Monday, August 12, 2013


Have you thought about the nature of sin?  Not the doctrinal questions of original sin or the nature of our flesh. I mean the simpler question: have you thought on what sin is? Or how we can recognize it?

As a kid I thought of sin as simply the things we do wrong.  A kind of moral black mark. Just like my teacher made marks on the board to indicate that some student had done wrong. If enough marks were accumulated the student would be punished.  I imagined God literally wiping the slate clean.  Not a bad metaphor so far as it goes, but I was not a kid who found her name very often on the blackboard, and I saw my sin too simply. Sass my mom-black mark.  Tell a lie to my sister to get her to hush-black mark.  Forget to read my Bible before falling asleep-black mark.  I supposed I could go whole days, whole weeks without sinning if I tried hard enough. I understood that it encompassed the wrong things I do, but I couldn't see my own sin clearly enough. 

As I got older and drew closer to God I could see that sin was more complex than I had supposed. Sin was more than a simple moral misstep, to my black and white teenage mind it included all kinds of doctrinal delusions.  It might be more than what I did, it might be also what I misunderstood.  That was a cold thought to try to sleep with. How clearly does anyone understand "Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?" 

By the time I left college I thought I was beginning to understand. I had a grip on the sin that had a grip on me.  Perhaps sin was like some alien creature with thousands of tentacles living inside me.  It fed on every good thing in me. It tried to convince me of its innocence, and hide its destructive nature.  No matter how I tried, I couldn't follow all the fingers of it.  I banished the sin I could discover, but I wondered what might be lurking back in the darkness.  Rather than imagining I could stop sinning I began to envision how God could be killing the sin in me as I shared in Jesus' death. 

These days sin has both more horror and less terror for me.  I'm rereading 1 John and finding much comfort there.  John tells us that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.  When I look inside I find both light and darkness.  To be clearer, the more God's light shines in my heart the more I see the dark corners for what they are: sin.  Shrinking from the glare of God's glory, I find piles of ingratitude and murmurs of complaint, tidy little plans for evil, stacks of self-will and rebellion, and cluttering it all a general disregard for righteousness. God is light in my darkness, revealing sin.  Although I am horrified when I think of His holiness gazing down at my ugliness, I am relieved of the terror of my former understandings. I know now that I can't go a day without sinning and I still don't understand everything about the Bible, but God has grace to cover it. (1 John 1:5-10).  

John points out that we are nothing but liars if we dare to say that we are without sin. From my perspective that's good news!  For a while, when I began to see my sin with such clarity of vision, I imagined myself alone.  That the rest of Christendom was out there bee-bopping along barely sinning at all, and I was a wretch.  Upon reflection I think the closer we grow towards God, the more we are bathed in His light. In the light of His word, we see our darkness because as John puts it "the truth dwells in us." So if I look around I should find saints far along in His service who see their own sin only too plainly.

The pages of the Bible reveal a wealth of them. David said, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." (Psalms 51:5) I suppose this sentence has less to do with the debate over original sin than we have thought.  Don't you think David is speaking out of his despair over his sin?  He's saying, "I don't remember a time when I wasn't sinful. Maybe it started the day I was conceived!"  

Or take Paul who declared himself the foremost of all sinners.  I have heard conversations comparing sins to see if this were accurate. Which is worse, they asked, child molestation or being the coat-check guy at a martyrdom? However that entirely misses the point that despite his great sin, God used him for his own glory (I Timothy 1:8-17).  In a different book Paul says despairingly that even when he knows the good he should do, he is still weak and unable to carry through (Romans 7:21-25).  

In my own personal life, I saw a man who walked hand in hand with God at true personal sacrifice through 50 years of ministry sob from the pulpit when he tried to explain the great grace of God.  I am comforted.  Not because my sin is common to all, though it is, but the very fact that I see it and the horror of it, reveals that God's light is abroad in my heart. 

John points out that sinners, walking obediently in the light, loving Jesus and following him (1 John 1 and 2) are forgiven.  God is not capriciously forgiving whomever he wishes. Instead forgiveness is based on the faithfulness of God (well proven through out scripture) and on His justice through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).  No stronger foundation could be suggested.  I rest there comforted and much less afraid.  
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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