Lent 2016

Disagreeing With The “Sin Problem”?

Any number of my incredibly fortunate readers (ROFL) will note that my most recent post was sort of a play on the theme of “sin” and how we are to deal with S.I.N. rightly. As the reader also knows, I used an acrostic (Secularism, Individualism, Nationalism) to better provide people with a short-hand method for spotting the roots of where the contra-kingdom voices announce their false-gospel from, commanding an allegiance to a false-liturgy that only leads to severe misunderstanding and, ultimately, destruction. Out of all three, one of those topics was individualism.

Individualism is a recognizable mark for Western culture. And surely, it is the primary mark of a free people. This focus on self is one of the predominate issues of our day, but make no mistake, I place great emphasis on personal development in the meetings I have with people, and of course in my own life. Personal development is key if we are to see the kind of healing and change in the world that Jesus calls us, the people of God, unto. So, make no mistake about what I believe. Therefore, this is and is not a response to my former post on S.I.N. Although, it is parasitic on the other, so if you haven’t read that one, go and do that first before you tackle the ideas I am about to put forth here.

Well…

One of my pet peeves is the mixing of problems and solutions. For example, one could see that their loved one is an alcoholic, so they label the problem alcohol. The obvious solution becomes to stop drinking. But when the problem is agreed upon, which it usually is for those who have experience with addiction, the solution never quite sticks, and the problem shifts from alcohol to something else. The person remains an addict, but the behavior changes, only to set the person up for another wave of moral failure. Take for another example, Islamic terrorism. We in the West know what the problem seems to be: jihad. So, we continue with our solution spewing: “Kill the jihadists,” the pundits proclaim. “the problem is jihad and we have to confront it with carpet bombing and risk the lives of innocents to do it!” Well, I’m not sure that works because, you see, the more we implement our “solution,” the more muslims become radicalized and the more frustrated we (Americans), and our accrual of debt, becomes. Now what is the “fix” for these two situations?

As previously stated in my two examples, I showed how labeling alcoholism and jihad the problem doesn’t work then one shifts the addiction to something else and the other is never understood, so the cycle continues. But what if nothing changes because we falsely label something a problem where the other person labels a solution? I want to argue that if the alcoholic is helped to discover the actual problem (depression, sadness, a lack of vision) and if the West could see that jihad — in its violent manifestations — is a people’s solution to a different problem (extreme loss, hunger, poisoned water supply from american bombs, and an orphaned generation) then we might find a true solution that works. The same is with what we (the church) normally mean by”sin.”

Too many people have bought, hook-line-and-sinker, that sub-biblical truth that says “sin is the problem.” And so the solution we have come up with is that Jesus is the solution. And I even agree that Jesus is the solution, but I don’t share the view that “sin” is the metaphysical “problem,” because it may mean that even though we agree on the solution (Jesus!) this implicates the sole act of Jesus’ ministry, and consequently the only one worth focusing on, to be His death on a Roman cross. This is like taking the apostles creed and making it a rubric for teaching new believers, which was never the point! First, this view of problems seeking solutions makes the issue all about me. So once again, the individual — not Christ — is made the center of the divine struggle. And this, of course, has led to all kinds of atonement theories which reduce the very life of Jesus into a sub-set of moral principles that must bow before the need of God to save individuals from their “sin” problem. Although, allow me to be clear, the ministry of Jesus in the renewal of the heart truly is a close second to the renewal of the covenant. Specifically, this is telling of the covenant with Israel which would then heal the nations, if pursued [1].

What does this mean for “sin?” Thus far, I have tried to show how what we normally mean by “sin” is too self-focused, and the fruit of western individualism, not of the New Testament. And if that is not the problem (and yes, I do think that “sin” was dealt with on the cross, forever!), then what is? Sin is the solution to a different kind of problem.

