The Bible talks about sin … a lot. But what is meant by “sin” exactly and how do we avoid becoming slaves to it and lead a life of freedom and peace instead?
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. John 8:34 (ESV)
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. Romans 8:6 (NLT)
How would you define SIN?
What is it? What is it not?
That seems to be at the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?
The Scriptures make a pretty big deal out of the fact that we can exist in one of two states:
One, we live in sin which ultimately leads to death …
Two, we are controlled by the Holy Spirit which leads to “real” life and peace …
I mean, in order to know what to avoid, it’s vitally important to know what the very thing is I’m trying to avoid; don’t you agree?
So back to the original question: how would you define SIN?
If you’re like most people you’d probably answer saying something like sin is breaking God’s laws and rules, or disobeying God, or disappointing God, or not living a pure and holy life.
Now, before we go any further, I want to warn you.
Some of the ideas I’m about to share might challenge and perhaps even confuse you, but my intention is to expand some of the beliefs you’re most like harbouring in your mind right now. Let me be clear: you can always choose what to believe but all I’m asking is to at least consider some things you might not have known, before deciding to close your mind to all other ideas.
Sounds fair? Good.
Let’s get into it.
I also used to believe that SIN was simply “stepping out of line with God.”
But, where did I get that idea from?
Well, many different places. My parents, church, and teachers.
I took what I understood about obedience (at home, church and school) and simply transferred it to God also.
It obviously didn’t help that I used to imagine God as this really old guy with a very long beard standing behind the door (so to speak), always checking in on me making sure I’m staying in line. And should I not, He would hit me with his wrath through some form of punishment.
So, avoiding sin for me was about obeying God’s rules and never making a mistake in order to avoid punishment and misery.
Needless to say, I tried to be a very good boy … most of the time anyway 🙂 !
But even “being good” was all a matter of perspective really, because what I understood around “being good” wasn’t necessarily what “being good in God’s eyes” was actually about.
But I’m jumping the gun a bit.
See, what I’ve learned is that even though many of the above mentioned definitions of SIN might have some element of truth to them, it’s not the complete word in a much bigger story; one that most people miss completely.
I started realising this when I first learned the Greek word for SIN which is hamartia.
Hamartia is a term borrowed from the ancient archery world which literally means “missing the mark or target.”
This immediately poses a whole new set of questions such as, what mark or target are we talking about here?
And why would the writers of the ancient world choose this specific term when referring to SIN?
Well, it starts making sense when we look at SIN in the context of the bigger narrative of the Biblical Scriptures.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to understand SIN in the way we should outside of appreciating and understanding the greater Biblical narrative.
It gets even more interesting when you look at both the Hebrew and Greek words for “repentance” (to repent).
In Hebrew the word is shuv which literally means “to turn, or return.”
In Greek it is metanoia which means “making a U-turn.”
Both these words hold the idea of “changing direction.”
We put all of this together you start getting a sense that “living in SIN” and “repenting” is more than making sure you’re staying in line with God.
You start getting this impression that perhaps “living in SIN” has more to do with embracing a life that is heading in the wrong direction because it is focused on the wrong thing which causes life to miss its mark. Another word for “mark” or “target” could be “intended purpose.”
Now, suddenly it becomes a much bigger issue to “be saved” from. Being a slave (Gr. doulos) to sin is therefore more about being imprisoned in a state of being that misses its God intended purpose and meaning.
But, “repentance” becomes the way to break free from this “aimless and pointless” existence that’s leading to nowhere.
By repenting we choose to make a turn in order to re-turn to our original state as God intended it. The Scriptures call this state zoé (Gr.) which means,
“life in the absolute sense, as God has it in Himself and gave to the Incarnate Son (Jesus) to have in Himself.”
I hope by now you’re starting to pick up that SIN is a much bigger issue than just whether you’ve used a bad word or got angry at your kids.
