Re: Reflections on Luther & Sin

A friend of mine responded to my thoughts about sin and Luther and so, of course, I have to reply (if you want to read my friends response go here).

He made an excellent critique that I should have defined what God’s mark is. He aptly summarized it:

It is a way of being in the world: the Sh’ma Yisrael “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind“ and the Golden Rule, a similar, but equal command ”Do not do to others that which you find hateful done to you… Love your neighbor as yourself”. In other words, have a sense of gratitude, wonder, and excitement in your life and have a sense of good-will, compassion, and understanding for each other.”

Where I disagree with him is his critique that I confused sin and the results of sin. I purposefully combined the two because I think it’s incredibly important to keep them together. I think it’s particularly relevant for the culture we live in. No definition is meaningful out of context but we live in a culture that is so apt to discard contextual meaning (sex sold as a right and bodily function instead of as a meaningful expression, possessions marketed not for what they are but how they’d make you appear, etc). Sin matters because of what it misses and who it hurts, not just because it misses.

I may have dwelt too much on guilt. The entry was heavily influenced by reading about Luther. He and his generation had such an overwhelming sense of guilt before meeting Christ on the cross. My mind kept juxtaposing their guilt with our near guiltlessness. Though I don’t think we should entirely be like them, it is valuable to be reminded of how important it is for us to find consolation through Jesus Christ on the cross and not in our own sense of righteousness (which is what I feel like most of us do a lot, myself included).  

There was also intentionality to my focus on guilt besides just the cross. I was dwelling on what we miss to remind us of what we gain when we aim at God. Positive pictures and exhortations are incredibly important but having the contrast of the cost is also helpful.

I’ve grown up hearing that I should love God with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with all of my strength and with all of my mind as well as love my neighbor like myself. Why should I? Is life without God or for that matter set against God a loss? Is living for myself not my neighbor more rewarding? These are questions I’ve struggled with and see others debating.

Over these last years as I’ve wrestled with God and man I’ve learned the cost. Loving friends who have set their aim on other targets I’ve seen the cost. Sometimes we don’t realize how beautiful a city was until we see it destroyed. I was providing that picture for contrast.

Typically, we aim at other targets because we believe they are more beautiful. That is at the root of sin. The virus that infects us blurs our vision and makes the other targets look more attractive. We aim at them not accidentally but believing that hitting those targets will give us what we want or help us become who we want to be. The truth is that aiming at God is what actually give us the most abundant life maybe not materially rich but richer in meaning and relationships. The truth is that in aiming at God we become who we are meant to be.This truth is part of the cure.

The purpose of my demythologizing of sin was that it might encourage us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. [So that we might] run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. [Who] for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [And so that we would] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

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