Friday, December 5, 2008

Frequently Asked Friday

Kronk and his shoulder angels.

Ah, time for the long-awaited second part of this multi-part series. Thanks are due to the Great Googly Moogly, whose comments inspired this post. If you wish to read last week's post or the aforementioned comment thread, just click here.

By the way, if you want to reuse a picture you used in a previous post, you don't need to upload it again. All you need to do is copy the HTML code for that image from your other post into your new post.

Why Do Christians Sin?

For the sake of this discussion, I am limiting the scope of this question to professing Christians. While the answer applies to all people, regardless of their beliefs, to ask why a non-Christian sins is akin to asking why a person who has no food is hungry.

I pretty much already stated in last Friday's post what I believe to be the fundamental reason people sin, but GGM had a different viewpoint, which has prompted me to further explore the issue. So, here are some reasons that I can think of, and the Biblical responses.

"We're the seed of Adam."

Sin entered human nature, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Prior to that unfortunate event, the earth's first two humans were shielded from sin by their own ignorance. But as the serpent predicted, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil made them to know good and evil, thereby opening their eyes to sin. Furthermore, those without the Holy Spirit dwelling within have no power to resist the temptation to sin. So when we come out of the womb, we have the seed of Adam in us and the inclination to sin. However...
  • "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).
  • "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9).

There are many more scriptures like these, but these three are enough to illustrate my point. The NT tells us over and over than a required part of salvation is a rebirth. Our hearts and minds are reborn in the image of Christ. The seed of Adam is purged and replaced by the seed of God. So truly born-again Christians cannot use this as a reason. If Adam remains in you, you have not yet been born again.

"The Devil made me do it."

This one's been used so much, it's a cliché. But one of my favorite scriptures in the entire Bible promises that Satan cannot so much as touch you, if you are born of God: "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 5:18).

Lack of belief in the Word of God

GGM made this excellent suggestion, and I think it's true, to a great extent. Way back in Genesis 2:17, God told Adam that he will die if he eats of the forbidden tree. Eve certainly knew this, but she decided to believe the serpent more, when he said in 3:4, "Ye shall not surely die."

Fast-forward many years later, and you see the Israelites, choosing to not believe God's warnings against idolatry and mingling with their heathen neighbors, over and over again. And true enough, the Bible confirms that unbelief will keep us from having a right relationship with God. Nowhere is it stated more clearly than in the Book of Hebrews:
  • "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (3:12).
  • "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (3:19).
  • "Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief" (4:6).
  • "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (4:11).

Here are some others that affirm that unbelief is sin and that belief in God is righteousness:
  • "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
  • "...then ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and ye believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice" (Deuteronomy 9:23b).
  • "Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20b).
  • "So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God" (Daniel 6:23b).

But is lack of belief in God's Word the fundamental reason we sin? Can we not have complete belief in God, even unshakeable knowledge of God's Word, and still choose to disobey?

"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Here, James makes the case that belief alone is not enough to please God, that our belief must be reflected by our actions. While works alone cannot buy us salvation (else Christ died in vain), they should reflect our nature as children of God. James' extraordinary effort to bring this particular point home, implies (to me, at least) that it is entirely possible to have full belief in God and His Word, and yet fail to act on it, or worse, wilfully disobey it. I have certainly found this true at times, in my own life.

This brings me to my inevitable conclusion, that fundamentally, sin is the result of...

Inadequate or misdirected love

No one reading the NT can miss the importance that Godly love plays in a Christian's life. New Agers and hippies alike have even picked up on it (and twisted it to suit their purposes). But is it more fundamental than belief? The Apostle Paul seemed to think so:
  • "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
  • "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (v. 13).

In fact, love is so important, that Jesus said it is what the Law and prophets are founded upon.
  • "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
  • "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

To be sure, belief in God's Holy Word is essential for salvation and holy living, but we cannot love God and sin at the same time. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13).

Faith and belief in God and His Word can only carry us so far. In the end, we are still free to choose between right and wrong, and the choice we make ultimately depends on what/whom we love more. For example, as an engineer, I've learned lots of math, more than most people will ever know. I understand it to a much higher level than most and firmly believe in the truth and correctness of all the theorems and derivations that I've learned. But I don't do a lot of math in my everyday life, because I don't like it that much. I recognize that it's necessary for nearly all technology, including that which surrounds me at work, but I avoid doing it myself.

But if I truly love God, then I will obey Him, no matter how much of His Word I believe or understand. Conversely, I can believe and understand more of the Bible than most people (by getting a PhD in Theology, for example), but still not love God enough to cease from sinning.

Where am I going with this?

Sorry for the long post (if you love me, you'll have read it all!), but you'll see next week where I'm going with it, and why this week's topic is so crucial. Tune in again next week!

12 comments:

Farrah said...

Enjoyed reading that, and it didn't "feel" all that long. :-)

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"But is lack of belief in God the fundamental reason we sin?"

