Week 7, Day 1: Sin
READ: ROMANS 7:15-25
There is a Latin phrase that is sometimes used to describe sin: incurvatus in se. It means “turned in on oneself.” Augustine of Hippo, who lived a few centuries after Christ, used the phrase to illustrate what sin is and does: it removes our gaze from God and from our neighbors, and establishes ourselves as paramount.
Understood in this way, sin shows up in the thoughts we have, in the words we use, in the ways we treat ourselves and others; it works itself out in lust, rage, pride, greed, apathy, envy, and overindulgence. Ancient Christian writers called these “the seven deadly sins” as a way of naming the things that plague us and give rise to the many kinds of death — symptoms that destroy people, relationships, and even neighborhoods. In this way sin is more than just an individual action or inaction, but also social and systemic. But sin also occurs in our negligence or inaction, in our complicity in systemic sin and our ignorance of historic sin, and even in spite of ourselves and despite our best efforts.
In turning in on ourselves, sin is not allowing God to be God. There’s a somewhat humorous take on this that goes like this: “What’s the difference between God and me? God doesn’t think he’s me!” But in reality, this shows up in less than funny ways: in anxiety and worry, in a desperate need for control, and in seeking affirmation from others that can only come in any lasting way from our Creator.
Sin is also not being who we were made to be, that is, people who love as God loves. We were made to enjoy life to the full, pursuing and cultivating whole, loving, open, unbroken, and right relationships with God and with one another. We were created to reflect and represent the God who desires only good things for his creation and who exists in perfect community—Father, Son, and Spirit. We were commissioned to steward the resources we have been blessed with: our talents, our abilities, our relationships, our families, and our world. But too often, we fall far short. And yet, the apostle Paul reassures us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (The Message):
No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.
Obviously, this sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice. The ingrained habits and instinctive reactions that we have cultivated in our lives thus far, from our families of origin and from the culture we inhabit, are not easy to notice or to address. But it is not an impossible task. Here are four things we have been given to overcome sin:
1. The love of God. This is the fuel our souls run on; this is the affirmation we long for, even while we seek it out from smaller, more finite beings and more unfulfilling things. When we know we are loved by God, when we ground our identity and our worth in God’s love, sin has nothing to offer; and anything it does offer is shown to be dross, a cheap imitation of something glorious. As Richard Rohr says, “God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change.”
2. The example and sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus not only offers the example of a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), but by his death, he destroyed both the consequences of sin and the power of sin over us (Romans 8:1-2). The New Testament is full of the good news that we have been saved — rescued — from sin, that we have been set free, and those of us who repent — the biblical connotations of this word are about changing our feelings, changing our behavior, and changing our minds — receive the gift of God’s forgiveness. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his classic book The Brothers Karamazov, reminds us:
There is not and cannot be in the whole world such a sin that the Lord will not forgive one who truly repents of it. A [person] even cannot commit so great a sin as would exhaust God’s boundless love. How could there be a sin that exceeds God’s love? Only take care that you repent without ceasing, and chase away fear altogether. Believe that God loves you so as you cannot conceive of it; even with your sin and in your sin he loves you.
3. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus was able to remain sinless because of his constant connection to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same is possible for us (Romans 8:11). But, as we’ve been learning, we need not only to be attentive to the Spirit but also to partner with the Spirit in the work of transformation he desires to effect in us — changing the stories in our heads, engaging in the soul-training exercises, and participating in community.
4. The power of community. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.” It can seem like an imposition to share our troubles and our temptations with others; it seems almost unnatural to be vulnerable and ask for help from those around us. But just as we were made for relationship with God, we were also made for relationship with one another; and we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to help others along the way. In fact, sometimes it takes someone else to point out the sin we cannot even see in ourselves. (Warning: it’s particularly hard when someone else does it, and our first instinct is defensiveness.) In relationship with one another, we encourage each other and hold each other accountable. As it says in James 5:16, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Now, all of this is not to say that things will instantly be better, or that God will zap your addiction away or immediately remove your temptation; and in our world and in our relationships, brokenness and sin will continue to impact us until Jesus comes again to fully bring his kingdom. But the good news — the gospel — tells us that no matter how overwhelming and indestructible sin can seem, because of Jesus, sin does not have the last word and we do not have to live lives curved in on ourselves.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: In what ways do you take sin too lightly? In what ways do you give sin too much credit?
Heart: What are the sins that are in your life now? What are the areas of brokenness (that you’re aware of) that need addressing? What are the effects of sin in the world that you are lamenting?
Hands: Spend a few minutes practicing the soul-training exercise of confessing to God — bringing to God the areas of brokenness in your life and listening to what God says to you in response. Next, practice the soul-training exercise of confessing sin to someone you love and trust.
Spend a few minutes praying and meditating on what’s called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Sin is not allowing God to be God,
and not being who we were
made to be, that is,
people who love as God loves.