A group of our members will be confirming their faith in worship on October 3, and during that celebration, each of them will be asked to respond “yes” to reaffirm the three questions of baptism.
In baptism and confirmation, we first say “yes” to turning away from sin, then “yes” to the lordship and salvation of Jesus, and finally, “yes” to living our lives first and foremost for Christ above all else.
Between now and then, I’ll be preaching sermons that focus on those game-changing questions, and this morning, we’ll be unpacking that first question, “Do you turn away from sin and reject evil?” And along the way, we’ll also shed some light on what it means to trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the second question of baptism.
My hopeful goal is not only preparing confirmands to take this important step of faith, but also reminding all of us that we, too, have been baptized. And the significance of our baptisms impacts our living long after the waters of the sacrament have dried from our skins and the family celebrations are over.
So, let’s jump into the waters of baptism with both feet!
That first question – turning away from sin and rejecting evil – suggests that sin and evil more than anything else are conditions – conditions of the heart. Our sinful condition is a cocky attitude that insists we can live our lives without God.
Whenever we make someone or something more important than God, whenever we organize our lives around anything other than God, whenever we do or say something that pushes back against God’s always-good purposes, whenever we believe or carry out thoughts and ideas that drive wedges between us and God and between us and others, then sin and evil have taken hold of our hearts, and that sorry state of affairs breaks God’s heart.
But believe it or not, there’s good news in all that, because God in Jesus Christ came into this world and became one of us to rescue us from the vise grip of sin and evil.
The Cross of Jesus washes away your sin and mine, and brings us back into right relationship with God and with those whom God calls us to love – friend and enemy, neighbor and stranger.
In your rejection of sin and evil promised in baptism, and in your ongoing, honest prayers that confess your brokenness and seek forgiveness, God celebrates with a kind of joy and thanksgiving that stretches beyond the edges of the universe:
“You were dead but now are alive again. You were lost but now are found. You are mine, and you belong to me!”
Rejecting sin and turning away from evil thus become all about rescue and resurrection,
and those blessings play important parts in this morning’s Scripture lesson from the apostle Paul’s first letter to his young protégée, Timothy. Let the truth of God’s rescue and resurrection help you better understand what it means to turn away from sin and reject evil and to trust in Jesus as your Savior as you listen now to the Word of the Lord.
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.
But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
“Christ Jesus Came into the World to Save Sinners.”
It’s a veritable bumper sticker of a saying and perfect fodder for a social media meme.
“Jesus saves” – short, direct, on point, and spot on in explaining why Jesus came to earth
and become one of us. Jesus comes to save us from ourselves – to free our hearts of their sinful condition.
Jesus doesn’t come for those who are convinced they had no sin.
Jesus doesn’t come for those who’ve got their spiritual acts together.
No, Jesus comes to clean up the moral train wrecks that we all become when we’re left to our own fallen devices.
The Lord’s arrival in this world is most welcomed – or should be most welcomed –
by those who know – or at least somehow or other can be convinced – that they really and truly are lost.
Try thinking about it like this:
If all the plumbing in your house is working just fine, then the unannounced arrival of a plumber at your door won’t be a welcome moment in your day. So, you politely tell the plumber to go away.
But, if your basement is filling up with filthy, stinking water from a clogged sewer pipe,
then you embrace the plumber’s arrival with great excitement and rejoicing. Indeed, something can be done to fix your unhealthy, foul-smelling problem, and you welcome the plumber in with open arms! Thanks be to God, you found someone who can drain your rotten, putrid swamp of a basement.
The Gospel is really pretty straightforward: Our spiritual pipes are clogged and broken; our spiritual basements are filled with raw sewage, but our God wants to clean up the mess, repair the damage, and fix the problem. And in Christ, God most surely does. Our relationship with God went south a long time ago, but Jesus enables a reunion.
Of course, there’s way more to the story than just that, but yet, there’s something simple and basic about it, too: We’re broken and separated.
But in Christ, we are fixed and reunited.
And by the Holy Spirit of Christ, we find the energy and courage to turn away from sin and reject evil and live lives that better reflect the image and purpose of the Lord who created us to be his holy people.
Who better to illustrate that truth than the apostle Paul himself?
Young Timothy knows enough of his mentor’s past that Paul doesn’t have to fill-in the details of his dark days as a hater of Jesus and a persecutor of Christians. A mere allusion to his violence and blasphemy is enough.
Back when Paul was known as Saul, he was a textbook example of a vicious, mean-spirited bad actor. That Saul carried out all his violent abuse against Christians in the name of the very God he’d later come to know as the Father of his Lord Jesus Christ only made his crimes all the more heinous. God would have been well within divine rights to swat Saul to deepest hell forever.
But that’s not what God does. Why? Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus saves. Jesus doesn’t cast off.
Saul surely is the poster boy for unholy behavior, but he’s also the exact kind of person
Jesus most wanted to save by grace alone. And now that he’s saved by grace, Paul assures anyone and everyone that there’s no such thing as a lost cause, no such thing as a person unworthy of the time and effort it takes to rescue them through the message of the Gospel.
There is always hope.
There is always the possibility of resurrection.
There is absolutely no sin that’s beyond God’s forgiveness.
That’s just what the Gospel is all about – a good news story about passing from death into life.
And in thanksgiving to the Lord of our God for undeserved, forgiving grace that’s beyond measure, we turn away from the sin and reject the evil that got us into hot water to begin with and instead splash with joy in the cool waters of baptism, which assure that we don’t avoid sin and evil to earn God’s love. We avoid sin and evil like the plague, because God’s loves us still – no matter what!
The pyramids of Egypt are some of the most famous structures in the world. They served as burial chambers for the Pharaohs.
But archaeologists say that preparation for death was important all across Egyptian society, not just for Pharaohs. For the Egyptians, the path to eternal life was fraught with dangers, demons, and dead ends. One had to be well prepared, and the Book of the Dead provided tips, instructions, and incantations for the soul on its journey to the underworld.
Excerpts from the book were often placed on coffins, or sometimes, complete scrolls were placed in tombs. The last ordeal on the path to eternity, supposedly, was the weighing of the deceased’s heart. This would determine a person’s fitness for joining the land of the gods. Applicants who passed were welcomed by O-si-ris, the Egyptians’s god of the afterlife. But a heart too heavy laden with evil was devoured by a monster, and the spirit was banished into darkness.
Christian faith, of course, sees death very differently. The path to eternal life is not fraught with danger, but has been made simple and open by Christ. And while our hearts may be weighed down by sin, it is not the degree of sin and evil found within them that will matter. What matters is the presence of faith in Christ, who forgives all our sin and welcomes us into his presence.
Turning from sin, rejecting evil, and relying on the Lord’s grace is to admit that you can’t bridge the sinful gap between you and God on your own. Thanks be to God that Jesus bridges the gap with grace upon grace – in this world and the next.
Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Scholarship, commentary and reflection by James D.G. Dunn and Scott Hoezee inform the message.