Very good post, Greg. And I agree with Farrah, it did not seem long at all. Of course, as you know, I'm fairly "long-winded", so my opinion may not mean too much! :-)

I pulled out the above statement because I wanted to be clear that I did not say that sin is fundamentally unbelief in God Himself; but that sin is fundamentally unbelief in what God says. Of course, not believing in God is certainly sin; but (and especially for Christians who most certainly do believe in God) sin, in my opinion, is rooted in unbelief in what God says is true--which obviously betrays a lack of love.

For instance, I believe that everywhere you find the practice of sin in the Scripture you'll find that the "sinner(s)" didn't believe what God said. It's a lack of trust in the veracity of God that is the source of sin. Now I don't deny (and you've never accused me of it, I know) that sin expresses a lack of love on the part of the sinner; but I believe that the Scripture describes the practice of sin, even for a Christian, as originating from or having its source in our unbelief--we simply don't believe God (not, "we simply don't believe in God).

In other words, I believe that love or the lack of love is the manifestation of our believing or our not believing God in whatever circumstance that we find ourselves in. It is the believing or the unbelieving, or the faith or the faithlessness on our part that comes first; then the actions or behaviors that result will manifest our love or lack of love.

Does this make any sense? Of course, in my mind it makes perfect sense; but, as we all know, transmitting exactly what's in "my" mind to someone else's mind is impossible. The best we can hope for is an understanding that allows meaningful communication to progress.

Anyway, I think the idea that "whatever is not of faith is sin" is really the heart of what I'm trying to say. We as Christians still sin because we still don't believe God; and this is our "faithlessness", these are the times that we live not "in faith" but by "sight". We still don't love God as we should because we still don't fully and always believe God.

When we truly believe that what God says is true of us--that we are "New Creations" in Christ, that we've been given "everything pertaining to life and godliness", that the indwelling Spirit of Christ is working in us to conform us back into the image and likeness of Christ, that "greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world", etc.; when we live our lives by faith, believing Him when He tells us that we are His Children and He is our Father, then we will manifest love toward Him and the rest of His creation.

And although everything that I've just written is true of the Christian, I believe we still sin because we still have within us vestiges of the Adamic nature--the nature of unbelief. And the Spirit is purging this out of us as He conforms us into the image of Christ whose human life as the Son of God was characterized by the life of faith--He always believed His Father and acted accordingly!

I know I didn't need to prove that I was long-winded, but I wrote this much for your sake--now you never have to feel like your posts are all that long! :-)

Anyway, I hope this helps explain how I understand sin and our relation to it. I really enjoy the encouragement that your providing for us to think through issues. Of course, if you keep this up I'll never have time to post anything on my own blog! :-)

GGM

Greg said...

Good point, GGM. I did try to be specific and actually say "belief in God's Word," and I managed to mess up in that critical sentence. I just fixed it. :)

thekingpin68 said...

'And although everything that I've just written is true of the Christian, I believe we still sin because we still have within us vestiges of the Adamic nature--the nature of unbelief.'

Agreed, GGM.

The born-again/regeneration (John 3) process in a believer enables one to believe even as human beings with sinful natures and sinful choices, apart from this act of God, cannot believe (Romans 1-3, Romans 6: 23, Ephesians 2: 8-10).

Although I reason God willingly allows us to sin more than we need to, in other words, we could often say no to sin, I reason God allows us to sin at times in order to see the foolishness of such and ultimately seek God. Also, until we are resurrected we will not as body and spirit united be free from our corrupt nature. So, 1 John 1-2 and its descriptions make sense in that sin is still a struggle although the atoning work of Christ has long been completed.

Belief alone cannot purify us as we need culminated transformation

Thanks, Greg.

Greg said...

Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Russ! You guys will start to see where this is going next week.

One the one hand, GGM kind of got me on a tangent, but on the other hand, I think the thoughts and discussion his comments have generated have given me better focus on where I'm going with this series.

Farrah said...

GGM,

I would like to make a few comments about "whatever is not of faith is sin."

"[14] I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
[15] But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
[16] Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
[17] For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
[18] For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
[19] Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
[20] For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
[21] It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
[22] Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
[23] And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin
."

This scripture you refer to follows a discussion on how things are pure, or I would say without condemnation and absent of sin, unless we do them believing they are wrong. In other words, what we believe about a thing is very important to God. If we believe something is wrong and do it anyway, it is not done in faith and we condemn ourselves. To do something without faith that it is OK to do, that is sin.

This is an entirely separate issue from what's absolute right and wrong, from God's commandments and the law. I would say it is more important to Him that we DO WHAT WE KNOW IS RIGHT than that we do everything perfectly. This is why there is no sin without knowledge of a law. This is why innocence is purity. Adam and Eve couldn't sin until they had a knowledge of what not to do.

