Christian LivingDoctrine

A robust view of sin

Having a robust view of sin helps us

It was a Monday morning – time for training with the ministry apprentices. We were encouraged to bring ministry-based questions to the table; we’d pick one from the pot, and then the staff member leading us would walk us through the principles necessary to navigate the question. The question that morning was, ‘What do you do when someone you’re caring for lies to you?’

I’ve continued thinking about the question in the time since that morning. It resurfaced again when the report on Ravi Zacharias’ misconduct[1] was released at the start of 2021. It ought to be said that Zacharias’ misconduct was much greater and more damaging than the event that had led to the above question being asked that Monday morning. But the principles were the same. What do you do when someone deceives you?

In order to understand the action, and cope with the fallout, we need to have a really robust view of sin. The Bible’s view of sin. That takes time and effort to foster, but I’m convinced it helps us in the moment, and beyond.

When we are affected by others

The answer that stuck out to me on that Monday morning was, ‘We must never be surprised when we find sin’. God is certainly never surprised by our sin. We do want to care for people with the best of intentions; assume the best as often as we can, and love people with a genuine heart. To do otherwise is to offer love insincerely. The challenge is, to love sincerely is to risk getting hurt, and humans are good at hurting each other, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Understanding that humans are sinful, and that despite our best intentions, we still sin against God and against each other, helps us cope in the moment. This act of deception or harm might have been intentional, it might not have been. It might have been personal, it might not have been. Either way, it’s here.

One of the analogies I often bring out for describing what sin is like is that it is like a cockroach. They’re hard to kill, they breed in concealed places, and you should never be happy about finding one in your house. At the same time, you’re never really surprised when you do find one in your house. Understanding what to expect with cockroaches in your house never makes the revelation easier, but it does help you to be prepared for when it happens.

Knowing that sin in some form is kind of inevitable doesn’t lessen the amount of damage that some of them cause. It should not be used to make light of serial, unrepentant, deeply harmful transgressions. But it helps to keep us from being blindsided or from withdrawing, and equips us to respond better.

When we find it in our own lives

I may have brought out the cockroach analogy too early. Like I said earlier, you’re never really surprised to find a cockroach in your house. Maybe that’s because I’m drawing on my own experience and I’ve lived in a lot of old sharehouses, but even when they’ve been nice, new places, where there’s a regular effort made on pest control, they still pop up.

When was the last time you felt like you messed up? We all have them. Sin in our own lives can be easy to find, or hard to find, depending on how blind we are to it at any given point in time. Some things can hang over us for a long time; others are there and gone.

Having a robust view of sin means that we learn to see sin as rebellion against God, that harms others in the process. Sometimes it might feel like this one thing isn’t harming anybody, but a wider perspective can end up telling us otherwise. Sometimes we do it unconsciously, but if we chalk up the most recent mishap as a ‘stupid mistake’ we can end up missing out on the bigger picture and absolve ourselves of responsibility. It’s possible to make mistakes that we should still take responsibility for – as nearly anyone who’s been at-fault in a car accident can attest to.

This is something we can also do with other people – deciding that they were simply a victim of the system, and so justifying the action. I suspect that it is significantly easier for us to do it for ourselves.

Once again, seeing sin clearly means that we aren’t surprised when it turns up in our own lives. When was the last time you felt properly convicted to change? If it’s been a while, there might be a reason for that. Our present reality means we are being grown to be more like Jesus, but we still have minds and bodies and natures that are prone to sin. If the Apostle Paul expected to face his own internal struggles, I think we’d do well to take a note from his book:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

– Colossians 3:1-6, ESV

Helps us appreciate grace

There are some things in life that we need to have knee-jerk reactions for – events where we need to be able to respond in the right way without getting swamped by the moment. It’s why we do things like fire drills – so that when the moment comes, we’ll have at least half an idea of what to do next.

There’s wisdom in training a knee-jerk reaction to being confronted with sin. As mentioned earlier, it keeps us from being so blindsided that we excuse it, or so hurt that we withdraw, or so angry that we lash out. It helps us in the moment to think hard about what to do next. When we are confronted by sin, we ought to run back to the foot of the cross. When we are confronted with sin in another’s life, we ought to call them to repentance. When we find sin in our own lives – however deep the roots run – we ought to preach the gospel to ourselves. The pattern is to confess, ask for a changed heart and actions, seek to put sin to death in our lives, and remember that no sin is too big for Jesus to forgive.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 1:8-2:2, ESV

I think the longer I hang out in ministry, the more sin I find, in my own life and in the lives of the people I care for. Some days it’ll knock the breath right out of you. But the more I look at it, the more I consider God’s grace at work in the lives of the people I care for, and his grace at work in my own life. This doesn’t make the offence not matter – but it draws my eyes to a perfect Judge who is able to be just in a way that I know I can never be. He sees our hearts, and is committed to changing them, even when we’re not. It teaches me to love Jesus more.

To have a robust view of sin is to understand that it is more than just the bad things people do. Sin is committed unintentionally and intentionally. It’s a fault common to every human. It is an offence against God, and it is offensive to God. It is deceptive. It manifests in different ways. It harms everyone it touches. It is right for God to judge it.

It is paid for at the cross. And we are justified in God’s sight when we trust that Jesus’ death was to pay for our sin.

Having a robust view of sin doesn’t make the revelation any easier. It doesn’t minimise it. But having clear eyes in the heat of the moment helps us to react well, and prepares us better for dealing with it, knowing that Jesus has or will deal with it better than we ever can.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:21-25, ESV