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Description: Karl Barth the German theologian says that sloth (laziness) -- is sin! Why would he say that?
Sin is Slothfulness
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Loved ones, we are in the position that we sin and we don’t realize that we’re sinning. That’s
because, we have a very definite idea of what sin is. We think of it in the way the old classical
authors thought of it. You remember, they told the myth of Prometheus snatching the lightening out
of the God Zeus’ hand and asserting himself, and his own power, and his own rule, and his own will.
And I think it’s very easy for us to think, “That’s what sin is. It’s what is spoken of in Genesis
3 when Satan said, ‘When you eat of this you’ll be like God knowing the difference between good and
evil.’” And we then tend to think of sin as something assertive where we assert ourselves, we
assert our own wills, we reject God and we say, “We’re going to do what we want to do.” And we
think that that is the only thing that sin is.
And all the time we’re being held captive by sin which is also the very opposite of that. The
reality is that you are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which he has
prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The reality is that when we all turned against
that, God crucified us in Jesus and our old self was crucified with Christ. The further reality is
that God who is rich in mercy towards us out of the great love with which he has loved us even when
we were yet sinners made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and made us sit
with him in the heavenly places.
So that every morning when we open our eyes we know that the day has been planned for us, all the
crooked things have been made straight. There are works that are prepared beforehand that we should
walk in them. The world has been overcome and all we have to do is get up and rejoice in that. And
to that spirit of truth and reality we say, “Let me alone. Let me alone. Let me alone. I don’t
feel good today and I have a right to my own feelings. I know what the day holds and it’s filled
with burdensome tasks. Let me alone.”
Carl Barth says, “Sin is sloth.” It was so strangely put when I first read it that I almost didn’t
take it seriously until I began to see that this is exactly the sin that holds many of us captive.
The sinner is not merely Prometheus or Lucifer, somebody rising up and exercising his own will
against God. He is also, and for the sake of clarity, and to match the grossness of the matter, we
will use rather popular expressions. He is also a lazy bone, a sluggard, a good for nothing, a slow
coach, and a loafer. I never thought of it that way, but that’s it.
The reality is that we have not only been created in Jesus but we’ve been crucified with him, and
we’ve been raised with him, and we’re sitting at the right hand of God with him far above every rule
and authority and dominion and power and above every name that is named not only in this age but in
that which has yet to come and he has put all things under his feet and he has prepared the way
ahead for us each day. And we say, “Let me alone. I don’t want that. I want to look into myself
and I want to look at my melancholia and I want to look at my own self centeredness and I want to
think what I’m thinking and what I really feel about this world. Let me alone. I don’t want to
rise up into that. I don’t want to be raised up and made to sit at God’s right hand. I don’t want
to be victor over all these things. I don’t want to have authority over this and that. I want to
huddle myself down here and think about myself and dwell in my own thoughts, and work things out for
I think that some of us maybe doing that and not thinking of it as sin at all. And all the time we
think that sin is evil action and we don’t see that sin is also evil in action. It’s a failure to
live in the reality of our position in Christ. It’s not only a failure but Carl Barth points out
that it’s actually unbelief. It’s not just a failure to live in that but it’s a rejection of that.
He says, “At every point this is the strange inactive action of the slothful man. It may be that
this action often assumes the disguise of a tolerant indifference in relation to God.” So you may
think, “Oh no, I’m just indifferent to that today. That’s what’s wrong; I just don’t feel it as
strong as I usually feel it.
But in fact it is the action of hate which wants to be free of God, which would prefer that there
were no God, or that God were not the one he is. At least for him, the slothful man, that God was
not this act of Christ that has overcome the world and has taken us with him in his overcoming and
now has things that he wants to do through us that day in joy and delight and freedom. This hatred
of God is the culminating point of human pride too. The over winning pride of man which consists in
the fact that he wants to be and act as God may it a pinch be understood and this is perhaps the
reason for its sinister beauty, as a perverse love of God who’s frivolous encroachment and
usurpation, who’s illegitimate attempt to control its object do of course culminate in a desire that
the object should disappear as such. That there should be no God or that God should not be God.
That man should be able to sit unhindered on his throne. But sin as man’s subservient and obsequious
sloth is from the very outset his desire not to be illuminated by the existence and nature of God.
Not to have to accept and be without God in the world.”
There is something in us that on the outward thinks it’s wonderful to be in Christ, it’s wonderful
to be raised up. But inside there’s a whole of our own being that doesn’t want to be bothered with
it. We want to be able to creep into the day on our own terms, to look around and see how we feel,
to get what we think we need to get, and to try and tackle the difficulties as well as we can. But
we don’t want to be out there in that fresh spring like air at the right hand of God with authority
over all things and joy in our hearts.
We’re slothful. We don’t want to be wakened up from our sleep. Some of us feel, “Yes but I really
love God. I like worshiping God.” And Carl Barth points out that that’s often the situation. “He
will never seriously or basically reject altogether religion or piety in one form or another. Nor
will he finally or totally cease to exercise or practice them in an open or disguised form. On the
contrary, an escape to religion, to adoring faith and a congenial higher being is the purest and
ripest and most appropriate possibility at which he grasps in his sloth, and cannot finally cease
from grasping it as a slothful man.”