I guess I'm saying that sin is not from a lack of believing God, but rather it is doing something we believe to be wrong.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Farrah,

I appreciate your words. And I agree that context is crucial to interpret meaning. But I think the contextual backdrop only reinforces my point.

As with all of Paul's letters (and the other NT epistles), we are always provided with the indicative prior to the imperative; i.e, we are told what is true before we are given "commands" or directions for how to live. In this way, the imperative is anchored in the indicative. And this is why it is only in living by faith (which is to say, believing God in all things) that we live lives that are pleasing to Him. Anyone can "obey" commands or follow "rules"; it's only as we live lives of faith that our "obedience" is truly "obedience".

Paul spends his time (in the case of Romans, the first 6+ chapters) telling us what is true (of us, of God, of the Gospel, etc) and then telling us, in essence, to now "be who you are". We live lives of obedience only so far as we live our lives believing what is true. This is how we live lives of faith. And when we don't...when we "disbelieve" what is true (when we don't believe what God has said), we "sin" by believing a lie (whatever that happens to be at the time).

Obeying "law" is not the same thing as living by faith.

And when we "do something that we believe to be wrong", as you say, we are found to be in sin not for that reason, as you contend, but because, as I believe, we are then found to be living faithless lives; not believing our Father that we are no longer in bondage to sin; that we have "died" in Christ and that we have been raised up together with (in) Him to walk in "newness of life"; that, since we have died, we are "freed" from sin; that we are "dead" to sin, but alive to God in Christ; that sin shall not be master over us anymore because we are not under law but grace--His grace! This is what is true of us (the indicative)...do we believe it?

Since we have the mind of Christ (the indicative), then isn't it unbelief to "do something that we believe to be wrong"? The indicative tells us who we are, the imperative now tells us what that looks like in the way we live our lives (the direction, the "command"). Now, if we don't live our lives that way (when we do something that we know is wrong), then aren't we saying, in effect, that we don't believe what is true (we don't believe God)?

I appreciate your comments very much (here and elsewhere); but I think your conclusion misses the underlying motive of sin. Sin and obedience isn't about "doing", per say, it's about "being". We're called to "be who we are" in Christ--New Creations empowered and guided by the Spirit to be Children of God (which is what God calls us, in Christ). When we don't "behave" as His Children it's only because, I believe, we've given in to the remnants of our Adamic nature and disbelieved God--not believing what He has said about us nor the power of the Gospel that has "saved" us.

Good discussion. Thanks Farrah, I really do appreciate your comments.

Farrah said...

GGM,

We will have to agree to disagree, and that is fine. :-) I have been reading the Bible most of my life and have never seen sin quite that way. But I do understand what you are saying better after your reply to my comment.

From my own personal experience with sin and guilt, I have never felt it came from my lack of believing God. Rather, I have always felt that because I believed and chose to do something I knew was wrong, then that resulted in sin and misery.

I wrong knowing full well scripture's teaching on perfection and believing it. In fact, that made me all the more miserable. I was raised in a church that taught it is impossible for a Christian to sin at all, and believed it completely. Thus, I felt great condemnation if I even needed to tell someone sorry, for I had fallen short, I had failed. I am someone who has believed in perfection of God's people in this life and not been able to attain it. It was while believing that I failed. And I failed not because I didn't believe scripture, but because I didn't devote my life fully to God. I had distractions that were pulling me away.

My life in recent years has been much more victorious, and at the same time my belief in perfection on earth has relaxed somewhat. I have turned my attention away from focusing on all my faults to the need for a fervent love and adoration for my Saviour, Who is all sufficient for my every need, Who loves me, created me, and delights in a close relationship with me. I feel that if I am close enough to Jesus, everything else will fall into place.

No doubt, we will chat again. :-)

Blessings!

the_thinking_frog said...

Greetings,

The main problem that I have with sin is the person who I see in the mirror. It is this person who reacts out of jealousy when someone else receives what I wanted. It is this person who responds with anger when someone treats me with a lack of the respect that I deserve.

The key to victorious living for me has been found in confessing my sins (I John 1:9 and James 5:16). It is obeying this admonition that the influence of Satan appears to be weakened. It is also in obeying this admonition that I find unbelievers attracted to this identification as they seemingly grasp the significance of the act.

Joyfully Serving,

Kermit

jeleasure said...

I understand, "nature of unbelief". I just have to say, we sin (choose self, to the neglect of relationship with God) because we want to discover what we feel we may be missing.
We truly are created in God's image. God wants to experience and thus, so do we. Ergo, "Lack of belief" to know that God has our best interest in mind when we are commanded to do or not to do.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"No doubt, we will chat again. :-)"

I'm greatly edified by discussing our great salvation in Christ with my Brothers and Sisters--whether we agree about everything or not! :-)

Thanks Farrah!

GGM

thekingpin68 said...

Thanks, Greg.