Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
July 9, 2017
Text: Romans 6:22, Old Testament: Psalm 13, New Testament: Romans 6:12-23
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Jesus taught us this prayer. It’s inscribed on our hearts. The sweetness of Jesus’ prayer blesses us.
What if I were to tell you these precious words are offensive to people? Some people consider them an egregious attack upon their personal integrity. These people believe the Lord’s Prayer forms the core of Christian judgmentalism.
It may seem incredible our words of comfort and peace would be considered as a personal affront by anyone. But a growing number of our fellow citizens are coming to believe this about the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ prayer is associated with what they consider to be Christian intolerance.
Seventy percent of America claims they’re Christian according to the Pew Research Center on Religion. But nearly 23 percent of Americans claims to have no religion. Almost six percent belong to other religions than Christianity.
The population of the United States is almost 324 million. This means perhaps as many as 74.5 million people in America aren’t interested in the Lord’s Prayer and its meaning. Another 19 million Americans of other religions would argue with us over the Lord’s Prayer’s intention. Nearly 94 million Americans probably have no interest in the application of the Lord’s Prayer for their lives. That doesn’t include agnostic Christians who don’t pray.
What’s the problem with the Lord’s Prayer? What makes it so offensive?
The Lord’s Prayer assumes people sin. For these people, the entire concept of sin is intolerant. Sin implies some behaviors and thoughts are not obedient to God. Some actions and thought are not what God expects from us. God expects loyalty to Him and Him alone. God expects us to live as God directs us to live. God is intolerant of our disobedience to Him. We are not free to sin.
Jesus’ Prayer states there is sin and assumes we sin. He associates sin with evil. Sin is not morally neutral. It’s evil. Biblically speaking, evil means opposing God’s will. We do evil when we oppose God’s will. People use their freedom to oppose God’s will. When people are disobedient to God, people commit evil. That’s what Jesus implies in His prayer.
Jesus does not assume we can avoid committing evil. Jesus knows human nature. He knows temptation to oppose God is something people face every day. People are tempted to sin, which means they’re tempted to oppose God daily.
When Jesus gives His instructions to pray, He does not say when you sin you’re to pray this prayer. He says, when you pray, pray like this, “Our father, who art in heaven . . .”
We’re to pray this prayer when we pray, not just when we think we’ve sinned. Whenever we pray, we’re to ask God to help us avoid temptation. It isn’t for just those brief moments we’re conscious of opposing God’s will. This is still our prayer when we think we’re above sinning. It’s a daily request for God to forgive our sin and request His assistance to guide us from being tempted to sin.
When we ask God to forgive our sin, we’re not asking Him to tolerate sin. We’re asking to God to love us and not judge us harshly for opposing Him. He still opposes us sinning. According to Hebrews 12:5-6, God offers forgiveness and correction instead of destruction and death as punishment for our sin.
The problem some people have with the Lord’s Prayer is it contradicts the nation’s social contract which worships freedom more than God. America’s new social contract seems to be there’s no sin with which to be tempted. America’s highest virtue is liberty, without any standard other than nationalism to define it. There’s no evil since God isn’t necessary in public debate to define freedom’s limits or what is moral for the nation.
The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life recently published a poll on belief in absolute standards for right and wrong in America. What this poll shows is very revealing about what Americans think about freedom. Only a third of the country believes there are clear standards for what is right and wrong. This means a majority of those who claim to be Christian do not believe there are clear standards for right and wrong.
Over 64 percent of America says right or wrong is defined by the situation. This implies almost two thirds of the country want the freedom to decide what is right and wrong according to the situation. They’re not bound by a heavenly law.
Free people want the power to liberate themselves from rules and regulations they consider to be intolerant. Free people want the power to emancipate themselves from laws and rules they believe enslaves them. A free person wants the power to be self-regulating and self-justifying.
This is the new social contract. A majority of America wants to justify what is right according to what benefits them at the moment. They don’t look to be accountable to a standard beyond themselves that applies in every situation – not from their spouse’s values and beliefs, not from their parents’ values and beliefs, not from their children’s needs, their government’s needs, or their society.
Absolute freedom has no need for law. Absolute freedom doesn’t believe something or some act is evil. Everything that satisfies me is permissible in the emancipated society. I am good, incapable of committing “sin” or “evil.”
The liberated person isn’t accountable to anyone’s opinion of what is right, unless it’s the Supreme Court. But then the liberated person hires lawyers to demand a new reading of the law by the Court to justify their liberation from a previous legal boundary that restricts their freedom.
In such a society, of the people, by the people, for the people, the liberated person doesn’t want or need to be accountable to God on a consistent basis, day in and day out, in every situation of life. They don’t need to pray for forgiveness.
