As part of a roundtable discussion at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, I read the small book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor. The premise of the book is simple – Christians use words that have specific definitions that the culture thinks have different definitions. One such word is ‘sin’. If I were to create a list of words our culture uses which it would consider synonymous with ‘sin’, the list would be lengthy: a mistake, a misstep, an lapse in judgment, an error, a miscalculation, an unfortunate turn, a blunder, a character flaw, a quirk or a necessary evil. But is that what God thinks defines sin?
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51:1-2
God’s Spirit inspired David to use three words in poetic symmetry to define sin. First, he uses the word transgressions (pasha in Hebrew), which has its root in the verb ‘to rebel’. Second, he uses the word iniquity (avah in Hebrew), which has its root in the verb ‘to act wrongly’. Third, he uses the word sin (chatah in Hebrew) which has its root in the verb “to miss the mark”. If we were to take these terms together, as the parallelism of the poetry of the Psalms would imply, we could define ‘sin’ as “rebellious and wrong behavior which causes a person to fail in reaching their intended purpose”. It is certainly more substantive than a simple mistake.
Since ‘sin’ is a symptom of rebellion, an improper act and something which thwarts our goals, it would behoove us to deal with ‘sin’ appropriately. Rebellion is intentional and therefore dealing with ‘sin’ demands that we place the blame for our sinful behavior squarely upon one’s own shoulders – we are responsible. We need to see sin as wrong by definition, not just subjectively or consequentially improper. It is the nature of our human hearts that stunts our God given potential and prevents us from attaining the best God desires for us.
Thankfully, God is merciful. John’s first epistle to the church states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9)” We need to recognize our rebellious attitudes and wrong ways, confessing them as sin and allowing Christ to cover them in His blood, thereby satiating the appropriate wrath of God these attitudes and actions deserve. The response to sin is to fall before God’s mercy, expressed fully through the crucifixion of Christ, and be cleansed.
I’m sure there are those who say, “Nobody’s perfect.” I agree. My trouble is the unspoken implication that either we or God would want us to maintain our imperfections. We want to be better. God wants us to be better. He wants us to deal with our sin and be right before God. Excuse me as I do just that.