But it’s his God; it’s the God that he wants. It’s an idol that he makes in his own image. It’s a
God who rules the world and provides for him at times but above all, a God that does not demand that
he reign with Christ, this warrior, this victorious Savior who has overcome the world. He does not
want to be disturbed so that he has to reign with him and walk with him.
He loves worshipping God as long as it’s a God who doesn’t bother him, who doesn’t require him in
the morning when he’s just wakened with the sleep in his eyes to suddenly rejoice. And rejoice and
again I say rejoice and rejoice that he is in Christ and that he is above the world and that today
is a wonderful day with works prepared beforehand that I should walk in them and will victories that
are already won so that I just have to walk forward. He doesn’t want that God.
That God he does not like. That Christ he wants to get rid of in his sloth. And so it is
consistent with worship but it is totally inconsistent with the way the person lives. And so he
worships the God that will leave him alone and he prays to him, and he sings hymns, and he reads the
Bible, but in his own life he lives inside himself like a prickly hedgehog that will not let Christ
rule in victory and joy.
In that situation you can pray for revelation your whole life. You can pray that God will give you
revelation but the Father is saying, “Revelation — my son bleeding and dead, my son raised from the
dead, my son that has already done miracles through thousands of people down through the years, and
you want revelation? What more can I give you than I have given you?”
And that’s why Barth says, “It’s the sin of sloth.” It’s a refusal to live in Christ night and day.
It’s a desire to keep this little bit of yourself for yourself — where you can get angry, where
you can get offended, where you can feel self pity, where you can worry through the massive task of
trying to find the truth in this world. It’s dreadful and filled with sloth, filled with self,
filled with egotism, and nothing to do with reality.
I think often you’ll say, “I’ve been slighted.” Or, “I’ve been criticized.” Or, “I’ve been
offended.” And the reality that you’re in Christ says, “No, you’ve been loved and you’ve been
exalted and you’ve been favored and blessed.” But you keep saying, “No, I’ve been criticized and
I’ve been offended and I’ve been ignored.” And reality in Christ says, “No, you’ve been loved, and
exalted, and accepted.”
“I face a burdensome life this day filled with tasks that I cannot see how to do.” No, in Christ
those tasks have already been done. The world has already been overcome. The works have already
been prepared beforehand that you should walk in them. “No, I have things to worry through this
day. I have things that I don’t know how I’ll do them. I don’t know how I’ll get through the day.”
No, those things have been done in Christ.
See, it’s a constant rejection of reality. The sin of sloth is a constant withdrawing back into
self and keeping all of reality out there and saying, “I wish I could believe it. And when God
gives me revelation of it I’ll be able to live in it.” And Barth says, “No, that’s the sin of
sloth. It’s a refusal to enter in to what reality is this day for you.” I wonder if any of us are
involved in it — involved in just the simple sin of sloth.
I don’t know about you but so often you’ve probably thought as I have thought, “Oh when you talk
about sloth you’re talking about laziness, you’re talking about somebody who won’t get up in the
morning, somebody who won’t work, and all that kind of thing.” But this you can see is the real
sloth. The real sloth is not living this very moment in the joyful reality that you are in Christ.
God created you in Christ. He crucified you with Christ. He raised you up with Christ. He made
you alive together with Christ. He’s put you at his right hand in Christ far above all rule and
authority and dominion and power. That’s where you are, now live in it. Live in it.
And it’s a bit what Huldrych Zwingli said, “For God’s sake do something brave.” Stop thinking about
it, stop meditating about it, stop looking into yourself to see if it’s true or something. “For
God’s sake do something brave.” Be what God has made us in Christ. Live in the glorious freedom
that we have in him. And you know we each face it every morning, as soon as that alarm goes off.
At that very moment you make your choice; you either sink into sloth, and please I know you
eventually get up I understand that, for all kinds of reasons you eventually get up. But the battle
is lost because you’re already operating in sloth.
There is only one clear act the moment our eyes open. It’s not just our lips that speak as they did
in the monasteries when they said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” Or, “This
is the day that the Lord has made” and up pops a monk. No, it’s not that. It’s the heart rising,
springing up and immediately acting in accordance with reality that you are actually in Jesus and
Jesus is in you. He has a day to live that he has already prepared for you. The crooked things
already have been made straight, the rough places are already made plain and all you have to do is
walk gloriously forth.
Anything other than that is sloth. I wonder if there are any of us who are actually living in the
sin of sloth. And that’s why we’re not enjoying all the glory of this life. Because God who is rich
in mercy out of the great love with which he has loved us, even when we were yet sinners, Christ
died for us and God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and made us sit
with him in the heavenly places far above every rule and authority and dominion and power. That’s
where we are at this moment. Let’s live in it. Let us pray.