An article titled 9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus recently crossed my virtual desk. The list includes fear, apathy, gluttony, worry, flattery, comfort, consumerism, patriotism, and lying. I’ve been seeing a number of “sin list” type articles like this one come around lately.
When it comes to sin, I’m against it. But posts like this bug me. What rubs me the wrong way is (for instance) the implication that if I were a consistent Christian I would get a hint from the 365 times God says “Don’t be afraid” and not have a problem with fear or worry. I can count the Christians I have met on one finger who never seemed to worry about anything—but that person had other brands of sin that she struggled with.
Another thing that bugs me about lists like this is that they are often given as prophetic. Statements like this one, “5.) FLATTERY. I erased this like five times, but God kept telling me to put it back. So, I did.” Perhaps I am being cynical, but I read that as a wee bit self-aggrandizing, i.e., flattery with a healthy dash of self-righteousness.
The third thing that bugs me about these lists is that they seem so graceless. For instance, statements like “If you are a child of God, the one sin that shouldn’t plague you is…fear” can give the impression that if you struggle with fear then maybe you are not a child of God. I don’t see how this is helpful to people who struggle with that.
Right along with that is I think a fundamental misunderstanding about the relationship between saving grace and the sinful nature. Grace frees us from the penalty of sin. Grace enables us to see the ugliness of sin and gives us a hatred of it. Grace enables us to see the beauty of holiness and in doing so a desire to pursue a life of love. But grace does NOT remove or kill the sinful nature. The effects of Law are still the same: all the Law (God’s Law or manmade law) can do is show us what we ought to do, and prove that we can’t. We need grace.
As I said last week, while it is true that God’s grace radically changes us, and His Spirit gives us the ability to overcome and let go of sin and to grow in godliness, that sinful part of us is not gone, cured, or uprooted. Its terminal effects are stopped. It is forgiven. It no longer defines who we are. But we can’t ever be fully rid of sin this side of the grave. Therefore we should not be surprised when Christians sin, even when they (or we) sin big.
What should make Christians stand out is not so much the absence of sin (although that doesn’t hurt), but the presence and practice of forgiveness in response to sin; both to our own sin and the sin we see or experience in others. Let’s highlight that instead of listing all the imperfections we see in imperfect people. Anyone can do that. There is no spiritual gift needed for that. But grace….that is supernatural. Let’s go that way. There is way too little of that going around.