[Alert: graphic photo below]
We all feel the effects of sin; but the character of sin is not what many believers think it is. People DO sin, but not in the way many believers suppose. Sin has dire consequences, but not the ones many believers imagine.
Much of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament Pharisees, understood sin as infraction against God’s commands. Millions of believers today assume the same thing. But Jesus’ teaching and example contradict this perspective of sin. When we read about Jesus in the gospels we find that sin has to do with relationships.Sin is Pain and Alienation
Do you experience pain and alienation? Of course you do; all of us do. It begins when we are young and continues throughout our life. Some pain afflicts us through natural forces, like sickness or weather catastrophes, but our greatest pain is inflicted by people: relatives, bullies, thieves, haters, oppressors, abusers. Physical and emotional wounds are slow to heal, and ugly scars remain.
Unfortunately, Christians too often seem to foster these sinful results.
In addition to pain, alienation also impacts our lives. We are hurt and alienated when people treat us cruelly or unjustly. It can create physical and mental suffering, defensiveness, aloneness, insecurity, low self-esteem, desperation, and fear.
This is the essence of sin—people hurting other people.
Identity groups promote sin on a larger scale. As we collect ourselves into groups that oppose other groups we create massive sin in forms of hate, enmity, dehumanization, exclusion, and domination. This is a potent source of pain and alienation. Racism, discrimination, hate, hostility, and oppression produce magnified sin against other people. Sometimes the horror of our action against other people is beyond belief.
This is pain and alienation. This is sin.
Sin is offense against other people; sin is NOT infraction against God’s rules. Sin is an orientation, an attitude, a perspective toward others. While some pain and alienation is unintentional, much of it IS intentional as people are driven by such inner forces as power, greed, domination, fear, and selfishness.
Not all of us feel alienated from others to the same degree, but for some the pain and alienation is unbearable. But even worse is the feeling of alienation from God.
Alienation from God
When we feel alienated from God, as well as from other people, we can find ourselves in deep despair. And many people feel this alienation strongly; we even learn from Christian teachers that God is angry, demanding, and vindictive and that we can never measure up to his standards and expectations. We are told that God cannot even look at us because of our sin. We are even taught that he will punish us in hell-fire forever because we don’t measure up.
Of course this makes us feel helplessly alienated from God.
This view seems confirmed as we read parts of the Old Testament where God is said to issue commandments—strict commandments. Lots of commandments. And he is harsh with those who do not keep them.
But a significant part of the good news of Jesus is that none of this is true! God is not angry with us, instead he loves us very much—just as we are. All the alienation we feel is on our side; God is not alienated from us. And, rather than wanting us to keep a bunch of religious rules, God wants us to be reconciled to him and each other.
Kingdom Living Promotes the Opposite of Sin
Jesus tells of a Father who loves us all and wants to heal our pain and alienation and wants us to be at peace. Jesus does not give us commandments to follow but tells us to come to him for relief of our weariness and our burdens. Jesus is all about reconciliation.
Indeed, Jesus brought the good news of the kingdom of God—the persistent, growing influence of God’s will on Earth. Kingdom living is based on anti-power, anti-greed, anti-fear, anti-selfishness. The kingdom is an active, spreading influence—not an institution, organization, or network; it is not visible or identifiable. The kingdom is not at ‘war’ with anything or anybody; it is a quiet and growing influence that spreads God’s will on earth for peace, healing, love, and acceptance.
The foundation of the kingdom is love—love for each other; love for everyone; even love for our enemies who try to hurt us. The actions and attitudes that characterize the kingdom are opposite to sin: empathy, healing, reconciliation, love, acceptance, inclusiveness, service. These are not just emotional states but actions arising from our internalized identification with the Father’s love for everyone.
The Fallacy of the Story of Sin and Salvation: Common Baggage Version
The very substance of kingdom living makes trying to please God by keeping religious rules seem petty. Remember the story of sin and salvation—the common baggage version—that we talked about last time?
God created Adam and Eve in perfection. But then Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. God put curses on both of them, and everyone born since then carries Adam’s ‘original sin’ and is separated from angry God.
God is so holy he cannot even look at us because of our sin. And because we are guilty of sin against an infinite God, we must receive an infinite punishment. Therefore we are all on our way to eternal suffering in the fires of hell, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it.
However, God himself made a remarkable provision. He sent his own son to take our sin upon himself. At the crucifixion, God poured all his wrath from our sin upon Jesus, who was infinitely righteous; Jesus suffered the penalty of our sin for all of us. Therefore, if we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, God is able to look at us through the blood of Jesus and forgive our sin.
If we accept Jesus in the proper way, and separate ourselves from sin in our lives, we can avoid eternal suffering in hell and, instead, go to heaven when we die.
This story is a gross misunderstanding of sin and of the love of the Father toward us. Sin is pain and alienation we cause each other, and God’s desire is to heal us of that pain and alienation. Jesus invites us in Matthew 11:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
This is all we need do to begin healing: come to Jesus and begin to learn of him.
We will talk further of sin and salvation in upcoming posts. In order to understand the foundations of legalism, next time we will address the concepts of sin in the Old Testament.
Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness
The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?