Five Sins a Day
“I heard everybody sins at least five times a day.”
This comment came from the oldest student in our HopeKids Sunday school class. A thoughtful young man named Wyatt who’s just recently started coming. I grinned, wondering how he’d landed on this stat, and thinking about how we could apply it to the morning lesson.
There’s a story told in Acts 19 about some of the first followers of Jesus who lived in a place called Ephesus. (Paul would later write the letter we call Ephesians to this growing church.) I absolutely love this origin story because of it’s relevance (I believe) to life in the church today. Here’s the scenario. The missionary Paul was traveling through the city, where he met a group of enthusiastic disciples. Apparently Paul’s interactions with these new friends led him to ask them an interesting question. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Blank stares. Ummm, no. “We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
It turns out these Ephesus disciples had been converts of John (as in “the Baptist”) who’d previously dunked them in a river for the “repentance of sins.” But what these wanna-be disciples missed was the connection between John’s baptism and the One who was coming. That of course being Jesus.
“After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).
Paul went on to explain the difference. See, John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4)—as a way of preparing for Jesus. Prepare the way for the Lord! But this “baptism of repentance” was just the beginning…merely a hint of the radical change that was coming.
The one coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!
Which is exactly what happened for a dozen disciples in Ephesus on an this extraordinary day recorded forever in our New Testament text:
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:5-6).
Now. I just happened to read this very story Sunday morning in my own living room, an hour or so before heading to church to teach the kiddos. Knowing Kyle and I would be sharing the story of John the Baptist with our HopeKids that very morning. Which certainly couldn’t be coincidence, could it?
I think not.
And now here we were with our captive audience of 18 or so squirming youngsters, ranging in age from kindergarten to our fifth-grade-grads (including Wyatt)—and knowing we’d better get to the point ASAP if we’re to keep a modicum of attention. Recapping our video lesson: Jesus at the Jordan; his quirky cousin John, wearing his camel skin and eating his locusts, preparing the way with his baptism of repentance, and—
“I’ve heard everyone sins at least five times a day!”
And that, my precious little friends, is why we need the One who is coming. Jesus who baptizes with the Holy Spirit!!
Of course it was probably the grownups who taught Wyatt his statistics. Sharing the quote with our small group later that same evening the adults would chuckle, thinking the number was generously low. I mean…how many times a day do we actually sin? But…
“Maybe the Holy Spirit makes it so you don’t have to sin at all!”
Our 11-year-old statistician heard me say this, and you could just see the light coming on. Sort of like Paul’s new friends in Ephesus when they realized they’d only gotten half a gospel. And kind of like my small group friends when they realized what I was suggesting.
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” (Acts 19:3)
Because a half a gospel is only partial good news. But the actual good news is joyously shocking.
I’ve been wondering lately if a lot of our struggles have to do with assumptions. We assume sin and we keep on sinning. We assume a gospel that ends with repentance. Confession of sin, again and again and again. When maybe the real good news is that the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit has actually saved us from inevitable sin.
Here’s what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:1-4).
And just what is this NEW LIFE?
I wonder. Do Christians assume sin is inevitable so they can keep on sinning? Or do we somehow think we need to assume sin because it keeps us humble? Maybe we've believed the lie that to be “sinless” would be arrogant or self-righteous. But I believe with all my heart in better good news.
I believe Jesus saves us from actual sin, and he makes us holy through the baptism of his Holy Spirit. Which is to say, he fills us to overflowing with the new life of the FRUIT of this Spirit. Love, joy, peace, goodness, and all the rest. (Paul again, Galatians 5:22-23.)
The Holy Spirit makes us holy people. And this good news really ought to be the ultimate assumption of our whole and holy gospel story—for kids and us grownups, too.