My sin, not in part but the whole

First, I should apologize for my absence last week.  A combination of family vacation and illness derailed me.  Ah, well.  It’s back to real life, though.

Today’s stimulating topic: Sin.

Have you ever noticed that people who live by a rigid list of Things I’m Not Supposed to Do are almost never happy?

I’m not suggesting that sin makes us happy.  Obviously, living in a pattern of selfish, sinful behavior doesn’t make anyone happy, either.  But it seems that people who are extremely rigid and rules-bound are equally (if not more) miserable.

I suspect that part of the problem is that people like that also want everyone else to comply with their version of the Official Rules for Life.  I’ve certainly heard my share of sermons implying that the world would be a better place if everyone did what the Bible says we’re supposed to do.

The problem, though, is that different eras and different churches have had their own spin on things.  What was considered shameful and wrong in the past, we no longer find objectionable (such as indoor plumbing).  What was considered acceptable in another time is now considered grave sin (slavery).  What one denomination views as against God’s plan is not an issue in another (female pastors, homosexuality).  Each one of those perspectives can be supported through Scripture.  The Bible has been used to both justify and condemn certain actions.  We may become more restrictive or less, depending on interpretation.

So how do we truly know what is or isn’t sin?

The list of rules may change, and if we try to cling strictly to the Ultimate List we will end up unhappy.  That’s because sin is inherently self-centered.  Believing that we can just exercise self-control (even with God’s help) and keep to the rules is also self-centered.  It’s all about me—what I’m not doing (self-righteousness), or what I’m doing that I shouldn’t be (guilt).  And unless we have superpowers, not one of us is likely to maintain every rule all the time.  That path only leads to misery, shame, and self-doubt, perpetuating the cycle of self-centeredness.

I suggest we start over.  Instead of looking at sin as a black-and-white list of all the things we should avoid, let’s begin with aligning our behavior with what Jesus says:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37b-40)

And what Paul says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

This isn’t just about “big” things, it’s in everything.  Every interaction we have with another human being should begin with placing value on the other person, then acting accordingly.  Do I get this right all the time?  Heck, no.  I’m lucky if I manage 50-50.  But I’ve stopped operating on a list of what I’m not supposed to do and started working on the ways I can love other people, treat them as I want to be treated, and value them more than I value myself.

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