Posts Tagged 'Sin Nature'

Sinless Perfection

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Among the comments I’ve received on my recent series of posts about confession of sins was the suggestion that I have dumped rebound for the old Wesleyan doctrine of “sinless perfection.”

I had to go look up what that was.

After a quick reading of the Wikipedia article I’m still not sure what it is. Wesley himself said he never used the term “sinless perfection” for fear of contradicting himself, but did maintain that Christians were on a “journey to perfection” where they would reach a point where “the heart of the believer is cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t think we’re on a “journey to perfection.” I don’t think God left us here with a sin nature so we could reach perfection. As believers in Christ, when we die, the flesh will be gone and we’ll have perfect resurrection bodies just like our Lord’s. But not because of anything we do along the way.

I think of what the Bible describes as the “heart of the believer” as being where we do our thinking, where our conscience is, our standards, memory, understanding, our will, etc. I believe it’s a combination of the soul and human spirit (the latter made alive at the moment of salvation). The Bible doesn’t say there’s inbred sin there, but rather in the flesh, the physical body referred to as the “old man” in Scripture. This can and does influence the soul/spirit/heart and will until the day we die.

I certainly do not believe the Bible teaches that it is possible for a Christian in this life to attain “spiritual perfection,” that is, to reach a state where he or she no longer sins.

I have to laugh here, because I remember years ago (when I was about 2 years old, spiritually speaking)  getting into a debate with an older gentleman who claimed he no longer sinned.

My husband and I were attending one of the many home Bible studies we tried out before we settled on the one where we listened to Col Thieme’s tapes (augmented by regular Sunday/Wednesday attendance at a Baptist Church). We’d already received the teaching of 1 John 1:9 (that we must confess our sins to be forgiven) from Orville and our LS Chafer book and here we were faced with this man who was claiming he no longer sinned. We quoted 1 John 1:10 – whoever says he’s without sin is a liar. I don’t recall the man’s argument against that, only that he grew quite angry about it all and began insulting us, and  it didn’t help the situation when my husband pointed out that he was, indeed, angry and that was a sin, so clearly he HADN’T stopped sinning.

In any event, I do not believe the Bible teaches we can ever as long as we are alive on this earth, reach a point of sinless perfection. We still have the flesh setting itself against the Spirit (Gal 5:17), and tempting us to go back to the old ways (Ro 7:14-25); we live in the Devil’s world, which is permeated by a system of thinking that’s totally against God  and which will also constantly tempt us to go back to the ways of the flesh (1 Jn 2:15,16); finally, we have an active enemy in the person of Satan and his minions, who are working to keep us from going forward in the Christian life (I Pe 5:8; Eph6:11,12). They have been doing this with members of the Body of Christ for almost two thousand years and they are VERY good at it.

Moreover, the flesh is not getting better, it’s getting worse (2 Co 4:16). So, no, as long as we’re in this fallen world, in these corrupt bodies, we aren’t going to reach sinless perfection. We won’t be without sin until we’re in heaven in our Resurrection Bodies.

We do sin, regularly. Probably daily for most of us, even if it’s only falling into a wrong mental attitude (fear, worry, guilt, selfishness, resentment, pride…the options sometimes seem endless).

Because I believe confession of sin is not something the Bible teaches that we are told to do (as related in my recent posts)  some have asked, “Well what DO we do about it, then?”

Short answer: STOP it!

Longer answer: Lay it aside, and put on something new.

For an even longer answer, check out tomorrow’s post. 🙂

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Asceticism

The Buddha as an ascetic

This post has been sitting in my drafts box for some time. I thought it was unfinished. In fact, I thought I’d barely started it and so had been ignoring it. Today I was moved to click on it, intending to see if there was something here I could develop, or if I should just delete it and move on.

Instead I was surprised to find an entire post, finished but for the final editing. And, oddly enough, it ties in to what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately in regards to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The original date on it was March 18, 2011, a kind of prologue thoughtwise to more recent ruminations. Here’s what I was thinking last year:

Most Christians are aware of the fact that they still have a fallen nature even after having believed in Christ. But how many of them have considered what this fallen nature is like beyond “bad,” “evil,” “selfish,” “prideful”  and “something that sets itself against God?”

