Sin. We talk about it. We emphasize it. We perseverate on it over and over. It’s clear in scripture that there is sin. For all have sinned we quote. It’s true. In fact it’s truth. It is the clear divider between those who are seen as holy and those who are still outside the kingdom of God and all of its benefits.
The Bible talks of sin a lot. It talks about what actions and thoughts we have that separate us from the love of God. Sin divides us from God and divides us from others. It puts a chasm between our experience of life, joy and peace. It creates in us a sorrow, a despair. It is real. It is dark. It has power over our flesh.
Traditionally, we, the church, the body of Christ, have preached on sin as this wall to climb over to get to salvation. We have chosen to defend truth and put sin on trial. We have consciously decided to never deny the reality of sin, but stand firm that there is a way that leads to Heaven, to Christ, and a way that leads to death, in sin. These again are truths. These are right.
Then why has our speech on sin so divided us from those we love? Is it simply that there is a narrow road, a road of righteousness, a life without sin that separates us from those who take the easy way, the way of the flesh? Or is there something else that we are not seeing?
Throughout the history of church, we have seen a story unfold of how sin has been taught. We have seen how the concept of sin has shifted. It started simple. If you do something that is different than God wants you to do, you sin. Agreed. This makes some great sense. Disobey God, you sin. What a great start. But….. what comes next perhaps shed light on our current situation.
For the majority of the churches life since Christ, because the Bible was not available to the believer, but in fact needed a principle, a hermeneutical judge to steward truth to her people, the idea of sin was not communicated solely through scripture, but through the lens of what the church felt was right in any given situation. This in itself makes sense and is not inappropriate. But, just like circumstances change, so do concepts and the need to understand them.
I’m reminded of a story I heard. Perhaps you have heard a variation of it? I heard of a mother who would prepare a holiday ham for her family. Lovely. She would lovingly cut it in half and put it in the oven. It was her way, her tradition, to do it any other way would be wrong, it would disconnect her from her family way.
One day, her mother saw and mentioned the tradition of cutting it in half. She was proud of her daughter. She kept the family tradition alive, she did it the “right” way. At this, the daughter curiously asked her mother why she did it? The mother thought for a moment and didn’t know why, but remembered this is what she was taught. This was the right way to do it. At this, she phoned her mother to inquire. An old lady answered. It was grandma. While she didn’t have the energy to make ham anymore, the question primed in her mind a memory of preparing ham for her family. She lovingly remembered how she would spend time with those she loved. She remembered how the time as family around the ham and holiday meal was so special. As she pondered these things in her heart, she could picture herself cutting the ham in half. She then remember why it was so vital to do so.
So the nostalgic grandmother answered the question. She gave the answer key to this amazing query. She quickly responded, that this was an easy answer. For if she did not cut the ham in half, she could not fit it in the oven.
The right way was because of the size of her oven, and in fact had nothing to do with flavor or “right-ness” at all. Pondering this, the mother and daughter came to realize that some things they had learned were for a time and a place. Even moreover, they were for a context.
Throughout the history of the church, rules were made that were more contextual than biblical. They were right in the moment, they were “holy” or even “inspired by God” for the context. But when times changed, when people got bigger ovens, the way they could live would change.
Heaven forbid that you read this and think I am suggesting that all truth is relative and for a time and place simply. No I am not. But we must have grace when we approach the rules, the right and wrongs, the sin. For over time, sin has been added to, and not specifically by God.
So when the church would tell the people what the Bible said, the reality was that when people disobeyed the Bible, the church moreover, they would sin. Therefore, the church became the judge of what was right and wrong, what was Holy and Sin, and scripture became their proof text. I don’t believe this was intentional by the leaders of the church, but it happens over time.
Today, we are left with a heritage of churches telling people what is right and wrong, what is Holy and sin, based on our own convictions and less on our scriptures. We try to understand scripture in our context and apply the truth, but in essence, if you don’t live inside the lines we paint, you sin.
Perhaps this explains the divide? Perhaps we have moved away from sin, and more towards our own corporate opinions of scripture. While this is necessary at some level, to pursue truth, perhaps, it would be helpful for us to pause for moment, and look at what sin is again. For we know there is sin, but what does that mean anyway?
Perhaps you know this. Perhaps you have heard it once? Did you know that in the New Testament, when people talk about sin, it’s a word that was used in society. In fact, it was a technical term for a specific trade or craft.
In archery, when an archer would miss the mark, miss the target, he would sin. No joke. If he stunk as an archer, he was a sinner. Now that is a different idea of sin isn’t it. So literally, if the archer did not shoot perfect every time, he was a sinner and would be disqualified from what we would consider appropriate behavior. Sin talked about perfection. But it also spoke of direction. For if the archer didn’t aim at the target, he was not only a bad archer, a sinner, but pretty strange. For why would you not at the very least, aim at the target, aim at that which the judge has stated is the goal to hit if you even want to be in the archery match.
Perhaps then, sin is not a word we should use as much about what is right and wrong, but about what is missing the mark of what God requires. It’s less about right and wrong and more about hitting the bullseye or the second, third or forth ring out on the target. God knows we are not perfect, but when we try to hit what He has asked us to, the good Father, the Judge will applaud us, He will celebrate His children. But when we willingly look at His target, at His Word and say, no to it and chose to aim at a target that is more appealing to us, is when sin really separates us.
For it is in Christ we are perfect, sinless, never miss the mark. God judges Jesus’ archer marks for us, not our own. This is the wonder of salvation. This does not mean we don’t still aim at the target, for aiming at the target is how we show Jesus how grateful we are. It also means we get to do archery, to live life, with the Son of God. Fantastic.
It is true, I’ll never fully hit the bullseye. This is the grace of God on me who misses the mark, who sins. It is true, you must consistently hit the bullseye to enter heaven. But none of us do that. It is only through Christ’s ranking in the archery life that sees us enter salvation. He is the only perfect archer, we are not, still not and never will be on earth apart from His ranking, His standing with the archery judge.
So perhaps we have been missing the mark when we talk about sin. Sin exists, yes it does. But perhaps when we communicate about sin, it would be prudent and full of grace to leave the “right” and “wrong” speech and ask ourselves, ask others, if we are trying to aim at the Target that Christ has established for us. If they don’t want to aim at the target, it’s not our problem, but they will not live a life to the full, shooting at the target with the best archer friend ever.
Aiming at your own target is lonely. We look for others, communities to support us in our targets. They satisfy our flesh, but in the end, we separate ourselves from the loving Father. Perhaps our greater sin is when we separate people from God by our opinions and not His.