Billy Graham Center

9/24/58 - America's Greatest Sin

Republished with permission from The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by The Charlotte Observer.

What follows is a transcript of the newspaper page above, which appeared on page 6-A of the September 25, 1958 issue of The Charlotte Observer (Thursday). It is a transcript of the sermon which Rev. Billy Graham had preached at the Charlotte Crusade the day before, the fourth sermon of the crusade. Attendance on September 24 was 12,500 and there were 348 inquirers. To read the actual newspaper page, click on any of the four quarters of the page above.

In the transcript that follows, any comments by the transcriber are in brackets []. Any asides by Rev. Graham are in parentheses (). The sermon title did not appear in the paper but is from material supplied by the BGEA. Only the actual sermon is transcribed below. Any introductory or concluding material included in the newspaper text is omitted.

America's Greatest Sin

Now, tonight I want you to turn with me to the 12th chapter of the gospel according to Luke. How many of you have your Bibles? Lift them up, way up. Wonderful. We want you to bring your Bible every night. The 12th chapter of the gospel according to Luke, beginning at verse 15. Now, let's begin at the 1st verse. I will read the first three verses, then skip over to verse 15.

This is Christ talking. Now Christ has been going up and down the country making the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk, and the dead to rise. He has been feeding the hungry. And as He is going around, of course, Christ is also teaching the people. And so on this occasion, He is teaching a great group of people.

"In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees . . ." [verse 1]. Now what was the thing that He was warning them to beware of in the Pharisees? He says it in the next phrase, "which is hypocrisy." Jesus seems to hate hypocrisy almost as much as any other sin, people who profess to be Christians, but they do not live like it. "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed" [verse 2]. In other words, Jesus is saying, "You can't cover your sins. Some day they are going to be revealed."

I heard about a man some years ago who had a watermelon patch down here near Pageland, the watermelon capital of the world. And his son went out with him one day and they looked over the watermelon patch. It was early in June, and the watermelons weren't ripe yet. He saw his son licking his chops and the water coming to his mouth, and he knew what his son was thinking. He said, "Son, now I've got to go to town. Don't you touch those watermelons, or you know what you'll get." The son, of course, said, "Yes, sir." And the father went on to town.

And the boy was in the hot sunshine, and he began to thump the melons. Finally, he came to one that he knew was dead ripe. He looked all around and couldn't see anybody. So he plucked it, took it down to a little stream, cooled it off, broke it open, and ate it.

Then afterwards, he wondered what he was going to do with the seeds and the rind. So he got a stick, dug a little hole, put the rind and the seeds in it, and covered them over with pine needles. And everything was all right for two weeks. He'd covered it up. Nobody knew anything about it.

His father didn't find out until one day as he was coming up from the pasture driving a cow and saw a strange sight. He saw watermelon sprouts everywhere. And he took a stick and dug down, and there he saw the decayed rind and the sprouting seeds. And he said, "I see." And a few hours later the boy saw--in a different way.

God says there is coming a day when everything that is covered shall be brought out, shall be made known. You have never committed a sin in your life that won't be brought out in the judgment of God. Everything that you ever covered, everything you ever tried to hide, is going to be brought out. So said Jesus. "Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness"--therefore, whatsoever he hath spoken in darkness--"shall be heard in the light" [verse 3]. In other words, the thoughts and motives and inference of your heart that were covered up, and that you thought nobody heard, and nobody would hear about.

And then He skips over to the 15th verse, and He continues: "And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, the ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my goods? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" [verses 15-21].

Jesus said, "Beware of covetousness." And the tenth commandment says, "Thou shalt not covet" [Exodus 20:17]. And I believe tonight that the greatest sin in America is the sin of covetousness.

Americans are considered all over the world as materialistic, worldly, secular, greedy, and covetous. We are guilty of that sin as a nation, as a people, and as individuals. Americans have the highest standard of living the world has ever known. Never in history--in Rome, in Babylon, in the great nations of the past--has there ever been a standard of living like we enjoy in America.

You say, "But, Billy, I'm not a rich person." You have shoes, don't you? You have a suit of clothes; you have a dress. Then you are rich by the world's standards. You had something to eat, didn't you? In India tonight, over a hundred million people will go to bed hungry tonight--if they have a bed to go to. And when they drive the trucks down the streets of Calcutta tomorrow morning, they will pick up people that died of starvation, as I have seen them in India. The poorest person in this audience tonight is rich by the world's standards.

