A Healthy Understanding of Sin
"Judah, are you a sinner?"
His beady eyes went around the lunch table. He could not tell if he was supposed to be funny or serious. We had just returned from church and I was in the middle of telling a story. During the Lord's Supper Judah had expressed a desire to partake. I took the opportunity to talk to him about sin, Jesus' body being broken, and Jesus' blood being shed.
I am a paedocommunion apologist. But I respect my local church, the elders, and our collective confession. So I aggressively educate my children. I asked Judah if he realized he was a sinner. He said, "yes" and then he proceeded to point to every other member of the family to state that they too were a sinner. He was not seeking to justify himself in pointing out the sins of others. He was just reiterating the theological truth that he was learning.
At lunch, his eyes met mine and he smiled. He answered my mom, "Yes, I'm a sinner." He proceeded to go around the table saying each person was a sinner. Until he got my father—Pastor Grambo (the name is a long story). He stopped to consider if he was a sinner and answered in the negative. There was a round of laughter and some correction. Once again he was back to "everyone's a sinner."
In the broader world of evangelicalism, this is an important proposition. I am very glad that he affirms it. As believers grow this truth leads to very important questions—what is sin? Are we ever not sinning?
This is crucial in pastoral theology. It is also crucial in parental theology (aka "how to raise children"). Every human activity is tainted by our fallenness but does that mean every activity is inherently "sinful?" Paul says what is not done in faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Does this not imply that there are things done in faith that are not sinful? Similarly, the author of Hebrews says it is impossible to please God ... without faith (Heb 11:6). Does this not imply that actions done in faith are pleasing to God?
Someone, I am sure, will point to Isaiah 64:6 to prove that the "righteous deeds" of humans are sinful. I have elsewhere shown that this passage as well as Ezekiel 36:16-18 point to the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel. These statements are contained to Israel in her covenant state before God with their wicked religious practices. These can be applied to the church when they are in rebellion, but not of believers in general. The debate over Romans 7 is age-old. Yet, even those who affirm that Romans 7 is pre-conversion (which I do) attest that Christians remain perpetual sinners. This is not the same as saying every act is a perpetual sin.
A "healthy understanding of sin" is to acknowledge that we are all wretched sinners who need God's grace; but it is not an unrealized grace. This grace is not stuck in the heavens but is found in Jesus Christ. Yet, even more, it is not found in a stagnate Jesus Christ. It is found in the resurrected and reigning Christ.
This Jesus Christ nailed our debt to the cross and publicly humiliated the forces of evil (Col 2:13-15). We have been completely liberated from death (Heb 2:14-15). All this is done by a resurrected Jesus Christ. Resurrected not solely for His justification but for ours (Rom 4:23-25). This means that our resurrection is a reality (Eph 2:4-6). There is something quantifiably different in the resurrected person. Our justification from sin and death is a present reality (Rom 6:7-11).
A healthy understanding of sin recognizes it's dominion over everything that does not belong to Christ. Among those who belong to Christ sin no longer has dominion. It has been put to shame. It has been mocked and ridiculed on the stage of redemptive history. Sanctification lives in this reality.
Yes, Judah is a sinner. Yet, he is a sinner who can please his earthly father. He is a sinner who can please his Heavenly Father. Not because of any work he has done (Eph 2:9) but because His Savior became man to conquer sin for mankind. A healthy understanding of sin acknowledges that it is permanently nailed to a cross.