Sin and Guilt

Yesterday I was at lunch with a group of people from church. Flowergirl was one of them. I generally take her and one of her roommates to church on Sundays, and then buy them lunch afterwards. This isn’t an attempt at a group date (I’ve given up on her… almost completely), just something I like to do because they are both poor college students in need of good meals. During the meal flowergirl was rather frustrated with me, mostly because I kept laughing at her. She hadn’t had much sleep the night before and was very tired, and so I had to keep waking her up in church. I commented that her head resembled a metronome in the way it kept bobbing up and down as she tried to stay awake. She didn’t see the humor in this, mostly because she was ashamed that she was struggling to stay awake in church.

Flowergirl, like many of us, was under the impression that the fact one struggles with something is, in and of itself, something to be ashamed of. This is not true. All Christians struggle with sin, and as one of my professors used to say: all means all and that’s all all means. While I don’t entirely agree with this sentiment (in some cases ‘all’ clearly means ‘most’, ‘many’, or ‘those of which I have knowledge’), in this case it is entirely true. Outside of Jesus Christ who, being the Christ incarnate, can’t really be called a ‘Christian’ (i.e. little Christ or follower of Christ) there has never been an individual who did not fail in his/her struggle with sin. However, even Christ himself struggled with sin. We know that he was ‘tempted in every way as we are’ from Hebrews 4, and from both Matthew and Luke we know that he was tempted by Satan himself. Christ did not sin, nor did he have a sinful nature, and some will argue that he could not have fallen to temptation (this position is called ‘hard impeccability’, though personally I prefer ‘soft impeccability’ which argues that Christ was capable of sinning, but didn’t), but I do not know of anyone who will argue that Christ did not struggle with temptation. This fact is made absolutely clear in the scriptures. So, given that Paul clearly fell to sin… repeatedly (Romans 7), that Peter fell to sin the the worst possible way (the denial of Christ), and that Christ himself was struggled with varied temptations, why do we believe that to struggle is, in and of itself, a shameful thing?

The answer, of course, is the American need to be ‘better’. If you sin then I am better than you because I do not sin. If you struggle with sin, then I am better than you because I do not struggle with sin. If you are tempted to sin then I am better than you because I am not tempted to sin. None of these things are true, obviously, but they are the lives that we often attempt to portray, and also one of the most prominent reasons for the frequent and warranted accusations of hypocrisy within the American church. None of us is perfect. We all struggle with a variety of sins. Those sins may be different for different people, but none is better or worse.

This is another facet of the American church that needs to be addressed. We often rate actions by their ‘sinfulness’. Homosexuality is the most sinful thing a normal person could do. Pornography is a close second. However, gluttony, gossip, worry, and pride are all innocuous, inconsequential sins by common American standards. This is, obviously, a giant load of crap. James 2 makes it clear that sin is sin. All sin equally removes us from a right relationship with God and no sin is inconsequential. There is a passage in John 5 that discusses the difference between ‘sins not leading to death’ and ‘sins leading to death’, which was (I think) the primary impetus behind Augustine’s division between mortal and venial sins, but this is a theological question that I will address another time.

For our purposes here, sin is all equally damning in the eyes of God. All sins should invoke guilt in us until we turn to God in repentance. However, the simply fact of struggle with a sin should not. In fact, it seems to me that a man or woman who truly and honestly struggles with sin is respectable. It is easy to give up the struggle and simply fall to sin, and if we struggle we will eventually fall. However, to continue in the struggle, to run the race, to fight the good fight, is something that scripture repeatedly calls us to (1 Peter and 1 John are both good examples, as are 1 and 2 Timothy). We are called to struggle with our sins, and in struggling we pursue perfection, which is the process of sanctification. This isn’t something that we can, or evenĀ should escape.

So, do not let the struggle be a thing of shame. When you struggle and are victorious, count it as glory to God who aided you in your struggle. When you struggle and fall, be aware of your human frailty and repent. However, the struggle in and of itself is a part of being human. Consider it as such.

My Day Started With a Funeral

One of my college professors died this weekend, and honestly I don’t think it actually sunk in until I was sitting at his funeral. This is a man who I never really knew particularly well, but was still extremely influential in my life. Amazing how that works isn’t it? I hadn’t seen him in probably six or seven years, but I still practice things that he taught me on a daily basis. So, I was sitting there at the back of the church in blue jeans and a dress shirt because I wasn’t particularly close to the family, and it hadn’t occurred to me that people would be wearing suits and ties until I’d walked into the building and seen them wearing suits and ties. Honestly, I doubt the dead man would have remember my name even if I’d seen him a few days before he died. So, I sat there in my completely inappropriate clothing wondering who might be sitting at the back of my funeral wearing inappropriate clothing? Who have I influenced without ever realizing it, and who’s life have I changed, even though I don’t remember who they are?

We all influence people on a daily basis. In 1 Peter 2:11-12 the apostle exhorts his audience to live righteously so that those who would malign them will see the truth of their virtue in their daily lives. Paul does the same thing in Titus. It might be one of my students, or someone at church, or a person whom I met at a local coffee shop. It might be someone to whom I’ve taught martial arts, or a neighbor, or someone I ran into at the mall. Regardless, there are people to whom my life matters that I will never know about, and I have to wonder how I’ve influenced them. Have I spurred them towards righteousness? Driven them away from the faith? Made them give up on a dream? Or pulled them back into reality? I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been, because I can see how this man influenced me.

Of course, if I spend all of my time trying to be a strong role model to whom others should look in awe, then I invite pride, hypocrisy, and deceit into my life. The man who died wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t even close to it, and he didn’t hide his flaws, but he was also humble, forthright, and consistently inspired me towards Christ. He was a navy man, and I remember something he told me about serving in Korea. He told me that it was always easy to tell who the Christians were on the ship. When the shop docked at post most of the crew went into town to get drunk and visit prostitutes. The Christians were the ones who came back and felt horrible about it. He pointed out to me that the mark of a Christian is not that he is morally perfect, but that he is convicted of his sin, and that he seeks repentance.

I have often heard the argument that repentance is a turning away from sin. That a part of repentance is to not do the same thing again, and this is true to a degree. Christ did tell the adulterous to go and sin no more (assuming that this story is a part of the original text), and he does hold us to a higher calling. However, he also offers us grace. There is a difference between repeated sin and willful sin. I may stumble in the same fashion many times, but this doesn’t mean that I have chosen to live in that sin. However, this is a difference of the heart that only God can judge. I can’t look at someone else’s struggle with a particular sin and judge whether he truly repents and stumbles again, or whether he’s simply stopped caring about that particular sin. I can point out to him that it is something he needs to avoid. I do everything in my power to help him to avoid it, and I may gain some insight into his motives. However, I can’t truly know his heart.

So, I think, using this professor as a model once again, that the best way to be a role model is to pursue Christ with everything that I have. To put him first and do everything in my power to live my life for him. I try to do this, and I hope that I succeed. I hope that I am a good influence on the people around me, and that I stand out as a Christian truly pursuing the father, and as a man of virtue. Maybe when I die I’ll find out if I did.

P.S. I’ve had more posts than followers for a while now :). It makes me feel like I’m winning.