Re-thinking Sin

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There seems to be a pattern that emerges after we’ve been a Christian for even a brief time: during our initial conversion and the months that immediately follow, we discover that certain rhythms of our life are sin. So we stop doing them, and they are easy to quit. Then, a little while later, we learn that more rhythms are sin… and so we try to stop them. But we don’t. We return to them, stumble over them, and wrestle with them.

I’m sure some reading this have been a Christian for decades and there are still those same pre-Christ habits that keep tripping us up. Why?

Perhaps because the sin we struggle with as maturing Christians is less about an action and more about an idol.

Sin: the cat or the hutch?

I have sat in countless “accountability groups” that focus exclusively on behavior modification. We set up check-points, reminders, texts, web filters, and all kinds of things to attempt to modify our behavior and prevent certain actions.

It is like trying to abate a flow of lava with a picnic blanket: thinking we can change who we are at the core with rudimentary changes to the surface, when what lies beneath requires a far deeper answer than behavior adjustment. And like a picnicker confronted with a broiling roll of lava, the required suppressant is far beyond our human capacity to generate.

What if, instead of trying to change a behavior or prevent an action, we turned to Christ to root out idols in our heart? So often we think of sin as the annoying cat that runs around and scratches up the couch (an action), but I think instead our sin is grandma’s old hutch that’s built-in to the dining room: it just isn’t going anywhere. It’s an integral part of what makes us, us.

When we treat sin like the cat, we just try to herd it around valuables, or simply try to teach it to behave differently as we clean up today’s mess. When we treat sin like Grandma’s hutch we are faced with making difficult choices of changing things that reach deep down into the legacy of who we are as people – not just the actions from that morning or last night.

Valuable Rubbish

Ezekiel 16 paints a vivid image of the filthy depths of our sin and how God responds, and reading that chapter constantly inspires me toward incredible humility (ten pages of the manuscript are given to studying Ezekiel 16, it’s that good). The natural response is to allow the Holy Spirit to begin aligning ourselves with God’s momentous vision of the future, and the role he has specifically designed us to play in the coming-about of that future vision for his glory. Furthermore, taking a posture that assumes the “house of our heart” is full of idols that attempt to tear us away from God is a natural humble response to realizing all he has accomplished and continues to accomplish for us.

This is the hinge between our Rescue Moment and our Reconciliation: we have been rescued from the poverty of our soul by God, and now the King of the Universe is moving in to set up his residence, reconciling us to himself and becoming “one” in loving covenant relationship once again. And suddenly we realize there is a lot of rubble that needs to be cleared out. Actually, we don’t see it as rubble: often something that God sees as filth, we see as the family heirloom. God doesn’t need *that trait* our family is so proud to identify with to make himself glorified; he doesn’t need *that response* we were taught to have toward certain people for him to be magnified in all the Earth. Perhaps some of the deepest things we cling to are actually getting in the way of Kingdom break-through in our lives and neighborhoods.

The profound work of the Holy Spirit transforming our lives is not chasing out the cats, it is masterfully rebuilding the furniture into it’s original creative design.

To move from a place of only rescue to a place that also includes reconciliation and restoration, we have to call a spade a spade. And a lot of what we cling to is really just idols keeping us from intimacy with Jesus. We dress it up pretty all right, but it’s a rotting whore on the inside. 

If we rightly see Jesus for who he is, and we choose the obvious option of humility, we can take an honest look at the furniture of idols (not the annoying cats that simply live in and around the furniture), and start letting the Holy Spirit knock them out, one painful blow at a time.

Root canal with no pain-killer

And the blow is painful, no doubt. We don’t ever actually see it for the rotting rubble it is until it has been removed and something else is exquisitely built in its place. The thing about idols (and what we see in Ezekiel 16) is that they are usually God-given things that we pervert into something that robs God of glory, instead of giving God glory. So the thing that is built in place of old idols is probably the same type of furniture, it’s just built in line with the original creative design of the Master Designer, so the beauty of it finally shows the old idol as it really is: dirty rags.

We are so accustomed to thinking of our sin as simple actions, it might be difficult to think of sin as a by-product of idols. If we aren’t addressing the actual action, are we condoning sin? Absolutely not! Just as a doctor addresses the infection, not the symptom, so we are doing here. The actions will subside and then vanish – once the root is properly dealt with.

When we are able to curb an action over here, the idol of sin spouts up in a different action over there. Most often, we are just never able to kill all the weeds of sin because we don’t pull up the roots. When I post next on this topic, we will dive into Scripture to look at Root Idols – the “hutches” and “heirlooms” we all seem inclined toward. [“Root Idols: Seeing the Hutch for What it is“]

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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