Monday, February 15, 2010

Urban Legends (Part 4): Legends about Sin

I. Introduction

A. Defining sin--we all agree that there is something wrong with the world and, at times, you and I may even be to blame for this wrongness. But what should we call this “wrongness” in the world? What’s the word for it?

B. Cornelius Plantinga says: “Evil is what’s wrong with the world, and it includes trouble in nature as well as in human nature. It includes disease as well as theft, birth defects as well as character defects. We might define evil as any spoiling of shalom, any deviation from the way God wants things to be. Thinking along these lines, we can see that sin is a subset of evil; it’s any evil for which somebody is to blame . . . All sin is evil, but not all evil is sin . . . all sin is culpable evil . . . Sin grieves God, offends God, betrays God, and not just because God is touchy. God hates sin against himself, against neighbors, against the good creation, because sin breaks the peace . . . God is for shalom and therefore against sin” (Engaging God’s World, 51).

C. Sin is something that affects everyone everyday. Therefore, it is something we can’t ignore. Furthermore, the pervasiveness of sin has given rise to many myths, legends, and misconceptions about its true nature.

Some of these may not be new to you. In fact, you and I may already reject these intellectually, but I wonder, are we guilty of accepting them practically?

II. Truth or legend? “I’m not a bad person.”

A. This one is easy: it’s simply a denial of reality. As aforementioned, we all agree that there is something wrong with the world and we all agree that, at times, you and I are even to blame for this wrongness.

What we really mean, then, when we say, “I’m not a bad person,” is, “I’m not as bad as some other people.” Okay, so if this is what we mean, then we need to be honest enough to phrase it that way.

B. There is a question that naturally follows: are we responsible for ourselves, or are we responsible for other people? Clearly, we are responsible for ourselves, in which case, should we be comparing ourselves to other people when we are not responsible for them?

C. What does the Bible say? (Isaiah 64:6; 1 John 1:8)

III. Truth or legend? “All sin is the same.”

A. This is not a biblical statement, but rather a logical inference made from biblical statements. The Bible says without qualification that sin results in death (Romans 6:23). So here is the inference: “All sin results in being cut off from God; therefore, all sin is the same.”

The problem is, this inference takes into account only one point of comparison, when multiple points may be available. For example, all mammals are warm-blooded vertebrate, but it does not then follow that all mammals are the same. Why? Because there are other available points of comparison where various mammals are, in fact, different from one another.

B. So in what ways may various sins be different from one another? Our obedience or disobedience influences:

1. Giving an account of our life (Luke 12:47-48 and elsewhere)--Spiritual maturity isn’t how much we know, but how much we obey.

2. Punishment in eternity (Luke 20:45-47)--Craig Blomberg says: “Salvation is consistently said to be by grace, damnation by works (cf. esp. Rom 3:21-5:21 with 1:18-3:20 respectively). There is an important asymmetry here that preserves the sovereignty of God, giving him all the credit for redemption, alongside the accountability of men and women, giving them all the blame for being ‘lost’ (cf. esp. 9:22-24). There does seem to be Scriptural support for the doctrine of degrees of punishment in hell, according to the extent of one’s conscious transgression of God's laws (see esp. Luke 12:47-48; cf. Matt 10:15; 11:22, 24; cf. also possibly Rom 5:13)” (Degrees of Reward in the Kingdom of Heaven?, JETS Vol. 35 No. 2, 161).

3. Consequences here and now (Galatians 6:7-9)--A seed sown starts out small, but it is reaped later and greater in harvest time as a full-fledged crop. So it is with the decisions we make and the actions we take in this life. We will reap what we sow later and greater (HT: Andy Stanley, via his sermon The Disproportionate Life).

IV. Truth or legend? “I’ve already sinned. I might as well continue.”

A. This is like the first one. It is a denial, but this one is a little but trickier. It is a denial of the storyline of Scripture, which God desires to also be the storyline of our individual lives: Creation --> Fall --> Redemption --> New Creation.

So the problem with this line of thinking is that it denies the redemption that God desires in our lives. We have been justified; shall we not also be sanctified? Isn’t this the very story of being “in Christ”? What is the sense in trying to live some other story, one that is not redemptive but destructive?

B. The most miserable people in the world are not non-Christians, but Christians living in sin (see 2 Peter 2:20).

C. If this is where you find yourself, Scripture has encouragement for you (Revelation 3:19; 1 John 1:9). Embrace God’s story for you!

V. Regen Reflection Q’s

A. It is easy to accuse others of sin while excusing ourselves. Are excusing yourself of any sin in your life? If so, what are some specific action steps you could take to stop make excuses and start making progress?

B. Spiritual maturity isn’t how much we know, but how much we obey. It is possible that many of us have been educated way beyond our level of obedience. Do you see any examples of this in your own life? What steps could we take to reverse this trend?