Episode 19: Sin
Sin is directly related to belief, specifically belief in who Jesus says he is, what Jesus teaches, and what Jesus does
In his devotional classic, My Upmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers describes sin as “a fundamental relationship; it is not wrong doing, it is wrong being, deliberate and emphatic independence of God.” (Reconciliation, October 7) Although Jesus is identified as “God’s Lamb who removes the world’s sin” in John 1:29, this sin is seldom described in the gospel of John. Our modern perception of the meaning for this word leans towards wrongful actions, which creates difficulty for understanding what sin is and what Jesus removes.
In the Old Testament
Three different Hebrew words are translated as sin 959 times in the Old Testament. One means “to be mistaken” or “to be at fault;” the second means “willful, knowledgeable violation of a norm;” and the third means “moral guilt before God.” (Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6:32) Yet despite these various descriptions for failing under the covenant guidelines, restoration, i.e. forgiveness, was also provided for in the covenant. In other words, there was no concept of “one and done” with God. The Greek Old Testament uses the word hamartia as a representation for several different Hebrew words, thus blurring the nuances for discussing “sin” within the Old Testament language.
Elsewhere in John
The words of the disciples and Pharisees toward the man born blind in John 9 demonstrate one view of sin within the gospel account. The disciples ask Jesus a basic, religious question, “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness?" Later in the episode the Pharisees disparage the once blind man when they say, “Your entire life since your birth has been in sin; who are you to try to teach us?” (9:2, 34) Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, some of these deeply religious Jews are convinced that Jesus could not be from God, and thus was “a sinner.” Yet, others are not as convinced because of the types of signs Jesus was performing. (9:16, 24)
At the conclusion of the episode, when the Pharisees gather around seeking clarification on Jesus’ statement, Jesus told them, “If you were blind, then you would have no sin; but since you still say that you can see, your sin stays with you.” (9:41) From the perspective of the Pharisees, sin is a stigma that indicates one is not following God’s teaching. From the perspective of Jesus, Sin is not a barrier to God but an opportunity for God to work.
In his words at the Temple during the Fall pilgrimage festival, known as Tabernacles or Booths, we find more of Jesus’ own perspective on sin.
“I am going away and you will seek me out,
and you all will die in your sins;
where I am going you are unable to go. (8:21)
“You are from here, I am from above;
you are from this world, I am not.
So I said ‘you all will die in your sins;’
for if you will not believe that “I am,”
you all will die in your sins.” (8:23-24)
From Jesus’ perspective, Sin is a killer. Only one solution will prevent sin’s full and complete impact, believing that Jesus is the God who revealed himself to Moses. The distinction between Jesus’ perspective and those he talks to is clear; Jesus calls them to understand his true identity-one they can’t quite fathom. Yet, we struggle even now, when we have known his true identity since the beginning of this Gospel. Jesus is the Word at the Beginning, the Word with God, the Word is God.
Before his arrest, Jesus talks with his disciples about sin on several occasions. In John 15, Jesus provides his image of a vine that grows grapes. Indicating there is only one vine, he describes the relationship followers of Jesus should have with him and with each other. He transitions from the vine image to discussing the significance of his words, especially his commandment to love one another, which he states twice. Ultimately, he describes the sin faced by those who do not follow his words, specifically his commandment.
But they will do all these things to you because
of my name, since they do not know the one
who sent me. Unless I had come and spoken
to them, they would not have sin;
but now they do not have an excuse for their sin.
The one who hates me also hates my father. (15:21-23)
On the one hand in this gospel sin is a refusal to accept and follow Jesus’ words.
Yet, the challenge is not merely with the words of Jesus. Jesus continues his description and, in a fashion, “doubles down” on the problem.
If I had not performed the works in their midst,
works which no one else ever performed,
they would not have sin; but now they have seen
these works and have even hated my Father
as well as me. (15:24)
The evidence is not merely seen by what Jesus says, but also includes what Jesus does. Sin is a failure to recognize the word of God as well as a failure to recognize the activity of God, activity only the creator of the universe could perform.
Later in the discussion on that last evening, Jesus turns to discuss the role of the Spirit, the next episode’s topic.
Now when this one (the Spirit) comes,
he will confront the world concerning sin,
righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin first
because the world does not believe in me. (16:8-9)
Sin is directly related to belief (described in Episode 8), specifically belief in who Jesus says he is, what Jesus teaches, and what Jesus does as described by the various signs throughout this gospel. Sin is identified clearly in several places as, in the words of Oswald Chambers, “deliberate and emphatic independence of God.” This independence from God is demonstrated in the refusal to believe the one God sent, who speaks the words of the Father, and performs the works of the Father.
The meaning our mind gives words as we read them determines how we understand what we read. Our description of sin, when understood from our current perspective, frequently falls short of accurately depicting the conversation taking place in the Bible account we are reading. We fill in the gaps in the story with our own information. Jesus takes away the world’s sin-but what exactly does Jesus take away? From the perspective of the Gospel of John, Jesus takes away our unbelief, because we now have the words of The Word. We have signs demonstrating the working of the one through whom everything came about. But the possibility exists for you and for me to fall short, to be mistaken, even to willfully violate a standard. We can also disregard the words of Jesus. Yet, Jesus simplifies the standard to something we can believe-love one another. And when we fall short, we know we have forgiveness. There is no fear of being caught in a “one and done” situation.
Take 5 Minutes More
How have you described sin in the past? Do you, like so many others in our world, identify sin as action that violates a law or pattern of behavior? Understanding sin in this fashion results from, and reinforces, a type of legalism, one that thinks God judges me on the basis of my actions. Legalism, of any kind, simply does not work. I cannot accomplish any action that would force God to accept me. Instead, God loved humanity while humanity remained under the power of sin and was unable to do anything about it.
Since righteousness is only available by faith, it makes perfect sense that sin results from a lack of faith, an absence of trust. Consider the following thoughts.
• Do I truly acknowledge in the depth of my being that God loves me even in my imperfection?
• In what one aspect of my life’s activity today am I withholding trust from God?
• Where is my greatest tendency to trust my own ability and skill rather than to trust God to guide me?
Write down your response and take a few moments to consider why this is the case. Determine to look for a new opportunity to trust God today.