How Does Sin Have Power Over Us?

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We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler" (Psalm 124).

I was recently asked: "What do you do in your spare time?" This simple question stumped me. "Spare time?" I thought. As a parent of three small children, "spare time" is as foreign to me as the varieties of caviar or the rules of cricket. But, wanting to answer the question, I took a quick introspective inventory of how I spend my time. Without giving it too much thought I blurted out: "I read children's books."

As a boy I didn't read much. I was too busy doing other stuff--those out of fashion things that boys used to do like climb trees, shoot BB guns, and throw dirt clods. One of the benefits of having children is that it allows you to relive parts of your childhood, which you may have missed. For me, this means that I get to read lots of children's books. We recently finished probably the most well known work of children's literature, at least in Christian circles. If you guessed: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, you are right. For those who have read Lewis's story (or seen the Disney movie), the Christian metaphor is quite obvious. The White Witch has cast a malignant spell over Narnia, manifested in an unending and joyless winter. Or, in the words of Mr. Tumnus, it "was always winter and never Christmas.”

But as the story progresses things start to slowly get better. Aslan's arrival pushes back all that is bad in the world. The result is a quick thaw. The snow melts, the flowers bloom, fragrant aroma fills the air, and most importantly, Christmas is restored! In short, Aslan starts to "put all to rights," as Mr. Beaver described it. 

Lewis's story is instructive for how we think about sin and it's power over us. The solution to Narnia's problem is similar to the solution to our sin problem. In both cases, in order for the curse to be broken, atonement had to be made. Aslan broke the witch's hex over Narnia by dying in place of another, just as Christ died in our place. In doing so, Christ set us free, just as the Narnia and its creatures were liberated. This is good news for those of us who identify with Jesus. It means that we no longer need to serve the old master--because we now serve the true and rightful Lord. That's what Jesus's death did for us, just as Aslan's death did for Narnia. In the words of Eugene Peterson's translation of Roman 6, "We’re out from under the old tyranny."

And yet, while Christ has ended sin's dominion over us, the reality is that we still live in a messy and broken world. Not all has been "put to rights." If you don't believe me, look around; or better, look in the mirror! We all know something about sin's presence. Most of us, for example, have seen loved ones suffer and die; have experienced broken relationships, or failed to love God with "our whole heart” or “our neighbors as ourselves." So, we find ourselves living in sort of a tension between two realities: that Christ has done away with sin's dominion--we are free(!), but also the remaining presence of sin. True, sin no longer has power over us, but it's still at hand; God still has work to do.

I have found Oscar Cullmann's WWII analogy from his book Christ and Time helpful in making sense of this tension. Cullmann points out that when the Allied forces secured the beachhead at Normandy (D-Day) in June 1944, the fate of the war was decided. The war was essentially over. And yet, there was still a battle to be fought. While the German dominion over Western Europe had been shattered, it wasn't until May 1945 that the fighting would end (known as V-Day). Applied to the Christian narrative, the death and resurrection of Christ secured victory over sin and death. It was decisive and it brought sin's dominion to an end. But Christians, while no longer slaves to sin, are left to deal with its presence; they are at war with it. Using Cullman's analogy, we might say that the Christian lives in between D-Day (the cross), and V-Day (when Jesus returns to bring to full restoration).

So the question: "How does sin have power over us?" is not a question that a Christian need to ask. This is because the Christian has been set free from sin's rule. Perhaps, a more apt question might be: "How do we live with the presence of sin?" And to this, the answer is found in the same place (or rather person), Jesus. Jesus secures the benefits of salvation for us through his death and resurrection. But, the benefits of Christ's atoning sacrifice are only made effectual to us by virtue of our being engrafted into Christ. This is something that theologians refer to as union with Christ. Union with Christ is simply our connection with Christ, by which we enjoy all the benefits of salvation. It is sort of an all-encompassing idea and the key to understanding how the gospel changes us. On this matter, John Calvin is especially helpful. Writing about the Christian's participation in Christ, Calvin makes the point that

         As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he   has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of    no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father,          he had to become ours and to dwell within us….We also, in turn, are said to be       engrafted into him.[1]

Calvin’s basic idea is that for sin to be properly and fully dealt with, we need more than liberation. We need to be connected to Christ through spiritual union. This spiritual connection with Christ is the source of our sanctification. Or, as Karl Barth described it, "In ourselves we are sinners, but in virtue of Christ's solidarity with us we are now, in him, exalted to fellowship with God, turned from our evil way, and made obedient saints and covenant-partners."[2] Barth's point, along with Calvin's and St. Paul's, is that our being grafted into Christ is the conduit through which we partake in the benefits of salvation. 

With the risk of stretching the analogy too far, Lewis's Narnia is once again instructive. After defeating the White Witch, there is still work to be done. Much of Narnia is still unwell. Aslan and his followers must continue working to bring full restoration to that which had been blighted. In one scene toward the end of the story we see Aslan reviving creatures who had been turned to stone by breathing on them. The Christian analogy of course is found in the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, which is also a sign of our spiritual union with Christ. This is good news because it means that restoration and change is possible. But it also means that there is redemption that needs to take place. Perhaps most importantly, it means that there is hope for us and for our world. Christ who has liberated us from sin, will continue working in us until that work is complete. "Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).

 

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[2] Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959).

 

Posted by Alexander Graham with

What is Sin?

