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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sin is not the issue

The Christian faith allegedly is based on a robust theory of justification: Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin when he suffered on the cross. As such, the sins of believers (past, present, and future) are covered under grace.

So, why is sin an issue that so many of us allow to hold our attention? Why do some preachers, teachers, and religious leaders spend so much time talking about sin? Granted, not all religious leaders spend time on sin, and perhaps those who do are becoming more and more of a minority.

But it is not just religious leaders, but many a Christian is tormented in conscience and grieved over sin. But why? If a believer's sin is covered, then what is the big deal?

Perhaps the difficulty is that many of us know that we are going to do it again. Even so, a robust theory of justification should ease our conscience. That's what Luther thought. But having been justified, Luther was still tormented by his sin and threw stuff across his room at the Devil!

I would suggest that obsessing about sin is perhaps one of the surest ways to succumb to temptation. Why? Because it eats at you. Not sinning becomes one's obsession and as such it becomes an ever present foe.

Try this on for size: Don't think about a pink elephant.

Uhm, I said, Do NOT think about a pink elephant.

Ehem, excuse me, but perhaps you did not hear me. I said,

Kinda hard not to, though, isn't it?

What we obsess about is the thing that stays with us, and when it comes to sin, excessive guilt tends to produce more failure. It is a vicious cycle. It is, in fact, a deadly mentality.

But, what if sin isn't even the point of the life of a Christian? What if there is something more to shoot for? A different mindset; a different way of being?

Ah, yes! I know what you are thinking, my conservative friend! "What about Romans 6!"

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! (all translations from NIV)

But, friends, let us keep in mind that Paul is combating the stupidity of the person who sins "so that grace may increase." This person would be missing Paul's point and deliberately sinning for the specific purpose of increasing grace. I'm not talking here about deliberately sinning. That's a whole 'nother deal.

What Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not detract from what I have suggested. However, while we are in Romans 6, let's glean a few more interesting thoughts from the Apostle Paul.

"We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

So, there is a "new life" that is promised. But this is not the old way of life, where we obsess about our sinfulness. There is something of a death going on. We die to an old way of thinking and resurrect to a new mentality. We die to relying on our own strength and resurrect to a new union with Christ and a life lived for....for....for what? A life lived for not sinning. Nay, my brethren and sistren!

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The life we live we live "to God." We "count ourselves dead to sin." There is something distinctly positive and optimistic here. I suggest, the optimism comes by letting go.

Let it go.

Just let go.

I might also note that it is in this context that Paul says that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Die to the mindset of death. Set yourself free from guilt, and offer yourself to Christ. That's the best a believer can do, and then, whatever else happens, the blood of Christ cleanses from all unrighteousness.

Sin is not the issue. The optimism of the Apostle Paul is for a new life of offering ourselves to Christ for him to work in us and through us.

Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling.

Let go.


chris van allsburg said...

amen, and THANK-YOU.
much needed message.

daniel said...

That's it, Jon.

The laws don't change, the moral code is the same, but what changes is how we relate to our selves, our "technologies of self" to reference Foucault.

"It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me". Galatians 2:20

Jonathan Erdman said...


I'm interested in your thoughts: what is the "I" that no longer lives? There is still a sense that I am still me. So, what is the "I" who dies, in your opinion?

hoosier reborn said...

Pink elephant-perfect illustration.

I had lunch with one of my "accountability bros" several weeks ago at which time I told him I no longer was striving to be holy because any sin felt like utter defeat. He was shocked. I told him I planned to enjoy the grace already extended to me.

Last week we had lunch again and he told me how down he was because of some struggles. I told him he was thinking too much about not doing it and that pulled him in.

Side note: when you hear pornography mentioned in a sermon, what's the first thing you think about? Exactly, pink elephants.

Melody said...

Ok, so I've been thinking about this post for a couple days and I'm kind of fascinated that we read Romans 6 so completely differently. I never in life would have come up with what you got from it.

But I think they way you've come at it fits a lot better with chapters 5, 7 & 8. I've never understood why 6 was in the middle of those; this makes much more sense.

daniel said...

The I is the glorified me.