In his book, The Plague of Plagues, written in 1669, Ralph Venning wrote this paragraph about sin.
In general, sin is the worst of evils, the evil of evil and indeed the only evil. Nothing is so evil as sin, nothing is evil but sin. As the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us, so neither the sufferings of this life nor of that to come are worthy to be compared as evil with the evil of sin.
No evil is displeasing to God or destructive to man but the evil of sin. Sin is worse than affliction, than death, than the devil, than hell.
Affliction is not so afflictive, death is not so deadly, the devil is not so devilish, hell is not so hellish as sin is.
The four evils I have just named are truly terrible and from all of them everyone is ready to say, “Good Lord, deliver us.” Yet none of these nor all of them together are as bad as sin.
If our Puritan friend is right, and I believe he is, we can understand why people go to such great lengths to conceal or avoid addressing their sin.
Not only do we conceal our own sin, but, out of a false sense of decorum, we will even seek to conceal or justify the sins of others. We will attend our Bible studies and prayer groups and never touch on the elephant in the room: The actual sin of the hour.
We are not horrified by our sin nor the sins of others. We are just embarrassed. And so we try and shut down the confession of actual sin in our actual lives.
This is not the way of the gospel. The gospel does not hide or minimise our deadly sins. It acknowledges the sin, covers the sinner with mercy, and washes the sin away, once and for all.
In Luke chapter 7, Jesus is having dinner with a Pharisee named Simon when this woman comes in and starts washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. Jesus begins talking to this woman, an exceedingly sinful woman, about her exceedingly sinful sins. Not exactly dinner table conversation.
This is just the sort of thing that could ruin a Presbyterian lamington drive or a Sunday lunch. Couldn’t this kind of display be left to a more suitable occasion?
A while back, a small group of Christian friends went off for a weekend camping trip. These were Christian men in their 30’s and 40’s. Sensible men. Elders. Family men.
With them was a single Christian man in his early twenties, not well known to the other guys. He was the kind of guy that was good at asking honest questions.
Sitting around the campfire that night, he just blurted it out. “Hey, do you guys have a problem with porn?”
“Cuppa tea, anyone?”
These men, red faces looking down at their boots, had become accustomed to only thinking and talking about sin—much like love, faithfulness, and truth—in the abstract.
They weren’t that comfortable discussing an actual sin—at least not one that might apply to them.
The point is not our willingness to over-share. We have enough of that already. No one needs to hear or see you haul out your dirty deeds every time you enter a room. The point is our unwillingness to confront the reality of our sin.
Simon the Pharisee was the kind of man that felt uncomfortable around sin. Probably not because he hated sin, but because he had a fair wack of his own sin and was hoping to keep it hidden.
If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner. (Luke 7:39)
Jesus was the kind of man who just loved setting people free from crippling guilt and shame. Not by overlooking it, but by naming it, picking it up, and carrying it to the cross.
The more we recognise the depth of our sin, the evil of our sin, the satanic spirit at work in sin, the more decorum flies out the window.
When we see the true evil of sin, nothing else matters but that we are free of it. And that’s what Jesus came to do. Set us free.
The gospel does not set us free from the vague notion of sin or the grey, generalistic guilt of sin. It doesn’t set us free from the idea of sin.
The gospel sets a man free from actual sin. Sins in particular. Sins with names, dates, and locations. Sins you can point at, label, confess, and subsequently be entirely forgiven for and set free from.
And when Jesus comes across a woman desperately seeking to be delivered from her actual sin, nothing else mattered but that she should be delivered. And when we are truly delivered and pardoned, nothing will testify more clearly to the fact of our deliverance than our desire to see others set free from the evil of sin also.