The Definition of Sin

I recently listened to the guys from CrossPolitic converse with Greg Johnson, the pastor of the PCA church hosting the Revoice conference. I appreciated how hard they worked to convey a different perspective to their guest. As I listened, however, it became apparent that the fundamental difference dividing their thinking from that of their guest was the definition of sin. I think the CrossPolitics guys recognized this as well, but I would like to suggest that our definition needs to take one more step.

Yes, sin is missing the mark. Yes, sin is lawlessness, but I think more important today is the realization that sin is anything less than the glory of God. That mark of complete impossibility is what we must repent of. The law is a detailed explication of what the glory of God looks like in action; a description of the character of God in all its glory.

Pastor Johnson is struggling with the idea of asking folks to repent of something non-volitional (and there is much more that should be said on that topic), but if sin is understood biblically, we must all be repenting of falling short of the glory of God, not just of willful sins, but of the state of being a corrupted image.

Only then can we fully embrace the need to turn our hearts (and our feet, our lips, our eyes, etc.) away from anything but the glory of God, that consuming light where some sweet day we will once again be able to discern nothing detailed about the other except their being robed in the glory of God (and therefore be unashamed). O to no longer regard each other according to the flesh!

I love the Anglican confession that contains these three descriptors, reminding us that we “have sinned…through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.”1 Too often these days, we recognize only “deliberate” sins as sin, and while it is easy to agree that we were “conceived and born in iniquity and corruption” (to quote Calvin’s liturgy2), I suspect it puts the proper point on it to recognize and acknowledge that sin is falling short of the glory of God. Which of us Pharisees has the hubris to think we’ve met that standard?

Though I would set myself up for constant disappointment, I would like to hope that I never again hear that tired question/challenge: “Are you saying that _______ is a sin?” Yes, yes, I am; we are literally wallowing in sinfulness, and the Lord loves a broken spirit and a contrite heart; a heart that spends so much time gazing upon Christ that it realizes ever more fully how far short it falls, and therefore glories in the chesed (חֶסֶד )in which we move without condemnation, a heart that clings to the Father who knows our frame and remembers that we are but inglorious dust.

Footnotes

  1. Common Worship: Holy Communion | Confession
  2. Jonathan Gibson. Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present (Kindle Locations 5792-5802). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

Tradition & Community

In the context of community, traditions enable the living out of the Gospel. Appropriate traditions will enable us to live out God’s commands in this time and place. Tradition often gets a bad rap in today’s world, but without it we could not function. What’s more, without a collection of consistent practices we will be unable to successfully reflect God’s image to the watching world, because we don’t reflect as individuals so much as we reflect as a Body.

Tradition, by its very nature, is a flexible, changing collection of practices. Traditions exist to aid in the honoring and observing of God’s way, and they vary from location to location, from time to time, and from society to society. Consequently, we must use our Reason to contemplate the words of Scripture and the history of Tradition in seeking to ensure that our practices continue to serve the same purpose for which they were created.

It must be remembered that Tradition is a tool that exists to serve the principle that is obedience to God. Whenever we begin to keep traditions for Tradition’s sake, we have allowed that which exists to serve to become that which we serve, and a sense of bondage inevitably results: a new law is created.

This is what had happened to Israel at the time of Christ. Because their identity was more, “we are Israel” than “we are those rescued by God,” they grew proud in the accumulation of their efforts to be godly. Prompting Jesus to rebuke them vigorously, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Community is formed by a collection of common traditions. This is how we observe the Sabbath; this is how we memorize Scripture, this is what we pray after eating, etc., etc. Community is the environment in which we practice the application of God’s instructions in a collaborative and supportive manner.

Holy Saturday Reflections

It’s Saturday. It’s not Friday, when the terrible passion of Christ came to its climax.

It’s Saturday. It’s not Sunday, when death was dealt a final blow as Christ rose victorious from the grave. No, it’s Saturday. What do we do with Saturday?

Why, we might ask, do so many moments of salvation in scripture come on the third day? And what is the purpose of the second day?

“For I delivered to you as of first importance,” St. Paul writes in chapter 15 of the first letter to the Corinthian church, “what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….”[1]

Why is it that of the three events just listed only two capture our attention? Christ died for our sins, yes, and he was raised on the third day without a doubt, but what about that forlorn phrase, “he was buried?” What is the purpose of the second day in God’s three- phase plan?

Perhaps, in its own way, Saturday should mark God’s people as much as Friday and Sunday do?

