At the heart of the problem of sin is what happens when humans put other things above the first place of God in our lives. How do we make sense of The Bad in our own lives & make sure we keep God as our first priority?
A study on Romans 1:18-25 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
When I first became a cat owner I read somewhere that cats naturally self-regulate their eating. So I bought one of those smorgasbord style cat feeders – where you put the cat food in the top, and it falls out the bottom. Problem was our cat went from normal to a 6 kg monster within a year. At any given moment she would be crouched in front of this machine gorging herself. She would hug it, purr at it, lick it, nuzzle it, worship it. It became her food-god – a divine portal that produced infinite amounts of tuna flavoured snacks on command. After a while (around the 5kg
mark) we realised this dispenser was a bad idea, so we put it away in the cupboard. We would often come home to discover she’d found it, her head stuck inside it, pushing it along the ground in ecstasy. And what our cat didn’t seem to fundamentally understand was that it was us topping up the cat food.
In our passage from Romans we find Paul talking about one of the main driving forces behind sin and The Bad in the world; not giving credit to the Creator (God) and instead becoming fixated on His creation (people, stuff, sex, money, nature). It’s not that these things are bad of course – it’s just when we don’t put God in his rightful first place, humans, like my cat, can become unhealthy, deluded and discontent. As CS Lewis said “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.” Not to mention how all this misdirected worship makes God feel. It’s like loving a tribute band and completely hating on the original act. Or leaving your spouse for a blow up doll. It’s kinda creepy.
So how do we make sense of a world that seems to spend more time worshiping God’s creations, rather than Him? How do we insure we ourselves live with God in His rightful place, and not just in the “Christian Stuff” box we keep under our bed? And how should followers of Jesus respond to the more personal challenges of sin – is it just a matter of trying harder to sin less? Or is there more to it?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. What do you think the word ‘sin’ means to most people you know?
2. What does it mean to you?
READ Romans 1:18-20
3. This is a pretty full on start, especially given he just finished talking about the good news being salvation (verses 16-17). But what is Paul actually saying here? (you could break into groups for this bit)
a. what is God’s wrath actually against? Is that a good thing?
b. why does Paul think people are ‘without excuse’?
READ Romans 1:21-25
4. In these verses:
a. what didn’t people do? (hint: the start of verse 21)
b. and what did they do instead?
5. What is the big irony all of this is pointing towards? Why does Paul think it is so foolish?
6. Sometimes we think of sin as simply ‘breaking rules’ or ‘being bad’. But this passage shows it has more to do with injustice towards persons. Who is the One who gets shafted by the sinful exchanges in this passage? And what does this personal element have to say about how we should think of sin?
7. Reflecting on your own experience of sin, in what ways can you see that you have traded God in for the worship of the things he has created? You could take a moment or two, perhaps in silence, to confess this to God in the light of the forgiveness he offers in Jesus Christ – that is where Paul is going with all this, see 3:23-26.
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. What do you think the word ‘sin’ means to most people you know? What does it mean to you? What’s your definition of sin? Do you even believe in sin yourself?
2. We often think of sin as the bad moral things we do as individuals – but the fuller picture in the bible tells us sin is more all-encompassing than that, and includes anything that falls short of how God intended us and his wider creation to be and live. What are some examples you see of things falling short of God’s hopes?
3. We all have aspects of sin in our lives – some of them we can confront and resist personally, others are inherent in the world and mostly beyond our control. Yet even followers of Jesus often sin intentionally, in full knowledge that God is calling us to live according to His Kingdom values. Why do you think Christians struggle to follow the prompting of God when it comes to sin? What aspects of your own life have you heard God challenging you on and confronting in your life?
4. In our Romans passage (v20-23) Paul hints that perhaps the root of the problem of sin is that humans often fail to put God as our first thing, and instead treat the good stuff God has created (people, stuff, sex, money, nature etc) as being the stuff we really worship and serve. How could this be the starting point for the brokenness we see around us in the world? What are the common idols people replace God with in New Zealand? How do you think God feels when people choose to adore the stuff He’s made instead of Him?
5. Reflecting on your own experience of sin, in what ways can you see that you have traded God in for the worship of the things He has created?
6. In our passage (1:24-25) it speaks of God sometimes giving people over to their sins and allowing them to live their lives how they want to. How does this make you feel? Why would God does this?
7. We discover God’s ultimate answer to sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the Cross. Martin Luther, one of the most influential church leaders of the past 500 years, once said “Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” But if Jesus’ death is the solution, and we know we’ll never meet God’s standards under our own steam, why should Christians attempt to resist sin at all? Why not just ‘sin boldly’ knowing Jesus has sin covered?
8. Sometimes we have sinful aspects of our lives (past or present) that we’ve been holding onto, yet God offers healing, freedom and forgiveness if we’re willing to accept it. Why do we struggle to be honest about stuff even with God sometimes? Privately spend a few minutes in silence bringing something before God you’ve been holding onto.
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Christian Idol: Ask someone outside your group from your church to talk for 5 minutes on a thing they were in danger of putting before God, and how they managed to put God back as first priority. Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Temple 2.0: Since now day’s lots of people put the quest to buy and own more stuff above God, it might be a good idea to reflect on how shopping and marketing might be a form of “stuff” worship. As a group, head to your local shopping mall and get people to wander around for 30
minutes observing and taking photos of the things that malls share in common with Christian worship. Can you find any hints of God’s presence in the mall, or is it all idol worship?