As soon as I typed in the title of this post I felt the muscles on the back of my neck clench and I could very nearly hear an audible voice say “step carefully.”
It’s not a very pleasant topic, is it? But rest assured- I’m not here to tell anyone they are going to Hell or they are a bad person. All I want to talk about is why the topic of sin should matter to anyone at all- why it matters to me, why it matters to you even if you don’t know it, and why a lot of the times we think it matters but we are wrong.
So what is sin, anyway? To put it simply, it is an act against God. Against goodness, holiness, conscience, righteousness, nature- whatever ideal you pursue, when you act in a way that is contrary to your beliefs, you are sinning. But why does it matter? One may very easily say that the choice to (or not to) adhere to one’s ideals is a personal one, and it only matters to the person. In a way that is true. I believe in God and Jesus and because of that I naturally have a certain standard for myself- most of the time when I fall short I harm no one but myself. Yet, even so, sin matters.
One reason it matters is that other people are affected by how we act. So if my sin is one of anger, it matters because I could choose to adhere to my standards and by doing so become a better person- but instead I choose my own weakness and in doing so offer the people around me a cheap imitation of the person I know I could be. Sin matters because sin makes us less than who we really are. If we are children of God and we behave like the pocket-pinching orphans in a Dickens tale, it affects not only our internal balance but the perceptions and lives of all others we interact with. To put it simply: sin matters because it gives ourselves and others a bad name.
This is probably familiar logic for most of the people reading this post. We’ve all heard it. “Avoid even the appearance of evil.” We’re told to watch the way we talk, walk, dress, and with whom we interact to run from even the thought of the appearance of evil. We’re reminded again and again that the world will judge God based on our actions. And we miss the point. Why? Because while sin does matter for that reason, it also doesn’t matter for that reason. While the world will judge God based off of our actions, we won’t prove God to it based off of wearing coverings and simple clothing and never fighting back and strictly aligning ourselves with communities of like believers, or everyone would be Amish by now. Right? Because we have within the church communities of believers who flee even the appearance of evil…
And yet, there is sin. And sin still matters. Has anyone here sung that old song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God- and renew a right spirit within me”? It comes from Psalm 51:
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Now we get to the heart of the matter, literally speaking. Because sin is not about our actions, but about our spirit. It’s about the internal alignment of all our energy. Does our energy go to sinning, or go to holiness? Are we lined up rightly with God, or our own desires? If we are stripped down to our very essence, appearances lost, contrivances cast aside- if we were to stand in total judgment, what would be found?
Do we stop sinning because we hate sin, or love God? Do we stop sinning out of fear, or desire for holiness? Are we removed from even the appearance of evil because everything about us seeks after holiness, or because we are running? So often it is because we are running. Because we are scared. Because we know what we want, and what we want isn’t good. A boy can’t so much as hug a girl, and he says it’s because of propriety- that’s what he says, but what he knows is that his mind wouldn’t be on comfort, it would be on flesh.
And that is the problem. The problem is that our sin isn’t born in our actions, it’s born in our hearts and minds. It’s born in our needs and desires, it’s born in our souls. It’s born in the fact that we make ourselves a priority, we make excuses for ourselves, we judge ourselves in comparison to others. Sin matters because the fact that we sin so often and so badly means we are still missing the point.
The point isn’t salvation- not salvation alone. Christ DID THAT. It’s OVER. The point, the fine tip on the Sword that is the Word- is love. Love for God, for ourselves, for the world around us. The point is who we are.
We are the Kingdom. We should act like it. We should want to act like it. We should have to act like it. We shouldn’t be scared of judgment- we should be ashamed of who we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We shouldn’t just act differently.
We should change.