Sunday Message: Sin

English: Gospel message at Drumderg The placar...
English: Gospel message at Drumderg The placards are a familiar sight on trees all over rural Ulster. This one is in the townland of Drumderg – northwest of Keady (County Armagh). It bears part of 1 John 1:7 (in full: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A famous Bible passage says “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I’ve always known myself to be a sinner. I watch myself. I know things that I should do that I flatly and knowingly refuse to do. Sometimes, I do what I should, but with a lot of grumbling. Sometimes I pretend that I don’t know the right thing or make lots of excuses. I just want to do what I want when I want. I don’t want to be forced to live differently from how I wish, even when God is the one giving the orders.

That’s sin: refusing to submit to God. Some people think that sin is stealing, or lying or murder. Those are sins, but they are sins because they all share that one thing – a refusal to submit to a law, to be made to act differently than we want to. That’s also how one can be a sinner without having ever committed a sin. It is not lying or stealing that makes us sinners. We are sinners because we refuse to submit to God and we sin because we are sinners.  As children we want what we want. We have to be taught to share and to obey instructions. We have to be made to obey rules because we would not do the right thing on our own. That is why no one can claim to be righteous.

All through human history, we have developed methods of working around this problem: indoctrination, punishment, rewards, deterrents, encouragements. None of those are perfect and none of them solve the problem of human nature. But Christianity claims to. It claims that God has come up with an ingenious way to create new beings out of us, to take out that sinful nature from us and give us natures that will love and submit to him. So that instead of taking the consequences of our acts, we can enjoy eternity with him.

 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8: 1 – 4

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Thinking About Sin


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I’m Tracy

7 thoughts on “Sunday Message: Sin”

  1. As children we want what we want. We have to be taught to share and to obey instructions. We have to be made to obey rules because we would not do the right thing on our own.

    Sorry, Tracy. You’re just assuming these sentences are true. They are not. They are unequivocally false. You would know this if you bothered to actually investigate current knowledge from child development study.

    There is much compelling evidence that we come ready, willing, and able to share, to obey instructions, to prefer rule-based play, and heavily favour doing the ‘right’ thing (altruistic, fair, and reciprocal behaviours) not just for ourselves but expect it – and show clear preference in our liking and approval we award to others – from others.

    This overwhelming data shows that religious belief in our ‘badness’ and ‘selfishness’ is entirely misplaced. That’s not how children come. But rather than deal with how reality is (yet again), however, the religious tend to keep on making stuff up that fits with their religious model of how reality should be for their faith-based beliefs to be true. What’s actually true seems to be a consideration best left to some later date for far too many religious folk.

    Vilifying children and intentionally misrepresenting their natures to suit a particular religious belief seems to me to be a surefire way to distort reality in the name of piety. That method may work for you, but it sure creates just the right setting for creating victims out of children to excuse ignorant and damaging parental behaviours done in the name of piousness. And, to me, that price is far too high.

    1. Tildeb, it would be nice to see some of these studies that you talk about. It’s difficult to assess their scope and findings from what you have said. I write from experience. I have five younger siblings and a sister who is currently two years old. I’ve also spent a great deal of time watching myself and other children.

      The problem isn’t that children don’t have the ability to share. It’s also not that they don’t want to be fair. It’s that the rules change. When someone steals my stuff, they’re mean, and wrong, and unfair. When I take someone else’s stuff, there’s some reason why I’m not actually being unfair. When it’s me, I always have some excuse. In that manner, children can value fairness and claim to want to be fair, without actually doing it. There’s a difference between liking the concept of right and wrong and actually subjecting yourself to it.

      The main focus of this post, though was the manner in which we deal with instructions. Children have the capability and sometimes the willingness to follow instructions. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we only want to follow the instructions when we want them. A child will obviously follow their parents’ instructions when they don’t mind them. That’s nothing special. It’s when they don’t want to do something that there’s a problem. It’s when their parents want them to go to bed and they want to watch TV that there’s a clash. They have to be taught to obey.

      By way of illustration, I was the best behaved child I know. I always followed rules and tried to please my parents. However, I did it not because something in me that desired to obey, but because I wanted something. I wanted my parents’ approvals and I did not mind the things they asked me to do. When I did mind, though, obeying was a struggle. When I wanted to read and my mom wanted to do dishes, I got out of it any way I could. I only obeyed willingly when I had no problem doing.

      The one clue I have that your assessment is incorrect, however, is that we do teach children to do these things. We teach them to share, to be fair. We punish and try to correct. If they come out just programmed to do the right thing, as you say, we wouldn’t need to teach them to be better. Yet, if you passed through high school, you know that children are anything but angels.

      1. I hear what you’re saying so let me clarify. When someone assumes the nature of the individual child is selfish and unable to do the right thing, the evidence for this almost always comes associated with sibling conflict and parental complaints. But are these an accurate reflection about the ‘nature’ of the child or are we looking at child responses to their environment?

        Alone, each child demonstrates in early infancy clear preference for those who are fair, who help, who are not selfish. Toddlers, once able to move independently, show a very clear correlation with the attachment quality with their caregiver: when securely attached, toddlers will offer without prompt help, aid, and comfort to strangers of all ages. The less securely attached, the less they will do so. So we see even here a very early affect of the quality of the parent-child relationship; parents are very quick to lay the blame for negative consequences of the child’s preferred behaviour on the ‘nature’ of the child whereas, in fact, these behaviours are a very clear signal about the quality of the caregiver/child relationship.

