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.

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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.

God, Christ, and “The Zygon Inversion”

GCaTZIPicI’m old enough to be your Messiah.” – the Doctor

Doctor Who is pretty much the last place you might expect to find a Christian message. It’s a show about aliens produced for a long time by a gay man in a country where the media often seems to go out of its way to make any sort of religion out as deluded idiocy.

Yet, while watching last weekend’s episode, “The Zygon Inversion”, I was struck by how much Christ imagery there was in it.

You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole new bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?” – the Doctor

As I was watching this, with my new cynical hat brought on by a semester of “Introduction to Worldviews”, I was thinking, “In the atheistic worldview espoused by Doctor Who, what reason, ultimately, would there be which could convince someone to turn the other cheek and not retaliate?”

It’s all very well to say – and, indeed, the Humanists do say – that we should live decent, moral lives. But what is a decent and moral life? What are morals? Modernist and postmodernist thought supposes that morals are dictated by traditions passed onto us by our ancestors and our community, and by our own emotions and the emotions of those around us.

If someone believes in evolution, then he has no reason to do this, to think about others. After all, evolution is all about the survival of the fittest. Living in community is a good idea for one’s own personal success as a being, but the belief system of evolution necessarily means that the “fitter” being can, justifiably, do anything in order to ensure his own survival. Evolutionist government have committed terrible atrocities, because, after all, why should we waste resources on “less fit” members of our community, like disabled people or those of “less evolved” races?

People today like to think that humans are inherently good and can live “good” and kind lives entirely of their own volition, and yet the most basic facts of their belief system mean that such a thing is impossible. Compassion for weaker and sicker beings is contrary to evolution. In a word with a fear of overpopulation, wouldn’t fighting and killing off some of the competition to your own survival be considered a good thing?

All this ran through my mind quite quickly as the Doctor was ranting, along with the inevitable parallels to Judeo-Christian teaching. Here are just a few of many examples, any of which might be used to replace the Doctor’s speech about cruelty.

“Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalm 34:14 (NKJV)

“Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” – Matthew 5:39 (NKJV)

“Repay no-one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:17,21 (NKJV)

What is it that you actually want?” – the Doctor

War.” – Bonnie

Ah. And when this war is over, when you have the homeland, free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? […] Well? Oh, you don’t actually know, do you? Because, just like every other tantrumming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want.” – the Doctor

What is sin but a tantrumming child rebelling against God’s guidance?

You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?” – Bonnie

You’re all the same, you screaming kids, you know that? ‘Look at me, I’m unforgiveable.’ Well, here’s the unforeseeable; I forgive you. After all you’ve done, I forgive you.” – the Doctor

This was the real “oh!” moment. If I ever preached another sermon (not planning to), I’d try to work this clip in as an illustration. Once we’re made aware of our sin, and we realise just how horrible we really are, we know that we don’t deserve forgiveness and we can’t expect forgiveness.

And yet, like the Doctor in this scene, God forgives us anyway. That’s the unforeseeable, to echo the line, that after all we’ve done, God forgives us.

You don’t understand. You will never understand.” – Bonnie

I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand!” – the Doctor

The Doctor goes on here to rant about the Time War, showing that he has experienced the same – he’s experienced worse – and he really does understand Bonnie’s position.

And isn’t that Jesus? He was God – He is God – and he didn’t have to come down and live as a human! He already had everything:

“[…] Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God […] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man…” – Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV)

So Jesus has experienced what we have experienced. He’s lived life as a human. He was born, He had a childhood, He learnt a trade. He’s had the human experience, so He can understand our position and where we’re coming from.

But then Jesus has done something we didn’t do, so we don’t have to; He actually died – in fact, was sacrificed – to make up for what we’ve done. The Doctor, in the episode, shares his experience and its consequences to stop Bonnie from having to go through the same; Jesus was a step ahead and went through our consequences for us.

All Scripture quotes from the New King James Version. All Doctor Who quotes from “The Zygon Inversion”, Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 6.

Reflective Paragraphs Week 6 – Galatians

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I’ve always felt something of a kinship to the Galatians, since they were actually a Celtic people who migrated from what is now France some time before the first century. For a while, I thought we were pretty closely related – after all, “Gaidheal” and “Gaelic” seem pretty similar to “Galatia” – before I realised that many Celtic peoples have a similar combination of letters, and the Gallaecians of Spain are certainly second- or third-cousins, being continental Celts, rather than a sister-people of the insular Celtic variety. So I suppose, since I know the Galatians are almost certainly of Gentile background, I found it rather surprising that Paul devotes quite a bit of this book to the discussion of the law. It seems that, after having become Christians through faith alone, someone had come along and convinced the Galatians that they needed to follow the Jewish law. At the end of Chapter 2, Paul repeats a speech he gave Peter, explaining why he didn’t believe Gentiles had to follow Jewish law, and at the end of Chapter 3, he explains what the purpose of the law was – to show us just how sinful we really are. By Chapter 5, Paul is explaining why Christians have only two great commandments: all others (the Ten Commandments, and the hundreds of elaborations in the Torah) are covered by these two.

Reflective Paragraphs Week 4 – Romans 12

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Beginning here and continuing for the next few chapters, it reads very like 1 Peter: “abstain from sin”, “serve God”, “submit to the government”, “be nice to each other”, “you have freedom”, and so weiter. Several verses are given to the discussion of the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, teaching, and such, while at least half a chapter is full of imperatives about behaviour and exactly how to act in various situations. Verses 9 and 21 form an inclusio around the section: “avoid evil, be filled with good”.