Friday, March 5, 2010

Lenten Series #16: That I Might Not Sin...

“Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
Psalm 119:11

This one bible verse that I have stored in my memory bank. I am horrible with memorizing scriptures, anything for that matter. It is difficult for me unless I can relate it to a particular event.  This verse, I remember because of my grandmother. She taught us a song to go with it, and I can hear her voice singing it to us. Remember this not just because she said it or taught it to us, but she lived this verse. Ask anybody who knew her! I remember when we were at church and folks ‘got the holy ghost’ and started shouting everywhere. We would be laughing and joking around. And she would say something along the line, “Don’t you dare laugh for your day will come, and I hope I am around to see it!”  And now anytime I ‘get happy’, well  once I get myself together, I think of her and laugh and smile.  She was not perfect, but to be honest, it is hard for me to think of a single bad thing she had done. Of course, because she was nanny, my grandma! “they word have a hid in my heart…” She always carried the bible with her wherever she went. I often wonder if she was around today would she have issues with my newfound view of God’s Word manifesting itself not just through the Bible (last blog) because from what I remember she fully believed that the bible was the infallible Word of God and that is it! See, I guess what I am trying to get to  is that my grandmother taught me a lot about God’s Word through the bible (bible studies, music,  sermons, traveling to do missionary work with her my grandfather and my cousin to Belize, Central America”, etc.) but I never really learned form her what sin is all about.  “that I might not sin against thee”… Maybe I was too young….

To be honest, I can’t remember when I first was given a definition of sin. I don’t even remember someone defining for me. Instead, I remember being told that lying was a sin, and stealing, and sexual misconduct were all sinful. Again, I don’t think it was until I went to seminary and was posed the question by my Systematic Theology Professor and again by my Baptist Studies professor, “What Is Sin?”

I have come to believe that sin is not something that we necessarily do, but a state of being that we find ourselves.  Sin is separation from God and therefore a lack of relationship with God. . From the beginning of time we were created to be in communion/fellowship/covenant with God. It is our willful act of disobedience that moves us from this fellowship with our Creator.  This separation I believe is not due to Adam and Eve, although I do understand, why the church seems to run to them when we talk about the original sin. However, I take that story to be part of our tradition of explaining and not necessarily what had happened.  I think too often we try to run to biblical stories instead of looking at our own mess and seeing how sin has manifested itself in our lives.  This separation happens daily when choose our own path and not in communion with God. 

I don’t believe you can talk about sin without exploring humanity’s relationship with God and each other.  As we examine our relationship with God, even if you don’t take the creation story and the fall story to be literal, you cannot deny that there has been a fracture in our relationship with God.  At some point in our individual lives we have either actively or passively isolated ourselves from the presence of God.  This could have been through our actions or even our thoughts that, at times, has eliminated God from the equation. In Essential of Christian Theology, Placher gives a quick view of sin from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s point of view. Niebuhr places sin in two categories, pride and sensuality;
“if we were truly faithful, we would trust totally in Gods love for us, and our anxiety would not lead to sin, but we are not, and so we cannot live comfortably as we are. We deny our freedom and submerge ourselves in finitude, refusing to take charge. Either (in the sin Niebuhr called pride) we try to deny our finitude and pretend we are all-knowing, all powerful- in short, God- or (in the sin Niebuhr called sensuality and Karl Barth called sloth) we  deny our freedom and submerge ourselves in  finitude, refusing to take charge of our lives.”[1] 

This helps to establish my viewpoint on the power of the relationship aspect of sin. He speaks on the need to trust and to be faithful. No relationship could thrive without these two things. However, sin, being the separation and lack of relational understanding, causes one to be in doubt of God’s love, to believe that they can make it without it, or that God’s love could not sustain them.  Trust is a two way street, and God trust us enough to give us dominion over the earth, yet we separate ourselves from God because of lack of trust and faithfulness.  

 Furthermore, Serene Jones defines sin as unfaithfulness; “to be in sin is to live in a state that opposes God’s will for our flourishing. Sin is thus a state, a general all-encompassing condition, not individual acts- though a state of sinful existence certainly gives rise to acts that can be called “sins””.[2] God’s will is for us to be in relationship with God and our neighbors. This relationship does not mean that we will not get mad at each other or decide to storm out of the room. But it does mean that we are committed to coming back and dealing with the frustrations. So again, it is not as easy to make a list and say these are sin, but it is a condition that we find ourselves in when lacking full communicational relationship with God. 

