Proverbs 4:5–6 (NKJV)
Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you.
I’ve been meaning to write on this for a long time, but the current controversy of the Statue of David has goaded me.
Peeling away the layers, the outcry in Florida exposes a weakness in theology that is having serious repercussions. It is an old discussion that goes way, way back into the history of the church.
What is sin? Where does it come from? How can we protect ourselves? How can we protect our children?
Pelagius taught that sin is passed from generation to generation by imitation. If people would simply make better choices in a better environment, they could be free from moral corruption.
This perspective was shared by Charles Finney in the 19th century. Sin is a series of bad choices. Make better choices and God will bless you. Finney used the excitement of revival as a means of grace. If people are presented with the right motivation, they will make good choices, and be free from the bondage of sin.
This perspective is popular, because it fits our natural religion. I can gain favor with God by doing the right things, by offering the right sacrifices, believing the right theology.
But it is deadly. The Bible doesn’t teach sin as a series of bad choices, but as a power that holds us all in its grip from the womb. It is a deadly force that we are powerless against. It is Pharoah to our Israel, Sisera to the people of God, leprosy to the body.
Sin indeed leads to all sorts of bad choices, but the exercise of will-power or the cleansing of the environment can never, ever free us from the bondage of sin, anymore than the men in Deborah’s day could do anything at all about Sisera, or the men of Israel could do anything about Pharaoh.
In fact, Paul teaches in the book of Galatians that it will have the opposite effect. If you believe that you are perfected by the works of the law (which is anything that says, “Do this, and live”) you will not reap the fruits of the spirit, but you will reap the works of the flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, Jesus said. You need to be born again.
Nicodemus understood the impossibility of that, far more than the modern theologian. How can you climb into your mother’s womb again??
That is the point. How do you overcome the flesh? You have to be born again. How do you do that? You can’t.
But that is precisely why Jesus came into the world. He CAN.
In Proverbs 4, quoted above, Solomon is teaching the same thing. If you do not “get wisdom” you have no protection whatsoever from sin, who comes as the seductress seeking to lead you to death. You have no power to escape, unless you have wisdom. Wisdom will preserve you and keep you.
And in the New Covenant, we learn that Wisdom is Jesus Christ. You don’t get wisdom by studying, by going to seminary, by avoiding temptation, or by exercising the will – you get wisdom by acknowledging that you desperately need it, and coming to Christ foolish, thirsty, weak, hopeless.
So lets look at that through the examples of scripture. Take a man infected with leprosy – whatever that condition was in the Old Covenant, it left men and women outcasts, unclean, and alienated from the covenant and the promises of God. But it was simply a metaphor for that which leaves all of us unclean – sin.
The only cure for leprosy was to be cleansed by Jesus. No amount a change in environment, will-power, or good choices could deliver a man from that dreaded disease.
So also, sin. It is a power that corrupts, that drives us from God. It affects all of us and it reveals itself in pride, murder, lying, adultery, idolatry, selfish ambition, conceit.
And the biggest mistake that we can make is to think that the power of sin will be overcome by the flesh – by good will power, by better laws, by good environment.
It can only be overcome by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is freely given to us for our complete redemption.
That is the gospel. But the religion of America has driven the gospel out of the churches, and substituted it with the flesh.
Look at the situation in Florida. Parents complained about the statue of David being shown to a classroom. The principle ended up resigning.
As long as we think that sin is something that we or our children catch from our environment, there will be a continual push for more and more oppressive laws.
David, drag queens, sex education in school – all of it has to go! They will cause our children to be sinners.
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black, you can trust
It’ll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust
(Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust)
The greatest thing that we fear is that our children will make bad choices and destroy themselves. We want them to be provided for, happy, content, contributors to society, and members of the church.
And so, regardless of our profession, in practice we become Pelagian. If we could only cleanse the environment. If we could only protect them from outside influences. If we could shame and terrify them into making good choices. If we could save them from the world…
And Youth Group because a place where we think we are protecting our children from the “out there”. We homeschool, we diligently send our kids to youth group, we lobby the government, we are outraged that the library is full of books by sinners, and we never, ever allow our kids to see a stone penis.
Because sin is “out there”. If you cover the girls’ arms and clavicles, if you put the fig leaves in front of the naughty bits, if you never listen to rock but only bad rock with proper lyrics, forbid dating, warn, warn, warn, warn…
When you read Proverbs 7, you think that the solution is to warn the young man to stay away from the woman – personified sin.
But staying away from the woman won’t help, because the man is foolish, even BEFORE the woman (temptation) enters the picture. The worst thing to do is to teach your kids that foolishness can be overcome by avoiding temptation. How can pride in human strength bring forth anything pleasing to God?
The only way to protect yourself from the temptation of the woman is – Get WISDOM!
1 Corinthians 1:30
30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption
Sin is a power that holds us in our grip until we come to Christ. Even then, the power will not be taken away entirely until we see him face to face. It is what we long for.
Our children can never be saved by protecting them from “out there”, because the problem isn’t “out there”. The problem is in the heart and it can only be taken away by the power of the cross of Christ.
Seeking to avoid sin by avoiding the world will simply drive us to fear, shame and further guilt.
There are volumes that can and have been written on the subject.
But remember this – in the Roman Empire, nudity, live pornography, idolatry, and every other temptation surrounded the early church all the time. All you had to do to “catch the live show” would be to walk outside.
The apostle’s knew this. They said nothing about avoiding the world. They said a lot about gaining wisdom.
Speak to your children about Jesus. About his love and purity. Speak of the cross. Speak of how he cleanses us, loves us, clothes us, covers our nakedness.
Speak of how he made our bodies beautiful and functional, and not something to be ashamed of, but something to us to bring love and wisdom and beauty into the world.
Speak of loving our neighbors, befriending that trans kid that everyone else is shunning. Teach them that loving your gay neighbor is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of, because Jesus invites everyone to his table.
Show them how Jesus came into the world to save sinners and we can trust in him and finally live our lives without fear, for the enemy has no power over us, because our King has already defeated him.