Ever hear a family member excuse why he or she was justified in doing something your family had earlier agreed was wrong? People give what they believe are sound reasons for wanting freedom within their family relationships with each other. It all begins with not needing God’s forgiveness for sin.
Self-justification is endemic in a land that raises liberty as an end unto itself. As long as we rationalize the right-ness of what we’re doing so it makes sense to us at the moment, accountability doesn’t need a higher standard, a godly-standard to expect more from us than we expect from ourselves.
Such is freedom’s temptation: A world free to be without sin, a world free from a concept of evil by which we can be judged by others; A world free to be without a restrictive law. All is justifiable in a liberated world; A world free to stand before God without guilt, without shame, without needing a Cross, a Savior, or daily prayer asking for forgiveness.
In the minds of those where there is no sin, no morality, and hence no evil, the Lord’s Prayer is intolerant. It’s judgmental.
We face powerful voices who are openly intolerant of what they denounce as Christian intolerance. Christian concepts of sin are established norms that prevent freedom. Their intolerance is repressive.
These voices have confused the American public about right and wrong. They believe the Biblical concepts of sin and evil are from a repressive Church. They’re calling for emancipation from their repression.
These voices have advocates in government and the Church. They want to free democracy from a Christianity that condemns people for being tempted to sin when they are simply practicing their God-given right to freedom.
Herbert Marcuse may not be on your reading list. But he was on a lot of universities’ reading lists during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. He was a professor of philosophy who taught at Columbia, Harvard, and Brandeis. His liberation movement essays tempted Baby Boomers to give up on the Church and sin.
In 1969, Marcuse wrote “An Essay on Liberation,” in which he said,
Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.
Christian teaching on sin and evil repress liberty and is associated with a political perspective that’s not to be tolerated. Herbert Marcuse’s voice continues to echo through our public halls of policy-making today.
True freedom is discovered in freedom from sin and sin’s effects on your heart. Sin incapacitates a heart from being able to know what is love. The justifications and rationalizations used to convince a person they have not sinned when they have, makes them insensitive to kindness, gentleness, mercy, and love.
The heart that is aware of the effects of sin is free to both give and receive love. It is a heart that values the social impact of showing kindness, living with gentleness, showing mercy, and offering love with humility.
True love is found in sharing the joy of mutual humility that inspires social unity. Mutual humility values the relationships you have with others. Mutual humility recognizes when you’re given forgiveness and act with a sense of remorse that shows the other person you appreciate their grace. Through sharing grace and remorse, the relationship between two people is strengthened and disrespect for another person is overcome.
This is the world of true freedom. True freedom is realistic about what it takes to love another person and how to receive love from another person. It is honest about how the quality of our relationships with other people begins in the giving and receiving of grace and remorse that leads to gratitude for each other.
Freedom doesn’t come from claiming we never disrespect another person, or never violate another person’s sacredness. Freedom doesn’t come from denying the obvious in failed human relationships that produce violence. Freedom comes from accepting the reality that human relationships continually are challenged by their capacity to give and receive love.
How we give and receive love begins with our relationship with God.
Jesus’ Prayer reminds us the quality of our life with each other begins with our relationship with God. Our capacity to be sensitive and loving to one another, begins in our appreciation for God’s grace that inspires remorse. We see in genuine freedom the willingness to accept responsibility for not being loving as God wants us to love, and a desire to live a better life, a more responsible life that shows God our willingness to love.
This is not a situational ethic tempting us to rationalize a justification for bad behavior. This is simply being honest and truthful about who we are and what it takes to be free. This is the freedom Christ has given to make us free.
Anything else is submission to slavery.
A culture that denies there is sin, that denies there is need for remorse, that denies there is need for forgiveness, that denies there is need for gratitude, is a culture that denies there is need for love. It denies there is a need for God.
We are here this morning friends, because we have not succumbed to the temptation of these times to use our constitutional freedom to redefine ourselves as sinless people. We are here because we’ve found that Jesus’ Prayer evokes gratitude to God within our hearts that frees us to love.
We are free from enslavement to narcissism and self-autonomy that is re-defining American freedom.
- We think before we speak.
- We consider God’s wisdom to guide our response before the challenges we face.
- We pray for God’s guidance away from the temptation to serve ourselves at our neighbor’s expense.
- We temper our rhetoric.
- We try to act appropriately so we don’t arouse the passions of another person to violence.
- We rely on our spiritual boundaries in our God-guided conscience to exhort people to love one another by showing others God’s love.This is how we use of freedom in Jesus Christ for the glory of God!