Living in SIN has to do with the direction of your existence, whether you’re missing God’s original intent for you or not. And heading away from God has real life (and eternal) consequences; which is a conversation for a different day.
Repenting from sin on the other hand, is also more than just reciting a list of wrongdoings and saying sorry for it. It has more to do with realising the folly and aimlessness of heading away from God, in whom life and its absolute sense is found.
It is the realisation that we can go at this our way, trying to play “being alive” or return to the Source of life and actually discover it for real.
But, let’s add to this even more in order to take it to a whole new level.
Here’s a different definition of sin proposed by the theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his book Engaging God’s World:
“Sin is culpable disturbance of shalom.”
Let’s dissect this definition for a moment and see where it takes us.
Let’s start with the word Shalom.
What is Shalom?
It is the Hebrew word typically translated with peace, wholeness, blessing, and health.
It is also a concept that runs like a golden thread throughout the Biblical Scriptures.
Shalom is the way God wants things to be in the world. When things are the way they are supposed to be; whole, overflowing, healed, and peaceful (i.e. in harmony), Shalom is present.
Shalom encapsulates the idea you are at peace with God, yourself, your neighbour, and the world.
Disturbance on the other hand holds the idea that not everything is right in the world. Not as they’re supposed to be. Not as God intended.
Culpable means guilty, responsible, blameworthy, liable, and in the wrong. But guilty and responsible for what? For disturbing shalom!
SIN therefore means anything and everything we do to disturb and disrupt shalom, i.e. God’s peace, harmony, wholeness, and blessings for the world.
In fact, the Hebrew word to describe something that has been disrupted by sin is Shabar.
It’s a word that holds the meaning of something being shattered like a clay pot smashed on the ground.
And when something is in a state of Shabar nothing can put it back together again because it is utterly and completely disrupted from its intended purpose, i.e. being shattered.
The only thing that can restore something in the state of Shabar is God’s Shalom.
So yet another way of putting it is that,
Sin therefore is everything we do and allow to be done that put things in a state of “Shabar” while disrupting “God’s Shalom.”
And we are all guilty of doing that. No one is exempt.
We are all guilty of disturbing the Shalom of God in the world.
We are all guilty of missing our mark and purpose as God intended it, and so we more often than not settle for synthetic versions and call it life.
White, black, man, woman, parent, child, wealthy, poor … all fall short … all disrupt.
True. Not ideal. But true.
And it would have been a shame if SIN had the last word in this, but it does not.
See, it’s important to understand SIN in the context of a greater narrative. A much bigger story.
Because even though the Scriptures talk about SIN quite a bit, it talks about LIFE even more.
SIN is the middle word, not the first or the last.
The first word of this story is that God created ALL and it was GOOD.
Not perfect, not complete, not without possibility of fall, but GOOD.
Good enough for God.
That’s how God made ALL. Good enough for Him. “For His pleasure” as it says in the Scriptures.
We were created in the image of God, crowned with glory and honour, just a little lower than God Himself.
THAT’s the first word. That’s WHO you are. That’s what God wants people to return to.
The middle word is SIN. It’s says, what was good enough for God was not enough for us and so we took matters into our own hands and fell short. We all disrupt and disturb God’s Shalom, intended for ALL things.
Which brings us to the final word in the story.
The last word in the story is that SIN does not have the last say, but LOVE and LIFE have.
The third word is that there is only one kind of sin and that’s FORGIVEN sin. It is the word that you have been forgiven in Christ because you ARE loved (even when we were still sinners), saved, redeemed, restored, made whole, and renewed. That’s what the Scriptures keep coming back to.
So, what does all of this mean?
In my mind it simply means this;
getting stuck on the middle word and living in and from that place is neither the first nor final word spoken about me by God, and therefore shouldn’t be where I choose to live my life because it will always result in the same way. Broken. Lost. Less than all.
But we are more to God. So choose to be more.
Open your heart. Repent. Return. Be saved. Restored. Made whole. And receive life as God intended it for us.
May light and peace fill your life.