Understanding Sin and Where It Brings Us

Understanding Sin and Where It Brings Us

Sin. We can’t talk about what it means to be a follower of Jesus without discussing sin. It’s a word we find a lot in the Bible and a word that has been used in all sorts of ways throughout the eras of the Christian church. Sometimes sin hasn’t been explained well, and sometimes God’s answer to sin hasn’t been celebrated as the vital second half of the story of God’s life with us.

I’m reading the New Testament book of Romans with a group at church, and we have plunged right in with Paul, the writer of Romans, to talk of sin and its effects on people in the very first chapter of this book. Paul is writing to a church in the big, first-century city of Rome that has never had a visit from an apostle, has never had foundational teaching on what it means to believe in Jesus as Savior and to follow him. This letter to the Roman church explains the basic gospel message of what Jesus has done for every person who will ever live.

And this message is straight-forward right away about the serious nature of sin. God can’t tolerate sin because it is against everything true and life-giving that is found in him. Only in God will we find light and life. It’s in God alone we find beauty and truth.

We teach preschoolers that all of us are born with a “want to” to sin. So just what is sin? It’s doing things my way instead of God’s way. Romans explains that everyone has some sense of God:

… since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. ~ Romans 1:20

So, when we sense God and his moving in our lives, his guiding and his love, we can choose to respond to him and to follow his leading. We can choose to let God be God. Or, we can choose to be our own god. We can choose to follow our own will, our own way.

A book by Dallas Willard speaks about this first chapter of Romans in discussing sin and the soul of human beings:

Human beings have always known there is a God … But they were not pleased that he should have the place in the universe that he does have merely because he is who he is. And this is the key to understanding humanity’s present condition. The first of the Ten Commandments [“You shall have no other gods before me”] deals with this inclination away from God (Exodus 20:2-3). As Augustine saw clearly, God being God offends human pride. If God is running the universe and has first claim on our lives, guess who ISN’T running the universe and does not get to have things as they please. ~ Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, pp. 51-53

This truth about humanity leads us to the rest of Romans 1 and Paul’s talk of the descent of people into their choices for themselves rather than for God. Their descent into sin. There is a saying, “We make our choices and our choices make us.” It’s true about our choice for God or for ourselves. When we choose to follow our own way for ourselves, we start down a path that takes us further and further from God, and because God has given us free will, he allows us to make the choice.

Romans 1 explains this process using the  phrase, “God gave them over …” a few times. God gave them over “to sexual impurity,” “to shameful lusts,” and “to a depraved mind” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28)  [Willard proceeds with a very helpful discussion about Paul’s focus on sexual sin in this passage. In summary, I’ll share these words, “The human body becomes the primary area of pleasure for the person who does not live honestly and interactively with God … God abandons them to their pursuit of every pleasurable sensation they can wring out of the body–primarily sexual, for that usually gives the greatest ‘kick,’ but bodily violence is a close second. This is the spiritual root of obsession with ‘sex and violence’ in decadent societies, whether our own or those of other times and places.” ~ Renovation of the Heart, p. 53 ]

And here is where our sin can gain momentum. Willard explains that a pastor used to reason with those he counseled, asking, “You say you will accept God when you want to? How do you know you will be able to want to when you think you will?”

“The absolutely lost person,” writes Willard, ” is the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to be God. Multitudes of people pass by every day, and pass into eternity. The reason they do not find God is that they do not want him or, at least do not want HIM to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.” ~ Renovation of the Heart, p. 58.

Therein lies the seriousness of sin, friends. When we don’t acknowledge God and look to him as God, we remove ourselves further and further from God’s goodness in our lives. The Bible is the story of sinner after sinner coming to God and finding love and life in God. Yet God won’t force anyone to live with him. He loves us infinitely and wants only that we will live our lives with him, yet it’s a choice he gives us to make.

Sin: doing it my way instead of God’s way. The flip side of sin is life with Jesus, where even when I am prone to lose sight of his way,  God sees me as right before him because Jesus already took that sin and died for it on my behalf. The rest of Romans talks about this half of God’s story.

The choice is ours. Life with myself or life with God. What do you say?

Do you have questions that linger about sin or about choosing life with God? Is there something that still keeps you from moving toward God? Would you share your thoughts here or with someone in your life who is living with God?

[Thank you to RyanBSchultz/Flickr for the use of your photo!]

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  1. Leslie (http://Website)
    Jan 28, 2014

    I really enjoyed these words, Brenda. Very profound and yet very simple. Our rebellion stems from our desire to be in control, to always be comfortable, to always have things the way that we think they should be. From there it all unravels.
    How exquisite it is to know that we can find our way back every time, when we just yield to God and accept that our times are in his hands. Jesus has made a way for us. What an amazing thing that is!

    • Brenda
      Jan 28, 2014

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Leslie. Yes, that Jesus has made a way for us to come back to God is the highlight of this issue of sin. I just read this great quote by John Newton, who was involved in the slave trade for a long time until he joined his life with Jesus. He said, “I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” That says it!

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