Sin in its Multiple Variations
Paul talks about sin a lot. In fact, I’ve heard at least one theology say that when you look at all the different facets of theology – soteriology, christology, echatology, ecclesiology, paterology, pneumatology, etc. – the one that the Bible, particularly the epistles, is most systematically clear on is hamartiology – the nature and study of sin.
I think, though, that we on the whole have an incomplete perspective on it. When someone says sin, the first place that my mind goes, and I suspect this is true of most people, is to things that I have done that are morally wrong. Some, particularly of Anglican or Catholic backgrounds, might be quick to add things that I have failed to do that are morally good or necessary.
But I think this is merely a single-dimensional perspective. It assumes, first of all, that sin is an act rather than an ontological reality. Sin is not something that happens, but it has a sort of substance to it. Consider Romans 7 where Paul discusses “sin which dwells in me.” (7:18, NASB) But if sin is something, a sort of substance or at least some kind of reality within the human person, then even if we stop doing wrong things, we still have sin in us. The sin is not taken care of.
If something is contrary to the will of God, is it sin? I suspect most people would say so. And if this is true, then anything that does not fit in with God’s plan is thereby sin. I suspect that God did not intend for us to become sick; therefore illness is a manifestation of sin (though not necessarily a direct one – doing something morally wrong is not the cause that results in the necessary effect of becoming sick). God repeatedly commands us to not be afraid, implying that some fear is contrary to God’s design and therefore is a form of sin. Shame and guilt cause us to move away from relationship, and as God is a relational being, these are also often (perhaps always?) aspects of sin. Sin takes on many forms and are things that we must live with. I don’t think God is terribly angry with us for much of this sort of sin, though as it is contrary to His plan, He does desire for us to be rid of it. That is, He desires to redeem this sin within us.
But how did such sin get into us in the first place? Theologians argue that we are born with sin – original sin. We inherit it from our parents in some fashion. But in addition to this inherited sin, we can become afraid or ashamed or the like when others violate us somehow. We begin to take in sin when others sin against us. Therefore, not only is sin something that we do, it is also something that we carry somehow because it is done to us.
For Christ to redeem us from sin, for sanctification and growth to come about, sin in all of these forms must be dealt with. We are to be cleansed from sin that we do, sin that we carry, and sin that is done to us. This is what the cross began and what the Spirit continues to do – to redeem all of these in us. Spiritual formation is, in part, the Spirit’s work in us to not only keep us from doing wrong, but to eliminate the sin that resides in the soul and the sin that clings to us because of what has been done to us. We are made whole. I look forward to all aspects of that.