Death and All of His Friends

Who likes talking about sin? I mean other than the preachers who you see on TV, who for whatever reason seem to really love banging their fists on their pulpits and making a big deal about how terrible we all are, nothing will quiet a room quite like saying “let’s talk about sin.” But my experience has been that if you’re going to understand a person’s theology, you almost have to start at how they understand sin and what it does to humanity.

When I first started out, sin was just easily defined as “doing something wrong” or the even more slippery “not doing something right.” This was easy enough to explain to teenagers. Doing drugs on the weekend? Sin. Lying to your parents? Sin. Failing to take action and feed the hungry? Sin. But then I started to notice gaps in the coverage. While we all wish there were these easy black and white boundaries, there are some instances that can get tricky. If a hungry person steals food to feed his family, is that a sin? What about the sin of the system that led to that man’s family being hungry? Just calling sin “doing something wrong” is a bit simplistic. I needed to expand.

Dr. Andrew Root from Luther Seminary said that sin is actually like the line in the Coldplay song, in that it is death and all of his friends. Think about it. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death in an ultimate sense, but doesn’t sin feel like little deaths all the way through? If you are harassed and bullied by someone, doesn’t it feel like death? And if you spend enough time harassing and bullying someone, doesn’t that kill you a little bit?

Now here we have to make a distinction. Sin is different from sinning. Sin, the state of being that covers all humanity after the fall of Adam, is the sure and steady realization that we are going to die. It’s a disease. We can’t escape it. It covers everything we are and everything we do. Sinning, is what happens when we react to our sinful state. It’s the actions we take out of being a sinner. Dr. Root calls it serving death in order to attempt to carry his favor. If I’m a high school girl, and someone is absolutely going to get made fun of on this retreat, I’m going to do the making fun of to make sure that it’s not me. I’m going to be an instrument of death to make sure that I am not killed myself. This is a simple example, but it works almost everywhere. You and I serve death all the time, both consciously and unconsciously in a sad sorry attempt to beat it. Human history reminds us again and again that it’s never going to work.

This is why the conversation “Is (insert terrible thing here) a sin?” is so uninteresting to me. Is it a sin to do this thing or that thing? That’s not what’s important. Particular sins are really only the symptom of the disease. What we need to do is find a way to deal with the disease of our sin state, and the only way to do that is by the grace of Christ. The only way to beat death is through resurrection. What’s neat is that it turns out the more and more we lean on that gift of grace, the more and more life we have in us, the less and less likely we are to serve death any more. I don’t need to kill you to preserve myself. Through the gift of Christ, we can all be made alive. Instead of spreading death through sin, I can spread life through the grace of Jesus. Once you start turning the system on its head like that, things start to change.

This is, of course, complicated. It’s not as easy as defining sin as “doing bad things.” But just because a definition is complex doesn’t mean it isn’t rich. The more we live into this life giving understanding of our relationship with Christ, the better the world starts to look. And imagine what would happen if we built an identity around that...

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