How Does the Gospel Fix Sin?

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on sin. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2. The prompt given was “write a reflection on your understanding of sin and how the Gospel provides freedom from the negative impact and consequences of sin”. Submitted June 2016.

Well, we all know that sin is bad news and that the Gospel is good news, and that somehow the latter cancels the former out, or at the very least ameliorates it. That’s the basic message, anyway, which we’re studying so hard to be able to broadcast around.

But how does that work, exactly? For a prompt which seems so simple, it’s actually very complicated, and it needed a lot of thought before anything even resembling an understanding of the whole process could be come to. So, then, I’ve started with the “basics”:

What is Sin?

Sin, to my no doubt limited understanding, is a wilful rebellion against God and against His intentions for humanity. It is not merely an action, nor a collection of various actions, as in the popular view, or is it even the mere contemplation of or will to carry out these actions, as is often described based on Matthew 5:28.

Sin is a basic condition which we have, an impulse perhaps: to reject God and everything He is and says He is, and to suspect everything He says He is and wants for us.

What are the Consequences of Sin?

If sin is a rebellion against God, who He is, and His intentions for humanity, then the consequences of sin must be related to these things against which we are rebelling. The loss, as I can see it, is twofold.

Firstly, we experience a loss of or a lack of understanding of who God is and of what He intends for us. Having rejected God and gained a suspicion of what or who He is and says He is, we no longer have the knowledge of these things, and what little knowledge we do have is tainted by our own rejection and suspicion of that very knowledge.

Secondly, we lack the experience of who God is and of what He intends for us. Having attempt to separate ourselves from God, we no longer have the close and intimate relationship with Him which Adam and Eve had in the Garden. Not only have we lost this relationship, God’s original intention for us, but we are not able by our own power to reattain it, either presently or for eternity.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the good news of God’s attempts at the reparation of this broken relationship through Himself reaching out to us in the form of Jesus Christ. Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilled and negated one of the more visible consequences of sin – the wages or punishment for it. Jesus, in living a blameless life, demonstrated to us how we might live in a close relationship with God.

The Gospel and our Understanding of God

Through Christ’s actions as the ultimate sacrifice, we learn in the Gospel that God still wants us. He hasn’t rejected us as we have rejected Him simply because we have done so! Instead, He is actively seeking to restore us to how we were, which is what He had intended for us in the first place.

Through the lifestyle which Jesus led, we can learn how to live a relationship with God. We might, as He did, pray, and thereby converse with God in some semblance of the way in which Adam and Eve did. We might, on the other hand, fast as He did, taking the time for a silence in a wilderness, be it literal or metaphorical, in order to listen for God’s responses. We might practice many other aspects of Jesus’ life, such as living a simply existence, or biding our time, holding our tongue, and listening; or many other things which might allow us, just for a moment, to know, understand, and embrace God.

At the same time, we may be secure in the knowledge that all of this isn’t merely one-sided and futile attempts at holiness on our part, but that God is still reaching out to us, and that He is using these small strivings of ours to change us, to fix us, and to rebuild us into something which might one day be able to enter into His presence and to worship Him for eternity.

The Gospel and our Understanding of the World

In understand God and what He is trying to do in us through the Gospel, we are able better to understand ourselves; to understand who we are, what we are, and what we’re meant to be. However, with this understanding, we may see our origins in the Garden and our relationship then with God and to each other; but then we may look around the world and see that it is actually nothing like that.

We know, of course, by now, what happened: we rebelled, and the Fall happened. Nevertheless, even as we might try to reattain – with God’s help – that relationship which we had with Him before the fall, is it possible that we might try to reattain that relationship which we had to each other?

As it turns out, this is also something which God has demonstrated to us through Christ Jesus. In fact, for all the we see Jesus praying, fasting, or anything else of that nature, He says and does a lot about how we might live with one another, and of what we might do with all that God has given us.

One thing which we have lost, in rejecting God, is a good understanding of His lordship – His authority – over everything, the creation, and us. In our self-centred sinful state, we see that everything that we have as a reflection of ourselves, and not a reflection, as we should, of God and of His generosity. Through an observation of Jesus’ lifestyle and words, we may not only better know and embrace God, but we may also understand Him, our position to Him, and the position of both to everything and everyone else.

The Gospel and our Understanding of Ourselves

With the good news of the Gospel, we are able to look at the bigger picture: our origins in the Garden, our rebellion and the Fall, and God’s intention for a close relationship with us, both now and in eternity. On the other hand, we might also look at the small picture of the individual.

