You Are Not Your Sin

 
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My doubt goes like this: How could the Loving One have the heart to let human beings become so guilty that they got his murder on their consciences?

-Søren Kierkegaard [1]

You’ve been here before, and it’s all too familiar, almost boring (if it wasn’t so depressing). You’ve sinned that sin again. You know the one. Any notion of the “victorious” Christian life, or the leaving-behind of past ways—that is not your story.  You want to leave the old you there—constrained to the past where it languishes in memory and declines into forgetfulness, a receding cloud on the far horizon that gently departs out of view. But there must be something wrong with you. Apparently, you prefer the rain to the sun.

The rain comes in, drowns out the sun, and makes everything damp and heavy. We are like wet dogs who return to their vomit, fools for Christ, saturated in the same old, same old. And that’s the problem. We want to put away the same old, yet, we don’t. We are the perpetrators of our own victimhood.

If you’ve learned anything about your sins, you’ve probably learned that sheer will-power will not sustain you in preventing them. Our sins, at least the ones that we repeat the most, and therefore tend to bring us the most shame, are not mere violations of Divine law. The sins that really find us out—the ones that cause us to question our authenticity in the faith, and soul search our identity or status—are not simply attachments to our otherwise spiritual selves. They are part of the very marrow of our personality and brokenness.

These sins of repetition remain such not because we have too little faith or weak wills, but because they appear to offer a way through the pain of our brokenness, our alienation, the hurt that becomes too much to endure. They are mother-sins because they soothe us and provide a home for our deepest felt needs. They help us to cope with our brokenness and inadequacies, our fears and the stress we know all too well. We all know sin makes things worse, but for just a little while, they mother, they smother, and they make everything better. And we will always trade the promise of eternity for the raptures of the moment. Better beer today than champagne tomorrow.

We will always trade the promise of eternity for the raptures of the moment.
— Bruce Hillman

That is why we can never “will” our sins away. As long as we have needs, and as long as our sins promise to meet those needs, they will always be more powerful than our wills are at overcoming them. So they beat us. They win. Again, and again, and—oh my God—I’ve done it again.

You can only live with the guilt so long before something starts to happen. You begin to doubt the authenticity of your faith, you begin to fear Divine retribution, you begin to hate the person in the mirror, and you begin to hate God for not rescuing you. This is the dilemma Kierkegaard knew all too well. He marveled at this guilt when he said, “My doubt goes like this: How could the Loving One have the heart to let human beings become so guilty that they got his murder on their conscience?” In other words, when you take responsibility for your sin in such a way that you believe you can master it, you are left with a strange and unfortunate result: you’ll hate God. Your conscience is too full, and can no longer hear the Word of grace.

The Church has long taught you cannot master sin. It pronounced such a view dangerous and heretical. “Pelagianism” is the ancient heresy that says that if you work hard enough and will something strongly enough, you can prevent sin. But you can’t. You can't, and the attempt to do so is fraught with negative results. And yet—and this is the other equally dangerous heresy—that does not mean you can embrace your sin or stop trying to fight it. That is called antinomianism. In other words, your struggle with sin is not unique, and the Church has thought deeply about it for thousands of years.  

‘Pelagianism’ is the ancient heresy that says that if you work hard enough and will something strongly enough, you can prevent sin.
— Bruce Hillman

So instead, we must embrace a reality firmly established in Scripture: you are not your sin! Paul says it best, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me (Rom. 7:20).”  We could also add what sounds hardly possible, but is indeed true: “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).” Paul is not saying we are no longer responsible for our actions. Rather, he is declaring the reality, from the perspective of God’s scrupulous judgment, that the sinner is accepted by God as not-a-sinner: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).”

So…you’re here again, in the rain, rank with the guilt of your sin. What do you do? You look to the cross to see who you are declared to be and not who you feel you are. Does that mean we have a low view of sin and should just accept its power in our lives? Not at all! Grace will, so to speak, lead you home, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4). In other words, the way we begin to “overcome” sin is not by punishing ourselves to work harder at it, but by burying ourselves deeper and deeper into the message of the cross and grace: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4b).”

So take heart! You are not your sin! Let that sink in: You are not your sin. Still don’t believe me? Then believe God’s own verdict to you. “What then shall we say of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:31-34a).

You are not your sin. Still don’t believe me? Then believe God’s own verdict to you.
— Bruce Hillman

Who is to condemn? No one. Because in Christ, you are not your sin.


[1] “Does a Human Being Have the Right to Let Himself Be Put to Death for the Truth?” An essay from Kierkegaard found in, Without Authority, Princeton Press, 1997

Bruce Hillman is Lead Pastor at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church (www.hillsidelbc.org) in Succasunna New Jersey. He Holds a BA in History and Political Science from Quinnipiac University, (Hamden, CT), an MDiv. from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary (Fergus Falls, MN) and an STM in Patristics from Drew University (Madison, NJ); his research involves Augustinian studies and Early Christianity. He is former pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Henning MN. He is co-founder of Fifth Act Church Planting, having served on their board(www.fifthactchurchplanting.com) Bruce enjoys cooking, reading, all things British, exploring the world of wine, and conversations with good friends.





 

 

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