The last few posts from my out of print book, “When God Gives a Time Out” focused on doing things to be esteemed by others. Today’s post pauses to discuss our concept of sin. Our view of sin can hinder us from seeking God or it can spur us on to listen. A proper view of sin changes how we address sin in our life. We confront sin by striving towards, and guiding others towards, the only one who can change us from the inside out – Jesus Christ who won the victory over sin and death.
(Click here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” if you want to start with chapter 1 of When God Gives a Time Out.)
Christians often think of sin in a way that hinders them from overcoming sin, as well as hearing God’s voice. When we hear the word “sin” we usually think of a particular act (usually sexual) that goes against God. In the Bible, sin has a broader definition. Sin may refer to aiming to do right, but falling short. Sin may be described as a “transgression,” connoting a violation of God’s laws or commands. When the word “iniquity” is used to describe sin, an inner, sinful disposition is usually in view. In contrast to this biblical view of sin, the popular view of sin tends to be restricted to “transgressions.”
Holding to the limited definition of sin affects how we live. God doesn’t seem to be in our lives so we start examining ourselves for something that we have done or not done. We come to the conclusion that we lust after a co-worker, or we lost our temper during the morning commute, or we lied. We ask for forgiveness and then try to stop. The problem with this approach is that it puts the problem of our sin in a tidy little box, it makes us focus on the sin instead of God, and it is not very useful for habitual or deeply engrained sin.
Do not misunderstand me, when there is a sin in your life that you can identify you should ask for forgiveness and not do it again. The Bible says, “Our sins have separated us from our God.” (Isaiah 59:2) Our sins cause a wall to go up and God’s voice is muffled through that wall. When possible, we should confess it and forget it. The sins that really get us, however, do not go away so easily. We confess the action, only to do the same act a week later. The action is only a symptom of a deeper sin. Sin, in general, doesn’t fit into a tidy box. Instead, we have sinful attitudes, priorities and thoughts, which bring about a sinful action. We may confess the particular action but still be under the sway of iniquity in our thoughts and minds. We assume that because we identified four actions that were sinful and confessed all four actions then the score is zero and we are sin free. When we think of sin in this “scoreboard” sense we don’t open ourselves up to God’s deep transforming power but we do open ourselves up to hypocrisy. We are free from certain actions and assume that we are where we need to be. The Pharisees (a religious group that often opposed Jesus) had much the same assumption. The Pharisees followed a checklist of particular actions to do or not do. Because the checklist was filled out, the Pharisees saw themselves as more right with God than those who did not follow such a checklist. Jesus said this to them:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
We can become like the Pharisees when we think of sin only as a particular action. We may have all the external actions correct but still have the cancer of sin on the inside. Yes, sin does get in the way of our relationship with God. We are in trouble, however, if we assume we are sin free just because we didn’t murder, lie, or commit adultery. The premise of these series of posts is that our actions are often a result of trying to get an adrenaline rush, esteem rush, or a result of something other than faith in God. These motivations are subtle, internal and don’t usually make someone’s checklist of sins. These patterns of sin fall short of God’s plan nonetheless and are sin whether they make our lists or not. Romans 14:23 reminds us, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” There are many other attitudes and values that are not from faith and do not make the usual sin check lists but they are sinful just the same.
Sin in a biblical sense is much more than an external action; it is something that affects all of life. Sin means missing the mark, the mark being God’s will for us. When we look at our lives we see that we miss the mark not just in external actions, but thoughts, attitudes, values, love . . . and I could go on and on. Sin does not come in a tidy package. Sin is a problem so large and extensive that only God can take care of it. When we realize the deep trouble that we are in, the sheer weight of our sin problem should crush us. But we have a savior. The realization of the magnitude of our sin and the corresponding grace of God spurs us on to treat others the way we were treated by God. Jesus said, “Do not judge. By what measure you measure with will be measured out to you”. This verse does not mean we can’t judge certain things as right or wrong. The verse tells us that we need to use the same standard of judgment that was used on us. The standard God uses acknowledges that we have a huge sin problem that is more extensive than just external actions. The actions are a symptom of sinful motivations, assumptions, values, and thoughts. That same standard also states that it is not you or I who defeat the sin – it is God. Our sin problem is so deep and so large that we can not deal with sin ourselves through a checklist or sin scoreboard watching. A small view of sin causes us to be like the Pharisees: judgmental, hypocritical, and wrong.
Sin (not just the little definition of sin) is to blame for our failure to hear God’s voice. When we get stuck in sin God may let the natural outcome of the sin play itself out so that we will turn to Him. When sin brings us to a place where we are stuck, we are probably in a “time out.” In “time out,” God will speak to us in a way that draws us closer to Him and away from the sin. But let us not think that sin can fit in a tidy box and we have a formula for taking care of it. Sin is a much bigger problem and invades our motivations, thoughts, values, assumptions, and attitudes.
When we see the reality of our sin problem and when we realize how God has dealt with sin, we judge ourselves and others differently. A proper view of sin changes how we address sin in our life. We confront sin by striving towards, and guiding others towards, the only one who can change us from the inside out – Jesus Christ who won the victory over sin and death.
Questions to Ponder
What is your concept of sin? How does this conception influence your life, if at all?
After reading this section, do you consider your concept of sin helpful or hurtful in relating to God?
How might this broader concept of sin encourage you to take more time outs to connect with God? When could you actually set aside that time to connect?