In Genesis we read of Abraham obediently marching toward the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Genesis 22 tells us the story:

“…God tested Abraham and said to him…”Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…. So Abraham rose,” and prepared, “and went to the place of which God had told him.” Can you imagine the seemingly interminable journey toward Mt. Mariah? Day one, Abraham rises early, selects two young men to accompany him, cuts the wood for the offering, and finally sets off. But on day two there is nothing to do but think as he sets one reluctant foot in front of another; the waiting, the wondering, the pondering, the weight of keeping their plans to himself. On day three, however, Abraham “lifted up his eyes” and behold the ram which is his salvation—indeed, the rescue of God’s promise—is on the mountain. [2]

Come now to Egypt with Joseph’s brothers, in search of saving grain, who find themselves cast into prison. Can you imagine? Day one they were likely incensed at their unjust imprisonment, accused of being spies, day two, however, I suspect the guilt—so long suppressed—of their actions against Joseph may have begun to eat at them, but then on the third day Joseph speaks, “Do this and you will live….”[3]

Israelite spies, delivered by Rahab from the enemy city of Jericho are told to hide for three days, and then they may safely go their way.[4]

The future of the entire Israelite people weighs in the balance when Esther goes to fast and pray. On the third day, the king welcomes her into his presence.[5]

It’s not just the stories, but the words of the prophets which point us to take note. Hosea urges us, “Come, let us shuv, let us return to the Lord for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”[6]

What is the structure of this three-day pattern? On the first day there is trouble; on the third day there is deliverance. What is on the second day?

On Saturday we don’t know that this will be a third-day story. There is only waiting, there is only angst, there is only distress and confusion, there is only despair. But no, there is something else. What is there for the faithful servant of God?

We cry out Hosanna!, Save us! Rescue us! and on Saturday it seems that God is silent. We’re still plodding toward Mt. Moriah, we’re still languishing behind bars, we’re still shivering in the wilderness outside Jericho, we’re still fasting for the future of our people. And what is God doing? God is resting.

This, it seems, is the message of Saturday. I got this; you, rest.

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time, he might lift you up. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[7]

You see this is where we are in history. God has shown himself real, shown himself powerful, shown himself here. The first fruits of our eventual rescue has ‘been here, done that.’ We are to rest as we wait for the fulfillment of the down payment we carry in ourselves—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yes, let’s lament Friday; let’s celebrate Sunday, because the rays of day are piercing the darkness, but where we live now as we wait is typified by “we have this treasure in earthen vessels;”[8] it’s a longing to be set free from bondage to corruption. Yes, we groan inwardly, but we rest.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.[9]

For you see, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”[10]

Perhaps the 7-day paradigm is to show us redemptive history while the 3-day paradigm illumines our experience, but they both point to the same reality. So when you’re groaning in the midst of a second-day experience, remember that God’s work is done, indeed, his works were finished from the foundation of the world, but since it still remains for some to enter it, he appoints a certain day: today. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, but identify yourself with his death, with his burial, and with his resurrection.[11]

Return to the words of Hosea: “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out [to save us] is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”[12]

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death—so do not despair—rest in the assurance that this day two has been framed by the 7th and 8th day—so that, “just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[13] So, “let us therefore strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”[14]


[1] 1 Cor. 15:3-4

[2] Gen. 22:1-14

[3] Gen. 42:6-18

[4] Joshua 2:15-16

[5] Esther 4:15 – 5:3

[6] Hosea 6:1-2

[7] 1 Peter 5:6-7

[8] 2 Cor. 4:7

[9] Romans 8:18-25

[10] Heb. 4:9

[11] Heb. 4:1-11

[12] Hosea 6:4

[13] Romans 6:3-4

[14] Heb. 4:11

Resolved

Resolved: to be as biblical as possible in writing about the crisis of twenty-first century human culture;

Resolved: to frame the contemporary issues with biblical categories, in order to name with accuracy, the protagonists in our present struggle for truth and sanity in a world seduced by lies;

Resolved: to strengthen the faith of the rising generation of Christians, who are being raised in a world increasingly hostile to Christian truth, by helping them recognize and embrace the coherence of a biblical Two-ist worldview, as well as understand and reject the attraction of the pervasive One-ist lie;

Resolved: to clearly articulate the distinct lines between One-ism and Two-ism, so that faithful believers can distinguish orthodoxy from heresy in the present Church, and resist with discernment the thoughts of “progressive evangelicals” whose teachings lead believers into pagan apostasy;

Resolved: to aid non-Christians in understanding the spiritual issues of life, the worldview they have consciously or unconsciously adopted, and to consider the power of biblical truth and the good news of God in Jesus Christ;

Resolved: To oppose the all-invasive multi-cultural synthesis of contemporary discourse, in order to stimulate the recovery of an “antithesis” approach to reality, where the options of One-ism and Two-ism are clearly perceived and stated, and to stimulate a renaissance in antithesis preaching, antithesis scholarship, antithesis art, music, literature, science, law and commerce, to the glory of God, the Creator and Redeemer, who is blessed forever. Amen.