“…we may simply note that the question of abstract moralism, in which human beings try from scratch to make themselves good enough for acceptance with God, or to earn his favor, is not something that would have been particularly familiar to Paul, Jesus, or their hearers. For a Jew, the context of behavior was of course the covenant. For Jesus, I suggest, the context of behavior was the renewal of the covenant. The story of the Kingdom was designed to generate the praxis of the kingdom [2].”

The real problem is death. Man ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and man in His true likeness of God, died. Dead. Caput. Finished. Before the Covenant made with Abraham, there was no (and never was there – in scripture) emphasis on how this individual was morally good and this individual morally repugnant. There was only the righteous and the unrighteous. And “righteousness” was accredited to Abraham. Why? Not because he trusted in the saving death of Jesus, but because the “righteous” man partners with God in the restoration of all things! It is not as though the early church was ignorant of this truth found in Abraham, they simply saw that through trusting Jesus they were caught up in the righteous plan of God amongst the nations, in such a way that Abraham merely dreamed of such things (Hebrews 11:13). Which reminds me: How have we partnered with God in the restoration of all things? Let us listen to the Apostle Paul:

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 6:20-23

In this portion, Paul is addressing Gentile believers just before he addresses Jewish believers who “know” the law (Romans 7:1). He says to them that “you,” which is corporate-speak, were slaves to “sin,” but this was because of “your” subjection to death. And how are they to be freed from “death” and bound to righteousness? A saving death found in the person of Jesus, Israel’s true Messiah. So, according to Paul, the real problem seems to be death, a problem no one person could possibly avoid or deal with. But all of a sudden the solution pokes its head up from beneath the years of neo-lutheran interpretation: The Kingdom of God, which Paul titles in this passage “eternal life.”

As I have stated before, the Kingdom is God’s true reality, and all else is parody*. It is the future reality of God’s new earth being laid hold of and exercised in the present reality of sin, and pain, and joyfully engaged in the midst of suffering and persecution. And it is the Kingdom man or woman who does not live in a false reality where that which is before them is not the way they see it: If someone is dying of cancer, they are dying of cancer. If a person is wallowing in depression, they are depressed. These things are true, but it is the Kingdom agenda that confronts these things for what they are and makes a challenge to the reality of their existence. If one is addicted to porn, for example, the solution is not to stop (although it is a hope!), but the solution get a bigger vision for their life because the problem is the opposite. It is then that the addiction seems to recede, like the undertow pulling water from the soaking beach.

The proclamation of the Kingdom-Gospel is the proverbial foot in the door before death fully seizes the sick situation. And aren’t we all aware of death? Of course we are. One of the definitions of Philosophy could be the doctrine of salvation apart from salvation, determined to liberate the individual from the fear of death [3]. But whether or not we agree with this definition of how human beings are to love wisdom, it is a symptom of an agreed upon problem that the world senses, and the church is slow on the uptake.

So when the problem is rightly identified as death, then all of a sudden the life of Jesus makes sense. Why go through the trouble of living after your birth, if the only event bearing consequence is your death for all of mankind? All of a sudden, the complete unveiling of heavens agenda is made clear: Jesus came to do more than simply remove your sin from you. He came to put the world to rights, and the only way He can do that is if hearts are healed, and a new people take up that same heartbeat for the nations again. Heaven’s agenda will never been fully realized in the sub-biblical truth of the great problem of “sin,” but it can be realized if we take up a fully biblical understanding of all of the implications to the life, as well as the death, of Jesus, the one they called Messiah.

And by the way, the world knows the problem is death. Therefore, we can begin with them and not against them. Too often we want them to get it through their heads how utterly sinful they are, but do we turn the microscope on ourselves? Aren’t we a mixed bag of failures and successes? Of course we are, but the difference is that we have a narrative that gives true “eternal life” in the here and now, not simply when we die. And that, my friends, is the solution the world has been waiting to hear. So, as the picture above suggests, let us not be afraid to get a little dirt underneath our fingernails in the work of the gospel.

[1] Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God, 283-284

[2] Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God, 280

[3] Ferry, A Brief History of Thought

*I owe this thought to N.T. Wright, whom I have quoted extensively in this post already.

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