June 1, 2014 A+D
St. John 15:26-16:4
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Holy Scriptures classify sins. In the first place, the Scriptures teach us of original sin and actual sin. Original sin is the damning sin we inherit from our first parents. Unborn babies have not committed any actual sins, but apart from the Word and grace of God, they are in danger of damnation. That is why we pray for them and baptize them as soon as we are able. Of course, it doesn’t take long for babies to add actual sin to original sin.
But even among actual sins, the Scriptures distinguish. There are sins of injustice that cry out to heaven for vengeance. There is also what Jesus tells Pilate is the greater sin, that which wittingly causes harm to another.
All sins are the same in the sense that justice demands all sins be punished and no sinner can enter into the Kingdom of heaven. The smallest sin can damn if the sinner will not repent. Lutherans do think in terms of mortal and venial sins, but not in the way of the Roman church. For us, a mortal sin is a sin that kills and damns, not because it is so bad or so big, but because the sinner won’t repent of it. What damns is unbelief and impenitence.
Still, even apart from hardened hearts, there are distinctions with regard to sins. Not all sins are the same. Some sins are more harmful than others and some sins are more dangerous to faith than others.
Even the civil law knows that there is a distinction between involuntary manslaughter due to negligence and 3rd degree murder. The end result is the same, but the criminality is different based upon intent and motives. The person who plans to sin, to harm others, is guilty of a worse crime than the person who accidentally harms others. So also does Our Lord indicate that the heart and mind is the main culprit in sin when He teaches that if we hate a man in our heart we are guilty of murder.
But that obvious and Biblical truth is sometimes twisted by our fallen flesh against the Word of God. It is not “just as bad” to lust for a woman but not act on it as it is to act on it. The distinction between external and internal sins can lead to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Only He who is without sin is allowed to throne stones and He chooses to instead be stoned, but, at the same time, pretending as though there is no difference either in consequence or in damage between internal and external sins leads to terrible confusion and despair.
The first confusion is to think that evil intention and thoughts of the heart, even without external action, is not a sin. We must repent of such things. We must not imagine ourselves to be righteous apart from Christ. Apart from Christ, one evil thought, one angry moment, is enough to condemn. At the same time, we should note that evil intentions and thoughts of the heart make external actions even worse. We should thank God that in His mercy He often keeps us, by threat of the law or shame, from carrying out our worst desires and from ruining our lives and those of our neighbors. We must not deny that even though it is sinful to have evil thoughts, it is an even worse thing, a double portion of sin, to carry them out.
The second confusion is to think that even as bad intentions worsen a sin, that good intentions lessen it. To be sure, we should distinguish between deliberate sins and sins of passion, even as we distinguish between sins of malice and sins of ignorance or accident. To plot and carry out murder is worse than to not putting a warning up on an electrical fence. So also it is worse to plot and carry out murder for the sake of lust than it is to wrongfully execute an innocent man by mistake in the name of justice.
But that does not mean that a wrongful execution is not sin. It is.
St. Paul sinned, grievously, when he stood by while St. Stephen was stoned to death even though St. Paul thought he was serving God. Most of our sins have a sort of good intention. We rarely act in pure evil. It does happen, of course. School shootings are good example. Those killers have no good in sight. But terrorists think they are doing good. They think they are serving God and that He wants them to kill us because of our infidelity. They have good intentions but serve the devil. This, says Jesus, is “because they have not known the Father, nor Me.” Good intentions do not undo their evil acts or their guilt.
Most of our sins, seek good apart from God and His Word. The Philosopher says: “Every man seeks his own good.” We think that the pleasure our sin will give is good and we need it. We think that there will be no victims. We think that our sins are harmless and safe. I can’t tell you the number of times men have committed atrocious acts against their wives and then said, with utter sincerity, “I didn’t mean to hurt her.” It never works that way. The wife is hurt for the rest of her life. Lust, greed, and pride make us delusional. Our sins hurt those we love. We place our very souls in peril and our good intentions don’t really matter. We are vain to think we can get away with it. Repent.
“The intention of man’s heart,” says Moses “is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). “Whoever trusts in his own mind,” Solomon writes, “is a fool.” (Proverbs 28:26). God warns through the prophet Malachi, “Guard yoursel in your spirit” (2:15) and Christ says, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Saul had good intentions when Samuel was delayed and he offered a sacrifice. God said to him, “To obey is better than sacrifice .. . Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Sam 12:22-23). (Walther. Sermon on Exaudi)
Jesus warns the disciples about the sorrow that will come from men of good intentions. They will put the disciples out of the synagogue and they will think killing them is a service to God. But there is hope for the disciples. “When the Helper comes,” says Jesus “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
Sins are dangerous and deliberate sins are the most dangerous. We are weak in resisting them. Left to ourselves, we would not only be damned but we would also destroy all that is good. So Jesus sends the Helper from the Father. He is strong to save. He routs the enemy by stretching Jesus out on the cross to absorb all the attacks of Hell and all of Satan’s accusations. He comes in peace with the forgiveness of sins, to convict the world of righteousness by faith and trust in Jesus Christ. He has more than good intentions and mere wishes of wellness. He has the Father’s own mission: to save and rescue the world by bearing witness of the Son’s perfect love and sacrifice. That Helper calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us by grace as His children. He does what we could never do, what we could never expect. He gives away the Kingdom for free to those who sought to steal it and who refused to work. He vindicates His holiness in the sight of the heathen by declaring His sinful people righteous and by giving them new hearts and new spirits, by insisting that He is faithfully their God. He will not depart from them and He transforms the very heathen that He is vindicated in front of into His own people, a people who were no people, becomes His people.
So it is with us. Jesus lives and the Helper is here and the Father Himself loves us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.