We must not underestimate the effect which our childhood and upbringing, our family both immediately and extended, present and past, have had on us. After all, we are born into a family, and this context shapes our understanding even before we can talk, just as the context of our parents or those who raise us is formed by their families. The Bible tells us that iniquities continue on to the third and fourth generation, a seeming contradiction to the words which say that children don’t bear the punishments meant for their parents and vice-versa, but a simply look at one’s family will explain this apparent conceptual problem. Habits, situations, and mentalities of parents – and the effects thereof – become so deeply ingrained in the child that he passes them on to his own children. There are aspects of our personalities, although learnt rather than innate traits, which we have inherited from our parents, grand-parents, and even great-grand-parents.

On the other hand, these effects and close bonds may teach us something else, because what is there which is more reflective of God than a close and loving relationship with another person? If God’s will for us is that we might spend eternity with Him, and if the Gospel is a demonstration of His act to enable this future, then our families provide the perfect place to discover close and loving relationship with others and how we might be in them.

An effect of the Gospel, of course, is the formation of the Church, groups of believers worshipping together. Relationships with other believers and unity in worshipping groups form a major emphasis of many writings in the New Testament. God has given us not only our biological families with whom we might form close and loving relationships, but the much wider Church family also.

In Conclusion

Sin is a rebellion against God and against His intentions for us, an underlying condition in all of us which prevents us from both understanding and experiencing God, a relationship with Him, a relationship to the world and to each other, and our futures with God. Sin creates suspicion and separates us from everything which most matters.

The Gospel shows us both how God has acted to restore us to Him and how we might live in order to reattain something of the relationships for which He intended us.

Firstly, we have been shown how to live in a relationship with God, through prayer, fasting, and other disciplines which might help us to embrace Him and He to embrace us.

Secondly, we have been shown how God has lordship over us, over everyone else, and over all of creation. We must understand that the material wealth which we have is not a reflection of us, but of God’s great generosity for us, and we must use it in a way which reflects the true ownership of this material wealth – ownership by God.

Thirdly, having understood our origins and past, both personal and familial, and how this effects both our present life and our future eternity, we see that we have been placed in a position where we might both learn a little more of God’s nature but also prepare for eternity in relationship with God by practicing with close and loving relationships with family both biological and spiritual in the present.

Through the Gospel, we have been shown how we might remove ourselves just a little from the consequences of sin, and return in some fashion to a close relationship with God.

If We are Sinful, How Can We be Capable of Doing Good?

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on sin. You can also read Part 1 and Part 3. The prompt given was “if we are sinful, how can we be capable of doing good?”. Submitted May 2016.

In order to answer this question, we must first define the terms used. What does it mean to be sinful? And what does it mean to do good? The popular understanding of the term “sinful” implies that one does bad things, which necessarily precludes the idea of “doing good”. I contend that this isn’t an accurate understanding of sin.

Sin is wilful rebellion against God and His intentions for humanity. To see sin as merely an act is to take a very shallow and superficial view of it. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:28 that the thoughts of the heart are just as sinful as the actions of the body.

I like to think of sin in terms of the Anglican prayers of preparation and of repentance. Once we have heard the two commandments, we pray, “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” A few minutes later, we also pray, “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, and in what I have failed to do…”

This is a very powerful statement on the nature of sin. It makes explicit that sin begins with the thoughts, and progresses to our words and deeds (or lack thereof). It reminds us that God doesn’t look at our actions, but at the thoughts and intentions behind those actions.

So, if we are sinful, how are we capable of doing good? The sin occurs in the thoughts behind the deed, and not in the deed itself. Many deeds that we see as “sins” are merely consequences of the thoughts. We might perform a deed which would be seen externally – by other humans – as being a good thing. We might do great things to help others. But our intention behind doing them – even if we are not aware of it – is never entirely altruistic. We always have thoughts of what we might gain from what we are doing, and these thoughts of benefits to the self provide, to a great or lesser extent, the motivation for performing any deed.

God, unlike other humans, sees not just our actions but the intentions behind those actions; our hearts are open books to him, and he knows our desires and sees our secrets, even the ones we hide from ourselves. While we might do good things, and we might think we are doing them for pure reasons, we will always “fall short of the mark”, to use a somewhat more literal translation of the Hebrew verb CTA (“to sin”). Thus, even though humans are capable of doing good in relation to other human beings, we cannot live up to God’s standards.

What is Sin?

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on sin. You can also read Part 2 and Part 3. The prompt given was “explain sin to a 12-year-old”. Submitted May 2016.

What is sin? Maybe you’ve heard the word before. Maybe you’ve heard it at church – we tend to say “sin” a lot at church, but we don’t often say what it means. The truth is, “sin” is a bit of a tricky concept.

What do you think sin is? A lot of people think sin is doing bad things. For the most part, when you do something bad, like stealing, or hurting someone, then that is a sin.

But sin isn’t just something you do. You can also sin in what you think. Do you think it would be a sin to hate someone? Just hate them. You haven’t done anything to them, and you probably won’t do anything to them, but you just really, really hate them. You won’t talk to this person, but you glare at her behind her back. Have you sinned then?

Jesus says you have. In the Bible, in the book of Matthew, in Chapter 5, Jesus tells us that if we’re angry with someone, especially if we don’t really have a good reason to be, then it’s just like if we murdered them! What do you think of that? Have you ever been angry with someone? I know I have. Sometimes we don’t think it’s really sinning to be mad at someone, we don’t really think it’s a bad thing, but according to Jesus, it’s just like if we’d killed them, and we all know that’s a bad thing.

But what about being disobedient to our parents? I’m sure we’ve all done that. We know that our mother or our father wants us to do one thing, but because we don’t want to do it, we do something else.

That’s a bit like what sin is like. God is our father, our parent. He knows what’s best for us, but usually we decide to do something else anyway. We rebel against him. Sometimes we mean to do it, but sometimes we don’t really, but usually we end up doing something God doesn’t want us to do, because of that little voice in the back of our minds saying, “But I don’t want to!”

You’re not the first person to feel like this. In fact, the first person was Eve, way back in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had the best relationship with God ever. Have you ever had a time when you get on really well with your parents? Maybe you’ve spent an afternoon with them, and just had the best time ever. No-one got into an argument. Okay, maybe not. But that’s what it was like for Adam and Eve in the Garden, talking to God every day.

Then Satan said to Eve, “Do you really think God wants the best for you? Don’t you think you know better what’s best for you?” And that’s when it started. That’s when we started rebelling against God, and doing what we thought was right, not what He knew was best for us.

So what is sin? Is it when we do something bad? Is it when we hurt someone? Is it when we’re just angry at someone?

Sin is when we know what God says we should do, but we decide to do something else instead. It’s when we ignore what God tells us, because we think it’ll be more fun to do something else. It’s when we’re too busy thinking what we want, and doing what we want, that we don’t really pay attention to what God’s telling us. It’s even when we do something God wants, but when we do it because we want to, and not because He wants us to.

Sin is when we think about ourselves and what we want, rather than about God.

Thought of the Day #12

[New Reception, upon arriving in Chapel and sitting down] “Is this where God lives, Mrs Rachel?”

[Me] “Well, it’s where we come to visit Him.”

——————–

[Another New Reception] “Wow, it’s a big building. And old! How old is it, Mrs Rachel?”

[Me] “I don’t know exactly. But it’s very old. You know, there’s a stone outside that says how old it is. Chaplain Paula might know. Chaplain Paula, do you know how old this building is?”

[Chaplain] “Very old. I would say at least more than a hundred years old.”

[New Reception #2] “Wow! How does it still standing up?”

[New Reception from previous quote] “Because this is where God is! He does it still standing up!”

[New Reception #2] “It must be really good built.”

Realisation of an Unreasonable Hope: A Response to Visions of the Future

What is attractive about these two presentations of the future? What assumptions drive these two presentations of the future? What is wrong with these two presentations of the future? How much hope do they really provide, and how does the Bible’s hope for the future offer something better?

Yes, my response is just a tad sarcastic, and liberally peppered with rhetorical questions.

Why is the future always some dusky half-twilight? Paul McCartney is very idealistic, and tells us that we only need believe and we will achieve everything. It’s all down to us, and we own the future. Are the graphics some part of his subconscious telling him that it’s hopeless if it’s all down to us?

I’m a little concerned about there being a planet that close. Wouldn’t that cause some sort of serious geological disruption? Why is the sky so clear, if we’re as industrialised as all that? Why, if we have so much technology, are we incapable of making a holographic projector which doesn’t flicker?

In the second video, we’ve given up on this planet entirely, and we’re leaving cryogenically. I’m not sure why the people woke up before landing, rather than once they actually got to the planet, but the second video was more depressing than the first. Like my classmates, I was shocked by the image of the scanning of the wrist. As one said,

“I wonder if the producers realise that the scan of the wrist and/or hand for information that determines the outcome of your present life is actually prophesied in the Bible?”

Both videos seem to be trying to be optimistic and failing miserably. They’re trying to posit to us the idea that human achievement is infinite, and in the future, we’ll somehow be able to fix everything, start afresh, reach unimaginable heights of greatness. We’ll have all the technology we can, we’ll reach other planets, we’ll get through the wars and have peace.

To an extent, this is true. We will get through the wars and have peace, it’s just that that peace will be with God, after His triumph. It’s not all down to humans, and it never could be. And I think the makers of the videos realise this, because they portray a future of desolation just as much as they do a future of hope.

