Mark 9

Read Mark 9.

Because we are sinners, it is easy for us to tolerate the existence of sin. If someone sins against us, that can be tough to take, but if we see one person sin against another or we sin against someone else, it is easy to excuse it. We don’t condone sin directly, but we say to ourselves, “I’ve sinned too” or “I’m capable of doing that” or “I’ve been tempted to do that” or the ever-present, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus coached us to be much harder on sin than we are. Not to be hard on the sin of others, but to be hard on ourselves. We read about that in verses 42-48. In verse 42, he warned us not to cause someone else to “stumble.” Stumbling means to fall into sin.

Ultimately, we cannot force someone into sin but we can tempt him or her to sin. We can also put someone else in a position where they will be tempted to sin. I can’t make an alcoholic take a drink of whiskey, but I could invite him to go bar-hopping with me. If he decides to come along with me but tells himself he will not drink, he will find himself in an environment where it is easy to compromise. “Just one drink one glass of beer” he may tell himself as he orders a drink from the bartender. But then one glass may lead to two and, pretty soon, he’s falling down drunk. It was his choice, but I laid down in front of him and said, “Don’t trip and stumble over me!”

Jesus said that someone who causes one of his children–a believer–to sin will receive harsh punishment from God. He said it would be “better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” That sounds like a terrifying way to die, drowning to death and unable to stop it. But Jesus said a person who drowns that way will be better off than the person who causes another believer to sin.

In verses 43-48, Jesus went on to warn us about causing ourselves to stumble. His advice was to deal radically with our sin. If it is your hand that causes you to sin, cut it off! Why? Because it is better to deal with the horrible wound of amputation and the disability of that amputation than to go to hell. Same with your eyes; if one of them causes you to sin, get rid of it so that you won’t go to hell.

What do we make of these warnings from Jesus? Is he suggesting that some sin could cause us to stumble so thoroughly that we lost our salvation?

No.

Salvation does not depend on our efforts but on the grace of God. The point of these verses is not to teach us how to deal with sin. Our hands and eyes don’t actually make us sin; it is our hearts that lead us to sin. A person with no hands or feet or eyes or hearing still has a heart that desires evil things.

And that’s the point of these words–to teach us that nothing we can do would be radical enough to rid us of the sin tendencies that will condemn us to hell. Only God’s righteousness, credited to us in Christ, can get us forgiveness for the sins we have committed and will commit.

But, once God’s grace has saved you, it will change you. God gives each believer the Holy Spirit and a new nature within. These acts of saving grace will change our evil hearts so that we actually learn to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.

So the person who believes they will be saved on the day of judgement but who is careless and callous about his or her sin should read this text and realize how much trouble they are in. They should feel the desperation of a certainty in hell and fall on the mercy of God, asking him to save them from the eternity they deserve.

And God will be there to hear that prayer. God will answer that prayer of faith with full forgiveness and give you the power to change without amputating your limbs.

God sees the true danger of sin and wants us to be much harder on it than we tend to be, calling out for his grace and help. If you’ve never trusted Christ, this is what you need to do because cutting off your limbs won’t stop you from sinning. If you have trusted Christ, you need to pursue holiness in your life, asking God to cleanse you when you sin but also to purge from you the desire to sin, replacing it with a passion to be holy like he is.

Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, Luke 17

Read Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, and Luke 17 today. This devotional is about Luke 17.

Each one of us is responsible for himself or herself. When you stand before God, you will give an account of your life. You will not answer for the sins of others nor will you be able to shift blame to others for your sins.

But…

…none of us lives alone, unaffected by others or able to avoid affecting others. In verse 1a-b, Jesus acknowledged that: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come….'” The word “stumble” in verse 1 means to sin. The first part of verse 1, then, says that people cause other people to fall into sin. Just as Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, people continue do things that entice others to sin. Adam was responsible for his choice to sin but Eve was held responsible for her sin and her role in Adam’s sin. 

So, fact one is that sinners lead other sinners into sin. No one can make another person sin but we can cause others to sin by leading them into temptations that their sinful natures cannot resist.

When we do that–when we entice others to sin and they choose that sin–we’ve sinned. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “…but woe to anyone through whom they come” in verse 1c. Verse 2 goes on to say that there will be severe punishment for those who entice others to sin so, as verse 3 says, “So watch yourselves.”

One of the ways we entice others to sin is by sinning against others. If I insult you and you punch me, we’ve both sinned but my sin provided you with the occasion for your sin. But instead of choosing to sin when we are sinned against, Jesus taught us the right way to respond in verse 3b: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”

This, then, is how we should treat each other. Be careful not to put others in the way of temptation. Don’t recommend actions that cause them to feel tempted, don’t sin against them and give them the occasion to sin themselves. Finally, if someone sins against you, resist the temptation to sin yourself and, instead, call them into accountability and invite them to repent and receive your forgiveness.

It is impossible for anyone of us not to lead others into sin so the “woe” that Jesus announced in verse 1c applies to all of us. The word “woe” describes the kind of deep sorrow that comes from knowing you are under the wrath of God for your sins. Jesus told us, then, that we are in big trouble.

By God’s grace, however, Jesus is also the way out of that trouble. He took our “woe” before God by his death on the cross. We all can (and do) lead others to sin but in Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Now that they are forgiven, we have the power to deal with sin properly. We should think about how our lives might tempt others–our families, friends, co-workers, etc. By the power of God’s spirit, we should strive to live a life that doesn’t trip anyone else up and we should deal with the trip hazards others put in front of us with loving confrontation and forgiveness.

Have you knowingly enticed someone else to sin? Have you seen in hindsight how your actions created a sin situation for someone even though you did not intend it? Seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with that person if possible. Then “watch yourself” (v. 3a) in the future.

Has someone put temptation into your pathway? Can you learn to bring correction to those who sin against you instead of justifying your sinful response?

These are challenging truths for us but they important ones for us to live by. Blessed is the person who is careful not to cause others to be tempted. Blessed, too, is the person who can resist temptation and restore to righteousness the brother or sister whose sin caused your temptation.

How much better would the world be if we disciples of Christ responded to sin in these ways?