Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, October 1, 2000

The Target of Sin - Psalm 51, Part 3
by Pastor Bob Burridge 2000
Psalm 51:4

When I was about 13 or 14 I took my first archery lessons. It took quite a few arrows before the first one got stuck in the target. The first few didn't even make it all the way to the hay the target was mounted on. I put a lot of holes in the ground. The target was the safest place on the whole archery range.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word we translate as sin is khata'. It literally means to miss the mark. Its used in that original way in Judges 20:16

"Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss."

When we sin, we are missing the moral mark God sets for us. This is exactly how sin is defined in the Bible: The King James Version of 1 John 3:4 says, "... sin is the transgression of the law."

One way people often try to soften the ugliness of their sin, is to change the target. If sticking arrows in the grass was the goal of archery, I would have been a gold-metalist right away! But if the target was that round dot surrounded by circles ... I sinned a lot ... I missed the mark.

If our moral target is to feel good about ourselves, or not to do great physical harm to others, we might convince ourselves we are pretty good. But if the standard is the high and perfect moral principles God tells us about in his word, then we discover, as King David did, that we have sinned grievously.

In Psalm 51 David cried out for God's grace.

  1. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.
  2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.

In Romans 3:23 The Apostle Paul wrote, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We come short of the target, the target God sets. We don't get to pick the target.

David and Paul, and the other writers of the Bible were well aware of the mark we are to hit, and of how impossible it is for any of us to even come close, aside from the amazing work of God's grace that transforms our unworthy hearts.

As Psalm 51 continued David admitted that, at its root, his sin is a crime against God.

  1. Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge.

In fallen man's attempt to redefine the target, he has invented the victimless crime. Some sins are excused simply by asking, "What harm does it do?" What they mean is: if something doesn't cause direct harm to another person, then it should be ok. Therefore, they excuse it as a private matter that isn't very important.

This past summer the Libertarian Party adopted its current party platform. One whole section of it demands the repeal of all laws relating to victimless crimes. It doesn't leave it to the imagination to guess at what those crimes include. It specifically demands the repeal of ...

  • all laws restricting the sale and use of drugs of any kind
  • all laws relating to sexual relations such as prostitution and solicitation
  • all laws that allow homosexual acts and unions not to be fully accepted by everyone
  • all laws limiting the sale, use and production of sexually explicit material
  • all laws interfering with the right to commit suicide, which it says is our ultimate right

An article this week in the Washington Post shows how this view effects our courts. Michael Dowdy was arrested for drunken driving but refused to take the sobriety test. Because there were no test results to show to the court, the charges against him were dismissed. Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Paul H. Weinstein commented on this saying that he regards drunken driving differently than other crimes. He said, "It's a victimless crime unless they kill someone." He implies we should ignore life threatening behavior until the damage is done and someone dies.

David Euchner is a doctoral candidate and teacher at Rutgers School of Law. He lists examples of what he says are victimless crimes:

"... prostitution, the use and distribution of illicit drugs, gambling, obscenity and pornography."

Then he says ...

"Every participant in these illegal activities is willing and consensual, and therefore no participant is a victim of a crime nor a perpetrator of a crime against another."

He argues that these are victimless activities and cause no detriment to society. And he insists that an individual's wishes or rights are the only proper basis of what should be criminal. He goes on to reject any religious moral standards by saying that,

"Faith amounts to nothing more than a renunciation of reason and logic. ... Faith will allow an otherwise rational person to accept contradictions in the universe."

He obviously hasn't considered the biblical definition of faith as a moral standard. Biblical faith is not an irrational escape from reason. Biblical faith will not accept contradictions in the universe. It seeks to know God's creation as it really is, not as each individual would like it to be. Faith is an implanted firm understanding which God gives to those for whom Christ died. That implanted ability enables the persons to comprehend and trust the direct teachings of God in Scripture. Has he not read our own Declaration of Independence which bases our primary human rights upon the endowment of our Creator?

The victimless crime is a modern myth.
It implies that these things, dangerous to us all and offensive to God, ought not be wrong. What King David learned, and what every sinner should understand is: Someone other than the perpetrator and a human victim is always involved. God is offended! He, the Creator, is the center of morality.

We don't mean to say that God is ever victimized by us, as if we could overpower him, or frustrate his eternal decrees concerning all things. But every sin, private or public, is an offense against him. Though no one else is directly harmed, and if no one else knows about it, its still morally wrong.

David understood the target of his sin: It was against God only --
As we saw a moment ago, in 1 John 3:4, "... sin is the transgression of the law." According to the Creator Himself, anything that violates his eternal moral principles is wrong and offensive and brings guilt upon the offender, whether its known by others, or directly hurts others or not.

God's moral principles lie at the root of every good law in civilized society:
The sin of murder is not fundamentally wrong just because it hurts another person. Its wrong because every human life bears the image of God and is to be respected from conception. If murder is only wrong because of an accepted technical definition, or is justified because we imagine it is kept painless to the individual killed, or because it might actually minimize hardships in the long run, then abortion and suicide are removed from the list of wrongs. That is exactly what our secular society has done once God's law is taken out of the picture.

Stealing is not a sin just because of its inconvenience to another person or society. Its wrong because it defies God's distribution of ownership and stewardship. If stealing is justified when it does no serious outward harm to society or to others, then we allow many thieves to be set free with insignificant penalties, if they are punished at all. An oppressive goverment taking what we earn in the form of unjustified and intrusive taxes becomes acceptable. Gambling becomes an acceptable way to raise revenues for the state.

