Off the Tracks – Corporate Sin
Sycamore Creek Church
November 13, 2011
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.
Romans 7:21 NLT
Yeah, it seems a little odd to say “Peace” after a scene and verse like that, but peace is where we’re going today. Keep that in mind as we look at how sin causes our lives to jump off the tracks.
When I was in seminary my first year before classes began, the school organized a community BBQ for students. During this BBQ there was a wiffle ball tournament. I grew up playing baseball, and thought this would be a fun way to meet people. So I joined in the fun. There was a slight problem though. I didn’t have any fun. I kept taking the game so seriously. All the old habits that I had developed while playing baseball were still in my muscles. No matter how much I said to myself, “Don’t take this so seriously,” I couldn’t step up to the plate and not get in my batting crouch. I couldn’t ignore the year of private batting coaching I had in high school. I couldn’t not swing the bat with everything I had. And I couldn’t not run to first base at a full body and spirit sprint stretching my stride longer than usual to beat the throw to first base. Well, I couldn’t not do it, but my body no longer could take it! That first time I ran to first base, I pulled my groin. Then as I was coming home at one point and saw the wiffle ball out of the corner of my eye I did a belly slide into home plate taking out the catcher. I came home a mess, and I was so sore that while we lived only a ten-minute walk from campus, Sarah had to drive me into classes. I limped through my first week of training to be a pastor. All because I couldn’t get rid of the old habits of baseball that were still in me.
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t.
Romans 7:18 NLT
I think we’ve all experienced something like this. We keep doing stuff that causes our lives to jump off the tracks. No matter how hard we try or how many times we commit to change, we still go back to our old habits and practices that always end us up in the same place – off the tracks.
Off the Tracks
This kind of behavior shows up in some obvious ways like addictions. We tell ourselves we’re going to quit smoking, but we just can’t stop. We tell ourselves this is the last night I’m going to get drunk. But then we do it again. We tell ourselves that we’re never going to light up a joint again. But then we do.
There are a lot of other not so obvious ways that we keep repeating old broken habits. What about the way that we enter into relationships. We keep being unfaithful. We keep verbally abusing our spouse. We keep thinking the next marriage will make it all better. Or what about the various destructive ways that we talk to ourselves. I’m no good. No one loves me. Or the destructive relationship we keep getting into. We know that guy is no good for us, but we hook up anyway. Or destructive eating habits. Goodbye junk food. Hello junk food.
Earlier this fall we ran a clearance sale on broken emotions. We tell ourselves we won’t get angry again. Then we lose our temper and blow up at the ones we love. We tell ourselves we won’t get anxious or worry about that situation again. But then we go home and rehearse it over and over throughout another night.
I’ve been a pastor now for almost two and a half years. It has been an amazing two and a half years. I’ve learned more about more people than I have ever known in my life. You may think that that person sitting next to you has it all together; that they never struggle with this or that sin. Well, I’m here to tell you that we’re all pretty messed up. Myself included. I never knew how really messed up we all are until I became a pastor. All our lives are off the tracks. All of us say we’ll make it right the next time, and then we don’t. All of us.
Back on the Tracks
Today we’re continuing in this series called Off the Tracks. The tracks are living at peace with God and others. Sin is anything that causes our lives to jump off the tracks. God is for peace, so God is against sin. The big question is, how do we get back on the tracks? Last week I suggested that there are two basic steps to getting back on the tracks:
- Tell the truth about yourself. Confess to God that your life is off the tracks. Name the behavior, action, or attitude that has gotten you to this place. Don’t try to pretend you’re something you’re not.
- Receive God’s lift of mercy and forgiveness. If a train engine is off the tracks, it’s highly unlikely that it will get back on the tracks by itself. It needs outside help. It needs an outside lift. God lifts our lives back on the tracks when we confess our sin. God forgives us.
If these are the two basic steps for getting back on the tracks, why do we keep falling off the tracks over and over again? And how do we stay on the tracks in the future? That’s what we want to look at today.
Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, knows all about jumping off the tracks over and over again. He describes this in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 7:14-25 NLT
The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master. I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it.
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Paul describes a desperate but ultimately losing battle against the sin in our lives. We want to do good, but we always end up doing bad. Arghhh! Christians have a term for this. We call it “original sin.” Original sin doesn’t refer to the first sin although it is easy to make that mistake. Original sin means that humans are unable not to sin. Our will is curved inward on itself. We have a permanent lean in our lives toward sin. Sin is a kind of power or force at work in us causing the train of our lives to continually jump the tracks. Our train is damaged to begin with. It’s like the little toy train we’ve been using for the logo for this series. If you look at the toy itself, you’ll see that the front wheel is broken. The axel is broken so that the engine spins without turning the wheel. This train is damaged from the get go. That’s what original sin is.
Staying on the Tracks
But Christians don’t believe that original sin is the end of the story. We believe that in our baptism, our “train” is made new, and we are given the freedom to not sin. When we go under the water we die to ourselves, and when we come up out of the water, the tide of the war within us turns away from the enemy and toward Christ. The only problem is that we have all these old habits that are continually pulling us back off the tracks. It’s like we’re a butterfly with wings to fly, but we continue to act like a grounded caterpillar because that’s all we’ve known.
So the key to staying on the tracks is replacing old habits with new ones. This is not a function of trying harder. There is a significant difference between trying and training. Trying is about telling yourself you’ll do better next time. Training is about getting new habits in your muscles and mind.
