We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Perhaps read those 2 sentences again, as they make an important distinction. The Bible teaches we are all sinners in disposition, and that is why we need a Savior. Sin is such an unpopular topic. Various people will deny the sinful nature of humanity, and argue that humanity is good at core rather than bad. I find this preposterous – just take a look at the world around you. Yes, of course, people can do good things. Many of us are not as bad as we could be. But at our core we are indeed bad.
The opening chapters of Romans expound on the sinfulness of humanity. No one is exempt. Romans 3:23 states “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” All means all. The teachings of Jesus make it even more difficult to evade the fact that we are sinners. Motives and thoughts (and not only actions) make us guilty. For example, Jesus condemned anger and lust as vehemently as he did murder and adultery (Matthew 5:21-22,27-28). Yikes.
Some people are offended that a baby is considered sinful according to orthodox Christian doctrine. A baby in one sense is innocent. Yet as the baby grows, you do not have to teach a baby to be bad. They know how to be bad. “No!” may be one of the first words uttered by an infant. It is because we are all born sinners.
The intent of the post is not to give a biblical defense of sin. My point is rather that it seems very difficult for people to accept this teaching. Even some (many?) Christians who believe this in theory, seem to have a disconnect between theory and reality. This can be evidenced in various ways, such as naivety. “My child would NEVER do that.” Really? Never? Rose colored glasses are worn.
I watch little TV, but something I do like watching is true-crime documentary type shows. Often the subject of these is murder. It is so common to hear a relative or friend defend the accused saying, “he (or she) could NEVER murder someone.” Really? Never? Given the right circumstances, right frustrations, right provocation, etc – I think just about everyone is capable of murder. I half-jokingly told my spouse that if he was accused of murder, and I was asked if he was at least capable of it, I’d have to say yes. My spouse responded that he hopes he is never falsely accused as my opinion would not help him. Haha. But seriously.
The point is not to make everyone pessimistic or to make us look upon others with deep suspicion all the time. That’s not good. Indeed, all human beings are made in the image of God, and reflections of God can be seen in everyone. I’m simply arguing for a realistic view of human nature – instead of a pessimistic or optimistic one.
- Being naive about the sin capability of ourselves, our children, and others around us can lead to various problems. We may actually end up stepping in a huge pile of sin because we failed to exercise caution in our life. Thinking we were incapable of something, we placed ourselves in a risky situation, and quickly succumbed to it.
- More critically, failing to see ourselves as sinful or being naive about it, can hinder our ability to see our need for Christ and His saving work for us on the Cross.
- Even as we live the Christian life, we need to keep our capability of sin before us. First John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We can start to think of the Gospel as for the unconverted only, and not for the converted. But Jesus and the Cross is still something we need in our daily life, even after our initial salvation. We should continue to look to Christ. Our only hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not in our own righteousness. All too quickly, we can make it all about us. We are prone to turn inward and focus on our personal righteousness or spiritual success.
Some Christians think this emphasis neglects our new identity in Christ. Aren’t we new creations in Him? Yes, but the new creation does not mean the old potential is completely gone. It is still there. And I hardly think that the common problem is thinking too lowly of ourselves.
Rather, most of us are prone to think too highly of ourselves. It seems natural to rationalize or overlook our sin, and this can be seen as a symptom of our very sinfulness. Our ability to see our own sin is dulled. And a power-of-positive thinking mentality only plays into this weakness!
Other branches of study reveal this too. Psychologists call it the “overconfidence phenomenon.” Social science researchers refer to it as the great contradiction. Research shows that most people think they are better than others – more ethical, considerate, loyal, etc. Therefore it is the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person!
I see it this way: Keeping our sinfulness before us brings a much needed balance to our perspectives. It is not tilting things off-kilter, but tipping us back to reality. It isn’t about pessimism or optimism, but realism.
More importantly, I think a realistic view can keep us properly focused on Christ. Optimism or pessimism often keeps us focused on ourselves – either our failures or our capabilities. Perhaps this quote can bring things to a close:
We wrongly assume that a vocabulary of sin leads to self-hate, discouragement, or depression. On the contrary, once we see ourselves as sinners, we can stop trying to earn God’s favor and learn to rest in God’s arms. In the safety of God’s love we can afford to look honestly at ourselves, experience contrition, and confess our wrongdoing…Seeing ourselves as sinners means we can stop trying to prove we are good enough. We are not. But we are loved. And God’s love ushers in every good thing…The language of sin is not about feeling puny or demeaning ourselves. It is a language that cries out, along with all creation, for redemption. It is a language that celebrates goodness, that clings to the promise of true life in God and among God’s people. (Mark McMinn in the book Why Sin Matters)
Tim over at his blog today, has a similar (yet different) post. He encourages us not to focus on our accomplishments, but rather to look to Christ. Joel Osteen Tweets The Wrong Gospel.