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2The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;’ 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3: 2-5) 

From that moment in the garden, sin has passed through all the generations of the human race, and we, as descendants of Adam and Eve, have inherited sin from them.

Man rebelled, disobeyed, did his own will, having heard the voice of the serpent instead of the voice of God. Man did what he knew he should not do.

The word sin refers to any interruption of our fellowship and communion with God. Sin is the rupture of man in his relationship with God, with himself, and with others. The Book of Genesis tells us how in creation, everything was harmony and beauty until that moment, naturally with the consent and free will of man, when the tempter appears to interrupt the peace that God had established with man.

From this very moment, it is clear that sin begins in and within man, not that God created it. Sin is thus the inclination of man to follow his own instincts or desires.

In the Book of Common Prayer we read, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God." (BCP, 848)


The condition of sin or selfishness is so frequent that it is manifested in thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions. It encompasses all the circumstances of man; and as the Catechism reminds us, sin distorts all our relationships, thus it destroys the image of God in which we were created.

Thomas Cranmer, in his writing of the Book of Common Prayer, understands and includes the liturgical tradition of the Church that, recognizes the sinful nature of man before God and invokes God's forgiveness. This is why our liturgies comprise the acknowledgment and confession of our sins.

We ask God's forgiveness because we need to be re-established in His communion and love. We need the strength that comes from God, following the obedient example of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, to overcome sin and not allow ourselves to be enslaved or subdued of our own volition.

"34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8: 34-36)

Sin nullifies the freedom of man, limits him and makes him a slave to his own whims. The more man lives in sin or approves of sin, the more he moves away from being truly free, because he is denying himself the opportunity to allow Jesus to free him from where he has alienated himself.

When we acknowledge our sin and understand that God has the desire to restore us and free us from our sin; we accept that our Lord God is the absolute most important in our lives, and that despite our sinful condition, it is possible to live anew in His new commandment- loving God first and foremost with all that we are and loving others as ourselves. 

The Rev. Fabian Villalobos

Rector, Christ Church, Dallas

 

¿Qué es el Pecado?

La mujer respondió a la serpiente: “Del fruto de los árboles del huerto podemos comer; pero del fruto del árbol que está en medio del huerto, Dios ha dicho: ‘No comerán de él, ni lo tocarán, para que no mueran.’” Y la serpiente dijo a la mujer: “Ciertamente no morirán. Pues Dios sabe que el día que de él coman, se les abrirán los ojos y ustedes serán como Dios, conociendo el bien y el mal.”   (Génesis 3:2-5) 

A partir de ese momento, el pecado ha pasado a través de todas las generaciones de la raza humana, y nosotros como descendientes de Adán y Eva, hemos heredado de ellos el pecado. 

El hombre se rebeló, desobedeció, hizo su voluntad, y escucho la voz de la serpiente en vez de la voz de Dios e hizo lo que sabía que no debía de hacer.

La palabra pecado hace referencia a toda interrupción de la comunión con Dios. El pecado es la ruptura del hombre en su relación con Dios, consigo mismo, y con los demás. El Libro del Génesis nos narra como en la creación todo era armonía y belleza hasta el momento donde el tentador se aparece a interrumpir la paz que Dios había establecido, naturalmente con el consentimiento y libre decisión del hombre.

Desde ese momento, es claro que el pecado comienza en y dentro del hombre, no que Dios lo creo. El pecado es así, la inclinación del hombre a seguir sus propios instintos o deseos.

De acuerdo al Libro de Oración Común, pecado es “seguir nuestra voluntad en lugar de la voluntad de Dios”. (LOC, 741)

Es tan frecuente esa condición de egoísmo que se manifiesta en pensamientos, palabras, obras y omisiones. Es decir abarca y envuelve toda las circunstancias del hombre y como nos recuerda el Catecismo, cada pecado deforma y destruye la imagen de Dios.

Thomas Cranmer, en su redacción del Libro de Oración Común, entiende y continua con la tradición litúrgica de la Iglesia que reconoce al hombre pecador delante de Dios e invoca su perdón. Es por eso que nuestras liturgias incluyen el reconocimiento y la confesión de los pecados.

Le pedimos perdón a Dios porque necesitamos ser reestablecidos en su comunión y amor; necesitamos la fuerza que viene de Dios, siguiendo el ejemplo obediente de Jesús, a través del Espíritu Santo para vencer al pecado y no dejarnos esclavizar o someter por nuestra propia voluntad.

Jesús les respondió: “En verdad les digo que todo el que comete pecado es esclavo del pecado; 35 y el esclavo no queda en la casa para siempre; el hijo  permanece para siempre. 36 Así que, si el Hijo los hace libres, ustedes serán realmente libres.”  (Juan 8: 34-36) 

El pecado anula la libertad del hombre, lo limita y lo hace esclavo de sus propios caprichos. Más el hombre vive o aprueba el pecado más se aleja de ser verdaderamente libre, porque está negándose la oportunidad de permitirle a Jesús de liberarlo de sus alienaciones.

Cuando reconocemos nuestro pecado y entendemos que Dios tiene el deseo de restaurarnos y liberarnos de nosotros mismos, estamos aceptando que Jesús es lo más importante en nuestras vidas y que no obstante nuestra condición pecadora es posible vivir su mandamiento nuevo amando a Dios y a los demás como a nosotros mismos.

The Rev. Fabian Villalobos

Rector, Christ Church, Dallas

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