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Oops, my bad - Story of Sin

Unfortunately, believers in Jesus are experts in the subject of sin. We have too much experience with it, sadly.

On the other hand, when it comes to theological discussions about the origin, nature, and transmission of sin, the questions are harder than they look.

That is what we discussed this morning in the adult Bible hour class, The Story of our Beliefs (see here for class information and here for the class presentation).

As believers, what we yearn to talk about is how thankful we are to know our sins are forgiven. We have experienced the awfulness of our rebelliousness and know that disobedience keeps us separated from God. So, to know that our sin has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more, well that is truly bliss (to paraphrase Spafford's famous hymn).

In light of that internal yearning, what would lift our hearts and encourage us would be to read and reflect on David's emotional Psalm 51, which talks of sin, remorse, and gratitude for forgiveness. We could spend our time weeping over our wrongs and rejoicing in forgiveness. That would be joy.

As important and joyful as that discussion would be for our experience of the Christian life, that is not the direction that a theological discussion of sin would take us. That is the downside of theology (and the lesson we are learning in our class). Namely, theological reflection is necessary, but too often it pulls us away from the encouragement we find in practical matters and points us towards impractical responses to philosophical questions.

Theologically, we can define sin. We are certainly experts at recognizing sin when we see it, especially in the lives of others. We can also agree with definitions from the current evangelical theologians. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, says, "Sin is failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature." In his book, Christian Theology, Millard Erickson says essentially the same thing, "Sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or inner disposition or state."*

(*Doesn't it strike you a little strange that those quotes are eerily similar in structure and vocabulary?)

In the early centuries of the Church, however, theologians followed different paths in answering a pair of conflicting questions. It is a simplistic summary of the first theological discussions on sin, but we can characterize the debate by asking, "are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners?" These are questions that still divide.

The debate went to the extremes as Pelagius and Augustine battled over the question. Pelagius thought Augustine was too fatalistic, that we are responsible for our own sins not the sin of Adam, and we have the capacity to obey. We are sinners because we sin.

Augustine taught that man was sinful because of Adam's disobedience, we inherited a sinful nature, we are enslaved to sin, and we need a work of God's grace to find salvation. We sin because we are sinners.

In the end, the Church condemned Pelagianism and Augustine's views won the day. True, some tried to find a middle ground between the two sides, and that perspective actually carried well into the middle ages.

Then came the Reformation and .... well, we continue that discussion next week.

What is important, is to believe in Jesus, and know his death on the cross was the sacrifice we need to have peace with God. The discussions of theologians were and are necessary, but what keeps us going as we wait for the final restoration of righteousness is to know that his Grace is Greater than all our Sin.

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