21 March 2017

Sinners like us

The Oxford dictionary’s word of the year has recently included pearls like selfie, emoji and post-truth. Somehow, I doubt the word sin has, or ever will make the list. If sin has a culinary equivalent, I think it would be the anchovy. Small, unattractive and overpowering. I don’t hear people use the word sin often and if I do, it’s usually a sour commentary or judgement on another person’s behaviour – and that’s really not fun.
What does it mean to sin? How do you feel about the word?

Sin is I think, much more than bad behaviour that misses God’s mark. It’s a power that causes people to become less. Less whole, less alive, less connected, less human.

When an angry mob threw a half-naked and trembling woman before Jesus on charges of adultery, Jesus’ direction to the crowd was that whoever had no sin could toss the first stone. I wonder what these angry men might have seen in that moment as they reluctantly looked into their hearts? What caused them to drop their stones of judgement from the oldest to the youngest? Perhaps the older men first saw the weight of a lifetime of secret lusts and failings? Perhaps they saw their own nakedness in the face of this terrified woman? Perhaps they realised that their self-righteous judgement was as destructive as the woman’s sexual sin?

Fact is, sin happens in everyone’s life. My problem with sin is that I excel at it.

Paul would write in his letter to the Romans, ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ And he would write in 1 Timothy 1:15 ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.’ Paul isn’t just describing his former life, persecuting the first Christians. No, Paul sees his life as still flawed and in need of the transforming grace of God at every turn.

Paul also expressed this struggle between the old flesh life and the new life in his letter to the Romans. He’d celebrate that sin is no longer his master nor defines him, yet acknowledges that sin remains present and he has to choose between desires that flow from his old nature and desires that flow from the new. That lifelong re-forming process doesn’t remove our potential for sin, but it does enable us to live in a way that is more. More whole, more alive, more connected, more divine.

If our hope rested on being sin-free we’d all be hope-less. But true hope rests in God showing His scandalous kindness toward us in Jesus who came to save sinners like us, from sin like ours.

Sin lives on but it’s not what it used to be, so why make it what it was? Instead of sin being a battle we can’t win, now in Jesus, it’s a battle we can’t lose. So how do we deal with it?

500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote ‘all of life is repentance.’ If we would let our hearts and minds  swell with Jesus’ life and love, and if we would daily confess our sin and turn from it, well I suspect Jesus' way could increasingly look and feel like the very best way to live. And in the process, we might find new capacity to love others without the bitter impulse of judgement.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

(2 Corinthians 5:19)