1) Getting Worked up about Sin
In a recent post I made a throw-away remark about the Christian creeds, which are simply a series of propositional statements about the nature of a triune God and what he has done for us. Creeds define a belief system that is transactional: God acts and we receive.
The big stories that underpin the creeds can be bound together to form a compelling meta-narrative. Every experience of human angst has a cause, an explanation and a solution. Humans disobey, lose perspective and can find no relief for their alienation. God takes the initiative, devises a plan which becomes derailed until he enters into the midst of the mess and pays the ultimate price for our freedom.
The cause of the problem is defined using one short theological word: sin. Our progenitors made choices which placed them in opposition to their creator. All humans share the same condition because sin has made us equally unable to deal with the moral guilt and resulting alienation. Every Christmas season there was one carol I would always choose towards the end of our jam-packed carol service because the final lines turned the problem into an invitation: Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.
I suspect there are many reasons why, as a young boy, I had no problem accepting that something about me was faulty. The idea resonated with what was already going on in my head. The message that it was something wrong with me that lay behind my inability to fit in was attractive. Most people have a far greater difficulty accepting that such a damning verdict could be the beginning of a good news story.
Whenever I head north on the A1 I can’t miss seeing a lorry trailer parked in the middle of a field emblazoned with a slogan: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. It makes me realise how much about me has changed. Not because I have any doubts that I fall short, but because however the phrase ‘save sinners’ is meant to be understood by passing motorists, I don’t see a focus on sin as the main preoccupation of Jesus.
Jesus called people to follow him. Which means that what he taught and how he lived are arguably more important to commit to memory than the pithy definitions of theological belief found in the creeds. Gratitude to God for sending Jesus can remain a passive affair. Attempting to follow Jesus as our example must begin with a desire to change and is an entirely different journey.
In the posts that follow I will explore why Jesus didn’t get as worked up about bad behaviour as we do, and why those who were obsessed with getting everything right ended up going completely off the rails.