When I was a kid I had a Kids’ Bible, which contained boxes with queries, discussions and kid-related dilemmas. I remember one of them, which posed the question: “If God forgives me of my sin, then what does it matter if I keep on sinning?”
I can’t remember the full content of the ‘answer’, but the Kids’ Bible raised a good question, which I’m sure many of us have considered at one time or another. It can be a theological dilemma that adults have struggled with as well.
I think that the quandary comes from our focus on Jesus as the means of forgiveness for past sins. Through Jesus’ death, we are cleansed of our sin, we are justified before God, and now we are reconciled for eternity.
Although this is true, it is only half of the story. Because after Jesus died, he was resurrected – showing us that life with Jesus had only just begun. With the emphasis on the work of Jesus’ death, we sometimes forget about the call of salvation through Jesus’ life. As Paul puts it:
“For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Romans 5.10).
For all the talk of ‘sin’ in our churches, I think we sometimes forget that we are still sinners. Redeemed sinners – yes – but this is just the beginning. The call to discipleship is a daily renunciation of all that is dark, all that causes death, in our individual and collective lives.
I fear that it is precisely our theology of ‘sin’ that causes us to be blind to its presence in our lives and in the world. By telling ourselves that Jesus has dealt with sin – because, in a way, he has – we forget that it continues on, causing damage and death. Christians fail to treat each other with love, fail to stand up for justice. And we find ourselves caught in systems that oppress and exploit. Though we are reconciled with God, we are still gripped by sin.
It is almost as if we ‘externalise’ the sin in our lives, and use others as scapegoats for the sin that still lurks in our hearts. So we demonise others: people who are gay, women who have had abortions, or for the more ‘progressive’ of us, Liberal Party politicians. Sinners are people who are not like us, we tell ourselves.
Many of us fall into the trap of believing that because we have been redeemed from sin, we no longer need to think about its presence in our lives. We live in a culture where ‘sin’ as a concept is out of vogue, and we like to think of ourselves as victims instead. For all of our talk about us being ‘sinners’, I think that we in the church are liable to make the same mistake.
Reconciliation with God has been achieved, and now comes the hard part: of walking beside Jesus in his life, day by day. Life with Jesus is life in abundance – but we must deal daily with the reality of our sin.