(This is the first in a series of posts about why spiritual transformation is impeded, blocked, and short-circuited in our lives.)
So let's talk about sin.
It seems like a brainless suggestion to say that sin is an obstacle to transformation. Orthodox Christian theology has been saying that for years and years. Tell us something we don't already know and don't already feel guilty about, eh?
I want to take things from a different angle, though.
My belief from what I've seen in the way that the church has addressed sin in the past is that we often deal with sin in a counterproductive way.
We say stop it. Doing wrong? Stop it.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this, as a matter of fact the most helpful thing we can do is to stop doing the hurtful thing, but when we're talking about longevity - about life over time - we can't live by that.
"Stop it" is about behavior management - Dallas Willard calls it "sin management" - but that is not the same thing as discipleship. God forbid we ever make it the same thing.
One of the greatest sins we can ever commit is to short-change the Gospel by making it purely about behavior management under the threat of Hell.
Imagine if you came to me to ask for directions - we're standing in the street in my Chicago suburb and you ask, "How do I get to Nashville?" Nashville is due south of us along I-57 and is a dandy place to be. I smile and joke about stowing away in your trunk.
Then I offer you my directions: "Don't go to Wisconsin."
"Okay," you reply, confused. "Next?"
"Nope, that's it. Stay away from Wisconsin and you'll get there." I'm quite pleased with my answer, I've saved you from a great deal of pain.
I have given adequate directions, good in the sense that they will lead away from the wrong destination. I haven't helped you though, have I?
The church of the past has shuffled Jesus' teachings on sin into a neo-Pharisees laundry list of heavenly habituations, but they've lost the plot. We've led people away from danger, but what have we led them toward? What is the alternative vision of reality that Jesus gives His disciples?
The reality is that the antidote to sin is not just "doing good instead of bad". The antidote to sin is getting a bigger vision of why the good makes more sense.
Jesus' teaching on God's desires for our actions are all based on the fact that He was looking at God, the world, sex, fear, money, power and religion through a bigger lens.
This is the point of discipleship - not praying more or knowing more Scripture, not doing more holy deeds but instead grasping a holy vision of being like Jesus and letting all these good and holy habits support that lifestyle.
Jesus did not live through the lens of trying to do the right thing and not screw up, but He lived through lens of being the kind of person who geeks out over how good it could be to live in a world where the wrong things aren't even interesting.
Then He invites us to learn to be like Him. He dies and rises to make that possibility a reality.
If we really want to deal with sin and see transformation happen, yes, we need to put a stop to the willful destructive behaviors but the fuel for the fire must be that we have a bigger vision:
The vision that living as Jesus teaches is actually the most robust, rewarding, fruitful, explosive, passionate way to live under the sun.
The vision that in the scope of what we're created to be and what God does through us when we gain our identity from Him, the petty acts of greed, lust, and anger are "lovers less wild" (C.S. Lewis) and not worth our time and energy.
Under every "no" teaching of Jesus is a "yes" invitation to live in a bigger vision.
Likely 90% of the pastoral crises I see involve people who are trying to manage bad behaviors instead of learning how to live with Jesus and learn how to live out of that deeper vision.
So today, how are you approaching sin? Is it possible that you've been managing a behavior that is better dispatched by seeing it in the bigger picture? The bigger reality?