Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Freedom

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Last post I detailed my thoughts on how sin and goodness work in our lives, how sin bends our souls and we are all crooked. The post before that talked about how sin affects every one of us because of the Fall. This week is the best yet. What is Christianity’s unique solution to what is wrong in the world? Jesus. So here is a basic outline of God’s redemptive plan for this broken world He loves so much.

While we were dead in our sins, God sent Jesus to be sin and to nail our sin to the cross. Through this death and resurrection, Christ defeated sin and offered us a way of new life. This new life is given freely to us with the forgiveness of sins and the freedom from the slavery of sin. Jesus bought our lives by his death from the slavery of sin. By His resurrection He made the way for us to rise to new life and live free from sin.

Because every command of God is motivated by His character, the new life is not about avoiding sin, but about becoming more and more of the person whose character reflects the love of God (the result being sinlessness). Before Christ, we are marred images of God and we cannot help but sin by our very nature. As new creations in Christ, we are being straightened out or transformed into the type of people who cannot sin by their very nature.

Let me clarify, I believe that man can do good without being Christian. I believe the Bible teaches that the law of God is written on our hearts, represented in nature, and is a part of our nature as broken images of God. People like Aristotle have developed the idea of virtue, that goodness is like working a muscle, the more you do it the more it becomes a part of you and a habit. In this we can all make choices that are good or sinful and these will be reflected in who we are. But without Christ, we would still be slaves to sin who would eventually become so twisted and broken by sin that we would die (and continue into eternity walking away from Love and all goodness, i.e. hell).

With Christ, we are being transformed into His image and will walk through death into eternal life. This process takes a lot of surrender, a lot of self-discipline, and yet is wholly born out by Christ’s work in us. As Christians, we can participate with Him in changing us or we can resist this process. The consequences of resisting that process include suffering. By God’s grace, our suffering of the consequences of sin leads to further obedience and life. Let me emphasize this point: suffering is NOT God’s punishment for sin, but the natural consequence of sin. God does not prevent suffering because that would be an invasion of our freewill, but instead sends the Rescuer to change us into ambassadors of compassion and transformation in this world.

So if sin is a lifestyle contrary to the nature of God which leads away from life, joy, and peace and into death, brokenness, and fear then why would it not be loving to speak the truth about sin? It is absolutely loving to encourage people to live towards standards of right and wrong. This must be done with love, humility, and discernment: see my post on ToleranceBut let us continue to dialogue with each other and the world about what is right, because life and death are in the balance.

A hymn printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and called Christ our Passover summarizes some of these concepts by mashing together verses from 1 Corinthians and Romans:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Crooked

Crooked

Last week I posted my first post on the nature of sin which discussed the Fall. This week I am going to argue that we often think incorrectly about what sin actually is. Most often people associate sin with breaking the arbitrary and antiquated rules of the Bible. Some people think that sin is a made up concept used in church to manipulate people into conforming or to scare people with the consequence of hell. I am going to argue that “sin” is anything that is contradictory to the nature of God.

“Sin” means in Old English to “miss the mark” as when an archer is shooting at a target. In our lives, sin is to miss the standard that God has set for us. Now one crucial thing here: God did not command certain things as wrong “just because”, He actually grounds Goodness in His very character.

In this way, we avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma: is good merely commanded by God or a standard above Him? (both are seen as logically problematic). The Christian God falls into neither category by existing as the standard in His character for what is “Good.” To use a C.S. Lewis example, God is the straight line by which we measure all other lines to perceive whether they are straight.

This brings up another important aspect of sin. Sin is not breaking the rules God has given us,although not following God’s command is sinful because God commands goodness by nature.. Jesus said it best when giving the greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” These commandments embody God’s character because He is Love. Anything contrary to God’s holy love is sin.

So what about all of those commandments in the Bible? According to the logic above, every commandment in the Bible originates and hangs on love. When Paul writes to avoid sexual immorality, lying, slander, etc., it is because those things are not loving to God or our neighbor. Further, we see throughout the New Testament that the wages of sin are death, that when we sin we become enslaved to sin, and that sin warps our soul. Therefore, sin is also not loving towards ourselves because freedom only comes through avoiding sin and doing good.

This is where we get to the meat of the matter. Not sinning = conforming to God’s character. This makes not sinning a positive matter and not merely prohibitory. As we choose to love, we become more like God. As we sin, we further bend and twist the image of God within us. As I mentioned in my last post, due to the fall the image of God within us was marred. The process of redemption consist in restoring that image within us. This is what makes sense of heaven and hell for me. As we choose goodness, goodness becomes a part of our character and becomes our default and vice versa. Heaven is the eternal progress from glory to glory, constantly choosing good and becoming more fully human. Hell is the opposite, constantly choosing self-love and obliterating the marred image of God within us. Hell is not a prison sentence, it is a choice.

Lots of worldviews have a similar view of sin. Maybe their views aren’t grounded in God but the concept of virtue vs. vice has been around since Aristotle. Most of those worldviews then give you a process by which you will be able to master yourself and choose goodness until you reach some level of paradise or enlightenment. The problem with this process began with the Fall. We no longer have the power within ourselves to save ourselves. We are already twisted beyond self or even communal redemption. We need new life. Otherwise, we are already on the path to the eternal choice of sin which leads to evermore death. If we examine all of our efforts and the efforts of those around us, I think we will see that this is the case. Next post, we will look at the unique solution offered by Christianity.

