Words We Prefer Not to Hear: “Sin” January 16 2016

One of my earliest recollections of my own sinfulness was when the neighbor girl and I (we might have been five years old) filled a jar with gravel and put it behind the left rear tire of my parents’ car.  Later that day the family got into the car to back out of the driveway, and I can distinctly remember trying to figure out whether I should tell dad before he backed up.  I chickened out, and … crunch!!  Dad got out of the car and I followed him to the back tire, at which point he said “who could have done this?”  Again, I was silent.  I didn’t know what to do, so I watched my dad pluck glass fragments out of the tire.  My recollection is that I told my parents later that day, but I’m foggy on what happened after that.

It’s interesting how our parents didn’t need to teach us, as little children, how to sin.  All of us already knew how to demonstrate sin on our own.  That’s because we were born with a sin nature.  We were slaves of sin (Romans 6:17), but  as believers, we have been freed from sin and become slaves of righteousness.  (Romans 6:18).  We are not sinners because we sin – we sin because we are sinners.

The problem is that, when we fall to temptation or experience difficulties in life, we sometimes forget about what God says and turn to the world’s solutions.  For example, lets say that a believer has a problem with drinking too much alcohol.  Many would say that this person has an illness.  In contrast, the Bible calls drunkenness sin (Ephesians 5:18).  So how can it possibly bring hope to point out that the one who is drunk is committing sin?  Some would say that it is neither compassionate nor hopeful to call this sin.  

In reality, the opposite is true.  Treating an alcohol problem as sin is the most compassionate, loving, hopeful thing you can do.  This is because sin can be confessed immediately, and fellowship with God can be restored immediately.  Biblical plans can also be put in place to avoid and resist temptation in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This does not mean that the person will be free from temptation. It does mean that the believer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, does not have to yield to sin.

Viewing the problem as a disease does not offer much hope because the so-called “cure” is not anything you can control.  All you can do then is cope with (which means learn to live with or merely put up with) the problem of alcohol.  The disease model would say that there will be a long process of recovery and that you will never really get over it.  

This approach is superficial.  Drunkenness, anger, fear, lust, drug abuse, immorality, etc. are symptoms of a deeper problem – a broken relationship with God.  Dealing with the symptoms or feelings, without dealing with sin, is shallow and would at most only provide artificial and temporary comfort.  It does not deal with the fundamental problem of the person’s relationship with God, and thus does not provide biblical hope.  

For someone who is not a believer, the most important need in that person’s life is a personal relationship with Christ, and that relationship must begin by the person acknowledging his sin and inability to save himself.  The very name “Jesus,” which is the Greek parallel to “Joshua” (meaning “the Lord is salvation”) was given to Him because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  

This is why we should not fear the word “sin.”  It is humbling to admit we have sinned, and it is hard to say “I was wrong.”  But this is the way to true freedom.  

Think about a guitar or violin string.  Sometimes a string breaks and must be replaced.  When you get a new string it usually comes in a package coiled up all by itself.  When you take it out of the package it looks free, but really it is only loose.  It is not truly free until it is put on the instrument and the proper tension applied for it to sound on pitch.  Only then is it finally free to fulfill its purpose and to be played by the musician.  

In the same way, it is only when you are attached to the Lord (i.e., only when you have received God’s gift of salvation and are living for Him), that you are truly free.  Only then are you able to live in the tension of life’s challenges, to respond in God’s way, and to fulfill the purpose for which He created you.  May God help us to be quick to recognize when we have sinned and humble enough to confess it.

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Steve Smith