A Sinful Heart is No Surprise

Title: A Sinful Heart is No Surprise
Text: Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10, 23, Numbers 32:23
Time: June 3rd, 2015

Last week I read that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was charged with violating banking regulations in connection with his attempted cover-up of a sex scandal of thirty years ago. Now what’s sad about the whole situation is that Hastert has lived his entire public life as an honorable man, in fact, that’s why he was chosen as Speaker of the House by his colleagues, because the previous Speaker was involved in scandal and Republicans needed someone with an impeccable record. Hastert went on to be the longest serving House Speaker and then later sponsored a new center for economics and politics at my old alma mater Wheaton College. I’ve not seen the Hastert Center there but I’ve heard it’s impressive. So from the Wheaton connection and because I’ve heard Chuck Colson talk about him, I assume that he’s an evangelical Christian who cares about preserving biblical values and perspectives. But now he’s involved in this federal investigation with charges against him that might possibly lead to fines and/or jail time. Now first of all we need to make the fair presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So maybe, after all is said and done, he’ll be found innocent of all charges, including the sexual misconduct charges. According to the indictment Hastert was withdrawing money from his bank account in large amounts in a way to avoid federal law, and the reason he was doing so was in order to pay off someone in Illinois for some alleged misconduct offense. In other words, he was paying “hush money” to someone to keep them from telling the newspapers what they knew about Hastert from thirty years ago when he was a wrestling coach and teacher at a high school. The facts aren’t all known, so it might be someone wants to spread rumors falsely and Hastert agreed to pay them to not do so. More likely though is that Hastert is paying them to keep quiet about something real that happened thirty years ago, otherwise, why pay the money? Why not report it to the police as extortion? Unless, maybe, it involves something more sinister or dangerous like a murder threat or some potential hostage or kidnapping situation or a scandal involving a family member other than Dennis Hastert himself that he wants to keep quiet. We just don’t know. But when I heard the news and how people reacted to it I thought immediately of a couple of biblical passages that talk about the sinful human heart. Why are we shocked when sinners sin? Do we really think there are any real saints, in the strict sense of the word “saint?” Apart from Christ, we are sinners at heart. So this morning I wanted to spend some time talking about the human condition and the sinfulness of the human heart. We should be sad, but not shocked when we hear that sinners, all of us, have sinned. It only confirms the very reason Christ came and died on the cross – to save sinners like you and me. Let’s examine a few Bible passages that explain this.

First, there’s Jeremiah the prophet’s description of the deceitful human heart. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The King James Version puts it this way, “The heart is desperately wicked.” The Old Testament prophets speak bluntly of the human condition after the original Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – the human heart is evil, sinful and wicked. In Christian theology it’s known as “original sin,” not just meaning the original sin of Adam and Eve, but the effect of it continuing on in all of us sons and daughters of Adam to the present day. We are all sinners because we are all children of Adam after the Fall. Now what’s amazing today is how quickly people in the Western World have forgotten Christian theology and the basic understanding of human sinfulness taught by the Bible and the church that only a few years ago everyone knew. It was common knowledge just a few generations ago that men and women were sinners and inheritors of original sin from the Fall. The Bible explains all this and people mostly accepted it. But today with the rise of popular secular humanism it’s safe to say that most people in America and Europe do not accept the traditional notion of original sin, and they do not consider the human heart sinful in and of itself. Instead, people are more likely to argue that the human heart is innocent yet corrupted by society or by ignorance. Isn’t this what popular psychology has taught since the time of Freud? Isn’t this the Enlightenment philosophy that centuries ago only a few intellectuals held, but today is embraced by the masses? It totally contradicts the biblical understanding of the human condition. There is vast difference between humanity essentially sinful due to original sin versus humanity essentially innocent except corrupted by society or lack of knowledge or education. So then why are people so shocked today to learn of politicians involved in some sexual or financial scandal? They’ve forgotten that in the heart of everyone is sin, that temptations are all around us every day, and that only through the power of God can anyone resist falling into sin. Did Hastert become sexually involved with a male wrester student during his teaching days in Illinois? Hopefully he didn’t. But if he did he’s certainly guilty of an awful sin and it confirms again the biblical understanding of the deceitfulness and wickedness of the human heart. It reminds us again, if we needed reminding, that nobody has a pure heart, nobody is above sinning, there is no “saint” in the popular religious sense. Let’s look at another verse.