And in spite of our riches, in spite of our high standard of living, our whole economy is geared to getting more. The capitalist wants more profit. The laboring man wants more wages for less hours. And all of us are engaged in a mad race--trampling over each other, cheating each other, lying, stealing, any way we can get it--to get another dollar. The Bible says it's the sin of covetousness. "Thou shall not covet."

The word "covetousness" means to delight in something. It's the object of your attention--to wish for, to desire it, to love, to set your heart on. Something that fascinates, something that you long for, something that you are looking for; to get more of this world's goods, even if it means the starvation of your own soul.

You are a rich man, and you are a rich person now. I'm not talking about the millionaire now. I'm talking about the man that makes twenty-five dollars a week. I am talking about a rich American.

This man went out, looked over his fields and he saw his barn. And he said, "Soul, take thine ease, drink and be merry, you've laid up enough goods. You've got economic security now. You've got money in the bank. You've got good insurance policies. You've got a good job. You've got a good business. Take it easy. Go and get you a little cottage in Florida and take it easy." God says, "Wait a minute."

That man went to his room that night and retired in his soft bed. About midnight, the servants heard a scream. They ran to the master's room and they found him on the floor, writhing and dying, and his hands folded in a strange manner as though he had been holding on to something and suddenly it had slipped away. And they heard a voice from heaven that said, "Thou fool, this night thy soul is required of thee."

God said that any man that will give himself to the making of money over and against the development and nature of his own soul is a fool, and doesn't deserve to live. Jesus said, "Out of the heart proceeds covetousness. These evil things come from within, in defilement of man" [see Mark 7:21-23].

The Scripture again says in Ephesians 5:3 that "fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you." Also, in verse 5, "Nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of . . . God."

God says that covetousness is actually idolatry, and He says a covetous person has no place in the kingdom of God. No place in the kingdom of God--the Bible says that in Ephesians 5:3 and 5. I just read it to you. If words mean anything, it means that a covetous person shall not go to heaven, shall not be saved. You say, "Well, Billy, isn't a man supposed to take care of his family?" Yes. The Bible says, "Give me not poverty lest I steal" [see Proverbs 30:8,9].

We are to have enough, but we're not to give our full attention to the things of the world. Our first attention is to be on Christ. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then all of these things shall be added unto us [see Matthew 6:33].

Is that what you're doing? Are you seeking God's kingdom first? Are you seeking the things of Christ first? Or is your business, your pleasure, your amusement--the things of this world--first in your life?

God gave the law of the Ten Commandments. He knew that you couldn't keep the Ten Commandments when He gave them. It is impossible for any of us not to have covetousness. I look into the Ten Commandments, and I see how far short I have come. And I say to myself, "I'm a sinner." That's what God wants you to say. Blessed be God when any man will say, "I am a sinner." Because then you've taken your first step to the kingdom of God. When you realize that you can't save yourself, that you're a sinner, that you're lost, that you're barred from the kingdom of God, then you have taken your first step. Have you ever humbled yourself and said, "I am a sinner"? Have you ever been able to face it realistically that you've come short of God's requirements and God's law, and that you are a sinner?

All right, look at the Ten Commandments. Look at Jesus. You haven't always lived like Jesus. And if you haven't measured up to Jesus, then you're a sinner. You've come short. Then the Bible says the law becomes a schoolmaster--and drives, drives, drives, ushers, leads, drives me to the cross [see Galatians 3:24].

And I come to the cross where Christ died for my sins, where He was made to be righteousness for us who had no righteousness; where He was made to be sin for us, since He knew no sin [see 2 Corinthians 5:21]. Jesus Christ died on the cross. And I come to the cross; and I say, "Dear God, I am a sinner. I am willing to forsake my sins."

I told God, "I don't have the power to forsake my sins. I tried to live a good life, and I failed. I tried to be good, but I cannot be good, because when I meant to be good, I found evil pressing within me. There is an evil principle down inside of me, which is pulling me and tugging at me--there's nothing that I can do!" [See Romans 7:18-20.] And the apostle said, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" [verse 24].

