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“How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE GREATEST MOTIVATION TO AVOID SIN? For most people, it would be the prospect of terrible things happening to them in this life as a consequence of their sin. (“If I steal drugs from the hospital and get caught, my nursing license will be revoked.”) A thing may be wrong in principle and should be avoided simply because it is wrong, but most of the time we are more concerned about the consequences of getting caught.

But Joseph had the right idea in Genesis 39:9. Tempted to indulge in sin with his employer’s wife, he not only said no, but he said no for the very highest reason: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He was a young man at the time of this story, but even at that age he understood that sin is always against God. Yes, it may damage other people horribly, and yes, we may damage ourselves with consequences that follow us for the rest of our lives — but with or without those consequences, sin is always a dishonor to the love of the God who made us.

We may see ourselves as being nice people. We may treat our friends and loved ones well, avoiding most of the obvious things that would have bad consequences in our relationships. Our good reputation and the love of so many who know us may testify to the fact that we are decent people for whom sin is not a major problem.

But sin is a problem we are all involved in (Romans 3:23). When we recognize that sin is a violation (even privately) of what we know to be God’s will, it is clear that we are not innocent — not a single one of us. And if the gospel is about the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of a right relationship with God, it is also clear that we all need the gospel. We can’t be forgiven without it.

The temporal consequences of sin are certainly serious, and I, of all people, would not advise you to disregard those. But the eternal consequences are far greater. And the fact that, as Joseph knew, sin is always against God should weigh more heavily in our thinking than any social consideration. Separation from God is the worst of the worst things that can happen. And the best of the best news is that in the gospel God is willing to bring us back to Him.

“Sin is essentially a departure from God” (Martin Luther).

Gary Henry — +

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