Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sin or Sins?

So which is it that we are forgiven on through faith in Christ? Is it our “sins”, or is it our “sin”? Have you ever noticed that both terms are used as nouns in the Scriptures? Have you ever noticed that we seem to use the terms interchangeably? Are you thinking right now that I am making a hair-splitting distinction based on a plural form of the noun that is meaningless?

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I think the real answer to the first question I posed above is “both”. When we see the plural form “sins” used, and when we use it in our speech, we are referring to the specific actions that we commit that come from our sinful nature. These are acts of rebellion and disobedience to God, whether they be only thoughts that we entertain or direct actions that we physically carry out. Each of our “sins” are a willful, deliberate act that we commit. Acts that need to be forgiven and remitted. Acts that can only be forgiven and remitted by the application of the blood of Jesus Christ to our personal lives by faith. All of us understand this sense of being forgiven by God through faith in Christ for the wrongs we have done, for our sins.

But what about when the Bible uses the singular noun “sin”? For example, consider John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:29 when he sees Jesus coming to the Jordan: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Notice that he doesn’t say “the sins of the world”, referring as we said above to the specific acts that need to be forgiven. No, here he says that Christ removes the sin of the world. Not just forgiveness of the specific acts of sin which have been carried out. No, more than that it seems. The statement here is that Jesus removes the actual sin, that He not only forgives the acts but also takes away that which the sinful acts spring from.

We see Paul use these kind of terms all over the letter to the Romans, where the singular form of the noun is almost exclusively used. For example, in Romans 6:6-7 where he states that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” What we see here is not the specific acts of sin, but rather the power and dominion and bondage of sin in the life of the believer in Christ. Repeatedly we are told that through Christ, we are freed from this bondage, released from slavery to our depraved natures, and enabled to refrain from committing “sins”.

So again, the answer is “both”. We are forgiven for every willful act of sin that we ever have or will commit, through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and our participation in that sacrifice by faith. And we are released from the bondage to our sin natures that resulted in those willful acts, and are given new natures which are renewed in righteousness.

So why do I think this is important? Because I think far too often we only refer to our “sins” when we talk of forgiveness in Christ, and forget about (maybe intentionally) the truth of our depraved sinful hearts that we had to be freed from. That we were so mastered by that there was no way we could ever free ourselves. This focus on “what I did” to the exclusion of “who I was” in my view trivializes the real root of our spiritual deadness that Christ died to redeem, and makes it far too easy to begin to think of acts of sinful rebellion as merely “mistakes” or “errors”. Unless we have a fully developed understanding of the depth of our depravity apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot have a full understanding and appreciation for the sovereign grace of God in Christ that redeemed us from those depths. And we will never give Him the glory and worship He so richly deserves.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Can't remember who said this - probably my mom - but, "It's not a mistake...it's a SIN." Even as Christians we try to gloss sin by calling it "a mistake", when perhaps it might be more helpful just to admit it for what it is.