        To show you the strength of just how central fairness and reciprocity are to each of us, familial interaction revolves around seeking this balance. A long-term scorecard of fairness and reciprocity is kept to justify behaviours even over decades of interactions… always seeking to balance the tally. It is here where we find the most egregious examples of childish selfishness and meanness that goes far beyond age appropriate behaviour: we find people of all ages still seeking redress for ancient complaints of unfairness from their childhood. I’m sure you can think of many examples where you did something you knew wasn’t fair because it addressed in some way this imbalance! And we all do it.

        Understanding the effects of motivation is a key component of understanding human behaviour. I think we do ourselves a great disservice by not staying focused on seeking this understanding when we arbitrarily assume that certain negative behaviours belong to a ‘nature’ rather than as an emergent property of our environmental interactions. I have enjoyed nothing but success relying on child behaviour to show me honest feelings, which I can then use as guides to discovering honest motivations, which I can then use to find and implement better solutions that do not involve negative but affirmative and empowering consequences.

        All of us would benefit by assuming children are inherently good, inherently nice, inherently wanting to both help and please, that evidence from behaviour to the contrary is an indication of some kind of disfunction…. and assume that the disfunction belongs to those best able to affect change – usually the parents or the older siblings most capable of changing how they do things, how they interact, how they tally their score sheets of fairness and reciprocity.

      2. I’m not ignoring you, by the way. I plan to respond to this post once I’m done playing Eternal Eden. 🙂 I realize that that might be a while. Thanks for being patient.

    2. “But are these an accurate reflection about the ‘nature’ of the child or are we looking at child responses to their environment?”

      The traits I mentioned about children are present in every culture and every time as far as I know. To suggest that it is a problem with the environment is about the same as saying that palm trees have green leaves because of their environment. It might be true, but it’s definitely not obvious. Things that are strongly dependent on the environment vary strongly with the environment (e.g climate, dressing, music preferences, etc.). Things that are relatively stable from place to place (like the fact that children are sometimes disobedient) tend to be a characteristic of the things itself and not the environment. You can propose that there really is something about the environment that causes said trait and that that thing is present in every environment, but that would be wild speculation.

      The fact that children show a preference for people who are nice is about as remarkable as the fact that a convicted murderer wants people to be nice to him. Why wouldn’t they? Firstly, if people are nice, they are not a threat to you. Secondly, there is a part of us that recognizes that being nice is right and being mean is wrong. The problem is not our ability to recognize and appreciate such moral rules. The problem is our ability to act in accordance with them.

      I might need to emphasize that. I am in no way suggesting that children are incapable of appreciating good things and hating wrong things. As far as I know, most people can do that. The problem isn’t knowledge – at least not at first. The problem is acting. Take a few scenarios.

      Scenario 1. Anne has three apples. Her classmate Jane has none. While they have lunch, Jane stares longingly at Anne’s lunch. So, Anne gives her an apple.
      This is equivalent to a toddler offering help to a stranger or family member. Note that this scenario meets two conditions (a)Anne knows that it is right to do so and (b)The act is relatively inexpensive. Anne still has two apples.

      Scenario 2. Anne gets home from school and her mom sends her to her bedroom to do her homework like she’s done everyday. However, today there’s a special show she would like to see on TV and it’ll be over by the time she gets her homework done. Since she has a TV in the privacy of her bedroom, she could watch the show and hope her parents don’t find out. What does she do?

      in this scenario, (a) Anne knows what the right thing is and (b) it is relatively costly to her.
      I estimate that 50% of children will choose to watch the show. (I count myself as being more obedient than the average child and I would probably have watched the show). It is disingenuous to suggest that Anne’s disobedience is this case is due to her environment or some score she needs to settle. Her parents have asked her to do her homework every day after school and they likely did not (knowingly or unknowingly) suggest to her that she should disobey. I’m sure you can create a scenario in which they did, but it would not hold true for all children.

      While you might not think that Anne’s act here is wrong, it illustrates the foundational point in my argument. We have a good basic knowledge of the moral law. We know we should obey it. But like all rules, sometimes it conflicts with our other wishes and then we have to choose. Sometimes we make the right choices and sometimes we don’t. Some people have a higher threshold than others, but children are not naturally so saintly that they would submit their wills to a law no matter the cost.

      You seem to measure goodness based on selfishness and meanness. Perhaps you missed my main point. We are not sinners because we sin (act selfishly,etc.) We are sinners because we lack that commitment to the moral law that we ought to have. I agree that most children are not inherently selfish and mean. The average Anne would not eat all three apples and watch her classmate long for one. But those who are selfish and mean are so because they want something (whatever it is) that they would not get if they obey the law. Selfishness and meanness are only examples of rebellion against a law we are all familiar with.

      In conclusion, if you need convincing that children are not inherently obedient, you need to spend time in a day care. Acting the right way takes self control and the ability to deny yourself something you want. Self control does not come naturally, as anyone who has tried to lose weight knows.

      So, in what way are children inherently good? Because they like nice people and act nice when they can bear the cost? You don’t call a billionaire who gives a homeless man a dollar generous. Neither does his recognition that being generous is good make him generous.

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