It almost feels like a sin to mention sin these days.
The Christian Scriptures (especially expanded in the books of Genesis and Romans) describe us all as deeply flawed from birth, and it gets worse--God is unhappy with these fundamental flaws.
Our first parents sinned and the poison of that rebellion passed to all of their progeny. The fatal flaw of sinfulness passed like a rogue gene from soul to soul, generation to generation.
So we’re not malfunctioning machines that need a little fixing through education, economics or evolution. We’re fugitive traitors who need forgiveness and freedom from the nagging guilt that haunts us.
But this makes many of us grow skeptical and we shift in our spiritual seats.
Rather than side-stepping the existence and centrality of sin, let’s listen to what Jesus says about sin.
Luke 5:30-32 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
When modern people hear the word sin, they find it deeply off-putting. Maybe you do too.
Many of my unbelieving friends and yours reason this way: “It’s not right to judge other people who are fundamentally flawed. It’s not right to condemn others who live in a self-serving way seeking personal happiness. The right thing to do for a flawed friend is to have compassion.”
The irony is that our culture doesn’t like sin because the idea itself sounds self-righteous, immoral and sinful.
When outsiders to the Christian story hear a Christian talk about sin, what they hear the Christian saying is “I have the right to judge people for their flaws, because I am better than other people.”
While there might be some limited truth to that conclusion, with all due respect to reality, even if you meet a sinful, misinformed Christian spouting his supposed superiority, this is not what the Christian doctrine of sin is teaching.
According to the book of Romans, all of us are born sinners-we are born into a sinful condition- and we all sin according to that tragically bent nature.
This may strike you as viscerally unpleasant but that’s actually how the story goes.
Did you get that? We are born into a sinful condition (see Romans 5). Wait! You might object: “How can a person be judged if they are not at fault?” We reason that a person should be blamed only if they personally choose to do wrong.
But what if sin is not just making bad choices. What if sin is more of a condition like a terminal disease? Jesus considered us all as sinners stuck in the universal condition of sin, in desperate need of his saving.
Jesus reasoned that a sin-sick person, circling the drain of death needs a doctor who will supply the sin- saving antidote.
Psalm 51 and the book of Romans explain that Sin is a basic inborn condition like a diseased spiritual heart. Its desires are distorted and tilted toward the wrong.
Theologians describe this original sin as a pair of glasses that we all wear with scratches on the lens. We look out at the world but our spiritual vision is flawed. We then specifically sin as we seek to order reality around our self-focused vantage point.
Sin is a condition like gravity and has heavy consequences.
And deep down, our sin-shirking culture actually believes in sin after all.
Theologian Simeon Zahl thinks that our scientific society conveniently re-labels sin as cognitive bias. Have you heard that term? Social scientists study mass culture and have found empirical evidence that proves that humans are self-centered, self-oriented, and self-seeking.
This scientific finding is about as surprising to the Christian, submitted to the story of Scripture and aware of their own sinfulness, as a study that proves that ice is cold or that the sun is hot.
One cognitive bias, the Fundamental Attribution Error, is the fact that collective humanity attributes good things that happen to us to our own efforts and bad things that happen to us to extrinsic, outside sources.
Moreover, the Fundamental Attribution error attributes bad things that happen to others to the bad attributes of another, rather than outside influences.
For instance, if I get a promotion, it is because of my own good effort. But if I don’t get the promotion, it’s due to the negative outside forces like my terrible boss or the system. But if my buddy doesn’t get promoted then it’s clearly due to his laziness. We maintain the erroneous view that we’re awesome despite the truth.
Christians would call this hypocritical, two-faced, biased thinking sin. But our scientifically baptized culture washes the category of sin out of the picture and renames sin as bias.
Here’s just one more cognitive bias, Post-purchase Rationalization: We are highly disposed to view our decisions, in retrospect, as a good ones. Even in the face of evidence that proves our decision to be poor, we refuse to see it that way.
Christians would call this the sin of pride or vainglory.
The pastor Thomas Cranmer wrote, “What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”
And we are all born with sinful hearts.
Racism, murder and greed get us all listening and open us up to the possibility of sin, but we can slightly miss the point here. Those are bad things that other people do to other people.
I suggest sharing the universal findings of cognitive bias with our skeptical friends who scoff at sin. None of us are off the hook when it comes to sin.
Sin, in the end, is a crucial puzzle piece that explains how the entire story of Christianity fits together.
If I may be so bold, the doctrine of sin is fundamental to the understanding of every other doctrine or teaching in Christianity. For instance, why did Jesus need to come as a Savior? Because sin against our good God actually leads to death. Jesus died so that our sin would be pardoned forever.
Last time I checked, death is still not a good thing but forgiveness and favor from a friend I betrayed is highly valued.
And when a person is physically dying there are suffering symptoms that attend the dying process.
Spiritual symptoms of sin and its deadly effects have always been guilt, despair, and the abiding feeling of personal worthlessness.
Martin Luther said that knowledge of sin is a true feeling and serious struggle of the heart. Only belief in Christ relieves our condition of sinfulness and the emotional symptoms of terrorizing guilt.
But what if you don’t feel your condition of sin or the terrors of the consequences of your specific sins?
A person poisoned from birth won’t feel things the way they were meant to.
Have you numbed your sin with substances, distraction or stuff? Has your conscience become so calloused that sin against God and others no longer wrecks you?
This could be the most dangerous symptom of sin yet. Like when a dying person finally goes unconscious and cannot feel the doom of his crumbling condition.
Jesus brings hope. He came to call sinners to change their mind about sin.
He is still calling sinners to admit their sinful condition and accept his antidote of unearned approval through the death of Jesus in the face of their fundamentally flawed situation.
Remember these words and trust them: 2 Corinthians 5:21 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Thanks for the willingness to consider a taboo topic,
Metro North Church