\”Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything.\” – Gregory of Nyssa

The Problem with Sin


Not so long ago I had posted an article my friend Michael Coghlin wrote titled ‘Have you Heard the Good News?‘ It had mostly stirred the emotions in me regarding the challenges of evangelism and yet, my friend Don brought up a good point in a comment following the post; “I think that if we try too hard to concentrate on the ‘good news’ then we end up watering it down. It may seem like we’re building bridges but we may be doing very little to touch people’s lives with the real importance of the Good News.” I think he is right; we cannot simply focus on finding righteousness and salvation at the absence of not recognizing our own brokenness and need for repentance. But what exactly is it that we are repenting of?

For most of my life I have heard it said, “To error is human.” “To fail is natural.” But is this really true? Philosophically I can argue that to know failure you must first comprehend perfection. Yet perfection is solely measured in the personal sense. What I consider beautiful you may yet consider absolutely appalling! The same, I suppose, could be said of sin. What I consider to be nefarious in nature may not be to you. Sin in and of itself is undefinable to the exhaustive sense of comprehending its entire meaning.

Sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it – both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance; even when it is familiar, sin is never normal…Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

I think that is the actual problem we have with sin; we live with the expectation of trying to neatly define it to the letter of the law so that we can quantify its structure. To be blunt, we want the easy way of rationalizing the rule book of life so that we can find judgement within it. We want salvation and redemption within the life we have here and now today. It seems ironic to consider this when judgement itself cannot be completely ratified entirely until our life in this world comes to an end.

Perhaps the nature of sin is instead outside of the measurements of dogmatic law and is more than just a set of rules. Perhaps sin is very much like we identified earlier; relational in nature. If this is true, then sin itself must be more of an entity unto itself. Sin has character for the sack of personhood, existence for the sake of personal meaning, malevolence for the sake of self depravity. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant in saying, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (Romans 7:8-9)

Let’s wake up people. Let’s free ourselves from this prison of sin which calls itself natural and seek out redemption. This kind of relationship with sin is parasitic and in essence leeches off the perfected natures we as human beings were created for. Let’s put on our new selves and begin building on a relationship with life and not death.

Sin does exist in the objective sense a part from us yet I think the reality of our relationship too it is not to follow its lead but rather follow the lead of righteousness. In teaching his disciples Jesus says; “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)

Jesus’ leadership is in two forms; the first is that we alone cannot give anything or work to find freedom from our relationship to sin. That freedom can only come from the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. For that reason he models to us that we must rely of his Lordship, his ownership over our lives, and in acknowledging that authority we will find freedom through his grace and not our own personal efforts.

Secondly, by finding our allegiances in his Lordship we can begin in works which are inline with the very perfected natures God created us in and thus be filled with true purpose and meaning to our lives. Failure will no longer be a word with any meaning to us and freedom will become an expression which fills our heart with excitement and passion for the next opportunity to see the realities of Christ’s Kingdom manifest itself within us through creative, unique, diverse, and dynamic ways!

Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead. We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.

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6 responses

  1. Don Boone

    There’s a lot of elements in this article that I can relate to, but in some ways I don’t think that the assessment of sin goes quite far enough. Yes, sin is parasitic, but it is also endemic to us as human beings. Phil 2:3 says that without Christ we are by nature children of wrath.

    I think it’s interesting that you say we have a relationship with sin. I don’t think that language is strong enough. It’s like saying you have a relationship to your arm or even your soul. I think if we have any kind of relationship to sin before Christ, it would be more like a marriage, where “the two shall become one flesh,” and then after we come to Christ we have died to that former relationship and now we have a new “husband.” I think that Romans talks about this quite clearly, to be dead to sin and alive to Christ.

    You mentioned that perfection is measured in the personal sense, therefore sin is also a relative term. Again, I think the biblical language is much stronger. Yes, we all have violated even our own sense of right and wrong, never mind the letter of the law. But much more we were created in the image of God, which makes God the ultimate judge of how well we are getting along in the area of morality. And He’s done a good job of making it clear to us in Romans, that those who sin apart from the law shall be judged apart from the law, and that all have sinned (past tense) and fall short (present tense) of the glory of God.

    One more thing I’d like to point out: you said, “Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead.” Until Christ finally acts as Judge before the new heavens and the new earth, sin still lives and reigns, it is still a problem. “We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.” This is true for the Christian, but not for the one who has yet to believe, it is a gift to be received and then walked out in one’s life.