Tolerance

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Tolerance has been flung around a lot in our current society as a virtue to be lauded above all others. Whether it is the highest virtue in our society or not, it seems generally agreed that tolerance is a good thing. I will not be addressing tolerance as a defense of relativism because tolerance seems to come up short in this view finding that there is one view relativism cannot tolerate and that is objectivism or any anti-relativistic philosophy. Much more could be said on that subject but I would like to focus on the way our culture has embraced tolerance as a virtue while sliding into some very intolerant viewpoints. Tolerance in the original usages of the word meant disagreeing and even desiring to persuade someone of your view but defending their right to hold a contrary view, with your life if necessary. Tolerance originally meant to bear pain or hardship. The key point here is that there was no compunction against attempting to dissuade someone from their view (especially if you thought your view would be beneficial to them) but there was a duty to allow the other to hold their view and even defend that right for them.

Accepting this view of tolerance should encourage dialogue among disagreeing factions: Republicans and Democrats, atheists and theists, prolifers and prochoicers. However, in our culture that seems to tote tolerance as a banner of goodness, that praises our democracy and idealogical freedom, we too easily discard tolerance as soon as it benefits the people we disagree with. For example, if someone disagrees with us politically we tend to malign them and discount their rationality. The ad hominem attacks multiply through Facebook and Twitter as people tear down any opposition to the truth (as they see it). George W. Bush, Bill Nye, Obama, Hilary Clinton, and many others become synonymous with stupidity, arrogance, or even demonic influence. To bring it down to a more relatable level, you see somebody shared and NRA meme supporting freedom to bear arms and you write them off as an ignorant “hick.” Or you notice a car with an Obama sticker on it and you immediately chuckle to your friend about the brainwashed liberal ahead of you. The problem is more than whether you are actually posting your thoughts and feelings on social media. Even categorizing people in your brain as idiots if they don’t believe exactly as you do is tearing our culture apart.

On Gordon College’s campus recently there has been a surge of dissatisfaction concerning our life and conduct statement and the stance regarding homosexual practice at Gordon. This dissatisfaction is not the issue. Disagreeing with your institution’s stance on an interpretation of Scripture or basically disagreeing with anything about your institution does not, in itself, cause disunity or discord. However, recently it seems that there have been lines drawn in the sand by people associated with Gordon on varying levels. It seems to have become such that if you disagree with one side then the other side assumes you must be ignorant, unchristian, immoral, or a bigot. Now maybe this is not true and maybe this problem is not as pandemic as I am making it out to be. If I am wrong then I am glad and I know that there are many people who have not fallen into this mindset at Gordon However, if you have felt afraid to share your views because you do not want to be persecuted or ostracized for holding them then I think there is a problem. People should be able to disagree with our administration or support our administration ideologically without consequence. We should be a school that promotes tolerance on all levels. We should be able to discourse on our stances regarding homosexual practice with charity and mutual edification. As it is, I find myself scared to share my opinions on the subject for fear of being irretrievably labeled as belonging to the “other” side of the debate. The fact that there seems to be a separation that calls for people disagreeing with us to be “other” than us is a symptom of the same problem.

I do not think that it is anyone’s goal to ostracize or intimidate people in Gordon’s community for holding differing opinions, but I think that these things are a current reality at Gordon. Ultimately, I think there are very intelligent and well-meaning Christians on both sides of this debate and I think that the call for unity and charity is greater than the call to persuade on this matter. Is this issue important to resolve? Yes. Do our beliefs matter and shape our actions as well as interactions with others? Yes. I just think that we need to focus on charitable and reasonable discourse at this time of conflict on Gordon’s campus and in the surrounding communities. We need to feel free and safe to share our doubts and beliefs with each other. We need to be able to say that we do or do not think that homosexual practice is Biblical without feeling that we will be targeted, ignored, or isolated. And we need to hold and communicate our views in such a way that wholly respects and loves the other person or persons with whom we interact. Sometimes that will mean silence, often it’s not as important that we tell the other person what we think and much more important that we listen and understand. I will end with a quotation often misattributed to Augustine but actually from an otherwise undistinguished German Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius. It is interesting to note that it appeared on a tract during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), a war heavily influenced by religious intolerance.

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

 

Maybe We Are the Weirdos

EARTH

Picture this: You grew up and lived in the same town your whole life. The same town was your family’s home for generations. You only friends were life-long friends because hardly anybody moved. Or maybe your “town” was really a caravan wherein a community which included your family would move from place to place as fit their needs. Birth and death were the main two ways that your community changed. Through thick and thin, your community was the way you survived. You didn’t move away or stop being friends with people on a whim because they were basically all you had. Friendship was based on mutual experiences and going through life together (the ups and, especially, the downs) Families were close because at most you had a couple of bedrooms in an adobe house for the three generations of your family alive at that point. For moral, cultural, and survival concerns divorce was uncommon and families tended to stick together. When you got married you might move into your own space (or not) but you were still in that same town or “tribe.”

Now picture this: At every stage of your life you are submerged in a (usually) new group of people consisting mostly of your peers. You are constantly able to connect superficially with a large portion of the planet’s population. It is normal for many families to move two or three times in the course of the 18 years of your early life and these moves could be across state lines or even around the world. Most of the world is accessible to you online or through transportation. If you have a disagreement with someone you can click a button and they are “un-friended.” If you like someone you can click a button and “friend” them. BFF is a common term but the reality is that by your late twenties you are probably not close to anyone you were friends with in high school (much less junior high). Divorce is very common and people often cannot wait to separate from their families at the legal age of 18 (or earlier if possible). The idea of growing out of friendships is popular and the phrase “there are plenty of fish in the sea” is used liberally.

Most people would prefer the current way of life where everything is accessible, but I think we are meant to live in lifelong communities and I don’t think we are very good at it.