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Simply Church: Sin

Admittedly, this aspect of church is kind of a weird one to talk about. We all know that people we are in Jesus community with have sin in their lives, but it doesn’t seem like we should be sinful. There is a difficult tension in our churches: sin should not be present in the lives of those who have been saved from sin by Jesus Messiah and sin is present in the lives of those who have been saved from sin by Jesus Messiah. This tension has always existed in our churches.

James, when writing to believers, says, “we all stumble in many ways” (3.2).

John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1.8)

Peter, writing to those who are already Jesus followers, exhorts them to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Pt 2.1). Peter implies that these things are present and need to be put away.

Hebrews tells believers to “lay aside… sin which clings so closely” (12.1).

Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).

That is a small sampling from a number of different Biblical letter writings who are writing to different groups of believers. The New Testament descriptions of the churches and instructions to the churches are full of evidence that even under the New Covenant, everyone sins. Because of this and constant admonition to flee from sin, I think that the presence of sin in our churches needs to be both unsurprising and unacceptable. However, in this family the sinner who knows his need is always received with grace.

Accepting that sin is present in the community of believers (while also making sure it isn’t welcome there) has a number of implications for our relationships with one another. It shouldn’t be surprising when a brother or sister hurts us or sins against us. Siblings hurt each other. It’s terrible. It’s sad. It’s unacceptable. It’s going to happen. We’re going to hurt each other. Even without knowing it sometimes, it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, then we’re probably not being open with one another. The hope is this, that our sin against one another will be an opportunity to be more like our father, in whom, despite our sin against Him, grace always abounds and, even as the one sinned against, he is the first actor in our reconciliation. His grace is enough to restore any relationship.

With the acknowledgement of the presence of sin should come also an understanding of different perspectives. We can’t even do the good we want to do all the time or stop doing what we hate to do. How is it that we expect to know the complete truth about things far beyond our understanding? I believe in discussions over disagreements. I believe in trying to get things right about Scripture. But let’s not have deep familial divisions because of differing thoughts on baptism, women in leadership, the mechanism God used to create, and the like. It does make sense to spend more time with siblings whose perspective is most similar to yours, but no more telling people they don’t belong in the family because they don’t think the same way that you do on some trivial issue.

I think that a group acknowledgement that sin is present in the community at large, in specific brothers and sisters, and in our own lives helps us to deal with it. One of our primary goals together is to help each other become more like dad. A good starting place for this can be to talk to each other about the things in our life that look the opposite of dad and helping each other change that. Accepting that sin is present in us and in others is the first step to an open dialogue about this. Let’s not be on of those families that pretends to love each other because they pretend that nothing is wrong in the family. Rather, let’s be a family of open people who share what is wrong with us and, just like dad, let our first act in response to sin confession be to extend grace to our siblings.

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  1. January 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for writing this brother. You couldn’t have put it better: “Sin should be unsurprising and unacceptable.”

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