I hear the thunders of Mount Sinai, and I hear the Word of God saying, "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. The wages of sin is hell. I deserve to be lost. I deserve hell. I deserve judgment. My sins are damning me. And when I say that, and when I come to the cross, and when I ask God for grace, I ask Him for His love. I ask Him for His mercy. And coming from that cross is love, and mercy, and forgiveness. I don't deserve it!

You can't work your way to heaven if you join every church in town. You could work from now on, and you could never save yourself. Salvation is by the grace and mercy of God. Ladies and gentlemen, we are all sinners. We all deserve hell, and we are going to get hell, unless we are willing to repent and come to the cross; hell in this life, and in the life to come.

Covetousness is a sin that drives a man from the kingdom, and we are guilty. Eve was guilty of covetousness when she desired the forbidden fruit [see Genesis 3:1-6]. Achan in hiding the treasure [see Joshua 7:18-26]. David in desiring Bathsheba [see 2 Samuel 11:1-5]. Ahab in desiring Naboth's vineyards [see 1 Kings 21]. The moneychangers in the temple [see Matthew 21:12,13]. Judas with the thirty pieces of silver [see Matthew 26:14-16]. Demas in forsaking Paul for the love of the world [see 2 Timothy 4:10]. All of these people were guilty of covetousness. And God said that a covetous person is idolatrous [see Colossians 3:5]. And God hates idolatry more than any other sin.

What is worldliness? Well, the Bible warns continually against worldliness. In Romans 12:2, Paul said, "Be not conformed to this world." To the Corinthians he wrote, "Come out . . . and be ye separate" [2 Corinthians 6:17]. To the Athenians he said, "Be not

... therefore partakers with . . . and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" [Ephesians 5:7,11]. To the Colossians he wrote, "Put off the old man . . . Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" [Colossians 3:2,9]. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" [1 Thessalonians 5:22]. To Timothy he wrote, "No man that goeth to war entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him that hath chosen him to be a soldier.... Flee . . . youthful lusts" [2 Timothy 2:4,22]. To Timothy he wrote, "Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present hour" [Titus 2:12].

But James said, "Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God" [James 4:4]. If you are a friend of this world system--its pleasures, its amusement, you have your heart and affections set on it--then God says you are an enemy.

You say, "But, Billy, I don't feel like I'm an enemy of God." Then take it by faith, because God's Word says you are if you are taken up with the things of the world. Peter said, "Not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts" [1 Peter 1:14]. John said, "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world"

[1 John 2:15]. All through the Scriptures we are told to be not conformed, to be separate, to be not partakers, to have no fellowship with the world. We are told to abstain, to deny worldly lusts, to love not the world, to keep ourselves from idols, to put off. And the Bible says, "All that is of the world, the lust of the flesh, . . . the lust of the eyes, . . . the pride of life, is not of God"

[1 John 2:16]. And God hates it. And God says a Christian is to be in the world, but not a part of it.

We used to think that worldliness was summed up in not doing certain things. But I tell you worldliness is deeper than that. Worldliness is a spirit. It's the spirit of iniquity; it's the mystery of lawlessness; it is the world system round about us. I know a man that doesn't drink, he doesn't even smoke, he doesn't even go to the theater. And he thinks he's separated. He is one of the most worldly men I know today, because he is taken up continually with the things of this world. He thinks about making money; he thinks about his new car. He is given entirely to the things of this world. Oh, he goes religiously to church every Sunday morning, carries the Bible with him. But I tell you he is a worldly man; he is a covetous man. And the Bible says a covetous man is an idolater, and an idolater is hated by God, and no idolater shall inherit the kingdom of God.

You may be able to pronounce all the shibboleths. You may be able to pronounce all the cliches. You may be an orthodox of the orthodox. You may be able to split all the theological hairs. You may be a theological bloodhound. But I tell you tonight, unless we are separated from the temper, and the lusts, and the evils of this world, we cannot call ourselves God's children. We must be separated.

I don't mean that pious, false separation that is a stumbling block to the world's finding the Savior. I mean a separation of hearts, a sanctification of heart, separated not so much from, but to God. God is first in our lives. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God"--and if you put God first, then all of these other things will be added [see Matthew 6:33]. And the enjoyment of these things will be far deeper and greater if God is first.

God doesn't want you to go around with a long face. God is not interested in any legalism. God is not interested in any rules. God wants you to just love Him. And when you love Him supremely, the rest will take care of itself.

