But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — (Ephesians 2:4-5)
As I’ve shared before, our society and even the Christian faith itself, either over-emphasizes or under-emphasizes the idea of sin. Those who over-emphasize sin give it too much power. This group of people give sin more power than Divine grace. When our sin can force God to withhold grace, we become, in some way, more powerful than God. This is blasphemy.
Likewise, one can under-emphasize sin. Sin is real and has power to destroy. When one does not take sin seriously, individuals and societies can walk into destruction. Personally, I believe in the idea of Original Sin. Now, I don’t believe in the historical reality of Adam and Eve, but I do believe in the larger story that we have somehow “fallen,” and through free-will separated ourselves from God.
Lent is a time for each of us to ponder the reality of sin, and how it affects us. Sin can be a blessing. When sin acts successfully as a deterrent, it keeps us from making bad and calamitous decisions. The way we recognize sin is through our conscience. In our previous Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order, it stated, “God alone is Lord of the Conscience.” I love that phrase. Any guilt we feel is the hand of God upon our hearts, leading us through the sinful minefields of life. When our conscience is dulled by sin, God is unable to fully help us.
Too often sin is viewed as something that keeps us from fully experiencing the fullness of life. That is a mistaken notion. Properly addressing sin is the way to true freedom. When I was in High School, I ran Cross Country. At least once per week, we would run by Cobb Cook Elementary School. The school had a fence around it, and the kids would run up and playfully give us a hard time, and we would bang on the fence and tease them back. We would make the circle around town and go past Washington Elementary. They had no fence, and the kids stayed close to the school building and its teachers.
Now you could say that Cobb Cook’s kids were fenced in like criminals because of the fencing, but they were actually more free than the kids from Washington. The Washington kids were more free, but the freedom was too intimidating and left the kids too scared to venture too far. Within protective limits, the Cobb Cook kids could run and play in every inch of their playground. The Washington kids had so much more room, but they were unable to take advantage of it.
In the same way, people who don’t know, think we are imprisoned by God’s concept of sin. But actually, within the Christian guidelines, we are free to act fully within the parameters and are truly free. When we have no parameters, we play it safe and do not fully experience the freedom or, symbolically speaking, run out into the street and get hurt. Either way, there is little real freedom.
On this Lenten day, focus on the benefits of God’s gift of sin. Think about how you’ve viewed sin at different points in your life. How has sin motivated or guided you, for better or worse? What are your beliefs on sin’s role? Then, pray for God’s wisdom on the issue of sin. Ask God to let your conscience be a compass that leads you safely through life’s challenges, safely into the arms of our loving God.