Recently we watched that classic Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, at personal cost dedicating himself for 18 tough years lobbying the British parliament for the abolition of the slave trade.
In 1807 the slave trade was finally abolished. But the fight went on to free those who were already slaves and it wasn’t until 1833 that an act was passed giving freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.
One scene from this great movie filled with Christian principles sticks in our mind as we approach Easter this month. It is when Wilberforce (actor Ioan Gruffudd) calls on his old mentor old preacher, John Newton (played by the inimitable Albert Finney).
Newton, the converted slave ship captain, now virtually blind is having his memories of slaving days recorded. Ever mindful of the ‘20,000 nameless ghosts of slaves’ still haunting his mind, he encourages the young man to continue his God-directed calling of lobbying parliament to end slavery not only in England but across the empire.
Regarding using the harrowing memories wisely, John Newton makes this dramatic comment: ‘Although my memory is fading, two things I remember quite clearly – I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour!’
The world’s greatest need – a great Saviour because of great sin
Paul wrote quite clearly about our sin and our Saviour: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).
Three words to be clarified…
- ‘Great’ – ‘of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above average.’ A number of NT Greek words such as megas indicate vastness.
- ‘Sinner’ – ‘a person who transgresses against divine law by committing an immoral act or acts.’ The Greek is harmartolos – ‘offence.’
- ‘Saviour’ – ‘in Christianity God or Jesus Christ as the redeemer of sin and saver of souls… saving someone from danger or difficulty.’ The Greek is soter –‘deliverer.’
Regarding ‘sin’ (harmartia), Dr Martin Ralph DeHaan wrote: ‘Sin. S – I – N. Just a little, three-letter word, yet within those three letters we have comprehended all the sorrow and grief of the world and the reason for all the suffering, pain, heartache, disease and death from the beginning of human history until now’ (http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_MR_DeHaan/sin_and_the_saviour.htm).
He added, ‘Until there was sin, there were no death and pain and tears. And when sin is finally put away forever, it is written: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”—Revelation 21:4.’
‘Sin’ is anything we do that transgresses – parabaino (contrarily going against, violates) – breaking God’s law! In 1 Peter 3:4 NLT, the apostle spelled it out clearly: ‘Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.’
The KJV uses the old English word ‘transgresseth’ and the Message reads: ’All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order.’
Sin is an offence against the very nature of God, bringing eternal separation
Law? Think mainly of the Ten Commandments remembering that Jesus redefined them as two in Matthew 22: 37-39, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.’
One outstanding point in Jesus’ story of the Luke 15 prodigal son is found in verse 21(Message) – the repentant young man confesses, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
Note the acknowledgement that sin primarily hurts God before it hurts others (and of course ultimately ourselves!). The Greek word for sin here is to be noted – harmartano – to miss the mark and thereby not share in the prize.
Genesis 6:5-6 (Message) reveals that almighty Father God can be heartbroken because of sin: ‘God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil – evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.’
But equally to be noted is the welcoming ever-loving father’s reaction and response at seeing his wayward son return. Luke 15: 20 says it all in a nutshell: ‘When he (the penitent returning prodigal) was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.’
We remember well in the heydays of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades, the preparation sessions for voluntary workers following up on new converts reminded us of the great Easter truth of a great salvation for even the greatest of sinners.
Dr Graham’s material with illustrations similar to the bridge one above made it clear that that sin was at the heart of the world’s troubles, that the vast gap between a righteous God and unrighteous sinners could only be bridged through acceptance of the person who’d been crucified on Calvary – Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Saviour.
Note the wording…’sin’ not ‘sins’
Sin has always been an extremely unpopular subject – few people would admit to being ‘bad.’ Sin, in a nutshell, is doing, saying and thinking wrong (bad) things. Parents may warn their children not to do such things but often they mislead them into understanding there are ‘big bad wrongs’ and ‘little bad wrongs’ such as ‘big or black lies’ and ‘little or white lies.’ This makes one think that there’ll be small punishments and big heavy ones. This is confusing and false – sin, in God’s eyes, is sin no matter the ‘size’!
Sin is the breaking of the laws (commandments, directions) of a holy, righteous God which reflect the moral purity of his nature, reflecting his very character. They are God’s perfect standard of moral purity.
When we fail to keep the law, we sin and so offend God resulting in judgment and extracting severe penalty – separation from God. Even the Old Testament make this clear – ‘It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore’ (Isaiah 59:2 NLT) as does the NT in Romans 6:23 quoted above. In upholding his holiness, God could never allow sinners to go unpunished.
Everyone should be grateful for Father God’s grace, overwhelming mercy and love! He allowed his Son Jesus to be punished instead of us – and pay the penalty for our sins by dying for us at Calvary.
1 Peter 2:24-25 boldly declares: ‘He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your shepherd, the guardian of your souls.’
It’s incredible but Jesus should be our sacrifice. And that anyone who trusts in him and what he accomplished on the cross can, by genuinely repenting, have sins forgiven and be saved from eternal separation from God!
Amazing grace indeed
We’re still in a worldly thinking time when people don’t like to be thought of as sinners – indeed it’s a term and challenge rarely used in churches! But then, to be honest, this is perhaps because so few of us bring unsaved friends to church!
But the reality is still there for all who seek peace of mind and a whole new way of life, a meaningful relationship with a loving God, and a purpose in life itself. Whatever we’ve done wrong … we may even feel like John Newton with harrowing ghosts from the past: a great sinner – Jesus is a greater Saviour, forgiving and forgetting!
Though enjoyable, the heart of Easter is not about choc eggs and bunny rabbits but that Jesus died for us and rose again and that God’s grace cleanses every repentant sinner.
John Newton’s 1779 hymn Amazing Grace is still so popular with words so relevant. Each line is choice but we highlight verses three and four in closing –
‘The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.
‘Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.’
We are not slaves to anyone, nor to Satan’s demonic forces, the flesh or the past with it’s haunting memories. Jesus declared in John 10:26, ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.’
He has! Share the good news this Easter!
Links: Biblical Perspectives – Jim McClure’s Thomas and the Resurrection / Engaging the World – Erica Grace’s Is Missions’ Involvement Optional? / Inspirational – Harold Harvey’s Reading the Roadmap / Opinion – Brian Bell’s Is God Real? / TheBuzz – Michael Ireland’s RISEN – Can a Roman Soldier Prove the Resurrection a Hoax?