Over recent months the books that I have been reading have led to consider the nature of sin. Commonly it is understood as things we do wrong. This is well described in The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge.
“People magazine in America once undertook a part-serious, part-tongue-in-cheek survey of its readers on the subject of sin. The results were published as a “Sindex,” with each sin rated by a sin coefficient. The outcome is both amusing and instructive. Murder, rape, incest, child abuse, and spying against one’s country were rated the worst sins, in ascending order, with smoking, swearing, masturbation, and illegal videotaping far down the list. Parking in a handicapped spot was rated surprisingly high, whereas unmarried live-togethers got off lightly. Cutting in front of someone in line was deemed worse than divorce or capital punishment. Predictably, corporate sin was not mentioned, though it is at the top of the Hebrew prophets’ list.
Overall, readers said they commit about 4.64 sins a month. We may laugh at this, but clearly, our sense of sin as specific actions is deeply ingrained.”
Routledge brings the Biblical perspective that “Sin” is not something that we do, but a power that controls us. Sin is a power alongside death, both of which are defeated on the cross.
On sin as a power she says,
“Note that Paul does not say “Jesus never sinned” or “Jesus did not commit sin.” That is because Sin in Paul is not something that one commits; it is a Power by which one is held helplessly in thrall.”
“The Reformers reclaimed a radical sense of sin: “They saw that sin meant disobedience, rebellion, refusal, turning away. In short, they saw it as a relational term . . . the foundational relationship of human life — our relation with God — is broken; and this brokenness shows up in all our other relations. . . . Whether we should even speak of ‘sins’ (plural) is questionable; but if we do, we should understand that they are consequences of what is wrong, not its causes.””
“ sin is not so much naughty actions or even egregious wrongdoing; it is an infectious disease.”
The fact that sin is a power, rather than things we do wrong, has consequences. It means we need God to do something, we are powerless to overcome sin ourselves.
“ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin’ ” (John 8:34). This means that not even repentance can overcome sin and restore us to God.”
“No human being has proven capable of breaking the grip of Sin and Death on the human race. Only God can do that.”
“The clear implication here is that there is no way for the human being to move from the domain of Sin to the domain of God’s righteousness unless there is an invasion of the kingdom of Sin from outside.”
“When Paul says “God made him to be sin,” he can be understood to say that in the tormented, crucified body of the Son, the entire universe of Sin and every kind of evil are concentrated and judged — not just forgiven, but definitively, finally, and permanently judged and separated from God and his creation.”
I saw a Facebook post over Easter from a Christian friend of some standing, she posted, Please, can you help? I was asked a wonderful question recently: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” At the moment I confess struggled to give an answer… What would you say?”
Understanding sin (and death and Satan) as powers help us answer. God overcame the power of Sin, Death and Satan – defeating them on the cross and declaring his victory through the resurrection.
The fact that Sin is defeated, means we are empowered to overcome sin. Andy McCullough writes
“We must not forget that Sin as Tyrant is as big a theme in the biblical witness as Sin as Choice. The latter is still true, and the Christian formulation of sin includes both, but one of the things that makes Christianity unique as a world religion is the picture of sin as a power oppressing humankind and hence necessitating a Saviour. Islam, for instance, would teach Sin as Choice but not Sin as Tyrant. We, however, have a Saviour who came not to judge but to save the world!”
“God’s forgiveness is not hard to attain. I am clean, I get dirty, I am washed clean again. In the Christian narrative, however, humanity is fallen, sin is either something intrinsic to us (like cancer) or a power over us (like Pharaoh), and the mere washing of forgiveness is insufficient. Repentance means death.”
Written by Tony Thompson