I want to follow up on my previous post, in which I tried to show why you can’t screw up your life because God can use even the worst mistakes you’ve made to make you more like Jesus. If you love God, then everything in your life will be used to make you into the person you’re supposed to be (which is a very different thing than saying, “Everything will turn out okay.”)
In light of this, what is sin?
Sin is the failure to love.
Over and over, the New Testament tries to show us that love is not only our top priority but also the key to interpreting Scripture.
Jesus called loving God and neighbors the greatest commandment. Paul said that to love is to fulfill the law and that it binds all other virtues together in perfect harmony. The same apostle also wrote that love is greater than even faith and hope. James said that “love your neighbor” is the royal law and that a person who has faith but not love has a dead faith. (Granted, James actually uses the phrase “good works,” but it’s pretty clear in context that the lack of good works is specifically a lack of love.) In Revelation, Jesus threatens to remove a church from its city because it’s orthodox but not loving.
1 Timothy states that the purpose of the instruction we’ve received is to make us loving. 2 Timothy says Scripture was breathed by God to prepare us for good works–and as we’ve seen, the greatest work we could be about is loving others.
Clearly, love has a central place in what the New Testament demands of us.
I wrote the previous post because I sometimes worry about screwing up my life (and I know that some readers are sharing that same anxiety right now). But often, when I think of how I can screw up my life, I think about the things I could or couldn’t do, the money I could have made but different, the date I wish had led to something deeper, the weekend trip I didn’t get to take, the job interview I wasn’t called in for.
I also think about the sins I commit, such as the lustful thoughts I had or my failure to set aside some money to give to a person in need. I think about the times I didn’t pray enough or harbored resentment against someone.
There’s a pattern in all of this: I define “screwing up my life” primarily in terms of how I act and think.
That’s a huge problem.
If you think of sin primarily in terms of how you act, then your solution for not sinning is going to revolve around changing your actions. You’ll stop doing one thing and start doing another. You’ll stop thinking about that one thing and start thinking about something else. You’ll change your actions, which we think is what Jesus meant when he told us to repent. But changing our actions doesn’t necessarily lead to love.
We were made to love and be loved and find our identities in that exchange.
Our identities are too heavy, too real, to be supported by mirages–no matter how spiritual they sound.
God’s will for us is to love Him and be loved by Him, to mysteriously be included in the love shared by the Trinity. When we have this right, then we’re going to be what we’re supposed to be, no matter where we are.
But when we neglect that love because we’re convinced that we can find out identities in something else–even if it’s spiritual codes of conduct–then we’re running to danger, not away from it.