This week, I’d like to talk a bit about sin. We don’t address this topic often enough or seriously enough in the church. I feel that there are several reasons for this. One reason that we don’t talk about it is because it’s simply not a very fun topic to dwell on. We don’t want to think about rules that forbid; and we don’t want to talk about all the ways we don’t measure up. Another reason is because we’re experiencing a backlash from a more legalistic era in church history. At times in the past, we in the church have come down so hard on sin that we made people feel like God didn’t love them, that they could never be good enough for God, and that they were unwanted in the church. We didn’t want to make people feel like that anymore, so we stopped talking about sin. Another reason, really a sub-point to the last one, is that some of those who do feel the importance of this subject feel that, if they bring it up, they will be immediately lambasted as hypocritical and judgmental.
Despite all of this, sin is still an important topic. If we are going to call ourselves Christian; if we’re going to claim to live by the Bible, then we must read the whole Bible, not just the parts that we like. And the Bible is very concerned about the topic of sin. From beginning to end, the Bible is almost constantly outlining good and bad behavior, warning us away from evil, holding up good and bad examples of how to live. Jesus himself talked about sin quite a bit as well; and we can’t just ignore that or sweep it under the rug. We need to take sin seriously.
So, ok, let’s take sin seriously. Let’s think about the nature of sin. What is sin? Classically, sin can be defined in either of two ways. Wesleyans define sin as a willful transgression of a known law of God. Calvinists define sin as any transgression of God’s law. I don’t find either of these definitions satisfactory. I don’t think they go deep enough into the nature of sin. I find myself asking why sin is sinful. Ok, God said that adultery is bad, and as He is the Absolute, He has the right to declare actions to be good or bad as He sees fit; and as the Absolute foundation of existence, His will defines reality. But why did God say that adultery is bad? Why didn’t He say that open marriages and free love is good and monogamy is selfish? Was it arbitrary? Did He roll dice? Pick things out of a hat?
God is Triune; He has chosen to exist as a community, as a relationship. He has created us to be relational people, naturally drawn to socialize with one another. He seeks to commune with us in Heaven, and seeks for us to commune with one another on earth. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus promptly answered “Love God, and love each other.” I think that the Bible paints a clear picture of righteousness as pure, holy, unselfish, vulnerable, and perfect communion with God and with one another. This is what God planned, it is what He saved us for, and it is what He is guiding us to. A second look at Scripture reveals that sin is the opposite of righteousness. Look at the 10 Commandments. Every single act forbidden by God revolves around the idea of broken relationships: idolatry, murder, adultery, deceit, theft. Some are less obvious, like keeping the Sabbath; but even that is grounded in the idea of respect for God. Sin is sin because it chips away at our relationship with God; and it shatters our relationships by using us to break each other down.
God is the Absolute and Supreme Something. God is existence. Therefore, if Evil is the opposite of God, then evil is the Supreme Nothing. Righteousness is that which contributes to the building and preservation of the Universe as God planned it to be, it is that which contributes to Shalom. Sin, then, is that which breaks and tears Shalom apart. Sin is not only relational, sin is, by nature destructive. This brings us to a definition of sin as that which destroys creation and breaks apart relationships.
From this, we can gather a few further insights. First, there is no such thing as personal sin. There is no such thing as a sin that is just between you and God. Every sin you commit, no matter how hidden, no matter how small, affects every person around you. Even an extremely small thing like a lapse in your devotional life affects how you are letting God form you, which affects who you are as a person, which affects who you are as you enter society. Every sin, from murder and adultery, down to ingratitude and spiritual laziness affects those around you. There is no such thing as a victimless sin.
Second, we see that sins are not isolated instances of good or bad behavior. Sin is a part of a systemic and eschatological movement (eschaton is the greek word for the end of time; it means “last things”). Those of us who follow Christ are following Him in pursuit of God’s Kingdom Come on earth as it is in Heaven. Leading a righteous life is integral to that pursuit. You cannot say that you stand with Christ if you aren’t involved in the building of His Kingdom. Likewise, on the negative side, you can’t say that you’re following Christ if you are consistently undermining His mission by engaging in acts which destroy the relationships and people around you. And I feel guilty and convicted even as I type. Sin is important because it is part of what defines us as either those who are seeking or those who are destroying the Kingdom of God. If we love God; and we love His Kingdom; and we love each other; and we are concerned about our society; then we must stand against sin.
Third, and as a natural expression of the first two points, we need to talk about sin. We, as the church, must realize that as important as it is to love the sinner and extend God’s grace to him or her; it is equally important to love the victim of sin; to the point of, where possible, preventing sin from occurring. One way of doing so is by talking about sin, why it is wrong and how it destroys. We need to do this from the pulpit certainly, but we must also undertake this one on one in small groups and in every relationship we have. Sin is a cliff, and we need to talk about sin to help warn people to stay away from the edge.
An example might help, I knew of a teenager at a church I went to when I was younger who got his girlfriend pregnant. As I’ve reflected on this scenario I get more and more convicted of our church’s (not the local church but the national church) complicity in his choices. Who ever warned him that sleeping with his girlfriend was a bad idea? He had been born, to the best of my knowledge, out of wedlock; his sibling(s) had a trail of past lovers; the society he lived in consistently presented extra-marital sex as normal behavior; the culture he lived in produced shows like Glee and Friends; and his church was too afraid of offending people to say out loud “Sex outside of marriage is bad because . . .” Why should I ever have assumed that he knew that sleeping around was wrong? He was actually happy when he told me that she was pregnant.
We need to start talking about sin. We need to speak in love; and we need to speak of grace; but we can’t ignore the destruction that sin is wreaking all around us. We must get beyond ourselves and our(my) guilt to speak truth where it is needed; yes, I am guilty of sin, but I can’t let that guilt define me and my actions. I can’t let my failures stop me from encouraging others’ to success. If we claim the name of Christ, then we must stand for the things which Christ stood for. We must stand for love against betrayal, hatred, and faithlessness; we must stand for truth against deceit and fraud; we must stand for life against murder; we must stand for charity against oppression; we must stand with God against sin.
 I’m not trying to say that the child was bad or a curse or a burden; and many teenage parents are able to go to college and/or make a really great life for themselves; but the fact of the matter is that having a child too early in life severely limits one’s options later in life and makes all subsequent life decisions much more difficult. Especially if his girlfriend had decided not to stick around, he just stuck himself with child support for the next 18 + years of his life; and he was only 17. The child was worth smiling about, the work that child represented for this teenager was not.