Season of Lent and the nature of sin
We are in the season of Lent and it is traditionally a time associated with Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness when he was tempted by the Devil.
Now, the idea of a devil might sound a bit far-fetched – one that should perhaps be relegated to the realms of fantasy along with Father Christmas and green mischievous leprechauns, however stay with me for just a moment.
Most of us agree that goodness exists and also that evil exists. What Christians assert is that there is a mind or consciousness behind both good and evil, and this is where the Devil comes in. The Devil is not a comical guy wearing a red suit, with horns, a forked tail, and holding a pitchfork, but is the consciousness behind evil, and the purpose of evil is to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to break our relationships – between us, God, and others.
Jesus was and is part of the community of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and when the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, it was not to commit what you or I would typically label “sin”. The temptations were all about the Devil trying to break up the community of God, to convince Jesus that he could be self-dependent and did not need the Father or the Spirit, or to use the Father and Spirit for his own personal gain.
In our modernistic culture, we tend to define sin as a set or list of rules that should not be broken, however, sin is anything that separates us from God and breaks our relationship with God and with others. When we are tempted to sin, it is either to be independent and disregard God or others, or it is to be selfish and pursue personal gain at someone else's expense. Sin is therefore the antonym of loving God and loving others.
We are, for the most part, familiar with the idea of occasional sins, however, I would go further and suggest that we are in a constant state of sin, because apathy and indifference can also be sins.
For example, if I have any wealth at all, even a penny, and do not share it with those that are in need – ie, I am aware they need help and do nothing – well, that is a sin. If I wear clothes without considering they may have been hewn in a sweatshop at the expense of others, or use cartons, plastic packaging, bags or bottles, without considering the impact their manufacture and disposal have on the environment, then that is also a sin.
Therefore, sin is inescapable and we, as humans, no matter how hard we try, are not worthy to receive God's grace and forgiveness. I think that is why Jesus said to the Rich Man, that if he wanted to be perfect then he needed to give away all his possessions to the poor. The rich man went away troubled and perplexed. Yes, it was an instruction, but more than that, Jesus was highlighting that the bar is set too high, that none of us can reach it, and we never will.
We need a Saviour. We, literally, need saving from our sins, and as Jesus said, what is not possible with humans is possible with God. Salvation from our sins is completely and entirely God's initiative. I love this phrase from the Anglican communion that harks back to the story of the wayward or Prodigal Son: “Father of all, we give you thanks and praise, that when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home.”
Knowing all this about sin and temptation does not mean the struggle is not real! We feel it deeply and keenly, especially if we keep on messing up – which we do. It takes a mind shift, an epiphany, a move of the Spirit, or a revelation to trust and believe that even though we sin – often intentionally and constantly due to our apathy and indifference – that we are in fact made clean and holy through Jesus Christ. We stand forgiven, innocent, guilt-free, and we will not be punished.
This is the way of love. It is a different way. It is a way that says that if God keeps loving us unconditionally, that love will win us over in the end, that it will eventually transform us, shape us, and we will become more like God.
I do not know how we put down the sticks with which we beat ourselves. All I know is that it is a process to get it through – from our heads to our hearts – that God loves us, because he loves us and that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less.
I thank God for the church of which I am a part – this community, a family of friends and fellow believers that journey with each other. We show each other welcome, inclusivity, and acceptance as God’s Spirit lives in us and moves in us to reach out to each other. We pick each other up when we fall, we remind each other of God's promise of forgiveness, and we offer one another unconditional love.
As we are now in the season of Lent, over the coming days, with Christ as our model – the one who achieved what we could not do, and therefore the only one in a position to offer us forgiveness and salvation – we resolve to trust and rely on God and do all that we can to remain in relationship with God and with others.
And so I pray: May God the Holy Spirit lead you and guide you into all holiness. As you bring to mind your inner pains and brokenness, may you know the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of God – that you stand holy and cleansed through Christ's passion and love.
May you rejoice and continue in this Lenten season with hearts resolved to trust and rely on your heavenly Father to provide for all your needs. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you, always. Amen.
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm
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