In the autumn I had several posts that offered caution about the idea of following your heart, the need to guard your heart/mind, and that sin, even private sin, ends up affecting not only us but other people. To continue with thoughts from the last post about private sin…
As Plantinga so well demonstrates, sin is a dynamic and progressive phenomenon. It is a plague that spreads by contagion. Of course, virtue can be a force for good, but it seems that sin outstrips virtue in its ability to contaminate and spread. In the footnotes, Plantinga mentioned Haggai 2:11-13 as an example of this idea in the Scripture.
Perhaps we have doubts here? Is sin really more overwhelming and influential than good? I think too many Christians are naive here, and fail to grasp the power of sin in the present age. We live in the “already but not yet” – that is, between the first and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan is still the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). Of course, God is sovereign, but Satan is still at work in this world and this foe will not be vanquished until Jesus returns in power and glory.
It is true that as believers we possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, spiritual sight, and have access to the resurrection power of Jesus. But we still live in this fallen world, and sin can and does influence us. We must not be naive or unrealistic about this fact. We need to guard our hearts and minds. We must remember that Satan is on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8) and act and live accordingly – being alert, vigilant, watchful.
But that passage in Haggai 2:11-13….Haggai is one of the post-exilic prophetic books – the time frame when the Jewish people had been able to return to their land after their years away in exile. It was a time of rebuilding and renewal, and while such can sound promising and exciting, that does not mean it was an easy time. There was difficulty, disappointment, and temptation. Yet God was moving his people along in time towards the day when their Messiah – the Lord Jesus Christ – would appear in this world.
In Haggai 2:11-13, God instructed Haggai to ask the priests: “If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’” The priests answered, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?” “Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
If that sounds odd, slow down and read it again. It makes the point that it is much easier to contaminate something than to decontaminate it. It is easier to spread an oil slick than to clean one up. Right? This is common sense really, but unfortunately we can lack that sense or just be naive.
Below is an excerpt from a commentary that will close this post – read it! Consider in the New Year of 2023 how you want to guard your heart and mind, and be more alert and watchful to temptations that can lead you into sin. What could “contaminate” you? – Yes, one day Good will conquer evil once and for all, but that day is not here yet. Here is the commentary excerpt, with a great word from a 4th century Archbishop and theologian too!
“The lesson is clear. Haggai approaches the subject first from the negative and then from the positive side. The two questions are: Can the holy make the unholy, holy? Can the unholy make the holy, unholy?
The first question illustrates the principle that the influence of holiness is not as far-reaching as the power of the unclean. One drop of filth will defile a vase full of water, but many drops of clean water will not purify a vase full of unclean water. Whereas a healthy man cannot communicate his health to another man by touching him, a sick man can communicate his disease. One single decayed apple thrown into a basket full of fresh apples can communicate its rottenness to the entire basket. There are many ways to vice, but only one to virtue. The power of sin is extraordinary. The fall of Adam entailed consequences for all generations.
‘Goodness can with difficulty gain a hold upon human nature, like fire upon green wood; while most men are ready and disposed to join evil, like stubble, I mean, ready for a spark and a wind, which is easily kindled and consumed from dryness. For more quickly would anyone take part in evil with slight inducement to its full extend, than in good which is fully set before him, to a slight degree. For indeed, a little wormwood most quickly imparts its bitterness to honey; while not even a double quantity of honey can impart its sweetness to wormwood: and the withdrawal of a small pebble would draw headlong a whole river, though it would be difficult for the strongest dam to retain or stay its course.’
– Page 64-65 in Shield Bible Study Outlines, The Book of Haggai, A Study Manual by Richard Wolff, Baker Book House, 1967. The quote is from: Gregory Nazianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus (Grand Rapids, 1955) in “The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,” Second Series, vol. VII, pg. 207. — Who is that you wonder? Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople and theologian.
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