28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.(Romans 1:27-32 (ESV)
I read these laundry lists of sin and stand accused and astounded.
I don’t see how anyone gets out of this sort of thing alive. Envy is listed before murder, gossipers listed before those who are disobedient to their parents (and this would mean even after you have moved out and are on your own etc.) Foolishness is considered a sin on par with being faithless, heartless and ruthless. Haven’t you ever felt foolish? I know I have, and I would like to just discount it as being foolish, something trivial, inconsequential, perhaps neutral, not bad, not evil, just foolish, stupid. And yet look at the damage it causes. And no one really wants to develop a reputation for being foolish.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11(ESV) This is how many today look at the Christian life. As if before they became Christian they were children, and becoming Christian they were able to put away childish sin. Yet in the context of which Paul writes, he is using an analogy of what happened to him when he became an adult to what will happen to us when we meet our heavenly father face to face. The context would seem to say that in this life we never really get to put away our childish ways. Perhaps one reason we are called children of the heavenly Father. And if we are disobedient to our Father in heaven, something we have learned from our earthly parents, even Adam and Eve, then how can we be expected to be obedient to our earthly parents? And around and around we go. We never really learn anything from the mistakes of our parents except to make the mistakes they made, and the wrath of God is revealed to the third and fourth generations of those who hate him. That is, the sins of our fathers become our sins. If they were alcoholics, chances are we find ourselves in AA hating our father. No, in this life we never really put the childish ways behind us. We just get better at mimicking our parents who have gone before in hating God with all manner of vice. The good that we would we do not do, the bad that we would not do that we do. So writes Paul elsewhere, and he is speaking of the Christian, he is giving expression to what Lutherans have come to know as “The Simul.” This is short for “simul iustus et peccator” or “simultaneously saint and sinner.” It’s the idea that here in this world we are never really done with the childish ways. We remain sinners even as we are Christian. That our righteousness is Christ, because the righteousness that we claim as our own before others, the men before whom we do not want to be known as foolish, that righteousness is of no account it is fictitious at best, built upon lies, and putting the best foot forward, a show and masquerade that hides the sinful hearts desires, tries to put the best light on things, and dismisses sin as nothing but foolishness. No, the only true righteousness a person can have is the righteousness of Christ, who is true, who makes us righteous with the forgiveness of sins, creating a clean heart within us, that at least wants to do good, even if it finds itself doing bad. A heart that wants to be wise, and constantly chastises itself for foolishness.
No, we don’t have the excuse so many want. “Before I was a Christian.” I suppose there are some Christians who can have some recourse to that, unfortunate souls who had to experience life for what it is without the gospel, without the forgiveness of sins, before the light of Christ shown upon them. I do not know what that is like, and nor do I want to. But I have never in my living memory known what it is to live without the gospel, I have never been able to say “before I was a Christian.” Every foolish act I committed has been done while I was still yet a Christian. I was baptized within hours of birth. My whole life has been the simul, even before I knew what the simul was. I have friends that speak of the stupid things they did in high school with, well that was before I was a Christian. I laugh. They really haven’t gotten any better. I had friends in high school who became Christian and tried to change. I know they really did. But they didn’t. And when no one was there to forgive them, to offer them the forgiveness of Christ, to explain the simul to them, well they became twice the child of hell they were before the Pharisees got a hold of them at youth camp. When you treat the forgiveness of sins as a onetime offer of a blank slate, and that is the theology of America today, this is what you can expect. When a person is led to believe that justification is by grace, but sanctification is by works, as if one were to complete with works of the flesh what was begun by the spirit, then the gospel is lost completely. This is foolishness, because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The flesh availeth nothing. It’s not an excuse it is a reality. It is a reality we all deal with, and it is the height of foolishness to think you are doing a better job of dealing with it than your neighbor. It just means you’ve gone through the laundry lists of sins up here and have decided some of them, perhaps foolishness, really isn’t a sin you need to be worried about, perhaps envy isn’t as bad as murder. And then my friend, the real shame is you have lost the joy of your salvation. No, I won’t let you take that from me. The simul is at the heart of the gospel which is the forgiveness of sins, once and for all sins, here and now and in the future, a forgiveness that covers the ever increasing foolishness of life in this world, that someday, when finished looking through a glass darkly, and seeing God face to face, I can put the childish ways behind me for good, and rather than knowing life without the gospel, can finally come to know what life is like without sin.