    There is a “now… and not yet” aspect to what Jesus did in dealing with sin. The Cross and the Resurrection declare the defeat of sin, and at the Judgement Seat of Christ sin will be dealt with in final terms. But for the Christian, since we are, as in Ephesians, seated in the heavenly places with Christ, we can walk in newness of life.

    May 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    • Thank you for the comment Don and I appreciate your passion in your response. I’ve been thinking about this over the past few days and I’d like to try and respond by maybe parsing through your comment; if you would extend me the grace in doing so.

      I would agree that in trying to define the nature of sin I may have under stated it in the sense that I didn’t spend a lot of time articulating the objective realities and truths to its existence. There are elements to sin which are most definitely black and white in nature. It is wrong to murder; to steal; to act or think in lust, covetedness, or immorality. I would not paint the realities of sin entirely as grey in nature and yet I would say that sin does have grey realities which exist.

      One of my greatest disappointments to this in our recent cultural struggles would be the openness to the practice and legalization of euthanasia. I am very much disturbed by the twisting of truths to this sin in our society and yet it is hard for me to acknowledge; their are moments of grey realities in this discussion. When is it right for a family to allow a loved one to submit to the realities of death? When do we turn from the maintaining of life through artificial technologies and allow life to take a dignified course? Speaking in terms of personal experience; it is in these moments that we turn not to a definitive Truth but rather to a relational response – we pray and seek out Christ’s guidance and comfort.

      I’m not sure I agree however with your connection to human nature having an “endemic” relationship with sin. In trying to find your biblical reference I could not do so as Phil. 2:3 states, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” If I understand your thoughts however, I do not believe sin is at all human by definition; but rather as your statement points out, like the nature of children we are followers in one way or the other and without the lordship and leadership of Christ before us, we tend to follow the latter in wrath/sin. Both responses being in a relational order and not at all in objective possessional definition.

      Likewise I must admit it a bit of a surprise that you would consider your arm or your soul in at all the same category as sin! I’d like to maybe encourage you Don that your creational identity is by no means anywhere near the depravity and decay of that of the nature of sin. In the many conversations we have had I recognize a great sense of wisdom and humility in you which I truly believe comes from your relationship with Christ. You hold yourself to a greater calling in ethics and self worth; something which shows me that sin has no place in your life let alone your arms and soul!

      You stated; “But much more we were created in the image of God, which makes God the ultimate judge of how well we are getting along in the area of morality.” I think this too is missing something when it comes to the nature of sin. Sin in wholeness is more then just a moral problem; it is a positional and self identity problem. When you consider the fall of Adam & Eve; what is it which the devil used to tempt Eve into eating the fruit? He caused her to question her very identity, her likeness… her relationship to God and ultimately the same as Adam.

      Again, I deeply appreciate your thoughts here Don and I do agree that I could have flushed out a greater reflection on sins objective nature. Yet in the long run I truly believe the problem of sin is entirely relational. Beyond that, I look forward to talking more with you about this. :)

      May 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      • Don Boone

        You make some good points, thanks for clarifying some points, and thanks for not embracing the grey-ness, but looking for the light of Christ when things are grey. I meant to cite Eph 2:3 re: children of wrath, and the argument of Paul’s letter is to show how far the believer in Christ has come, thanks to the grace of God, to be adopted into God’s family. But this testimony would not be as meaningful without understanding the depravity of our natural state. Rom 5:12 connects directly with Gen 2:17 in that we show that we are of Adam because we are sinners and we are prone to mortality. I agree that the result of sin is relational in that it separates from God by a chasm that we are powerless to traverse by our own efforts, but God has built the bridge for us by the cross of Christ. I’m just recapping the discussion we’ve had outside this blog. I always look forward to our discussions, Bro.

        May 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

  2. Hey guys,

    Interesting dialogue here. It’s a lot to take in at first glance. it feels kind of like a bathroom reader, in the sense that you read a bit, walk away and think about it, then come back and read some more. I struggle with a bit of the realities behind your statement regarding sin’s “death”.

    Specifically Erik you said “Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead. We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.” I struggle with hearing that sin is dead. I say this simply because my experience tells me otherwise. there are times that I’m attracted to it. I sometimes feel like I’m that little flag in the middle of a rope in a tug of war. I have (for a lack of better word) forces pulling me to either side. sometimes I endure the struggle with temptation and get pulled to the side of righteousness. still there are other times that I’m being pulled by the side of sin, and before I know it, those on the “righteousness team” have lost the tug of war and now have their faces in mud.

