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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, June 17, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Romans 3:9–20

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all, for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness;
there is not even one.”

“Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery are in their paths,
and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that, whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human will be justified before him by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. (NRSV)

I recall in seminary one of the concepts that was very liberating for me was the difference between “sin” and “sins.” I grew up in a church tradition that talked a lot about sins—that is, actions that broke the laws of God. We had checklists for sins we might commit and breathed sighs of relief if we went for a time without committing them. Until seminary I never really thought about the concept of an overarching sin. It was during a moment in a theology class that I recall, most clearly, this idea awakening.

A professor was rattling on about the concept of sin and righteousness. It was something about sin as a condition that we cannot rid ourselves of, even if we uphold the law of God. Honestly, I was not paying much attention. The professor must have realized he had lost most of us. He paused and then said something like “We are in sin as a fish is in water. It is impossible to get out of it; it is always with us. It is the fact of our existence.” Suddenly I learned that sin was not acts or broken rules. Sin is our reality, our separation from God. No matter how hard we try, we cannot get out of it on our own.

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans is the wrap-up of a long and complicated discourse on sin and the law. The range of very difficult images almost pound our consciousness with the power of sin—steering human beings into the territory of destructive acts or sins. That is, following the law or rules of God absolutely does not rid us of the power of sin, because we are in sin as a fish is in water. Even if we focus every ounce of our energy on aligning every action with the law, the challenge is that we come more in touch with how far we are from God. So, what brings us close to God if we are swimming in sin’s reality?

Martin Luther once wrote to a friend, “Love God and sin boldly.” He must have known that you cannot get out of the water of sin but that if the first impulse is to love God—to set our hearts on the Living God made known in Christ—then we almost shake our fist in the face of sin. By doing so, we trust that Christ has a power to overtake our sin and transform us into agents of love.

There are days when we feel so far from you, O God. Yes, there are times when our most steadfast efforts simply come to nothing. We try and try, and we seem to slip and slip away from you. Surprise us, O God, by your strong and powerful yearning for us this day. Yes, come to us, abide with us, O God, Emmanuel. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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