I have been reluctant to write about this. The title alone can create the feeling we have when hearing a dentist’s drill in our mouth. No one wants to talk about sin. It can be offensive, come across as judgmental and make us feel bad. YUCK!
Generally, two thoughts occur when the topic of sin comes up. First, a person who goes to church (or used to) thinks, “I know what sin is…we don’t have to talk about it.” The other thought, which comes to those who have never been to church (or used to go) is “Great…here is someone who is going to judge the way I am living my life.” It’s unfortunate these thoughts fill our brain when sin is mentioned because it keeps us from hearing about one of the most important spiritual topics that exists. Sin, and our understanding of what it is and what it does, is the one thing that will determine our ability to interact with God.
So, before I lose you…let’s get to it. What is sin? The answer has 3 parts.
1. To sin is to miss the mark.
It sounds pretty harmless, but imagine an archer shooting an arrow and missing the bull’s eye. Literally, this is what it means to sin. God has an intended target for every thought, attitude and action of our lives. Let that sink in…He has a bull’s eye for EVERY thought, attitude and action for every day of our life. When we miss his bull’s eye, we sin. If my thoughts (and I’m talking about the things I dwell on…not fleeting non-sense) are not the plans he intended for me to have in the situation I am experiencing…well…I am sinning. The same holds true for my attitudes and actions. If we are not careful the reality of this truth can be overwhelming. Who can always do what God intended for them to do in their thoughts, attitudes and actions? Who can be that good…that perfect? No one. And that is the point. The bible says, “For all have sinned.” (Romans 3:23) We have all missed the mark. This leads us to the second part of the answer.
2. To sin is to offend God.
It’s not that we are trying to do this on purpose. I don’t think anyone wakes up and thinks, “What can I do today to offend God?” Truth is most of us don’t think of God and his intended bull’s eyes for us. Instead, we think about what we want. We aim for the targets we are trying to hit. The problem with this: our targets are self-centered. We are ignoring our Creator and missing all of his intended targets. Sinning is more than just making a bad choice or hurting someone, it is ignoring your Creator. Paul wrote this about sin, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) When we sin we earn death. Death in this verse does not mean “cease to exist.” It means “loss of intended purpose that can’t be restored.” Think of a light bulb that has burned out. The bulb does not cease to exist when the filament inside breaks or burns out. The bulb exists. It just can’t shine and no one can repair it. It has lost its intended purpose and it cannot be restored. Once we sin, our filament breaks and it cannot be repaired. No matter how hard we try we cannot make ourselves shine again. We have offended God with our sin. We have lost our purpose and the ability to ever hit one of his intended targets.
3. To sin is to enter into slavery.
Sin is addictive. It has more attraction than the combined pull of every addictive substance and deed in our society. Why? Because it comes from within us. It is in our core. It thrives on this entitlement: It is your life, therefore, do what you want. Once we begin to drink that poison and believe it is truth, we are hooked. And like any other addiction, we have moments where we act like it is not in control, but we always default back to it. We get used to ignoring our Creator. Our nature becomes conditioned to only aim for the target we want. We become drunk on satisfying self. No one is immune to this. No one can escape its pull. Not even Paul, the man who God inspired to write much of the New Testament, could escape the pull of sin. Speaking of his personal struggles with sin he wrote, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:14)
Wow! This is heavy stuff. It’s heavy because I know I’ve sinned. It brings your soul discomfort because you know you’ve sinned too. We have all missed the mark. We are all burned out light bulbs. We are all enslaved. Before we lose all hope, let’s go back to a verse I introduced earlier. I only shared part of it, but let’s look at the whole thing. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death (remember that part?), but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin keeps us from being able to interact with God, but God planned a way for us to get around it. His plan…the life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His plan is a gift to us. Gifts can’t be earned or deserved. They can only be received and treasured. And, gifts reflect the heart of the Giver, which stirs our desire to know the Giver even more.
The verse says, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we read that we think eternal life is something that begins after we die, but in this verse it means eternal life begins the moment we accept the gift that came through Jesus. Have you ever taken a burned out light bulb to a repair shop? Nope. Those repairmen don’t exist. However, God’s gift of Jesus restores our light. Through Christ we can start hitting God’s intended purpose in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. We will never be perfect at it, but we will begin to have moments when we are doing exactly what God created us to do. And with time, as our faith grows, we will begin to string those moments together. Eventually, living by faith will become both our lifestyle and our challenge.
I have the privilege and the burden of being a spiritual leader. That means I have to talk about topics people find unpleasant (like sin) and challenge them to decide what they are going to do. To do nothing is a decision. I hope that is not your choice. Instead, I encourage you to accept God’s gift and let faith begin to grow.
A NOTE FOR PARENTS
The best place to define sin and discuss its outcome is at home with our children. Obviously, you want to use age appropriate language and communicate that God loves us even though we have sinned (a.k.a. He is not ticked off or angry with us because we have sinned). It is important for our kids to understand that when they sin they have not just disobeyed their parents, they have sinned against God. The danger and addiction of sin starts early, so the sooner they can grasp the concept of sin the better off they will be in turning away from it. I can’t stress this enough…find loving and affirming ways to discuss sin with your children. Never use God as a source of communicating your anger when your child misbehaves or makes a bad choice.