If you want to discover a way to end any perfectly good conversation, halt any quality sharing between you and friends, even Christian friends, here’s the best way to do it:
Start talking about sin.
You see, sin is not a subject that is politically correct these days, even among believers. You can talk about moral collapse in our society; you can talk about the need for political change on any number of fronts; you can even talk about the latest scandal involving a popular televangelist – just don’ talk about sin. People just don’t want to hear about it.
In these days and times, we are not encouraged to look at our sin. The whole concept of sin has come to be seen as something left over from an earlier church era. In post-modern culture, we are seen as “dysfunctional” rather than disobedient. I can relate to this because I used to avoid the term like the plague. I did this not so much out of fear or distaste for the subject. Instead, like many others of my generation, I believed that talking about sin was not a fruitful enterprise. I saw the term “sin” as being a superficial concept that reeked of Puritanism and felt that any discussion of the topic would lead friends to view me in a less than savory light. When you get down to the brass tacks of the matter, I was a lot more concerned with what people thought of me than what God thought of me.
I was guilty of what was and is a common mistake when it comes to the spiritual concept of sin: I was viewing sin from the perspective of humankind rather than from God’s perspective. Clever and rational beings that we are, we humans can come up with plausible and at times even highly credible explanations of why we behave the way we do. It is a process commonly known as rationalization and some of us are veritable gurus at it. I know I was a still am. I was especially good at explaining to myself and to others why sin was an outdated concept and a psychologically damaging carry-over from Christianity’s legalistic past. There was only one problem:
I was wrong.
The fact is, sin is real. I sin daily and chances are so do you. No matter how you may want to slice it, God has standards of behavior and an overall code for living. Try as I might, I often fall short of that standard, no matter how much I want to achieve it. This fact points to several important realities. First, left to my own devices, I cannot hope to live up to God’s standards for holiness and wholeness. Second, there is something within me which, although I am a Christian, continues to war against my “walking in the Spirit.” And third, if it was not for God’s grace and provision, I would be a goner.
The view we get of ourselves when we see our inner being through the lens of Christ can be a bit unsettling. Unless we have a clear picture of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection, along with an understanding and acceptance of who we are in Christ, we can easily be overwhelmed by the enormity of our sin-load. Yet it is imperative we see our sin and our sin-nature if we desire a deep appreciation of God’s act of grace in restoring us to spiritual life.
If we are to get a better handle on sin in general and the role it plays in our personal lives in particular, I think we have to digress just a bit. We have to begin with our view of just who and what God is. And of course this is where things can get a bit cloudy because God is so far beyond anything we could possibly conceive, unless we have some sort of divine revelation of his character, the full extent of “God” is as clear to us as Calculus is to a cabbage.
We tend to view God in terms we can get our minds around and, as a result, we have this marked tendency to view God as some sort of “super-human.” He is basically just like us, only much better at it. He is kind of like the best version of a human being, multiplied to the 100th power. Even that is a bit hard to grasp, but it isn’t wholly out of the realm of moderate comprehension. Once again, the problem is that it, like sin, totally misses the mark.
God is not some super-human who is just like us, only an infinitely better version. God, although we are created in his image, is far, far beyond anything we are. Christian tradition tells us and scripture repeatedly affirms that God is “wholly other” in his true nature. Yes, God is immanent, but is also transcendent and it is this transcendent quality that I ignored for so long. And it is this very aspect of God that we need to understand if we are to correctly see the subject of sin from God’s perspective.
Scripture repeatedly affirms that God is “holy,” which means, “set apart.” Here, again, this refers to God’s infinite transcendence. But holiness as has another vital aspect – holiness also refers to purity. It is from this infinite purity that God views our sin and why he makes such a big deal about it. A being of God’s unfathomable holiness cannot tolerate sin in his presence, not because of his personal value system nor puritanical nature. Instead, it is a matter of physics in general and the quantum physics of light and energy, at least that is what I think. I cannot fully fathom it but I do think I grasp enough of it to take the rest on faith.
Now, with that groundwork put down, let’s return to our subject of viewing sin from God’s view rather than our own. From God’s perspective, sin is a total abomination – a horror of the greatest magnitude. More than a minor mistake, a miniscule slip-up, or the abdication of our will to social pressure, sin is a big deal in God’s view. Little white lies and engaging in something because “everyone else is doing it” want wash in God’s world. Again, it is not because God is a prude or a super ideal of Puritanism. It is because he is built that way and his being cannot and will not tolerate its presence.
I know some of you may have lost me here, or else figure I have gone off the deep end after having read too much, or perhaps like Ebenezer Scrooge, suffering the results of a bit of underdone potato. This is not the case. For me, these were major revelations that shook the foundations of what I believed and lived by. My friends and I often chastised the church for Christianity’s seeming obsession with sin. And please, don’t get me wrong. I still believe we can get overly wrapped up in dwelling only on our sinful nature. What I am saying is, however, I discovered that the obsession with sin was justified. It literally changed everything and even helped me, at least to some small extent, gain a small degree of understanding of a doctrine that to me, is at the same time a mystery and an appalling event – the so-called “Substitutionary Atonement.”
As we turn back to scripture we once again can gain a very clear picture of God’s perspective on sin. We are informed by Paul in Galatians 6:7-8:
Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Taken in context of Paul’s overall teaching regarding the importance of walking by the Spirit and not the flesh, these words are point blank and hit the perceptive reader right between the eyes. Chip Ingram writes:
These words are sobering. They are also unpopular and hard to hear. But each one of us knows the pain and suffering that sin has brought into our lives.
