Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rethinking: Sin - Part 1

[It's been a month since I blogged last. If you want to know why please visit:]

I have on my Facebook page some old posts under the heading "Rethinking." Some of my previous rethinking posts are: Rethinking Mission, Rethinking Worship, Rethinking Holiness, Rethinking the Lord's Prayer.  I also have blogged here at some length about rethinking the Gospel. These posts are just brief re-thoughts that help me reprocess my own need to re-think things, as I understand them. 

I really like the idea of rethinking, having arrived at a place in my life of being anti-dogmatic, at least I want to be. It is part of my quest to continually revitalize my own Kingdom life. I think it is perfectly acceptable to rinevestigate what we commonly think of as our Christians beliefs. It is healthy to do so, as along as we approach our rethinking through the lens of Biblical truth. Of course, even the idea of Biblical truth has required rethinking across the millennium - that's what Protestantism was all about. Christians have been rethinking our faith since the very first ideas of what it meant to be Christ follower were being considered (see Acts 15). And it can be a reinvigorating and reviving process as we reengage our minds and revisit the things of God 

Many ideas we think of as "Christian" can and should be brought through a continual mill of rethinking because as Paul understood we only understand "in part" (2 Cor 13:12), and usually poorly at that. When we begin the rethinking process we do so by refocusing on the real intent of God expressed through His Word. A good rethinking question is: what is most important to the Lord? It is really okay to re-investigate what we know, not just stubbornly hold to what we've come to regurgitate as doctrine. With that in mind, here's the first entry in my new Rethinking series - "Rethinking Sin."

"What is sin?" If you're like the typical America Evangelical Christian, your first response is probably, "falling short of the glory of God." While that happens to be our natural state, it's important to ask - what the heck does it mean? We don't want to simply repeat Biblical ideas with out understanding. It is also common to think of sin as things we do, sins of commission, that don't line up with the "will of God." Or we don't do things we know we should do, sins of omission. Both of these sins are sins rooted in our performance or lack thereof. We can of course study the Bible and come up with a list of 667 sins, if we were so inclined. All of this is fine but is there something more we need to understand?

Jesus does go to some length in the Sermon on the Mount to provide for us some guidance of what sin is (see Matthew chapters 5-7). Paul gives us a lists of sins (Romans 1:28-30, 13:13, Galatians 5:19-20), Peter warns not to be like pagans (1 Peter 4:3) and James tells us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (James 1:27b ). We then may avoid certain things like alcohol, R-rated movies, etc. We think we're doing good by being good. After all, we don't want to "miss the mark." But is that the extend of sin or even the real essence of "sinning"? Is sin really only avoiding doing certain things or not neglecting certain other things?

Perhaps there is something more we need to rethink about the nature of sin that can help us draw nearer to God and "one another," in the manner we're called to live out as Christians. Recently, I came across an interesting blogpost that caught my attention with the profound idea of considering sin as "relational failure.” The blogger offered the following in support of his thinking that sin is a failure to put relationships first and foremost and that failing this we are sinning:
There are many advantages to understanding sin this way. Some examples: viewing sin as relational failure eliminates a common split between so-called “individual transformation” and “social transformation.” Sin, in this sense, can be relational failure in marriage, relational failure with the world and its resources, or relational failure with “outsiders.” Sin as relational failure, keeps us from the easy attribution of the other person as the “sinner.” Understanding sin as relational failure exposes a legal understanding of sin as inadequate. It is quite easy to follow a set of rules and be mean about it. It also indicts those that use religion or theology to sabotage or destroy relationships. Heretics are now the ones who have used their theology to promote themselves and exclude others." 
Sin as "relational failure" is challenging me to rethink my definitions of sin, especially considering my sin of self-centeredness as a perpetual problem. I get that I sin against God of course, and I sin against my my family with my short-temper and occasionally I may sin against others when I know "I'm right." I know I commit the sins of omission, when I neglect to read my Bible or when I say "I'll pray for you" and don't. But sin as "relational failure," in the sense being used in the above quotes, is making me rethinking things. What this concept of sin elevates is the vitally important Kingdom principles of the "other." And, so this idea of "relational failure" has a depth we should plunge.

There is also an obvious need to rethink sin as "relational failure," with the pandemic failure of relationships that are destroying the fabric of our culture. We may think we're doing fine on all other counts of avoiding things we think we should and failing miserably with our broken family relationships, high divorce rate, and fatherlessness. Relationships are hard work and much harder than mere avoidance, which may be why we chose to define sin as between "me and God," rather than between me and others. We may know that adultery is sin but is it only sin because God says "do not commit adultery" or because of it represents a "relational failure," between husband and wife that the damages others?

What happens when we begin to rethink sin in this way, as a failure to value relationships first, even before our own beliefs, our own understanding of what is "legal," our own needs?  If we are not willing to go there, to challenge our thinking, our long held ideas, do we put stumbling blocks before others and therefore sin? It is of course easier just to stick with what we know but by doing so we are in fact falling short of the glory of God.

I started this blog post a few weeks ago but this morning in my Bible reading, I stumbled across Romans 14:23 that says in part:  "and everything that does not come from faith is sin." This verse gave me the impetus to return to this finish this post, because it goes beyond our typical definitions of sin and in a way that I think adds credence to the idea of sin as "relational failure." Faith, that reflects the Kingdom of God, is relational - expressed toward God, lived out with others in love. And, Paul helps us to rethink sin as "relational failure" when he says, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6). Biblical love is only expressed in relationship and according to Paul it is "the only thing that counts." 

I'll conclude here Part I of "Rethinking Sin." Hopefully, I've given you a lot to reconsider but that is after all the point of rethinking. One of the major problems we face in our culture today is a lack of critical thinking to bring real change. But we don't change unless we think about changing - that's what rethinking all about. In Part II, I'll revisit some of the ideas being expressed in the above quote and how it may help us rethink our long established understanding of sin for Living Sent Today.

Q -  What's your thought about sin is a failure to put relationships first and foremost and that failing this we are sinning? 

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