What is a covetous man? First, a man covets when his thoughts are wholly taken up with the world. Now a Christian--a spiritual man's thoughts are on spiritual things, but a covetous man's thoughts are in the world. He can think of nothing but his work, his business, making a better home. Even in church he is thinking about material things. There he sits in church Sunday morning; he looks like a saint. While he is sitting there looking at the minister, having taken a nice tranquilizing pill to make him feel comfortable, he is sitting there thinking about "Gunsmoke" the night before. He is sitting there thinking about making another dollar tomorrow. He is sitting there thinking about the hat Mrs. Jones is wearing.

Our thoughts are all worldly things, and that is the reason the church hour on Sunday morning is the longest hour of the week. Not so much because the minister is boring; it's because your mind is so on worldly things, so accustomed to the spirit of this world, that you just can't get your mind on God.

There was a lady in New York that accepted Christ in one of our meetings. She said, "Mr. Graham, I went to church last Sunday, and you had a great effect on my minister. You know, he is preaching far better sermons." I said, "Lady, he is preaching the same sermons. You've just been converted. You've got your ears open and, for the first time, you are listening." It wasn't a change in the minister; it was a change in the woman that made the difference.

Secondly, a man may be said to be covetous when he spends more time for getting the things of this world than giving attention to his soul. I know people that will turn every stone, they'll break up their sleep, they'll take many a step for the things of this world. But they'll make no sacrifice for Christ, or heaven, or the kingdom of God, or the church. You are not willing to sacrifice in the slightest to consecrate your soul, and to get your soul ready for God.

Oh, you'll be a Christian if it's not too inconvenient, if it doesn't break up the things you've got planned. If it doesn't inconvenience you, you'll be a Christian, and you'll try to live a decent life. And you'll go to church on Sunday if it's not too hot and not too cold. And you want to get to heaven. And you'd be content if salvation were to drop into your mouth as a ripe thing, but you'll not put yourself out to too much trouble to get Christ.

Jesus said, "Rise [Luke 6:8], enter [John 10:9], repent [Mark 1:15]." Jesus said, "The kingdom of God suffereth violence" [Matthew 11:12]. He indicated that men would sit down and take it easy. They're not going to make it.

I know we're saved by grace apart from works. "But by grace are you saved through faith; and . . . not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8,9]. Now I know that; but I believe that when a man has been born of the Spirit of God, his works will testify that he has been born again. And there will be evidence of a willingness to sacrifice, to read the Bible, to pray, to get into the life and work of the church, and give his life to Christ.

Thirdly, a man is covetous when all his talk is about the world. The Scripture says, "He that is of the earth . . . speaketh of the earth" [John 3:31]. The sign of a covetous man is that he always speaks of secular things: the latest television program, the latest movie, the baseball scores, athletics, clothes, cars. So very seldom is his speech about Christ, or about God. He can talk about anything but God. The maid said to Peter, "Thy speech betrayeth thee" [Matthew 26:73]. So a covetous man's speech betrays him. His words are the looking glass of his heart. They show what is within.

Fourthly, a man is given to covetousness when he so sets his heart upon the things of this world, that for the love of them, he will part with the heavenly things. The rich young ruler came to Christ; and he said, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Mark 10:17]. And Jesus said, "You really mean business?" And he said, "Yes, sir." "All right, go sell all that you have, pick up your cross and follow me." [See verse 21.] "Wait a minute, Jesus, you mean--I'm a rich man. You mean I've got to sell everything?" "Yep." And he turned away sorrowfully [see verse 22]. He wasn't willing to pay the price. He loved his money, he loved his business, he loved his home. He loved everything too much. He couldn't put Christ in first place.

And you say, "Well, Billy, does Christ want me to give away everything I've got, and get rid of my bank account, and follow Him?" He wants you to be willing. Because He explained it a few verses later in Mark 10. He said, "It is hard for a rich man, for a man that trusteth in riches, to get into the kingdom of heaven" [see verse 24]. For a man to trust in riches, his trust is there for his security, rather than in God.

Fifthly, a man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business. He has too many irons in the fire to serve God. How many ministers are here tonight whose hearts are broken because they have people in their churches that don't have time for a job in the church? Too busy. Got too many irons in the fire. "I'm a big businessman. I've got four different phones ringing at the same time. Got a couple of secretaries I'm dictating to. Boy, I'm a big boy. I don't have time for the church. Oh, I go on Sunday morning. I send a check over to the church. But to get out and beat on doors and help in a visitation evangelism program, I do not have time. Others can do that. I'm too big. I'm too big a man."

