For most Christians, this word “sin” is very difficult to deal with. Not just with how we define it, but also with everything else that our world places on it. When talking about Sin, I often go to the simplest of all the definitions and that is to say that sin is anything that separates us from God. This week, the scripture focus is continuing in the theme that we have been in for the last couple of weeks looking into our relationship with God and specifically our relationship with sin.
One theological insight that many do not know is that like most of the reformed ways, there is no hierarchy of sin. This creates great fodder in seminaries and among reformed scholars. The concept of all sin being equal is quite simple, since at its root all sin places the individual before God. To take the time to say that one sin is worse than another is akin to being in debt, some debts are greater the others but all debts have to be overcome in some way.
Now it is important to note that sin cannot be coupled with civil law. The reason for this is actually pretty simple; civil law has to do with how we live in community with one another, whereas sin is solely in the relationship with God. While it is true that often when one breaks the civil contract they also sin, but there is a difference since civil law has to do with our relationship with others in this world and the other is all about God.
Why is this important? Well, because one can never go down the path and ever do any wrong, but be among the greatest of sinners. Conversely, one who is a hardened criminal may actually be among the saints. I remember a while back when visiting a juvenile detention facility, they had a panel of inmates speaking to a bunch of clergy. Now I do not have the authority to claim one is a saint and another is not, but that day I met a soul who seemed as pure as can be, yet he was a mean one!
Allen, we’ll call him, had killed his father. Before going to juvenile detention, Allen, who was from a poor community, had been working hard to break himself and his brother out of that neighborhood. But being black and poor he had few options, so he studied. He was able to successfully stay out of the gang his father was in and fought to keep his brother on the straight path.
One day when he came home, he caught his dad abusing his brother, and Allen went wild and killed his father. Immediately Allen knew what he had done and called the police on himself. He knew that he would go to jail, but he also knew that it would get his brother out of that horrible situation. Allen did wrong, and never denied it. But did he sin? It is hard to say; what is true, though, is that even in prison and having to take on a hardened shell to protect himself, all he spoke of is his faith and how thankful he was that God put him in that place so that he could save his brother.
This is why Paul often wants to make a distinction between the law and our relationship with God. Because often life is not so clear as to right and wrong.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen