Saturday, 2 August 2014

City on a Hill Christians: Does Greater Expectations Mean Greater Potential Judgement?

We are probably all familiar with the useful little phrase “all sin is sin”. It is a great way of allowing ourselves to love each other equally and not judge too harshly, because in the end, every sin is equal in God’s eyes. To an extent, I want to believe that. In another sense, I believe it is worth wrestling with.

I want to raise the challenge that there is a greater expectation on the Christian to avoid sin than there would be on a nonbeliever.

Christians have always loved to carry over a phrase from our Jewish roots, that we are a set apart people. We have been called to something greater than this world. Indeed, it is within the New Testament scripture as well, with Peter quoting Leviticus and saying “Be Holy, because I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16)To be holy, to be sanctified, is to be set apart from worldly things. We are outwardly stating to anyone that will hear us that we are different, that we are a people striving for a glory that goes beyond anything this world has to offer. In the words of Jesus,
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. ... In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16).
We are that shining city on a hill, but with that proclamation comes great responsibility, and one I am not so sure we have given the respect that is due to it.

To go back to my opening question of whether we can justifiably say that all sin is sin, I feel compelled to suggest that because we are this “city on a hill," there is reason for us to believe that we should expect more of ourselves, and maybe, just maybe, that God expects more of us than he would of those who have not believed in Him. Now, before anyone gets in an uproar over that statement, let me elaborate. James states that
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
I would venture to say that we are kidding ourselves if we do not all place ourselves into this category of teachers. We have all in some way or another believed ourselves to have enough understanding of scripture and our own belief systems to instruct others. Yes, you can argue, and I have heard it done, that this verse refers to someone like a pastor, someone who makes a living teaching the Word, but I don’t think that is the case. I think with the knowledge of scripture that we have, we automatically place ourselves into a position of higher judgement.

Perhaps the greatest reason for this increased judgement in my opinion is the way that we inevitably look to the world when we allow our sinful natures to corrupt the words we speak or the actions that we make. Therefore in the same way that the Jewish people of scripture were held so responsible for their failings because of the high standing they had been given with God, Christians should feel themselves equally so. Paul clarifies this point well to me:
"You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2: 21-24)
That last phrase is chilling. First spoken by Isaiah, it rings just as true today as it did then. God’s name is still blasphemed among the Gentiles today, though not as much on account of the Jews, but rather the Christians, who have a less than positive reputation amongst a great population of the world. Because we have this great truth in our lives, we are called to live differently, and it is utter foolishness to do otherwise. As Charles Spurgeon puts it,
Much forgiven, much delivered, much instructed, much enriched, much blessed, shall we dare to put forth our hand to evil? God forbid! (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, 410).
And yet we do that precisely! And yet we still believe that all sin is sin, and we will not be treated any differently? I am not so sure. We have a great truth in our lives that should be enough to give ourselves separation from the world, but telling a Christian from a nonbeliever is next to impossible on a daily basis. If we believe that will go unnoticed on judgement day, we are unfortunately fooling ourselves.

I will end this here with one more verse, which I confess to having little idea what to do with at my present stage in life:
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace" (Hebrews 6:4-6).
I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with the notion that “all sin is sin” when I read that verse.


By Guest Blogger: Nick Rochow
Photo Credit: Normality Relief, Flickr Creative Commons

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