I want to tell you, you are too big for the kingdom of God. You are too busy for God. And one of these days, God is going to be too busy for you when you call on Him. You had better put the church first, you had better put Christ first, you had better put the kingdom first.

Sixthly, a man is covetous whose heart is so set upon the world that to get it he will use every means possible. Employers mistreat their employees; employees mistreat their employers. Padding an expense account; cheating on income tax. The Bible says "The balances of deceit are in his hands: who loveth to oppress"

[Hosea 12:7]. Jesus said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness"

[Luke 12:15].

The Bible says that this sin is the most subtle of all sins. And in 1 Thessalonians 2:5 it is called the "cloak of covetousness." That means that it cloaks itself under modern terminology--good business, modern business. If you get ahead, you've got to use these methods. It has been excuses, but God calls it covetousness. And He says a covetous man is an idolater, and an idolater cannot get to heaven. And the Scripture says God abhors this sin. The Scripture says, "Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." [See 1 Corinthians 6:9,10.]

And today in America the world is on fire. Mr. Nehru has said the world may blow up. Mr. Truman says we hang on the brink of hell. Our leaders are warning us every day that we could blow up any moment. And what are we doing? Spending our time at ease, spending our time before our television sets, spending our time filling the night clubs and the theaters, spending our time getting a better automobile, a better job, more money, all the things of the world. We are like a man on a sinking ship that is trying to make his cabin more comfortable. We are covetous, and that is our greatest sin tonight. And it may be your sin.

The Scripture tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ had no covetousness in Him. He "thought it not robbery to be equal with God... He humbled himself . . . even to the death of the cross" [Philippians 2:5,8]. I see Jesus Christ emptying Himself at the cross, giving Himself for you and for me in dying on that cross. And I must confess tonight that I have been guilty of breaking God's law, of falling short. And I want to tell you that if I was going to be saved by the way I have lived, I would be lost. I am saved simply and wholly by the blood that was shed at the cross, because the blood symbolized the life that was given. And Jesus Christ died on that cross.

On the night before He died, He said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me" [Matthew 26:39]. "If there is any way to save men and women of this world except I have to go to the cross, please, O God, find a way." But there was no way, and Jesus went to the cross and He emptied Himself of His reputation. He emptied Himself of everything. And He drank the dregs of the cup of the wrath of almighty God; and the wrath of God, in a mysterious way, was brought on Him.

And do you think you are going to get to heaven dragging everything with you? Do you think you're going to get to heaven with your worldly cares, and all your worldly things that you put in the place of God?

I tell you, the only thing you can do is say, "God, I am willing to renounce the things of this world. I am willing to put thee first from this moment on in my life. I want you to forgive my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I want to repent. I want to come to the cross. And I want you to forgive me of every sin I've committed. And I want to know that I'm going to heaven."

Are you willing to do that? I tell you, before you get to the kingdom, you must be willing to do just that. That takes humility. And I tell you, nobody with pride in his heart will ever get to the kingdom. You can come by the way of the cross in great humility. If you are willing to come that way, He will receive you.

You may be the richest man in town. You may be a political leader. You may be a bank president. You may be a union leader. You may be a baseball player. You may be a football hero at the high school. Whoever you are, you've got to humble yourself and come to Christ. And I'm going to ask you in a moment, all of you that will come and say, "I have sinned against God. I want to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior. I want to be forgiven. I want to seek the kingdom of God."

And the reason that I ask you to come is because Jesus said if we are not willing to confess Him before men, He'll not confess us before the Father which is in heaven [see Matthew 10:32,33]. And when Jesus healed the man with the withered arm, He could have healed him by saying, "Be healed." But He didn't do it. He said, "Stretch it forth." Now that man had tried to stretch it forth, and he had tried to be brave. He had tried to strengthen his arm many times, but he had failed. But by faith in the Word of Christ, he stretched it forth and he was healed. [See Matthew 12:10-13.]

I am asking you to stretch your life forth to Christ. God wants you to do something as evidence that you are giving your life to Him. I am asking you to do something tonight to make it clear and definite by coming and giving your life to Christ.

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