(Adapted from Peter Jones. One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference)

Is it a sin?

“Is it a sin?”

I’ve heard this question delivered with defiance and with sincere desire to understand. In this vein sometimes one hears, “Is it a sin, or just not recommended?” The question can apply to almost any behavior (or lack thereof) and is typically trotted out in discussion about something different than your conversation partner’s present practice.

“Is it a sin?” is a loaded question both in terms of what it reveals about a perspective too many of us unconsciously share, and in what it suggests may be behind the perspective of the person to whom the question is posed.

But let me put it this way: sin is anything less than the perfect glory of God (Romans 3:23), so yes, doing anything Jesus wouldn’t do is a sin. However, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jess….shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!

So what am I saying? We are swimming in sins of a variety of kinds, some of ignorance, some of weakness, and some of our own deliberate fault; praise be to God that we have forgiveness of these many sins through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. So, now that I have no obligation to earn my salvation or to try and improve God’s opinion of me, I am now free to diligently labor to imitate Jesus ever more faithfully over time, as He leads and convicts me, and enabled to do so by the presence and leading of His Spirit in my new man. We are privileged to have His help in gradually re-fashioning our selves back into the image in which we were originally created.

I thought about it this morning, when once again God woke me up 30 minutes before my alarm, and I sensed He was calling me to come spend time with Him. Yesterday, I started praying but stayed in bed… there is this complex mixture of truths that I reflected on as I sat on the edge of my bed and then shuffled downstairs. On the one hand, I realize that God is calling me to live up to the potential for which He created me, and the circumstances of my life will be altered as a result of how faithful or unfaithful I am to His ways. On the other hand, I thought about how I feel when I open my kids bedroom door at 6:30 am and they moan and stretch and then rise to go swim… my feelings are entirely loving and positive–there is no condemnation or impatience in my heart, just love for them–and I pondered the truth that this is how God feels about me as well. And some mornings because I both want what is best for them, but also have compassion on them, I want to just let them sleep…as we did this morning. And I know that this too is what God is like: 

Psalm 103:13–14 

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, — Closer and closer let us cleave To his beloved Embrace; Expect his fullness to receive, And grace to answer grace.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” – J.I. Packer“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.”  – J.I. Packer

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

An Important Word for Our Time

We ought in these days to take note of the Barmen Declaration (1934), from which I excerpt the following.

2. “God made Jesus Christ to be for us our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Affirmation: Just as Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so also, and with the same earnestness, he is God’s powerful claim upon our entire life. Through him a joyous liberation from the godless conditions of this world occurs for us, a liberation for free, grateful service to his creatures.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if there are domains of our life in which we do not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, domains in which we would not need justification and sanctification by him.

3. “But let us be upright in love and grow in every respect into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Affirmation: The Christian church is the congregation of brothers in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of forgiven sinners, it has to testify in the midst of the world of sinners, both with its faith and its obedience, with its message as well as with its order, that it alone is his property, that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and by his direction in anticipation of his appearance.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church could relinquish the form of its message and its order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

5. “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Affirmation: Scripture says to us that the State, according to divine arrangement, has the task to be concerned for justice and peace in this still unredeemed world in which the church also stands, and to do so according to the standard of human insight and human ability, under penalty of threat and the use of force. In gratitude and reverence toward God, the church recognizes the benefit of this, his arrangement. The church reminds itself of God’s kingdom, of God’s command and justice, and thereby, of the responsibility of those governing and of the governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the word by which God upholds all things.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church, beyond its special task, should and could take over state-governmental actions, state-governmental tasks, and state-governmental positions and thereby become itself an organ of the state.[1]

[1] Martin Heimbucher and Rudolf Weth, eds., Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung: Einführung und Kokumentation, foreword by Wolfgang Huber (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2009), 33-43. Translated by Matthew Becker, Ph.D. (http://matthewlbecker.blogspot.com/…)