Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Freedom

michelangelo_-_the_creation_of_man1

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.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: The Fall

Forbidden Fruit, Sistine Chapel

Last blog post I defended some of my presuppositions that I use when writing these post so feel free to check it out as a foundation for what is said here. Doing some research for this topic I found myself totally overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the letter of Paul to the Romans and its theology regarding sin. If you are interested in what I have to say here then please pursue it further and read Romans.

So what is the Christian view of sin? First, it is pandemic, everybody does it. Without getting into the Creation debate, the Bible tells a true story (whether metaphorical or actual) of the first man and the first woman, Adam and Eve. God created them as bearers of His image and placed them in a Garden where they were rule over creation in constant intimacy with God and each other. As God desired them to love Him and enjoy Him forever, He gave them a free will (because love without choice is not love). He gave them everything in the Garden but told them not to eat of the tree of good and evil. Being deceived by the devil, they ate of it and sacrificed the perfection and intimacy they had enjoyed for the pain and death of sin. Through this choice, the Image of God within Adam and Eve was broken. This broken image included death, suffering, and an inability to live according to their purpose. This story explains something that most of us already know.

  • Sin is born into us in some way. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Also, the author of Proverbs calls forth our own knowledge of the fact that we are not perfect: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” In the New Testament we have 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In our own culture it is readily acknowledged in phrases like, “I’m only human” and “Nobody’s perfect.” If we are honest with ourselves we know that there is something wrong with the world and part of the problem is ourselves. Every worldview attempts to explain or answer this problem.
  • Some worldviews claim that the divine is in everything, which contains the partial truth that we are made in the image of God and everything made reflects Him. These pantheistic (and traditionally Eastern) worldviews claim that the end of suffering comes when we are able to fully connect to the god within us and everything else, a kind of unification with the life force and an obliteration of individuality. Other monotheistic worldviews focus on following rules or making sacrifices in order to reach God and return to His favor and eventual perfection in an afterlife. Christianity is often stereotyped this way but that will be addressed in a future post. Lastly, humanistic worldviews (which general deny God’s existence or involvement) focus on realizing our potential as human beings. There is the belief that if we are just better educated or better behaved or redistribute wealth then we will attain utopia. Each of these lay the burden on us to fix the world and offer a solution, but they all acknowledge that there is something wrong and give reasons for that wrong. [See below for a hymn of the Church that addresses this story]

In conclusion, I believe we all know that we are broken in some way, that the world needs fixing, that we all sin. We might call it something different depending on our worldview but there is a problem and in the next two posts I will address both the nature of the problem and the Christian answer to sin and the Fall.