I grew up surrounded by a cadre of loving aunts and uncles, over 30 of them. A few lived close by, while most lived away. They were all loving and thoughtful; one nearby set was more like an added pair of grandparents. So, needless to say, I always felt very loved and treasured, and so I naturally thought all families were like ours. I was an adult before I realized how truly blessed I had been as a child to have been loved and cherished by so many adults.
In fact, God used that time in my life to teach me about the concept of sin. I know that sounds weird, to speak of sin in the context of love. But the truth is that I don’t think we can ever really understand the weight of our sin until we do understand the worth of His love. I am still learning that lesson, but I first began to understand that truth as a first-grader, with the help of one of my most beloved uncles.
Uncle Pete lived in Atlanta with his wife Sarah and my cousin Sonny. They were like magical storybook characters that visited from their faraway kingdom three or four times a year. My aunt was so chic and graceful, always wearing the latest styles. My mom and her other sisters whisked Aunt Sarah away to the kitchen, where they laughed, talked, and cooked enough food for a small country. And Sonny was that handsome older cousin we all have. He came to town and disappeared with all the other guys (and their giggling girlfriends) on adventures I could only dream of. But Uncle Pete was ours!
Granted, Uncle Pete spent a good bit of his time with my dad and the other uncles, but he always found time for us. He loved to tell us jokes and make us laugh, but our favorite pastime with Uncle Pete was playing games. Card games, dominoes, board games, it did not matter. He would play any game we asked him to play. And he never treated us like babies or let us win to simply end the game faster. No, Uncle Pete played to win, and he played fairly. He always reminded us when we started a game that he would never, ever play with cheaters.
“Cheaters never win!” he said.
I am sure you know what happened next. Yes, my sister, my uncle, and I were playing a game of Parcheesi when I fell way behind. Always competitive, I could not bear the thought of losing to my baby sister; plus, I was mighty jealous of her conspiring and laughing with Uncle Pete. I felt quite left out, so I did it. I cheated! And in no time at all, I caught up and won. My victory was sweet but short-lived.
“Aww, let’s play again,” said my sister. “Come on, Uncle Pete, we’ll beat her this time.”
“No,” whispered my uncle, as he pushed his chair back from the table, “I cannot play with cheaters.”
My sister and I grew quiet and still, and I realized that he had seen my dishonest moves.
I giggled nervously and said, “I was just kidding. I didn’t really mean to cheat.”
“But you did; you cheated,” my uncle said dejectedly, “Now, I can’t trust you. We can do other things together, but I can never trust you to play this game again.”
And we never did.
My uncle was angry with me that day, but his anger subsided. Later on, we played other games together and told other jokes, but it was not the same. I knew when he looked at me that he saw me differently. He knew I was a cheater, and I knew it too. And that truth was harder to bear than any punishment he could have ever doled out to me.
Why? Well, it was because I loved Uncle Pete, and I knew he loved me. He was the only adult man who ever took the time to play silly, childish games with us. And he was the only uncle who ever treated us like we were smart enough and grown up enough to really compete.
He just loved us. And my cheating had left its mark on that love. Sin always leaves its mark. And make no mistake about it; my cheating was a sin. I knew it was wrong, and I chose to do it anyway. I wanted what I wanted – regardless of the fallout or impact on others.
We live in a world that advocates for that very same philosophy of doing whatever we choose in order to get what we want and in order to find self-centered happiness in the here and now. Consequently, we also live in a world without accountability or remorse. We live in a world filled with sin and sinners.
Indeed, we are sinners in need of the Savior.
But, the funny thing is, that as Christians, we often fail to remember that each of us was once the chief among sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). And if not for the grace and mercy of God, we would all still be lost and without hope.
The church, both corporately and individually, is quick to see and comment on the sins committed outside the church walls. But, we certainly don’t want to read or hear about our own spiritual indictments. In fact, we gravitate toward anyone or anything that broadcasts and bashes the sinful iniquities of the world. Yet, we often fail to recognize or acknowledge our own personal sins.
Instead, we label them as shortcomings, issues, struggles, problems, concerns, difficulties, flaws, or a plethora of user-friendly, churchgoer terms. We call them anything but what they really are – sins.
In doing so, in candy coating and camouflaging our sins with nicer sounding words, we are doing the very same thing Adam and Eve did when they committed that first sin way back in the Garden of Eden. We are figuratively sewing a few fig leaves over our very visible spiritual nakedness.
The truth is that anything we say or do that is unlike our Savior is indeed sin. He knows it; we know it, and so does everyone else. We can hide behind church verbiage all day long, but the whole world sees us wallowing in our self-justified sin.
What absolute absurdity! Sin is sin, regardless of the words we use to disguise or defend it.
And how our sin must hurt the heart of Jesus. For as I said earlier, we can only understand the weight of our sin when we understand the worth of His love. He sacrificed His own life so that nothing could ever separate us from the love of our Father.
Yet, we His children choose not only to sin but also to pretend we don’t sin by hiding behind our lying terminology. And that self-deception is the most horrendous part of our sin.
Like my precious Uncle Pete, Jesus will never stop loving us, but He cannot “play” with us if we knowingly choose to continue in our sin.
Remember, sin is not a game.