After getting our attention, Pastor Ingram then gets down to where it really cuts to the quick:
Who reading this page right now hasn’t been hurt, rejected, afflicted, or even abused by someone else’s selfishness and sin? And in our most honest moments, we also know that our lies, greed, and lusts have done untold damage to others…You know what all this damage to people and relationships represents? It’s the fruit of sin. When sin prevails, people get hurt.
In my own spiritual life, I don’t really think I fully appreciated God’s overwhelming act of love in sending Christ to earth to deal with my sin until I fully began to accept the reality of sin. And it was not until I stopped avoiding looking at sin, talking about sin, and confessing sin that I accepted that reality. I can’t accurately put into words just how significant this whole experience was for me. I have tried on many occasions to communicate these experiences to my friends, especially those who are Christians, but who downplay the issue of sin. Most of the time, I cannot adequately express what a moment of epiphany this was for me, and that is exactly what it was – an epiphany. On the few occasions that I believe I was able to sufficiently wrap words around this experience, these same friends just didn’t want to hear it. On one unforgettable occasion, a dear friend looked at me after I tried to express all of this and said, with all sincerity:
“Who the heck do you think you are, John Bunyan?”
For me, an awareness of sin in general and my sin in particular led me to a deeper appreciation of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the gift of salvation. On top of that, it gave me increased motivation to live a deeper, more consecrated Christian life. Gary Thomas, one of my very favorite writers, voices my feelings at that time perhaps better than I ever could:
Think about how God has loved you. Consider the fearful cost he paid to win your salvation. Reflect on his patient mercy and his gently manner whenever you have gone astray. Meditate on the reality that this perfect God gives to his imperfect children his very name. We are called “Christians,” “little Christs.”…Can we not, in the face of such love, embrace the grace of God that teaches us and empowers us to say no to the passions that war against our souls and yes to the invitation to transformed living? Will we not surrender to the weight of such compelling and compassionate care? Will we still insist on living our own lives our own way and according to our own dictates?
I am not suggesting that we wallow in the mire of our sinfulness and become bogged down with guilt. All I am saying here is that it is important that we buck the current trend to avoid looking at our sin and take an honest appraisal of where we were before we came to Christ.
Further, we need to get a firm grip on the true nature of sin and accept the fact that we live in a culture that is fallen – a culture that in large part is conditioned by sin. In many ways, our world has become so complacent about sin that we don’t even recognize it. Neil Anderson speaks to the importance of grasping the nature and extent of sin in ourselves and our world:
It is difficult for us to grasp the true nature of sin for several reasons. First, we have always been personally involved in sin and lived in an environment conditioned by sin…Second, our understanding is skewed because of our own sinfulness. Most people tend to think less of their sin than they should in order to excuse themselves. Rather than confess wrongdoing, they do the opposite – they rationalize it…Third, our awareness of what is sinful can easily grow dull with tolerance and exposure to it…Fourth, no human has yet experienced the full weight of sin’s consequences.
I don’t know about you, but when I first read it that fourth point made by Anderson stopped me in my tracks. I had never really paused to consider that perspective on my sin. Anderson is right. My sin has caused me discomfort at times, inconvenience at times, and certainly, stress at times. Still, none of these consequences remotely come close to what my sin would cost me if not for the work of Christ. Forget if you will for a moment, the debates about whether or not Hell exists as a place or whether or not a loving God would exile anyone to such a fate. For the sake of discussion at this point, imagine if you will eternal separation from God with no chance of reunion. Even a paradise constructed from my wildest dreams would be empty if I knew there was an eternal estrangement from the true source of my being.
Now, if I had to endure that estrangement while being tortured, roasted, and scorched and I think you get the drift of it. “No human has yet experienced the full weight of sin’s consequences……”
I suggest that perhaps you pause right here and just let that one dangle there for a time….let those words have time to sear down deep into your being. The fact is a truth beyond any argument, no human has ever experienced the full brunt of sin’s consequences and lived to tell us about it.
I have always thought that one of the primary reasons Christians as a whole were living far beneath the level of discipleship we are called to stemmed from lack of application of spiritual disciplines, lack of proper education on the disciplines for Christian living, and just a general lack of energy and motivation to go deeper. I could throw in a few more, but this is enough to make my point.
I am now coming to understand that much of our “missing the mark” also stems from reasons that evangelical teachers have offered for ages:
- We lack basic understanding of the impact of sin on our lives and the lives of others.
- We do not comprehend how God actually views sin
- We have not been taught and subsequently fail to grasp how sin affects God.
- We have never truly repented of our pet sins.
- Culture as a whole and even Christian culture has come to view sin as an over used, negative teaching that is a carry-over from a less-than-savory aspect of Church history.
- We fail to grasp the full impact of what happened to Christ on the cross, much less what he accomplished on our behalf.
- As a result, we cannot fully grasp who and what we are “in Christ” and, as a result, continue to operate out of the flesh rather than the Spirit and reap exactly what we have always sown, which is, at best, a generally lukewarm discipleship.
Uncomfortable as it may be; politically incorrect as it may be; and no matter how much we want to avoid the issue, sin needs to be put back on the front burner as an issue to deal with. And we can do this from a rational basis that involves our minds, emotions, and our wills, all under the God-ordained and divinely designed rule of the Spirit.
Again, in closing let me state that I am not saying that we need to get ourselves bogged down into a morbid preoccupation with sin, but neither can we afford to minimize sin and its impact on our lives and the lives of others. To do so would be disobedient to the Master’s teachings from one end to the other. Please, don’t make the mistake of returning to the disastrous but all too familiar, “I am a miserable sinner worm” mentality. The Body of Christ has had far too much of that. However, keep in mind that God has standards of living that he has called us to and to live beneath or in violation of those standards is sin. Acknowledge that chances are there are areas in your life where you miss the mark of God’s standards. Confess those areas, repent, and stay positive. That is the way of healthy, positive faith.
© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved