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.
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.