Accepting Our Acceptance – Sin and Grace
Text: Romans 5:20
20 But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (RSV)
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
A word of introduction.
Today, I am talking with you about the Christian teaching on sin and grace. I do it because someone in the church asked me weeks ago. I had a little trepidation about such a sermon. It would have to be a teaching sermon.
Some students in seminary once told me that teaching sermons are a bore and incomprehensible to people in the pew, that you would hear people snoring before you finished the introduction. I disagree. (I said I think I can get to the second point before the snore are audible.)
You in the congregation have a great capacity for learning and thinking. You have a thirst for knowledge about your faith and about the human condition. Therefore, we in the pulpit should fill that need. So, let us delve into it.
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
Of the words Christians use, few words are as misunderstood and misused than the word “sin.” This is because the word sin is so well known. You can use words so much that they lose their impact.
People think sin means a bad deed or an immoral act we do. They think if we only improve ourselves, overcome that nasty habit, and do good deeds, then we have conquered sin and all will be well. That is not what sin means.
Sin is not plural. Our problem is not sins – meaning bad deeds we do – but sin. Sin is the condition we face as human beings. It is what causes the acts we do.
To help explain, I will use another word – separation.
Separation is something we understand. Have you not experienced separation from something or someone? Maybe that separation was your first venture from home; or when you were separated from the person you loved so much, it was painful to be away from him or her. Maybe your separation was when you began a new job or a new school, you were required to learn new skills, and you felt your inability to do the task.
The separation is more profound, and more disturbing. This separation – this sin – is something that exists in everyone and for all time. People have tried to explain why this condition exists for us – that it was because someone long ago did something forbidden, and it passed down through the generations through procreation like some bad gene or DNA. However, the Bible spends no time in explaining why; it only says this is our fate.
This condition is why we do things we find incomprehensible. It is why we try to do good, but we cannot finish it; or why we do something we think we would never do. Paul said it perfectly – “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, rather I do the evil I do not want.”
But before we deal with the answer to this sin, the good news, we have to understand what we are separated from. Sin means we are separated from three vital things in our life –
1. We are separated from our true selves.
2. We are separated from others.
3. We are separated from the One who gives us life– God.
First, we are separated from our true selves. Within us, is a deadly cocktail of self-destructiveness and selfishness that exhibits itself in acts we thought we could never do – hurting others or destroying ourselves when we have all we ever need. We do it as individuals and as nations.
A hundred years ago, the world had made great progress in medicine, in missionary work, in technology, in knowledge. Just when we had made so much progress to help ourselves and others we plunge into a Great War that destroyed ourselves. We said it was to be “the war to end all wars,” but it was only the beginning of a deadly spiral.
Secondly, we are separated from not only ourselves, but also from others.
It is strange that in the information age, when we can easily communicate with one another through various media, the walls of estrangement exist. Sometimes we even use those social media against one another as individuals and as nations. The barriers are so high, and the loneliness people feel is so great that we still act out against each other. We are still estranged from one another.
A visible truth of this separation from others is when we see and hear the pain of other people, yet we still go on with our lives as if we were ignorant of their pain. We hear the voices of the victims of violence in schools, churches, malls, or theatres; or we hear the voices of the bombings in Syria, or the hurting in Puerto Rico and yet we still just go on. We have to be shaken to our very core before we do anything.
Tthirdly, and ultimately, we are separated from God. We are estranged from the very One who gives and sustains life, that One who gives us meaning. Even from that Creator we feel estranged. We cannot escape him. Yet, we do not feel part of him.
All of this separation – this sin – would bring us to despair; if it were not for one word – grace.
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
It is because of grace that we come here each Sunday, it is because of grace we heal the broken hearted, it is because of grace that we have hope.
When Paul writes, “Where sin abounds,” he goes on to say, “grace abounds all the more.”
Paul is not being sentimental here. He says them because of his profound experience of God in Christ, which changed his life. When he found himself most separated, at the right time, he found himself accepted. Once he felt accepted by God, he was able to “accept himself” and to accept others. He moved from despair to hope.
What is grace? Grace is described in one word – acceptance.
In those moments when we feel rejected we hear the words - You are accepted.
Grace hits us when we feel the most disgusted with ourselves. Then God’s grace is felt most profoundly because that is when we needed it the most. Grace triumphs over all.
Finally this, the good news is you do not have to do anything to be accepted. You do not have to do anything to receive this grace. It is a truth for all time - and for all people. The power in accepting this grace is to know you are not alone. You belong.
Just accept your acceptance, and let the grace of God grab hold of you.
“Where sin abound, grace abounds all the more.” Amen!
 Congregations are smarter than their pastor. The pastor may have more education, but the congregation has more wisdom.
 I am indebted in my reading of many theologians on sin and grace – particularly, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Frederich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, Hans Kung, and others.
I am indebted to Paul Tillich for the idea of using this word to describe sin.