Monday, April 02, 2007

Letters to My Non-Churchgoing Friends (#10: Confusion About Sin)

[I'm writing a series of "letters" to non-churchgoing folks in my community through a column I write for the Community Press here in the Cincinnati area. To see the first nine, go here.]

Dear Friend,
One reason people give for not going to church is their mystification at two words--and their different forms--which Christians use a lot: sin and justification.

Non-churchgoing folks hear Christians say things using these terms in all manner of strange ways:
  • I’m a sinner.
  • All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
  • Christ justifies sinners.
I’m not sure that we Christians always know what we’re talking about when we say stuff like this. So, mystification on the parts of those who aren’t part of a church is understandable.

What is sin, from a Biblical perspective? And what does it mean to be justified? In this column, I’ll talk about sin. In the next, I’ll tackle justification.

I like to draw a distinction between Sin, capital s, and sin, lower case s. Sin, upper case, is the condition into which every person who comes into this world in the normal way is born. In the Old Testament, King David, a person so revered for his faith that the Bible calls him “a man after God’s own heart,” admits that he was born in sin. The only sinless person on this planet since Adam and Eve fell into sin has been Jesus Christ. The rest of us though, are born in this Sin condition.

Sin is alienation from God and other people. And it’s part of us from the beginning. We’re born addicted to ourselves, our desires, our wants, and our agendas.

If an infant takes a liking to an object which his or her parents know could cause injury or death, that baby will scream like mad when the object is taken from it. That’s because the condition of Sin drives us to think only of that which is pleasing to ourselves, without regard to what’s good for us or others.

The Bible teaches that, without help, our slavery to Sin will inevitably drive us to commit sins, small s. Those individual sins are summarized in the Ten Commandments and include:
  • putting anything in a more important position than God;
  • using God’s Name for anything other than prayer, praise, or thanksgiving; ignoring God’s Word, refusing to join others in worshiping God, and not resting once a week;
  • failing to respect our parents;
  • killing others in thought, word, or deed;
  • sexual intimacy outside of marriage;
  • taking anything belongs to others;
  • gossiping or telling untruths about others; and
  • craving the possessions or lifestyles of other people.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at this list, I recognize that whether in thought, word, or deed, I’ve violated each of God's commandments. I’ve allowed my Sin condition to lead me to commit sins.

Deep down, I don’t want to sin. I recognize how my sins hurt me, my life, others, and, I’ve learned, even God.

Each time I sin, I add another brick to the wall separating me from others, from the person I want to be, and from God and eternal life. This is true even when, with good intentions, I make resolutions to do better and fail to do so, repeatedly.

Like Paul, a writer in the New Testament, I want to say, “I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?” (Romans 7:24)

Who, Paul asks and I ask, can make it possible for a born sinner like me to be freed from my slavery to sin so that I can live with God forever? That really is the question. And justification, which I’ll talk about next time, is the real answer. God’s answer.


AliB said...

I've really been enjoying this series, Mark. My "inner reluctant Christian" can relate to these posts on many levels. I still have problems with the word sin - because it's too tightly associated with the word evil in my mind (and in our culture in general). I have a list of words that I think hinder faith for anyone but the most devout, and this one is at the top of my list. I like how you explain it, though.

(p.s. this is ali of aliblog. I can't figure out how to make my Google/Blogger profile public.)

Mark Daniels said...

Once upon a time, I did a series of columns and sermons on 'Those Strange Church Words.' I imagine that your list and mine would have a few common entries.

I'm really glad that you find this series helpful.

I think that the terms 'sin' and 'evil' are misapplied both by those within the Church and outside of it. And yet, I believe that the reality of sin (big S and little s) is the most easily demonstrated and empirically observable of all the Christian doctrines.

It's a gorgeous spring day here, clear skies and shining sun. I hope that you're enjoying a similar day.

Thanks for battling Blogger to leave your kind comments, Ali.

God bless!