Sin gets a lot of 'air time' in some churches, and sometimes in the debate between church and society. Quite often the subject gets reduced to a few sins that somebody is irritated about or thinks are the worst ones in society right now (and conveniently, sins of which they don't believe they're guilty, so they can feel better about themselves). Preaching about sin is popular with some, but will preaching about it reduce
the amount of sin in the world, or even in the church? Doubtful. And what is sin? Is it a specific set of actions, or crossing the line on certain laws in the Bible? I believe that at its root, sin is much simpler than that -- and much more pervasive and subtle. Even you and I may be guilty...!
Jesus reiterated what we call the Two Great Commands -- to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (and in Luke 10:27, he approves of the lawyer's statement of these commands). Those two sound okay to most of us, especially because they sound really general. But how easy are they to perform? Well, to love God with all I am demands giving up all I am. To love my neighbor as myself means I am required to work just as hard for my neighbor's good as I do for my own. In today's culture, 'my neighbor's good' leads very quickly into a discussion of social justice. And why should it not? Doesn't my neighbor deserve the same advantages I have? (We also need to talk about social mercy, which is about giving to others even if they don't 'deserve' it. We'll get to that another time.)
I'm becoming convinced that the root of all our problems is self-centeredness: the ingrained habit of always making sure I get served, and my needs taken care of, before ever considering anyone else -- including the Almighty! If we look at the classic commandments the Lord gave Israel at Sinai, they start out with four that require putting God first (and the fourth command, for a Sabbath rest, had much to do with letting one's servants rest also). Then there are six more about not satisfying our appetites at the expense of others: Giving honor to one's parents, respecting life, protecting one's marriage, respecting property, protecting truth, and not even wishing for someone else's stuff
Yes, sin is an enormous problem because it hurts me and it hurts you. And the way I've been looking at it, the root of sin is the profound problem of always putting myself first -- which is so devious it can poke its ugliness into any situation, even when I'm trying to do something good for someone.
How do I "stop sinning" and do good instead? John's first epistle describes the principle of loving others. In 1 John 3:16, he defines love as self-giving: "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us." Then he writes "So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters." Giving up my life? That sounds pretty drastic! But isn't that what love is? We'll look more at what sin is, and some specific ways we can do good instead, next time. Stay tuned!