Often we understand the act of sinning in the same way we understand breaking a rule. Committing a sin is doing something you are not supposed to do. Although to a certain extent this understanding is accurate, the reality of sin that requires a savior is much more complex.
If avoiding sin was as simple as not breaking certain rules, then there’s reason to believe that we could do away with sin altogether with hard work, focus and determination. If we can be law-abiding citizens when it comes to traffic laws, why can’t we be law-abiding citizens when it comes to God’s law? The difference between breaking a traffic law and sinning against God is that one brings to mind a clear framework of consequences, while the other does not.
When we approach a red light we slow down to a full stop, because we know that if we are caught speeding through a red light and breaking a traffic law we will have to pay a fine that we would rather not have to pay. So we stop. Sin is different. While there are specific things God has commanded us not to do, we tend to understand God in one of two ways. On the one hand, God is love and Jesus forgives us so we say, “Sorry,” and we move on, no harm no foul. On the other hand, God is outraged with our transgression, but thankfully can be appeased with enough prayers, lit candles, hours at the church or hours reading the Bible. We say we understand the consequences of sin, but in reality we believe strongly that the terrifying consequence of eternal damnation can be avoided or prevented at the hand of grace or good works.
The biblical representation of sin and the problem of sin is quite different than most of us think. While we tend to view sin as action the reality is that sin is an identity. It is not something we do from time to time. Sin is something we are, what we breathe in and out even in the moments when we feel far from sinful thoughts or actions. Sin is in us. It is desperately, persistently seeking opportunities to act.
To understand sin in our lives we must understand its origins. If we look at how sin entered the world we learn two things that help us to understand the echo of sin throughout history and into the present day. First, sin entered the world as a result of direct disobedience to God’s command and God’s creation. Second, and more importantly, the act of disobedience was preceded by the belief in a lie: that we know better than God what we should or shouldn’t do, and that while God seeks to merely glorify himself, freedom from God would end our bondage to His laws and allow us to create our own laws and rule according to our own desires.
Looking back to the origin of sin it also becomes clear that the consequences of sin are more comprehensive and expansive than we once thought. If sin is disobeying God’s commands and creation and deciding to glorify ourselves as opposed to God, sin is not what we “sometimes do.” We sin throughout the day, and the impact of our sinfulness on others, the world and God is too complex for us to cover up.
Sin is our instinct, and it is a destructive one. Sin does not multiply peace. Sin disrupts peace. Sin destroys peace. It is vicious. Sin blinds us to the consequences our actions and thoughts have on those around us in wild self-glorification. We can’t fix our sinful natures; we need to be rescued from them. The most powerful prayer we can pray is “Lord, save me from myself!”