Something needs to change in this picture, because the one being presented doesn’t work. But only one thing need be added to make the hope plausible: God.

The Problem of Clarity, and What it Means to Be a Christian

Read this article on what it means to be a Christian, and use the following questions to guide your discussion. Do you have any difficulties with this article? What do you agree with in this article? How does the author seek to convince you of his position? How do good works fit with genuine faith, and is this essential for being a Christian?

Isn’t it fascinating how a lack of clarity in terminology can have such effects on the understanding and even formation of a doctrine? In the article, we have two very important words which today are used with such a range of meaning that it is almost impossible to determine what exactly is meant by them: “Christian” and “salvation”.

In order to clarify the meaning of one, I must clarify the meaning of the other. “Salvation” is an ongoing process beginning with confession and justification and continuing through multiple steps, as discussed in my previous post (which isn’t posted here because it was overall convoluted, shoddy, and difficult to follow). One of these steps is “sanctification”, the process of becoming more like Christ – a process which might also be called “discipleship”. Since in the New Testament, the term “Christian” is used (only once, as far as I can recall, in Acts 26:28) to refer to a disciple of Christ, a “Christian” is then a person who has repented and been justified, the beginning of the process of salvation which continues with sanctification.

In common usage, however, “salvation” commonly refers only to the events of justification and adoption, which take place at belief and confession; while the author seems at least to understand “salvation” as a larger, ongoing work… at first (more on that later).

The author states, in rebuttal to some unknown and unnamed evangelists, that “confessing Jesus [saying a sinner’s prayer] does not make you a Christian” and nor will it “grant you eternal salvation”. In response to Romans 10:9-10 (“confess with your mouth and believe with your heart…”), he states Matthew 7:21-23 (“depart from me, I never knew thee…”).

I disagree with the author. Romans 10:9-10 is specifically two-parted – speaking with the mouth and believing with the heart. The persons condemned in Matthew 7:21-23 have done only the first of these, confessing Jesus outwardly but not inwardly. These are “mouth-Christians” who – I agree with the author – are not Christians. Romans 10:9-10 makes clear that both outward and inward confession of Jesus is required for “salvation” (adoption and justification) to occur, setting the confessor on the path of sanctification, part of the ongoing process of salvation.

The author also says that “confessing Christ is a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation”. I disagree, and say that it is both – the result of salvation (election and grace) and the cause of salvation (justification, then sanctification, then glorification). At first, the author seemed to be using “salvation” as a synonym for “adoption”, but here, he seems to be using it as a synonym for “election”!

The author also deals with works, juxtaposing the two passages of Galatians 2:16 (justification by faith, not by works) and James 2:17 (“faith without works is dead”). His explanation, while holding the unclarity typical of the entire article, seems to be heading towards the idea that Galatians refers to works as a means of justification, while James refers to works as evidence of sanctification.

In the second section of the article, the author explains that “there are five characteristics that are required for someone to rightly call themselves a Christian: repentance, faith, works, the Holy Spirit, and love. Lacking any of these will place that person outside of being a Christian.” Not only do I disagree with this last statement, but the author’s explanation of these five things is (typically) unclear, and his ordering of them could also be improved.

First, the author’s view of “faith” as a characteristic seems to include two parts: belief that one’s sins are forgiven, and belief in Christ’s work; and he states that the former comes from the latter. In this, I agree, and place “repentance” in the middle – thus, belief in the reality of Christ’s work, repentance of sins, and faith in the resultant forgiveness (in justification and in adoption).

Again, the author describes good works – and love – as evidence of one’s Christian-ness. “You cannot accept God without the Holy Spirit”, he says, and “you know someone has the Spirit of God when they have love”. To this first I would agree, insofar as we would be incapable of understanding – or following through on – anything without the help of the Spirit.

However, the author goes on to say, “genuine repentance, faith and good works come from the heart. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes the heart to have these desires in the first place. That is what is meant by being ‘born again’.” Perhaps it is merely my understanding of the term “born again”, but I disagree. To my understanding, being “born again” is what happens when one confesses and believes in Christ – namely, adoption into God’s family and regeneration into new life (represented for our tangible understanding in baptism). The Spirit may aide us in believe, in genuine repentance, and in perseverance through faith in forgiveness, but this aide does not constitute being “born again”, which is what God does in and for us – through Christ – after our repentance.

Overall, in dissection, there are few points in the article in which I disagree with the author. However, in putting them all together, we come up with some rather different pictures. Then again, as I’ve mentioned, his picture is rather unclear and I’m not entirely certain what it is. He uses copious quotes from the Bible in order to convince us of his position on each point, but does not put the points together very well.