‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23,24 NRSV).
‘Pastor, you’ve only got popcorn sins!’
That’s what a wealthy businessman and church member told me as he spoke of the personal cost of keeping his company afloat. In order to operate he needed to obtain sensitive environmental permits, which had drawn him into immorality and high-level corruption in the industry sector and the state regulatory authority.
The situation and what it was doing to him was causing my friend grief. Before becoming a Christian he had played the game along with the worst of them. Now, as a follower of Jesus, he wanted a different life. He was facing some major choices about that. But how serious does sin have to be to be sin?
In our daily rounds of family, work and society, we generally grade wrongdoing from lesser to more serious. That’s where my friend’s comment came from. Deeds that don’t break the law are sort of okay, even if we don’t approve of them.
Lust, greed, avarice, slander, sexual immorality – up to the point of illegality our society doesn’t overly regulate such things. Before God, however, we know that’s not enough. Living within the law of the land does not make us righteous before God.
Recently, I was walking in the streets around my office. North Adelaide is a leafy and expensive suburb of period mansions and prestige apartments, well beyond the price range of your average pastor.
As I passed a For Sale sign, I had the involuntary thought, ‘I will never be able to afford a place like that, no matter how diligently and hard I work’. Was that thought a sin?
In the street that day I was surrounded by God’s beauty in creation. Trees were blossoming, birds were singing, the skies were blue and the grass green, and I felt safe and in good health. Jesus was my Saviour. Why, then, did I lust after something I did not have and did not need? Only because of sin, which always tries to make me dissatisfied with God’s good gifts. It’s insidious, subtle and evasive. Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times it sneaks up as a fleeting but persistent impulse. I may choose not to act on it, but at that moment an invisible barrier is thrown up between me and God.
God knows what we are like, on the inside and on the outside. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it too. God shows us in his word who we truly are. He holds up a mirror to us. And when we finally see the truth of who we are, it cuts through to the heart. We can only repent and throw ourselves onto the mercy of God, who loves us unceasingly, whatever our sin may be.
It is now Advent. Once again, we are getting ready for our Saviour. The colour is purple for repentance and the arrival of the Prince of Peace.
During Advent our true preparation will not be the decorations and purchasing of gifts, but the cleansing of our hearts through repentance and faith.
Popcorn sins or not, we must turn to Jesus, our only hope: born as a baby, one of us, to deal with the insidious problem of sin once and for all.