How do we know we are in sin? I believe we know this when God is farthest from our minds and we are so on our own plane and not considering the impact of our decision on God and our neighbor. Jones says “I only know sin because I have come to know Jesus Christ, by the intervention of grace and in him my sin is revealed to me. When I look at him, I see by contrast how far I, along with the rest of humanity, have fallen. He reveals sin to me because, in faith, he steps into the imaginative world of my sin-clouded mind and shows me what abundant life looks like.”[3] This excites me! I first like this because it is Christ who makes known my sin through examining my life by his. Secondly, it is made personal; therefore a reminder that I got to look at myself and not others. When I look at my life which is sin-clouded, it is not saying that I will always be in sin and separated from God, but I must constantly evaluate my relationship status. It is when I think that all is well and my relationship with God is top notch that I fall into self righteousness and further in sin. When I look at my life through Christ I see how far I have to go, and how God’s grace has kept me thus far.   

Again, sin is separation from God, anything that separates one from God. This definition has been formed by tradition and scripture. Tradition has placed sin in a formal list. I guess we get it from scripture based on the Ten Commandment (Exodus 20:2–17 & Deuteronomy 5:6–21), “Don’t do this”, and “Don’t do that”. Sin always seems to be based on a quantitative assessment, which includes those items  Paul mention that will not get one into the kingdom of God(1 Corinthians 6:9-11. I do become very weary when the church begins to define sin with particular actions. It is not the actions that are sinful but the mindset we are in when we do things. The Ten Commandments are not a list of sins for us not to commitment, but it is recognition of those things we must do and be mindful if we are to be in right relationship with God and our neighbors. “Thus we misunderstand the depth of sin if we see it merely as a violation of a moral code, a deviation from conventional behavior, doing something commonly considered “bad””.[4]  We are really good at evaluating  moral code and determining what is good or bad’ however, we lack the sense to see that any behavior is a cause of a deeper problem, and this problem of sin stems form a lack of  trust and  being in right relationship with God and neighbor.

Again I emphasize that from the beginning of time we were created to be in communion/ fellowship/covenant with God. Sin becomes those things that get in the way having a right relationship with God.  My home church never fully addressed or discussed sin beyond the normal Christian vernacular, but often use the terminiology  of “being in right relationship with God”.  For some sin is also anything that makes you want to or is the reason for you  missing church on Sunday. This can be from Saturday night activities to plain ol’ laziness. Although you will frequently here Romans quoted “All have sinned and come short…”  This form of sin, the not being in right relationship with God, was spoken from the pulpit, but the church used sidebar conversations or gossip, to determine what was a sin and what was not. 

For instance, my pastor would never say (or atleast from what I recall) from the pulpit premarital sex was a sin, but the way the church treated teens that were pregnant was truly evidence of the churches view on such matters.  As long as your sin is hidden tradition says that it is all good, but when it becomes public that is when it becomes a problem for all.   I believe that we must reexamine the message we send to our youth and those who have just entered into the Christian faith, when we place sins on some kind of measurement. We must encourage all to examine their relationship with God and with their neighbor and to use the life of Christ as the litmus test. 

What does using Christ as the litmus test actually mean? This remains a question for me. But I do know that Christ looked at the women who they called sinful, and instead of talking to her first, he simply wrote with his finger a message to the crowd, “the one who has not sin go ahead and cast the first stone.”(Michael’s paraphrase of John 8:7)  It is funny how Jesus knew they were hypocrites and yet we fail to see it within ourselves.  When all the people were gone, Jesus looked at this woman and told her “the hypocrites have left, I see. My child, I wont condemn you, but go and sin no more.  Go and have a right relationship with God, go and live as a testament to the one who has set you free.”(Michael’s paraphrase of John 8:10-11)

I often wonder who is going ot be in heaven when my time comes to meet Jesus at the gate. Somehow deep in my heart I know that woman will be there…


Peace, Love, and Prosperity,

[1] William C.  Placher,  Essentials of Christian Theology, 139.
[2] William C.  Placher,  Essentials of Christian Theology,  149.
[3] William C.  Placher,  Essentials of Christian Theology,  155.
[4] Daniel Migliore,  Faith Seeking Understanding, 151.

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