Romans 6:23 (ESV)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Zero Tolerance – that’s a phrase that’s often in the news today. Mostly it has to do with a policy of strictly enforcing America’s immigration laws – enforcing them with no exceptions. This morning, I got to thinking about all of that and wondered, “What if our God practiced zero tolerance when it comes to our sin?” The Bible seems pretty clear about what that would mean. “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3) In other words, if God practiced zero tolerance – we would all be lost. After all, we “have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10b)
Now having said that, my next statement is going to sound strange at first. In fact, God does practice zero tolerance when it comes to man’s sin… to your sin and mind. Indeed, thank God He practices zero tolerance. The Bible is clear. “The wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23a) “Death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12b) Yes God does not let even one sinful thought go unpunished, unaccounted for.” He practices zero tolerance.
However, His zero tolerance is of a completely unexpected kind. I only quoted half of Romans 6:23. Here’s the whole verse. “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Go back to Psalm 130. I only quoted verse 3. Here is verse 3 and 4. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? BUT with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” The word “but” in both verses really changes everything. These verses both say that God practices zero tolerance of sin and at the same time forgives us our sins. How can that be? Isn’t that a contradiction. The explanation, of course, is Jesus. God has indeed punished all sin of all time! But He did so by punishing His perfect Son Jesu sin our place. “For our sake, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by Himself being cursed for us.” (Galatians 3:13). Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) That’s how God can be both just” (punishing all sin) and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) That is zero tolerance of a unique kind.
What do you suppose would happen if you and I started to practice God’s type of zero tolerance for sin?
First of all, we would act very differently towards our own sinfulness. Far too often our reaction to our own sin is to deny it, to lie about it, to hide it from others, to blame others, to make excuses. Far too often our reaction to our own sin is to bury it. To do that friends, is to tolerate sin in ourselves. That is no different than knowing you have a cancer and doing nothing about it. Much better is to confess our sins… to own up to our guilt… to seek help with our struggles… to go to God and ask forgiveness. After all “he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins…” (1 John 1:9) If we have wronged or hurt someone, go to them, admit it, seek their forgiveness. They may or may not forgive you, but sin will have been put to death in you… sin will have been defeated. You will be able to say with St. Paul in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That’s what it looks like when you have zero tolerance for your own sin.
What if others hurt you? Sin against you? Practice zero tolerance. How? By seeking God’s help to forgive them. When you get angry… when you hold a grudge… when you refuse to forgive… when you won’t go and talk to them – you are tolerating sin. You are giving sin the victory. What does Jesus say?
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) In other words, love others the way God has loved you. Yes forgiving those who hurt you is hard. Yes, it means in a sense, that you pay the price of that hurt but giving up any idea of making them suffer for the way they hurt you. Yes, forgiving means says “Yes, what you did to me hurts, but you mean more to me than any hurt I may have suffered. I love you and I forgive you.” After all, that, on a much grander scale is what God did for you.
Corrie Ten Boom, who survived a Nazi death camp, told the story of meeting a guard from that camp years after the war. The guard came up to her and asked her forgiveness. She didn’t want to. Only after asking for God’s help to forgive him… and by God’s power was able to reach out her hand to him and say those words, “I forgive you.” That day sin lost that battle. Sin lost its grip on her heart and on his. That’s God’s kind of “zero tolerance.”