Sins vs. Sin

A small view of sin results in a small view of the Gospel.

If our understanding of depravity is that we do bad things (or fail to do the right things), we focus only on sins in the plural. In that understanding, sin is tied to behaviors or actions that we do or don’t do. And certainly those sins are abhorrent to God (Proverbs 6:16-19, Galatians 5:19-21, etc.). But sin is bigger than acts of sinning.

Scripture speaks of sin as the nature that we as human beings are born with (Romans 7:18). It is what comes naturally out of our hearts apart from Christ. It is what makes us enemies of God who are destined to receive His wrath (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:3). It is the constant inclination of our hearts away from God (Genesis 6:5).

That sin is so pervasive that even our seemingly righteous acts can come out of a heart that is set on autonomy from God (Isaiah 64:6). Martin Luther coined a phrase that aptly depicts this pervasive sin in our hearts: incurvatus in se.  This Latin phrase means “curved in on oneself.” The essence of our sin is that we try to save ourselves–we try to make life work apart from God.

When we begin to grasp the depth of that sin, and when we begin to realize that even our virtue is clouded with self-salvation efforts, we can cry out with Paul in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But it is that cry of wretchedness that then opens the door to exclaim in great joy with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25)

Seeing sin in all its ugly depth allows us to see the Gospel in all its wonder and beauty.


50 Years!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI flew up to Portland, Oregon yesterday in order to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, together with my siblings and their families. In a time in which commitments of any kind are hard to come by, let alone the commitment of marriage “till death do us part,” it is a tremendous gift to have parents who are still married after 50 years! And while my siblings and I certainly wish that there was a greater depth of friendship and intimacy in our parents’ marriage, we still rejoice in God’s faithfulness to carry them through all these years, and we honor their faithfulness to one another “for better or for worse.”

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Because we are sinful human beings, the picture that our marriages portray is often clouded and less than perfect. And yet even in that it is still an accurate picture, because Christ has loved us even when “we were dead in our trespasses and sins” and He has given His very life for us “while we were yet sinners” and enemies of Him. So I rejoice in these 50 years that my parents have remained faithful to their wedding vows, and I rejoice even more in the faithfulness of my God to love me in spite of all my sin and brokenness!

50 anniv parents

Lost in My Found-ness

I’ve been enjoying the daily devotional posts of The Lent Project, from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts. The writer of the devotional for April 5th focused on the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus (from Luke 22:66-71), and she shared honestly how she sees herself often standing with the Sanhedrin on that same pedestal of judgment:

How often do I find myself where the Sanhedrin was that day, standing in judgment of the one who I have been waiting for.  The one who had come to save me from myself, but whom I could not fully accept. You see, I want to make God in my own image. I want to be the one who dictates what the Savior looks like, sounds like, where he is from, and what he will do to bring justice.  My justice.  I stand there, mumbling along with others like me.  Not ones who are lost in their sin, but even worse, the ones who are lost in their found-ness. And so I condemn him.  Not because he is wrong, but because he is right and because intellectually, I believe him.

The thought that there could be another category of lostness–that a person could be “lost in their found-ness”–is unsettling. Unsettling because it is true. And unsettling because it sounds an awful lot like me.

Like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the Lost Sons (in Luke 15), I too am responsible and dutiful, obedient and “good.” Like that elder brother, I have not run off to ruin my life and bring shame on my family. And like that elder brother, I protest with righteous indignation at the unfairness of the father to lavish his love on one who was so obviously and deliberately lost rather than on me whose hard work should have earned it by now.

In my self-righteous insistence that I am found and not lost, I am blind to my actual condition. And in that unacknowledged lostness, I condemn the very One who is extending mercy and love to me, preferring instead to bank on my responsible obedience as a sufficient means of gaining the Father’s love.

Oh how patient and merciful the Father has been to me! And oh, what grace that He would open the eyes of the found to see the reality of our lostness and the insufficiency of our self-salvation projects. My heart resonates deeply with the prayer that closes the Lent devotional:

I am lost in my own found-ness, but long to be as one who is so desperate for true salvation that I take him just as he is because he sees me just as I am.  Father, forgive me, for I know exactly what I am doing by denying who you are because you challenge who I am.  You confront me in my comfortable religious life. Somehow let me be with the notorious ones who are drawn to you and know they need you now more than anything or anyone they have ever needed before or will need again.  I want to believe with my entire being that you are who you say you are. Let that be confirmation of my salvation and not of my own condemnation.

Amen! [Read the whole devotional here]

Solitude Is Not Just for Introverts

Introverts, by definition, gain energy from time alone; in contrast to extroverts, who gain energy from being with people. Thus I have found that introverts are more naturally attracted to disciplines of solitude and retreat, and those who land more on the extroverted end of the spectrum are much less interested. But spiritual disciplines are means of grace for all temperaments–we are not meant to just pick and choose whatever feels most comfortable to our personality type.

If I, as an introvert, am entering solitude merely as a way to recharge or get away, I probably am not truly engaging in solitude as a spiritual discipline–I’m just being an introvert. Not that solitude has to be hard and uncomfortable in order to truly be a discipline, but disciplines are purposeful activities intended to create space for God. So even as an introvert who is comfortable in solitude, I need to go into it with a clear intention to meet with God and open my heart to Him, not just to unwind. But as I meet with God in solitude, He may indeed make that a time of unwinding and recharging and restfulness (though sometimes it may also be a time of wrestling or dryness or unrest).

Solitude may feel more like a discipline to an extrovert, but that does not take away from the value of it. Any athlete knows that the saying “No pain–no gain” is simply the reality of training–in order to perform at their peak and enjoy the game to the fullest, they must do the hard, painful, tiring work of training their body in practice. In the same way, we as Christians train our hearts in order to enjoy relationship with God to the fullest, and some of the heart-training (i.e. spiritual discipline) we engage in is difficult and uncomfortable, but still valuable and necessary. So an extroverted person can learn to enjoy the discipline of solitude as well, even if that is not something he would be naturally drawn toward. And the ways in which an extroverted personality engages with God in solitude might look different than an introverted experience of solitude, but that is OK because the aim is still the same, to create space for God to minister to her heart.

So if you–like me–have a more introverted temperament, learn to distinguish between your natural bent toward time alone and an intentional engagement with God in solitude, for the purpose of growth toward maturity in Christ. And if, on the other hand, you find your extroverted personality resisting even the thought of solitude, give it a try, perhaps in small doses, and experiment with ways of utilizing your strong relational skills to engage more deeply with God in that time.