Living Well 5: Sin Within to Beauty Without
None of these seem to really satisfy the intellect or the soul. The first, that humans are inherently evil, completely takes away our value. Something cannot be pure evil and have any real value at the same time. Every beautiful act of kindness or altruism would have to be seen as a product of the individual acting for their own gain. It just doesn’t sit right in our guts, it doesn’t make sense with what our souls know to be true – there’s something beautiful about us.
The second idea, that humans are inherently good and it is only the social problems that create bad outside circumstances that cause people to engage in bad behavior. There are a few problems with this. One, who created the bad circumstances if people are inherently good? Social and family problems might be contributors to evil behavior, but don’t people make up societies and families? People are also capable of choosing their own actions and behavior and are not a mere product of their societies. Inherently good people choose good regardless of the outside influences. I also believe that as individuals, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we can feel that we are not completely good, we can sense that there is some sort of ugliness to our nature, something that makes us desire that which is evil. It’d be nice if we were purely good, but there is something nasty in our hearts.
The idea of human behavior being morally neutral and their behavior is only a product of the natural world has some similar problems. If human behavior comes from conditions outside of the realm of control of the individual, then the individual is not actually personally responsible for their actions. An individual must have true free will, the ability to make decisions in a manner that transcends conditions, for the individual to be responsible for what they do. Otherwise, the responsibility lies on the external conditions. That seemed like a tangent, but I’m just making the point that if people are morally neutral, then no one can be held responsible for what they do. Our souls don’t sit well with the idea that we don’t have real control over our own lives, only an illusion of control. It’s because the ability to choose what we do is real and is influenced by, but not determined by, the environment.
Scripture’s picture of the nature of human nature is a little different and similar to these other views. Everyone is sinful from birth. People are born into sin and their tendencies are toward dishonoring and hurting themselves, God, and others. The individual has this part of them that is really dirty, really ugly, and really messes with their lives. This part of us makes us capable of knowingly injuring, sometimes destroying, the lives of others. No one is exempt. There is no one that is righteous, not a single one. All have done wrong and have an inborn capacity to sin that comes from inborn desires for the wrong things. We are screwed up people.
And then, there’s this other story. People are beautiful beyond words. We sometimes have a hard time seeing this in ourselves because we are more likely to see our crap instead of what is wonderful about us. We can see it in others though. Everyone of us knows someone whose heart is breathtaking. Others can see it in us too. It’s there. We are amazing creatures, made in the very image of God with immeasurable value. Just so it’s clear, the value of the splendor God placed inside of us far exceeds the nastiness of the sin that resides in us.
Um, so, that’s complicated. That’s difficult. The way that works out in real life is confusing. It’s true though. Awing wonder and awful horror are aspects of every human being. This is relieving and frustrating. Why were we made with these two natures? Why were we not created beautiful alone? The answer is that we were, but the world is not as it once was. What do we do now? How do we get rid of that which dirties us?
This is where Jesus comes in. For those of us who have decided that the way of the Messiah is to be the way of our lives, Jesus has offered separation from the crap inside of ourselves. For those that believe in the Messiahship, divinity, and power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, may also be free from the part of them that is sinful. Romans lays this out a little bit for us… “through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death… and so he condemned sin in sinful man” Jesus frees us from the law that works within us and, avoiding condemnation of us, condemns the ugliness inside of us. If the law of sin that works within us is condemned to death by God, then, well, it’s as good as dead. Therefore, because we have been freed from that part and it is doomed to death, that part of us no longer is a real part of us. Who we are, and the sin inside of us become separate. Humanity left to their own nature is stuck with both the splendid and atrocious aspects of their nature. Through God, those who are being saved have only the splendid. They are only defined by the wonderful parts of who they are.
Still, for us who pursue God, the sinful nature is still within us. Also in Romans it says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members… Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I that do it, but sin living in me that does it.” So, there is still sin within us that works against us, but because of the work of Christ, the sin within us is no longer a part of who we are. We are not sinful by nature, but our very nature has been changed so that we are by nature creatures of the law of the Spirit of life. We still have the option of being sinful though. We can still choose to live from our sinful nature.
This is the difficulty of the Christian life. We are by nature beautiful and pure, but have within our bodies a nature that is ugly and full of impurity. We can choose to live out of our sinful nature, but we have to remember that “we are not controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in us.” All who belong to Christ have this Spirit and this Spirit destroys our sinful nature but brings the righteousness to our spirit that brings life. Because of the work of the Spirit in purifying us and so remaking us into creatures of unfathomable beauty, we have both an obligation and a freedom to live from this Spirit.
We have to recognize and believe that the sin within us is no longer a part of us and no longer has any power over us. Because God has placed His Spirit within us through the death and new life of Christ, the power is now all ours. We’re free from sin: its guilt, shame, condemnation, chains, power, influence, and pain. It is our choice then whether to live from sin, and so give it power, or live from the Spirit and the power the Spirit has. We have beauty inside of us beyond what we can ever comprehend. The more that we manifest this beauty through our actions of obedient love toward God and others, the stronger the power of the Spirit of life becomes, and indeed, the more alive we will be. Living well ultimately comes down to living as a child of the God of Life: pure, righteous, free, powerful, and with a beauty that comes from the God of Beauty.