Second, there is the Apostle Paul’s negative description of humankind. Romans 3:10, 23, “ There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now the Roman Catholic church teaches a somewhat misleading understanding of human sinfulness when it canonizes saints. By doing so it’s saying that there are certain select individuals among us who are holy, pure and even sinless. But that’s not true. If the New Testament passages I’ve just quoted are true, and we presume and assume they are because they’re contained in divine revelation, then there are no literal “saints” in the strict sense. All Christians are made righteous spiritually through Christ’s death and atonement on the cross. Through faith in Christ we are made “saints” through the righteousness of Christ, but apart from Christ we are but sinners. Even after our conversion, our spiritual rebirth, our soul salvation experience, we still are tempted and on occasion still sin in thought, word or deed. That’s includes every saint who has ever lived, even for example, like Mother Theresa. If we were to explore her thoughts, emotions and actions more closely I’m sure we could find sin in her, although possibly to a lesser degree than most people. Still, sin was present in her heart, mind and actions at times – as it is with everyone. So in returning to Dennis Hastert, if he did what it looks like he did – although again we could be wrong because we don’t have all the facts – if he did commit some form of immoral sexual act long ago, hopefully he’s confessed and repented of his sin and found forgiveness in Christ’s atoning work on the cross to save him and grant him redemption. Who among us doesn’t have some sinful secret either in thought, word or deed that we’d rather not have widely known in public? If we pick out any person I’m sure we would find any number of shameful and embarrassing sins that they’d rather not be known. That’s what the Bible teaches is the human condition. “There is none that is righteous, no not one” and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s the human condition. We are responsible to fight against it with the power of God helping us to resist temptation to sin, but when we hear of people who fall into sin, like it looks like Hastert did, we can understand, and while it’s sad, it’s not really shocking because that’s the sinfulness of the human heart. Today, because most people ignore or are ignorant of basic Christian truths they are caught off guard with scandals and bad news about people; they shouldn’t be. If they’d just understand human nature better they’d realize that “there by the grace of God go all of us.” They’d take more serious God’s warning against sin and pray more. There’s more.

Third, there’s the Old Testament warning that our sins will be exposed. Numbers 32:23, “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Now the context for this verse is Moses negotiating with a couple of the tribes of Israel who wanted to live on the west side of the Jordan but promised their Jewish brothers they’d help them conquer the east side of the Jordan first and only return after they had settled. Moses agreed to it but with this threat – don’t renege on your promise or else your sin will find you out! The all-seeing God will expose their sin and bring about punishment. What a great motivation to do right and not sin! When I think of the situation of House Speaker Hastert I feel sorry for him because I think he imagined that by paying the so-called “hush-money” that he could avoid public scandal and the tearing down of his honorable and reputable public standing. Evidently he wanted to preserve his good name or else he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble and sacrifice of paying out one and one-half million dollars with the intent of paying more in the future to keep his secret sex scandal unknown. It didn’t work out that way however, and now everybody knows. “You may be sure that your sin will find you out.” I’m sure Dennis Hastert prayed that God would spare him the pain and humiliation, not to mention the possible jail time, of having his sins exposed. I’m sure every Christian in every sinful situation hopes that God protects them from public humiliation and embarrassment. Because we are all sinners we all carry sinful baggage in thought, word or deed that we’d rather not come out to public attention. But as Christians we all must be aware that whether our sins are known or not known is ultimately in the hands of the sovereign God; we can’t control the future, try as we may. Hastert no doubt did all he could to keep his sinful secret hidden, but it must have been in the providence of God that it was necessary to come to light in public. I’m sure he’s asking God, “Why Lord?” I don’t know if God will ever give him an answer to that question, but I do know that now the proper question to ask God is, “Now what Lord?” God is obviously wanting to accomplish something in exposing the sins of Dennis Hastert. Might it be a wake up call to all Christians to get their lives in order, resist sin and get serious about holiness? Today there is more emphasis on psychological wholeness than on holiness, which in many ways is an afterthought in most churches today. That must change. God is looking for holy people. This emphasis on psychological well being is wrong. God wants a holy people more than he wants wholeness as we define it.

I think the body of Christ, Christians, the church of Christ, can learn from the trials and tribulations of Dennis Hastert. Like I said, I feel sorry for him because he probably cried many tears over his past sins and sought forgiveness from God and obtained it through the cross of Jesus. I’m sure he did the best he could to maintain an upright life over the past decades despite any sinful sexual indiscretions he might have committed earlier. We can imagine he tried to put the past behind him, but for some reason God allowed it to come back to hurt him. I think it’s a great reminder for all Christians that every time they sin, every time they give into temptation in whatever form, they are setting themselves up for future grief. It’s no guarantee that sometime in the future our sins will come back to life and humiliate or embarrass us again, but there is no guarantee that they won’t either. So why risk it? Why not get serious with sin and temptation now in our life and not risk that we will be exposed by our sin later? Our culture, unfortunately even Christians, treat sin extremely casually. In many churches, pastors have completely stopped preaching about sexual immorality and sin of any kind. Why is this? Has it gone away? To the contrary, we live in a more openly sinful culture than ever before. Today, there is no longer the conviction, guilt, shame, remorse or grieving over sin as before. And yet, there is seemingly more of it today, visibly, than ever before. Why is this? Partly because churches are no longer instructing people about the danger of sin, how to resist temptation, and how to live holy lives in the midst of a sinful world culture. Instead of omitting or cutting back on such instruction we should be increasing it! That doesn’t mean the church can eliminate all sin by simply teaching about it but it means that if Christianity were to restate the seriousness of sin better, then future sinful train-wrecks like Dennis Hastert is now experiencing could help be avoided. The more sinful baggage we carry around in our past the greater potential for grief exists. That’s just common sense. If the Bible teaches us to – “Beware, your sins will find you out” – then obviously, the more sin we have the more opportunity it has to find us out! Let’s focus on following the Lord so closely that we avoid falling into temptation to sin and thus avoid future grief if and when our sins are exposed. It’s a great motivation for holy living. It may be what God is calling Dennis Hastert to preach for the rest of his life as a warning to others, that is, take sin seriously, resist it seriously, take holiness seriously.

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