Effects of Sin: Keeping God at Arm's Length

Why is it that many people just don't want to hear about God?

Sin and Its Effects and Cure (5) 

although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.Romans 1.21, 25

A curious phenomenon
As apparently many Christians see it today, evangelizing the lost is a hopeless enterprise. “People just aren’t interested in the Gospel. They don’t want to hear it.” We consider that their sinfulness has put them, to some degree at least, in opposition to the Gospel, and they don’t want us coming around trying to cram our religion down their throats.

So we oblige the very people who need to hear it most by keeping silent about the Gospel.

Where does this leave us? In the churches we keep silent about sin, thus allowing the effects of sin to fester unchecked. And in the world we keep silent about the Gospel, which is the only cure for sin, thus allowing the effects of sin to fester unchecked.

And we wonder why the world is in so much turmoil?

It is true, of course, that many people in the world are doing their best to keep God at arm’s length. They stay away from church. They don’t want to talk about religion. They never read the Bible. And their minds and hearts are taken up entirely with things secular, sensual, and material. 

Is this because they find more satisfaction and fulfillment in avoiding God than in believing inHim? How would they know? 

Religious all
The fact is, everyone worships some kind of god. Paul says if people will not worship the God of the Bible, they’ll worship some god of their own devising. Which, at the end of the day, means they’re worshiping themselves and the deity – the idol – they’ve erected as the object of their most fervent desires and efforts.

Why do people do this?

The answer is simple: sin. It is one of the effects of sin that people prefer a god of their own devising to the God Who reveals Himself in Scripture. Another way to say this is that people think they know better than God what’s best for them. You and I felt that way once, and, if we’re honest, we slip into that mindset from time to time even now. Many people prefer their morality to His, their way of living to that which is prescribed in His Law, and their view of truth to that of Scripture. And it’s sin that leads them to make such choices.

Rather than acknowledge and worship the God of the Bible Whom they all know, Paul insists – since God has clearly made Himself known to them – people will turn in their sin-blinded condition to create some deity, some idea of the “good life,” to which they attach themselves.

Even though that deity is only the product of their own minds, offers no security against death, continually leaves them frustrated and looking for something more, is routinely out-performed by the deities other people embrace, and shape-shifts each time they seem almost to have it within their grasp, still, this false god allows them to keep the true God at arm’s length, and this is the objective, after all.

Everyone is religious. Everyone worships something. If people, blinded by sin, will not worship the God of the Bible, they’ll worship some god of their imagination. As a result, as Paul explains, “even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1.28-32).

And they do this because they will not worship the one true God. If ever we needed evidence for the power and tragedy of sin – and for the tragedy of our twin silences regarding sin and the Gospel – surely this is it.

Look at it this way
But there’s another way of looking at this situation. Paul says all people know God, because God is continually revealing Himself to them through the things He has made. Apart from God, Paul writes in Ephesians 2.12, people have no hope. They set up these false deities – wealth, leisure, sex, fun, whatever – and pursue them with a vengeance. But each time they seem to realize the hope of their self-made religion, it fails, leaving them wanting something more.

We could point out to these folks that their frenzied life of frustration in pursuit of the god of their own imaginations is the result of sin. We could show them, from Romans 1 and elsewhere, that the downward spiral into futility they feel their lives are becoming is the result of keeping God at arm’s length, preferring instead the false god which they’ve made up in their own minds.

Then we could tell them the Good News that this God – Whom they know but deny – loves them so much that not only has He surrounded them with steadfast love and faithfulness in spite of their rebellion, He sent His Son to die for their sins and open the way to true and eternal life with Him.

We could do this. We couldhelp them escape the tragedy of sin and its consequences. But before we will, something about our own views of sin, the Gospel, and the needs of those around us is going to have to change.

For reflection
1.  Paul says everyone knows God at some level. What evidence would you cite in support of that claim?

2.  Everyone is religious in that everyone chooses a god to worship, an idea of the good life to pursue, and an accompanying ethic by which to live. And all this is an act of faith. Why is it important that we understand this?

3.  What are the “twin silences” of the Church, and how can we begin to overcome them?

Next steps – Conversation: What do you think are the primary obstacles preventing people from telling the Good News to others? Talk with some Christian friends about this question. How can believers help one another be more consistent in sharing the Gospel?

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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