Sexual sins are not wrong because of their harm to some culturally defined sense of decency. They are wrong because they defy the command of God concerning the sexes. Marriage is the only moral place for sex since it is ordained to represent Christ's relationship with his church. If sex is simply for pleasure or for personal satisfaction, then extramarital sex, and divorce for personal reasons, become acceptable. Pornography becomes an acceptable business for consenting adults. Pornographers are then held only to cultural standards, such as not aiming at minors as part of their target of consumers. It becomes a first amendment right to promote bestiality, child sex, and erotic pictures.

We could say similar things for all moral principles.
Its not just the criminal sins that would land us in jail that offend our Father in heaven. What offends him includes ...

  • the lies said to protect ourselves or to build ourselves up, lies no one ever detects or suspects
  • the apathy about our neighbors and brothers and sisters in the Lord
  • the inward anger when we are challenged
  • the pride when we see others struggle with sin or fall from spiritual weakness
  • the silence when someone we meet, or know, or say we love, needs comfort in the gospel and we as their brother or sister in the Lord say nothing, do nothing
  • the covetousness in our heart when God's will for us doesn't measure up to what we think it ought to be

What a long list it could be! It would include all the things we do that are less than or contrary to God's holy commandments to us. Regardless of how many others they directly hurt, or how widely they effect society, or who else may know about it or care, we miss the moral target and fall short of the holiness expected of us.

Every transgression of God's revealed moral standard is wrong. It undermines and offends the glory of God. And it builds up a heavy weight in our conscience.

And David adds that he had "done what is evil in Thy sight".
There are two biblical truths that come to mind in this confession:

The first is that evil is what God sees it to be. Its not just what people or scholars think it should be. This parallels what David had just said in the first part of this verse.

But there is another sense too ... all of our evil is done before the watching eyes of God himself.

Had David thought that his sin with Bathsheba, the deceit, and the plotting to murder, had all gone unseen? Hardly. The ever-seeing eyes of God was something David had known very well.

So when he sinned, had he forgotten this fundamental truth? or did he just put it out of his mind? or did he think God would "understand" his need to violate his moral law?

When we consider the all-seeing eye of God, every sin is clearly irrational. There is no good explanation except to admit that every heart, redeemed ones too, are still imperfect in this life and tend toward excusing sin for a season. But when we consider what we do, what an impudent affront it is, to break the law right in the face of the lawmaker!

Sometimes, when parents aren't around, kids may try to get away with things. Of course this might be very rare in your house (if you ask the parents). But just suppose it to be possible for the sake of my illustration.
While mom and dad are away, the children ...

  • might eat things on the forbidden list,
  • watch TV shows that are a bit less wholesome than the usual family viewing,
  • stay up a little later than they are supposed to,
  • and maybe even talk on the phone a little more than is allowed.

They sometimes may even get away with that kind of thing! But fewer would do them if mom and dad were there at home watching them. Yes, some kids might do what ever they want anyway. But being sneaky about it only adds one more sin to the disobedience.

Home rules are not just unimportant ordinances. Disobedience to parents is a violation of God's 5th Commandment. And deceit is always an offense to God. And he is always home!

Now forget the kids ... how about you adults?

  • Do you ever drive less lawfully when no one is around and you are in a hurry?
  • Do you ever show less patience in line at the grocery store than when a fellow church member is waiting in line behind you? or when the cashier is a good family friend?
  • Do you say things in some company you would have to apologize for in others?

Do we stop to think when we sin, when we make excuses, when we neglect what we know what we ought to be doing ... that we are as clearly seen by God then as when we come here on the Sabbath day and assemble together in worship? Even when not in a special time of worship, that same holy God is present just as much.

God is always aware of our doings and thoughts. Its not harm to others that makes something wrong. its not the immediate damage to society. Its that it offends God by violating his eternal moral principles.

David then turns to the fact of God's justice.

4b "... So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge."

When God speaks to us in judgment, we, of ourselves, have no defense. God has every right as Creator to demand perfect, personal and perpetual obedience. His creatures were made to be held to the moral principles he has revealed. But its more than a divine right. Its a divine necessity. To allow sin to go unpunished would contradict the nature of God itself! The fact of his justice demands that the penalty of sin be paid in full.

What a wonderful gospel we have! It explains how God, as Savior, experienced death in place of his people satisfying the high demands of their infinite offense. Justice is met, yet sinners become the loved children of God! And as loved children, their offenses bring them humbly to the throne of grace. As David discovered, God is not only ever present as judge, as one we must obey. Though our sins horribly grieve our Father in heaven, he is also ever present with his children to forgive them and to deliver them from sin.

In Psalm 139 David wrote ...

  1. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, And art intimately acquainted with all my ways.
  1. Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?
  2. If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
  3. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
  4. Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.

But Psalm 51 was not written for those who believe they never sin. It was for us who know we do, and need to deal with it in the only right way.

How is your moral aim? How do you view your moral misses? Do you admit them? Or do you try to explain them away? make them to be just victimless crimes? Do you feel OK about them if the damage is minimal? Do you forget that all sin is against God and his holy law? Do you forget that we have a Savior whose love is greater than our sin?

Live today, all this week, remembering that whatever you do, both sin and confession, is done before God's eyes.

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