Let me give you an example from my own life. I have in the past been a very judgmental person. I would look at someone and quickly size them up and fit them in a box and categorize them. My boxes tended to be pretty simple: saint and sinner. I didn’t see a lot of gray in between. So if you met me on the street, I’d quickly decide which of those two boxes you fit in. If you were in the saint box, then you were my friend. If you were in the sinner box then I did my best to stay away from you. Over time this habit of being judgmental has been transformed by being replaced with other new habits of patience, humility, discernment, and love. Now I’m not saying I’m perfect. In fact, my own judgmental attitude continues to creep up and surprise me and those around me from time to time. But I jump off the tracks less often because of a judgmental attitude than I have in the past. And it wasn’t so much because I focused on trying not to be judgmental. It was because I focused on training for new habits. It wasn’t a direct frontal attack that helped me stay on the tracks. It was an indirect side attack on my character as a whole.
Here at SCC we have a core value of seeking to create healthy community through biblical patterns of relating to one another. These biblical patterns of relating to one another are the new habits we’re trying to train into becoming. We have an acronym to talk about these. It is conveniently H.A.B.I.T.S.
H – Hang out with God in prayer, meditation, and fasting.
A – Give a true Account of yourself to someone else in an accountability friendship.
B – Read your Bible daily. It’s hard to know what biblical patterns of relating to one another are if you’re not reading your Bible.
I – Getting Involved with the church. That’s means getting into the messy work of friendships.
T – Tithe your money. The Old Testament standard for giving is 10%. The New Testament standard is higher: live simply and give everything else away!
S – Serve your church, community, and world.
If you train at developing these habits in your life, the old habits that cause you to jump off the tracks will slowly but surely disappear, and you will find that you continue on the tracks for longer and longer periods of time.
Staying on the Tracks (Most of the Time)
I’d like to give you three examples from my own life of how this has worked. I’m not talking about myself because I’ve got it all together or because I always stay on the tracks. I’m talking about myself because I know my own experience best.
First, I’ve had an old habit of being judgmental. I’d look at people and categorize them pretty quickly into one of two boxes: saints or sinners. This would especially happen during worship. If you raised your hands in worship, you were in the “saints” box. If you kept your hands in your pockets you were in the “sinners” box. I took this so far that I had a rule about dating: I’d only date a girl that raised her hands in worship! Apparently I was more focused on watching other people worship than I was actually worshiping myself.
Over time as I began to practice new habits this judgmentalism began to break down. As I got involved in people’s lives I realized that life isn’t that black and white. And as I practiced the habit of accountability, I realized that my own life wasn’t that black and white. Most of us, including myself have one foot in the saint box and one foot in the sinner box. We may lean on one or the other from time to time, but we’re all a mixture of both. My old habit of judgmentalism which would cause my life to jump off the tracks was replaced with new habits of patience and love for other people. I can’t say that I’m never judgmental now, but it pops up a lot less often than it has in the past.
Second, in the past I have struggled with looking at pornography. Every day during middle school and high school and going into college I would look at porn. I’d tell myself that I was going to quit, but I just couldn’t no matter how hard I’d try. I even told my youth pastor that I had to step down from leadership because of this sin in my life. I had habits that put my life off the tracks. I felt ashamed and double faced all the time.
More than any of the sins I have struggled with, this one shows more than any other the power of overcoming sin, staying on the tracks, by not focusing on trying to stop sinning. What I did instead was focus on other habits like spending time with God, accountability, prayer, Bible reading, and the like and pretty soon I found that porn just became less and less of a temptation. I was becoming a different kind of person who no longer had the habit of needing to objectify women in this way. New habits were replacing the old, and it wasn’t because of a frontal “attack” on the sin. It was an indirect attack from the side. I stopped focusing on stopping an old habit and instead focused on cultivating new habits that kept me on the tracks in general. Again, I can’t say that the temptation to porn no longer exists, but it holds a lot less power over me than it ever did before.
Third, I have in the past, and still somewhat now, struggled with being a cheapskate. Let me give you an example. I like to go to Biggby’s coffee, but I don’t drink coffee. So I order tea. Because I bring my own mug, they ring me up at $1.17. I usually have a $1/off coupon so I pay 17 cents. I’ve also gotten to know the barista’s who work there, and I’ve even begun to care a little more for them as people and not just faces that serve me. They’re mostly college students, and they’re making a lot less than I do. I’ve never tipped them even though there’s a jar there for tips. So lately I’ve decided to put a $1 tip in every time I use a $1/off coupon. I wouldn’t have even thought of this in the past, but because I’m practicing the habit of tithing at church, and being generous with my money there, it’s rubbing off on me and I’m slowly becoming more generous with other people too.
A World on the Tracks
I wonder what our world would look like if all the Christians started practicing these kinds of habits and staying on the tracks more often? It might look like the early church, especially the habits they practiced when it came to money. The 4th century pagan emperor Julian, wrote a letter to his pagan priest Arsacius saying, “It is disgraceful that, when no Jew has ever to beg, and the impious [because they don’t worship the Roman gods] Galileans [his term for Christians because Jesus came from Galilee] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us” (11). What would the world look like if all the non-Christians saw the Christians behaving like the Christians of Julian’s day? We’d not only be developing new habits of God that keep our own lives on the tracks, but we’d be helping one another stay on the tracks too. That’s the kind of community I’d like to be a part of. That’s the kind of community I hope you’d hold me accountable to being, and I’ll hold you accountable to being.
God, I confess that my life is off the tracks and that I have a tendency to stay off the tracks. I confess that the world we live in is off the tracks and tends to keep us off the tracks too. Forgive us. By the power of your Spirit at work in us, give us new habits that keep us and those around us on the tracks of living at peace with you and with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.Share on Facebook