Sin has got hold of me. Besides the theological idea of original sin or the sins that plague my life, sin got hold of me. It maybe the recent blog discussions about substitutionary atonement where it got my attention, but it may be older than this. The debates surrounding homosexuality have likely played a role. In all honesty (and I would not want to lie when I am writing about sin), I cannot seem to place my finger on it.
I do know one thing. I have not been taking sin seriously. My observation is, however, sin does not seem to be a subject taken seriously by many any longer. Do you want to talk of social sins? Well, that is a different matter. Do you want to point out and talk about the generic sins of conservatives or liberals? Sure, go for it. How about the sins of western civilization? Yep, fair game. Communist Russia? Well, okay. How about the sins associated with a race? Gender? Orientation? Yep, sure, and of course.
What about your sins?
What is the saying, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?” You got it. Me, my stuff, is off limits. I define what is sin for me and you can just stay out of it. Do not come at me or my tribe because we do things our way. Keep your religious, hoity-toity, nose-up-in-the-air right there and keep out of my business! And that is just what Christians are saying.
We have a personal savior right? My relationship with Jesus is a personal one. I determine the narrative and the way things go. I have my buddy-Jesus and Jesus is just alright with me! I hear you. This is what I have been living too. And I cannot do it anymore. That is why I think sin has gotten hold on me.
I am not talking about the devil and demons being out to get me or anything. No, I have come to realize I am not that lucky. In describing how the early church mothers and fathers faced sin, Dr. Roberta Bondi observes, demons aren’t that worried about most of us because we, “…cave in to our desires too quickly for the demons to want to bother with us (pg 68, “To Love as God Loves”). No, they are more concerned with the true holy men and women. “God may move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, but the Devil moves in ingenious ones to accomplish his victories,” is the observation of Henry Fairlie in “The Seven Deadly Sins Today.”
The clever nature of the Devil used to be the idea that he sought to hide his existence. Not only do I think he has done this well, he also convinced us that sin plays no role in our lives. No, we act on moral obligations and when we don’t, we do what is immoral. We make mistakes or have a character flaw but sin? No, that is a word of a bygone era.
What I know, at least what I know in my soul, in the years of my journey, and my live as minister for nearly twenty years now, Fairlie is a wise observer of the truth. We may call it, and cover it, even paint it up pretty and put it on Instagram but, “sin is our secret from others. Only we know where, and how deeply, it has taken root in us.” If we are really able to admit it, we know we have our blind spots too and the roots of sin go deeper still, far deeper.
The ancient writer of Proverbs observed: There are six things that the LORD hates, even seven that are disgusting to him: (17) arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill innocent people, (18) a mind devising wicked plans, feet that are quick to do wrong, (19) a dishonest witness spitting out lies, and a person who spreads conflict among relatives. (Proverbs 6:16-19, GW). The Apostle Paul would add his list in Galatians 5:19-20 to warn Christians about the “works of the flesh.” Evagrius Ponticus in the fourth-century would put together his list of eight passions which the desert abbas and ammas wrestled with and later the Roman Catholic Church would outline the famous seven deadly sins.
But who wants to wrestle? Deadly sins sounds so morbid! I mean really, it isn’t like we drop dead right away, right? We can give up anytime and besides, this is just a character flaw. Sure. Of course. You’re right. No doubt. And yet, they do not seem to give me the joy or fulfillment promised. Usually when something doesn’t fulfill as promised, we go back for a refund, or report to the Better Business Bureau.
If our path and practices of spiritual formation are intended to move us closer Jesus; and to form us into the image and character of Jesus, we cannot so easily dismiss these behaviors for anything other than what scripture calls them: sins. The writer of James puts it most succinctly, namely we are called to confession and to prayer which bring forgiveness (5:15-16) If you have faith when you pray for sick people, they will get well. The Lord will heal them, and if they have sinned, he will forgive them. (16) If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed. The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot.” In addition, our ministry as Christians is to rescue others from sin! (5:19) My friends, if any followers have wandered away from the truth, you should try to lead them back. (20) If you turn sinners from the wrong way, you will save them from death, and many of their sins will be forgiven.”
The ministry of spiritual formation is in large part, a ministry of listening to Holy Spirit’s voice in the life of those who are seeking to be formed in the image of Christ Jesus. Those of us who are called to this ministry must seek to hear the voice of the Spirit in these matters as well if our spiritual direction is to be truly Christian. Learning to hear takes time but it isn’t like we don’t know what conviction sounds like. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “We’re all in the same boat and we’re all sea sick.”