    This is where (in my opinion) don’s comment comes in handy. Don you said “The Cross and the Resurrection declare the defeat of sin, and at the Judgment Seat of Christ sin will be dealt with in final terms.” This helps explain a lot of the “struggle for purity” I and probably every other Christian deals with. I think its Romans that says sin has no power over the believer because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Yet we still have a bend toward sin sinful acts. We are attracted to it like a magnet to a piece of metal. Just thinking it through, if sin is truly dead then how come I’m drawn to it?

    I may be going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that sin will never truly be dead until, As Don puts it, the judgment seat of Christ. Yes, Christ’s death and resurrection took away the power of sin in our lives, but perhaps it’s in the sense that Christ is there to interfere with our being drawn toward sin. We can call out His name in a plea for help and He will stop our being drawn to sin but, I’m again speaking from experience here, sin will never be 100% gone from our lives as long as we live life between the bookends. It will always try to entice us away from the life of holiness Christ calls us too. Christ will deal with sin’s presence in the world by absolutely forbidding its welcome among us in the New Jerusalem.

    June 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    • I too have greatly valued my friend Don’s insights here Tim. I do think though that we are reading to much into my statement of sin being dead. My assertion was meant to be in the light of Rom. 6:11 where Paul speaks of the continuing works of Christ by saying, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The thought being that when we allow ourselves to be in a relationship to sin which gives it power and/or authority over our lives; we are following something which is in death and in a state of decay to the truth. Rather as Paul articulates, we are called to be in life as followers and disciples of Jesus and see our relationship with him to be of the utmost potential to our true created order.

      Like you Tim, I too struggle sometimes with the internal battles of desire and reason ;). But I think your articulation clearly affirms the relational order I was attempting to point out here. Sin is of a nature not meant to be in the human creational identity and demands an alluring allegiance which can blind us from the reality of that which is truly directing and controlling our identity and lives – namely, not ourselves alone. In the greater spectrum of God’s Kingdom; we have a greater calling to a relationship in Christ so that in our relationship to him as Lord and leader; we would find a much more life giving reality and destiny. In short; the problem with sin is that we are not to be in relationship with it but rather with Christ. If we are willing to acknowledge its external reality from our true identity; we can better expose it to ourselves so we might find true leadership and discipleship with the one we were meant to follow – Jesus!

      Don… I must admit to struggling with your wordings of “the depravity of our natural state.” I would like to look more into this (as I am by no means an expert! :)) but my initial reactions are the feelings of this sounding very Calvinistic in the theological sense and although I acknowledge the fallen nature Adam brought into creation; I’m not sure I’m ready to acknowledge sins transference through a “sexually” birthed creational state or act (I’m not sure if I stated this right but I’m giving it a go!). :) I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m not quit sure I can make the assumption as to where in the process of life, sin becomes a factor.

      I agree and like your picture of the chasm as well as the role Christ’s death on the cross plays in bridging our relationship with God in His Heavenly Kingdom. Perhaps this might be another articulation to Jesus’ main gospel focus of the Kingdom of God being near as our relationship with him places us within that proximity. Yet, too often I fear many have used this articulation to minimalize their own calling and need to “work out their own salvations with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12-13) Likewise, Christ called us to take our own active role in our salvational work saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

      Salvation is fully complete in Christ and can only be fully ratified by His testimony on our behalf before God and yet; we must not forget the clear active role we too must play in seeking out redemption and following that which is the true relational order we were created to follow as new Adams! On a side thought; what role might this distinguish us when we consider the acts of evangelism? Perhaps, later. Just some thoughts friend and it felt good to write some more in a freeing spirit (personal note). :)

      June 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      • Don Boone

        Yeah, I don’t know if I’m Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist regarding depravity. I just know that I can’t save myself. I need a Savior. And just like I’m saved by grace through faith, I believe that my (?) sanctification, working out my salvation, is also by faith. Wasn’t it in Galatians that Paul said, “having begun in the spirit, are you now trying to finish in the flesh.” Luke 9:23 is meant to be a spiritual journey that has real life implications. Eph 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” I’m sure you would agree with me on this. This is getting to be a fun discussion.

        Hi Tim. Yeah, we may have a reprieve from sin when we die or when Jesus comes back, but even after the 1000 years Jesus looses the chains off Satan, and the devil’s back to his old tricks again, “that if it were possible he might deceive the very elect.” Apparently being in the presence of the risen Savior for a 1000 years is not enough to immunize us from the draw of sin. I have to admit I’m not looking forward to feeling tempted all over again. But I believe there is a reward for those who endure, to be with Jesus forever and to see the new heavens and new earth.

        June 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm

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