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You're a sinner; that's actually a good thing

July 24, 2018
Benjamin Spalink

Did you know you're a sinner?  That's Christian lingo for having major character defects.  Sin means, as one writer said, you have a natural propensity to screw things up (he used much more colorful language than I can use here). I was explaining this to someone today who seemed somewhat relieved to hear this – probably not the news that he was a so-called sinner, but that everyone falls into this category, and that therefore, we're in the same boat. It's a relief to find yourself in the company of others who can admit this.

There's no hiding or denying it. From the time we are born, we are self-centered. This self-orientation, being the center of our universe, being your own god - whatever you want to call it - is the root of this thing we call sin.  Infants are unashamedly self-centered (I've had three) - they have to be to alert us to their needs. We should unlearn this as we grow, but we don't. We just find sophisticated ways to hide it, or we find people who will indulge it. But sin takes many forms as we grow.  It has many manifestations. Every person has some element of this primal selfishness in them.

Call it ego, pride, self-centeredness, willfulness (always trying to impose our will on people and situations), anxiety, stress, fear, racism, hiding, pretending, imposing, dishonoring, stealing, hoarding, etc... It's all the fruit of the same thing, sin. But, all sin is a manifestation of something else - not letting God be God. It is trying to take over the bus (punishable by a fine and jail time in New York City). God's not happy about it, but he will move aside if we insist. And so, being the poor drivers we are, we take over the bus, run over cyclists, and eventually end up crashing into a fire hydrant. People get irritated about this idea of "original sin" (that we're all sinful by being born into it), but find me one person who doesn't have at least some element of the above named self-destructive tendency and I'll immediately recant.

Let me tell you my sin: I've hurt people I love. Usually not intentionally. I can be more concerned about myself than my own kids.  I can use people (again, not usually intentionally). I can be prideful. I can be negligent, cocky, reckless, willful, pushy (many of these qualities are the "shadow-sides" of other good traits, but that's neither here nor there). I'm a pastor and I'm telling you, I'm a sinner. I qualify for the sinner's list.

If you can come to terms with sin, your propensity to take beautiful things and make a mess of them, your innate tendency to think always of your self first, you are well on your way to love, joy and happiness because God, through Jesus, has a solution for sin.  You can take your sin, pin it on Jesus, and be freed from all the guilt and shame associated with said problem. That's the good news of the Gospel - the willingness of God to make an exchange with you. He can overlook your sin, and then through his Spirit give you the power to overcome it in practice.  You can change and be less self-centered, less prideful, less anxious. You can learn to love others, and through love, experience real community and intimacy.

It's not fun coming to terms with sin any more than it is coming to terms with a terminal illness.  But once you have a diagnosis, and once you can escape the feeling of being worse off than everybody else, you can begin looking for the cure. Jesus meets us there with lots of grace.

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