Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“How can I do this...and sin against God?”

This picture shows part of the story of Joseph in Genesis 39. Joseph had become an important servant in the household of his Egyptian master, Potiphar. But Potiphar’s wife noticed that Joseph was also very attractive. She attempted to seduce Joseph to commit adultery with her. Joseph fled from his master’s wife, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

Joseph asked a very surprising question. Surely, Potiphar was the victim of the sin his wife proposed. Potiphar had been very kind to Joseph. Why didn’t Joseph say this would be a sin against Potiphar?

Joseph also knew that God had been very kind to Him. God had protected Joseph in times of great danger and had made him prosper in a foreign country. Even Potiphar’s kindliness was a gift from God. Later, when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of attacking her, Potiphar’s kindness went away; but God’s faithful love continued.

The story of Joseph is more than a mere example of how we should “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). It is also an important reminder that, no matter who else is involved, sin is always and above all a matter between you and God. Even if no one else sees, even if no one is hurt, even if there is no “victim” as such, every sin of body, heart, and mind is a sin against God.

Knowing that we are forgiven does not make our sin less serious. Sinful decisions are a poor way to repay God for His kindness to us in Jesus. Also, sinful habits can destroy your faith in God’s forgiveness. This is why Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles continually urged Christians to continue the battle against temptation, to continue walking in the good works God prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), and to continue forgiving and asking for forgiveness.

This continual battle against sin is one that we cannot fight alone. The power to fight temptation, and to walk in the way of righteousness, does not come from within ourselves. It is a gift from God. It comes to us through the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 6:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life...knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin has been done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him…. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:1ff).
IMAGE: Reni, Guido (1575-1642). Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar. Location: Coll. Leicester, Holkham Hall, Norfolk, Great Britain. Photo Credit: Alinari / Art Resource, NY

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