Slippery Slopes to Sin
N°1. Lessons from Genesis
When questioned about sin Winston Churchill is reputed to have responded: "I’m agin it." And that would sum up what the Christian’s attitude is, or at least ought to be, to sin. Sin has caused and continues to cause every man and woman problems; it has snapped, and continues to snap, at the heels of Christian men and women too.
Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God’s law in any way and the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order to save his people from their sins. Jesus has secured forgiveness for all those who put their trust in him. Praise his name!
However while we are delivered from the eternal consequences of sin Jesus did not transport us into a new life where sin and temptation are completely eradicated. Sin is, and will be, a reality that confronts us regularly and a reality which we must take account of throughout our earthly lives.
This evening we are going to take a look at some of the episodes recorded for us in the Book of Genesis to see what lessons we can learn that should help us in our battles against sin. It is a subject that should be of interest to every believer and it is a subject that we ought to tackle with optimism, expecting to make progress.
1Jn.3:6 "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him."
"The Deceitfulness of Sin"
The expression is found in Heb.3:13 and well describes the way in which sin gained a foothold in our world.
In Gen.3 we read of just how Eve was duped and led into sin. When she was questioned by the LORD as to just what she had done she replied that she had been deceived by the serpent, Satan (v.13).
Sinless Adam and Eve had been given clear boundary lines that they were not to cross and those boundaries were very generous – they had so many good things that they could richly enjoy; indeed just one thing lay beyond the boundary rope.
But although Adam and Eve knew the truth they choose not to embrace it and take it to heart as being good for themselves. Failing to do this they left the door open for argument and then allowed themselves to be persuaded that God had not told them the truth after all. The result? They accepted the devil’s lie.
There is a world of difference between knowing a truth and embracing that truth as being personally relevant to me. The psalmist indicates the way in which God’s truth can be assimilated in our lives:
Ps.119:11 "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."
The psalmist is not simply referring to what we call "learning by heart". An actor can learn his lines that way without the words having any effect upon his own thoughts and behaviour. Yes, the psalmist encourages us to memorise God’s word but more than that he declares his own commitment to being transformed and directed by the Word that he stores up in his heart.
Had Eve stored up the LORD’s Words in her heart she might never have sinned. Is one of the reasons that we fall into sin the same that although we know certain truths we have failed to personally embrace those truths as true and good for us too?
Turning to the Psalms again we find it said of the righteous person that:
Ps.37:31 "The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip."
This truth is further developed in:
Ps.40:8 "I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Ps.119:97 "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day."
And this in turn leads on to the promises related to the new covenant that Jeremiah wrote of and which Jesus introduced:
Jer.31:33 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
But Eve had not done any of this and she was deceived, she was led into sin and the consequences were disastrous.
If temptation to sin could succeed in causing the fall of humans living in the state of innocence then surely this should serve as something of a red flag for us.
Sin will deceive us if our reflexion on God’s truths is poor or non-
Turning the page in Genesis and we meet Cain and Abel.
These brothers were both seeking in their own individual ways to please the LORD. Abel was approved but Cain’s efforts were rejected.
It is important to note that Cain himself wasn’t rejected and was spoken to by the LORD in a way that encouraged him not to give up but to do what was right – the door was by no means closed to him.
Sometimes when we don’t succeed in some project or other that we have the thought comes that it’s all over for us, there is no room for any further hope, we’ll never be able to make a go of things. Instead of learning from the discipline of failure we react with disillusionment, disappointment with resentment, bitterness and even anger. That is just what Cain did.
It makes me want to ask whether it was really the Lord that Cain had wanted to please when he offered his sacrifice. One moment offering a sacrifice and the next refusing to be taught, refusing to be encouraged, refusing to be warned...
But failure can have a devastating effect upon us. We can imagine that it’s not worth going on and throw in the towel or we can simply stop trying to make any progress feeling we’re doomed to failure. We can react irrationally with aggressiveness towards others whom seem to be making more progress than we are.
How we need to heed those warnings about "sin crouching at the door"!
Of course failure to succeed is not the only problem – success itself can prove to be an alternative route onto the slippery slope as the text concerning King Uzziah shows all too well. The experience of success can lead to a sense of pride and pride, as the Scripture tells us, precedes a fall:
Pr.16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
A couple of chapters later and we come to Noah who is described before the flood in glowing terms:
Gen.6:9 "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God."
Noah was a really remarkable character. He spent probably many years building the ark in response to the LORD’s instructions and warnings concerning a coming flood. Then how emotional it all must have been as the flood came! The waters of the flood lasted for 5 months but Noah stayed in the ark for more like a year until the surface of the ground dried out.
What a responsibility had been his! And Noah had successfully seen the whole project through. Now, finally, the work of caring for the animals in the ark was over. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for Noah and his family as they emerged into a "new world" – was there a sense of anti-
In the new set of circumstances where responsibilities were now so radically different to what they had been before Noah slips and falls. He is caught out by alcohol. So many people get caught out in this way in our day too. Perhaps it began as simple refreshment but soon Noah has lost control and is drunk! His drunkenness is a problem for his family and there is significant fall-
Many folk try to justify their own behaviour on the grounds that it is a private affair that doesn’t concern others. But no man is an island and what we do impacts those round about us.
