to remove or eradicate our own sin, and what sin does to those around us. The consequences are that far reaching.

    The best we’ve been able to do (and this is reaching), is create various “systems” to either reduce the flow, or tamper down its spread.

    Even there, that is like putting a band-aide on a gunshot wound. Maybe you’ve clumsily tried to delay the inevitable, but sooner or later that patient will probably die—-without professional help.

    A person or persons who know how to treat what is going on underneath the surface. Underneath all the surface bleeding. Who knows how to pull out the bullet that is slowly killing them (without killing the patient in the process).

    Until then, the bullet will go deeper and deeper into the body. Time is precious. Time is running out. Time is not on their side, but time can be given back to them—-if they snap out of their delusion that this weak band-aide will solve everything.

    I understand this delusion. The last thing I wanted to hear as an unsaved person was that not only did I have this spiritual “disease” called sin, but that it was terminal, and the only treatment for it was quite “costly.”

    It cost Him everything to give it to me, but it would also cost me quite a lot to be able to receive it. My life as I knew it had to be reckoned as “dead,” before I could live again.

    The scale tipped in MY favor of course. The trade off was NOT at all equal. What He did for me was not on the same scale as what I was being asked of.

    But the conflict within me raged: “Those who try to merit some kind of favor from God don’t understand the power and ugliness of sin.”

    I think that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks right there. That, and the very understandable fear of getting mixed up in “man made religion” as a replacement for what is absolutely NOT man-made: salvation from Him and in Him, having nothing to do with human hands.

    So many believers seem to struggle with becoming “jaded” with the church as an institution, yet (thankfully) have not walked away from Him as a result.

    Others have, however, which is about as sorrowful as one can imagine. It is truly disastrous (no other word to describe it) when horrible things are done or said in the name of sin prevention or sin solving—-but it ultimately has the opposite effect. It actually reaps more death, instead of bringing more life.

    Anytime I stupidly think I am “fixing” the sin issue, in me or around me, I try to fall back on my own salvation story: I came to Him because I was DONE with that sort of thinking. It is futile—–but where I failed, He was faithful.

  2. anonymous

    Pastor Powell,

    Is it a sin to not be a mother?

    I came across 1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

    The part that especially gets me is the “yet she will be saved through childbearing”.

    Will you comment on this? Assume the woman is not infertile.

    • From beginning to end, there is only one savior, and only one way of salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works. So this passage cannot mean that the works of childbearing have something to do with the salvation of women, for God does not lie.
      Second, the totality of our duties to God and man are summarized in the Ten Commandments, and there is nothing there about the command to bear children, so it is not a sin to not bear children.
      Paul is commenting on a situation in Timothy’s church. Before we can interpret correctly, we need to see the historical as well as the grammatical context.
      Commentaries are not all agreed as to exactly what it means, except for what I stated above. Christian commenters will never say that it is a sin to not bear children.
      Rather, here is what I think it means. Timothy was pastoring in a pagan culture to women who still held some pagan ideals. Childbearing is terrifying, far more so then than now – for many, many women died in childbirth. There were many superstitions and many religious rituals, and many sacrifices to pagan gods that were invented to protect the woman and the child through the dangers of childbearing.
      Paul is giving the Christian view of marriage and family in chapter 2. To answer the fears of a woman about to go through childbirth, he says, “You will be delivered, even through this trial – if you continue in faith”
      In other words, in the trial of childbirth, just like in every other trial, continue in faith 0 believing the goodness of fatherhood of God and our salvation that he has provided us in Christ, and Christ is able to save you even through that trial. If it is His will to call you home during, or after, you will be with Him, and even in death nothing can take you from his hand. So continue faithful. Don’t give in a succumb to the temptation of idols through fear, for God has this under his control.

      Good question. I hope this helps.

  3. Pingback: Ye Who Think of Sin but Lightly… - The Aquila Report

  4. Anonymous

    This was an excellent answer. Very helpful. Also helps frame up and aid in understanding other verses.

    For a fearful, anxious to please God, layman who doesn’t have the greatest understanding of the Bible, verses like 1 Timothy 2:15, when misunderstood, can plague a childless woman.

    Thanks for the kind response.

    • “Fear not” is the most comforting exhortation in scripture. When you stand before God, you stand before him as a daughter – greatly loved in Christ. Rejoice, for your name is written in heaven. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day!
      Write me anytime –

  5. Bill Emanon

    Happened upon this post today after seeing it on The Aquila Report. Yes, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” is a great old hymn. Here’s the last stanza, that we always want to remember for ourselves and to press on others:
    Here we have a firm foundation;
    Here the refuge of the lost.
    Christ the Rock of our salvation,
    His the name of which we boast.
    Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
    Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
    None shall ever be confounded
    Who on Him their hope have built.

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