Sitting on an airplane, the young women asked me the one question that usually brings every conversation with a person of my vocation to a screeching halt.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
I took a deep breath and answered apologetically, “I’m a pastor.”
Unfazed, the woman continued our conversation.
“My friends brought me to their church for awhile, but I didn’t like the pastor.”
“Why?” I asked tentatively, preparing myself for a possible beatdown.
“He told us we were sinners.”
“Well,” I hedged, “we are sinners.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a bad person. I’m not a murderer or anything.”
Yes, you are, I thought to myself.
Today, we’re going to look a little closer at an accusation leveled at many people who claim the Christian faith.
Genesis 13:9-16. In response to the covenant he made with God in Genesis 12:1-3, Abram began blessing others. He gave his nephew Lot the choice of which land to use for his flocks, and Lot chose the better land. In return, God rewarded Abram’s generosity by promising to give Abram all the land he could see forever and so many offspring that they couldn’t be counted (Genesis 13:15).
Genesis 13:18. Abram settled in Hebron, a convergence of major roadways where east meets west. This gave him a prime location to do business.
Genesis 14:18-20. Scripture points to Melchizedek as an example of virtue—a forerunner of David’s royal line (Psalm 110:4) and a forerunner of the Messiah (Hebrews 5-7). Again, note the generosity of Abram toward Melchizedek.
Genesis 15:6. This verse is pivotal in Scripture and quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 4, Galatians 3:6-14, James 2:23). Abram didn’t have a Bible to read. He didn’t have a community of people to encourage him in his faith. He was full of flaws. Yet, in his old age, God promised to give him offspring and Abram believed God. In return, God credited Abram as righteous (in a right relationship with god). I love what the Bible Background Commentary says about Abram—especially in light of today’s discussion: “Abram’s failure to fulfil the law’s demands completely is obvious in Genesis, yet his faith in God’s promise of a child is here said to count as righteousness.”
Psalm 6. The psalm works well as a prayer in response to today’s discussion.
Jesus’ words hit me square between the eyes every time I read Matthew 5:17-48. In this passage, Jesus takes six common sayings and turns them upside down. But the basic premise is this: we’re all messed up.
If I get angry at my brother, I’m guilty of murder…
If I lust after another woman, I’m guilty of adultery…
If I divorce my spouse or marry a person who is divorced, I’m guilty of adultery…
…you get the idea. Saint, yes—but sinner, too.
Jesus levels the playing field and defines sin not as outward action but as inward intent.
I’m guilty as charged!
On a deeper level, I find it quite easy to admit that I’m a sinner, but acknowledging my sin? That’ so much harder.
While writing this, the apostle Paul’s words from Romans 7:24-25 echo deep inside: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Fortunately, Paul also answers the question: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In yesterday’s reading, Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the rigorous requirements of the law on our behalf.
- What stood out to you in today’s reading?
- Compare the difference in Abrams’ exchanges with King Bera of Sodom and King Melchizedek of Salem (Genesis 14:17-24). Then take another look at God’s covenantal promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3. How does the rest of the Bible treat these two kings? Why?
- Do you find it difficult acknowledging that you’re a sinner? Why or why not?
- How could acknowledging you’re a sinner help you in your walk with God and in your relationship with others?
- Describe a time when this actually happened.
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