Maybe you’ve been faithfully labouring away and you’ve enjoyed a degree of success too and then the circumstances change and your responsibilities suddenly change. It doesn’t matter whether there are more responsibilities or less both scenarios are fraught with danger. We need to be on our guard where sadly Noah was not.
Pride was the problem at Babel as the inhabitants of the region wanted to "make a name" for themselves. Gen.11:4. It was the first step in setting themselves on a course that would lead to them seeking to overthrow the Lord’s authority over them and he intervened at once to prevent this from happening.
We’ve already referred to pride but here too we have a godless ambition and how easy it is to want the approval or esteem of others. While we are encouraged to think about how others relate to us – we are after all encouraged to live at peace with all men as far as that depends upon us we are nevertheless not to be dominated by a desire to be man-
Mt.6:24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Abraham’s fear for his personal safety
Abram had already been called by God and made the recipient of wonderful promises. And yet Abram still thought it necessary to help God out. Fearing for his own skin he didn’t hesitate to put his wife at serious risk by being economic with the truth regarding the nature of his relationship with her. And this he did not just once but twice (Gen.12:13; 20:2)! Personal courage does not always mark the patriarchs – Abraham’s son Isaac would later imitate his father’s behaviour and lie about his own wife Rebekah (Gen.26:7).
Such behaviour is no demonstration of the love about which Jesus would later speak:
Jn.15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."
But how easy men find it to allow their principles to fly out of the window when their own physical safety is thought to be threatened!
Fear can lead to the most inappropriate behaviour and to a real forgetfulness concerning God’s previous goodness towards us.
Laban and Jacob
A good case might be made for subtitling the story of Laban and Jacob as "The Tale of Two Cheats". Jacob having cheated his brother Esau first out of his birthright and then out of his father’s blessing finds himself for a time at least out manoeuvred by his shady uncle, Laban.
Neither of these men covers themselves with glory – both are wheeler-
"Everyone does it" says the worlding and so justifies his own acts of selfish deceitfulness as he tries to "get" on without showing too much concern for whoever it is he happens to tread upon.
Jacob might have pleaded that his mother had put him up to it and for some of his trickery he would have been right – but that hardly excuses him. No more than it served as a defence for Nazi war criminals after the War that they had only been following orders; no more than it did for MPs who claimed they were handling their expenses’ claims in the way they had been told. So let us not try to pass the buck when we try to go against our own conscience.
The good thing for us to take from this sorry encounter between Laban and Jacob is that our God is gracious! Jacob was a scoundrel but even a scoundrel could benefit from God’s grace. When we see that there is hope for such a scoundrel we are right not to lose heart – there is hope for us too!
Father and son both evidenced the same unwise behaviour when they allowed themselves to show partiality and played favourites with their family members.
Isaac sowed seeds of discount within his own family as he openly favoured Esau over Jacob. Rebekah didn’t make matters any better by preferring Jacob over Esau. This unwise, if not sinful, behaviour led to breakdown in normal family life. One son ended up pitted against the other son until one had to escape for his life. How painful the separation must have been for the parents and their boys as the months turned into years. Isaac and Rebekah would not live to see the family reunited.
You would have thought that Jacob might have learned from his own painful experience but, no. He does exactly the same thing with his own boys – no-
And the outcome? Similar to the earlier example. The family was torn apart. Joseph was sold into slavery, his brothers lived on with their guilty secret and Jacob lived so many years in grief under the illusion that his beloved son had been killed by a wild animal.
What a mess these men made of their lives!
We are used to thinking of how God intervened and brought good out of the bad choices that these men had made and we are right to do so – our sins and mistakes do not hinder God from pursuing his purposes and we should rejoice in that – ah, but what pain and needless suffering along the way!
Yes, Joseph was restored to his father and he was reconciled to his brothers but suspicions still lingered on in his brothers’ minds. When their father Jacob finally died Joseph’s brothers once more resorted to dishonesty and falsehood in an attempt to secure their own safety. Lasting peace was a long time coming to them. Having been dishonest in their own dealings with Joseph they could not imagine that he would give up the opportunity of getting even with them. Sin scars and destabilises, it is so destructive.
Sin can be so deceitful. It promises much but delivers nothing of what it promised. And sin thrives when we take our eyes off the LORD and begin to think too much about ourselves.
We fall for the lie that we can be little gods free to determine their own path through this life. We meet with disappointments and react in completely the wrong way. When we meet with success we get puffed up. Things get on top of us and we turn in the wrong direction for help – be it to alcohol, drugs, sex or whatever. We long for the approval of others and adjust our behaviour in a bid to try to secure it. Fear kicks in and principles fly away and we expose those we love the most to grave danger. And unwisely we play favourites and sow seeds of discord amongst those closest to us.
And Jesus has a better way for us! He died for us with all our stupid, self-
May God grant us the wisdom to do just that – forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (let us) press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil.3:13-