In our adolescence, we usually question the validity of why sin is, well… sin. We may ask if God is just a cosmic killjoy, trying to suck all the fun out of life and keep us from doing all of the really cool things.
But, once we mature a little and get past that, the question still remains as to why has God has called us not to sin in the first place.
Or the deeper question, why are sins wrong? In other words, is God more than just a parent responding to his kids with “because I told you so”?
A lot of times, the answer we are given merely scratches the surface, with something like, “God wants the best life for you. He said that we could have abundant life. A life without sin is the ideal life—the one created us to have.”
And while I believe there is truth in that, it may go a little deeper.
I was struck as I was reading Ephesians 4. Specifically this part, in verse 28:
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Notice the reasoning Paul gives for the thieves to give up their stealing. If we simply used the logic given above, then he would have said something like “so as to live a life most fulfilling and abundant.” However, Paul chooses a different line of thinking.
The reason that the thieves are called to steal no more isn’t for their own sake, but for the sake of the needy.
Perhaps, our view of sin (much like our view of salvation) is way too individualistic. Maybe it’s way too focused on how our own life is affected by sin, rather than how our sin is affecting those around—especially those in need.
When we imagine a faithful life as “your best life now,” then we also imagine an unfaithful life as “your worst life now.” However, in both cases, the focus is your life. What about the life of your neighbor? Of your enemy?
Similarly, Paul goes on in the next verse to say this:
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
This verse is about much more than avoiding saying “profanity.” And it definitely isn’t about having a vocabulary that would be PG appropriate. Paul is trying to tell the Christians at Ephesus that your speech has the power to build someone up, to give grace to others!
It’s easy to make a list of words not to say and then not say them. It’s a lot tougher intentionally try to use your words for building up and grace giving. In the end, it’s not about you; it’s about others.
Think about sexual immorality. We usually use the language of purity, personal piety, and other terms that focus on the self. It is framed on how we present ourselves to God. However, look at how Richard Beck frames it here:
Specifically, sexual purity is a form of protection that allows you to be radically available to others… How can I be radically available to others—women in particular—if I’m not sexually pure, if I’m not holy? Pushing further, let’s say God is sending me into very dark places in the world, sexually speaking. Let’s say I find myself ministering to sex workers, women in the adult entertainment industry or with women caught up in sex trafficking. How can I be in the midst of these very dark sexual places if I’m not holy?
As he says earlier in the article, we are used to hearing holiness as “what God wants.” And the pursuit of holiness becomes an end to itself. However, the call to be free from sin isn’t a call to receive a certain kind of life, but to be able to give a certain kind of life to others.
The example Paul uses with thieves is succinct: our calling is not to receive, but to give. Indeed, it’s more blessed to do so.
Don’t ever let the battle with sin ever be the end game. Our goal isn’t to be holy for holiness’ sake. Our goal is to be like Christ, the one who demonstrated his holiness by his radical love, hospitality, and care for others.
Let’s participate in that.