My pastor has considered what it is like and taught us a number of things as a result of his studies. One of the big things about it is the fact that it has an area of strength (most of us have certain sins we’re not even tempted to commit) and an area of weakness (sins we fall into all the time). I think the area of weakness is pretty well-known, but the area of strength is something that doesn’t get as much attention. The area of strength is often the source of human good, which of course, is disgusting in God’s eyes, but often very attractive in people’s eyes.

In addition to an area of strength and weakness, the sin nature also has a trend, either toward lasciviousness or asceticism. Or, put more simply, some people trend toward self-indulgence and others toward self-denial and self-discipline.

Examples of the latter include the Flagellants I just posted about, as well as fasting, vows of silence and poverty, dietary rules, and one I find most amusing, the stylites… Eastern orthodox monks who lived on small platforms atop long poles for years, fasting, praying, and preaching, they believed that the mortification of their bodies would ensure their salvation.  Many Eastern religions embrace ascetic practices as well, with followers vowing never to use their left hand or right foot, restricting their diet, wearing neither clothes nor shoes as they moved from place to place, not staying in any one place so as not to get attached, etc. Clearly there is a strong tendancy in some sin natures to be abusive of self in the name of “holiness,” or just in the name of getting something they might want.

Few people in our day practice the type of asceticism I’ve just described (at least in the United States) but that doesn’t mean they don’t practice it in some other form. Exercise regimes, abstaining from certain foods or drinks, supporting “green” practices, abstaining from smoking, card games, dancing or watching movies, even practices associated with Lent all have to do with denying self certain pleasures in the interest of achieving “holiness” by our own efforts.

Unfortunately holiness is far from the result of asceticism. What it leads to is moral degeneracy, a state wherein a person is moral and often religious but thinks far more highly of himself than he ought. His self-denial and self-discipline,  his avoidance of the lascivious or self-indulgent sorts of sins (drug addiction, fornication, etc) make it seem that he is a better person than say, the woman working the corner down in the ratty part of town. Which is, of coures the point: to make of oneself a better person, a more spiritual person, purer, more enlightened than everyone else.

I’ve recently read several articles noting how self-righteous and holier than thou some people in the global warming/environmental movement are, how it has, in fact become a religion in itself to those who follow it. Michael Crichton was one of the first, or at least the most famous first, to point this out in a speech he gave to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003.  (Read it here) Ditto vegetarians, the defenders of animals and even those who eat only organic foods, pr so  claims an article on MSNBC titled “Does Organic Food Make People into Jerks?

In addition to the holier-than-thou syndrome, ascetism leads to legalism — not only in the sense of judging others, but of judging self. Not the judging of self where you confess your sins to God, but where you come up with a set of rules you have to follow so everything will turn out right; or so someone will be pleased with you or happy or at the very least not displeased; or perhaps a set of rules to follow so God will be pleased,  or so you can gain health or wealth or success or …  the list is endless.

And once you have your set of rules in place, you’ve created a launching pad for guilt and worry. You have these rules!  And you have to follow them; if you don’t, disaster will ensue! If you don’t, you can never have any peace. Who cares what God’s word has to say? You have your rules of what it means to be good or successful or responsible or compassionate or whatever…

Which means now you can also worry you might not follow them all, and then beat yourself up when you don’t.  And if there’s someone around who fails to follow them even more than you do, then you can focus on that person and beat them up instead of yourself for their infractions.

And it can all look very nice on the outside, while inside it tears you apart.

What a contrast to the life our Lord intends for us to live. A life of peace and rest, confident that we don’t have to follow our silly little rules, because in Christ we’ve already been made holy. By His work, not ours. There’s not one thing we can do that will make us one ounce holier than He’s already made us the moment we believed in Christ.

All we have to do is keep learning His Word which, if we believe it, will slowly transform our thinking into His.  Our new life in Christ is one that offers tremendous peace and freedom; why would we not want to live in it?

Kevin in the Parking Lot

Anyone out there watch 24? My husband and I have been fans since the first season and pretty much haven’t missed an episode. This season is the first time I’ve gotten a really cool visual image for a spiritual reality, however: Kevin, the creepy boyfriend? partner in crime? stalker? from computer analyst Dana Walsh’s past.

If you aren’t a 24 watcher, here are the salient details. Dana Walsh is a computer analyst with CTU about to marry one of the star security operatives (Freddie Prinze, Jr). As he is sent out to deal with the crisis of the hour, she gets a call from this creepy dude, Kevin, demanding she come out and meet him. Little by little details are revealed. Seems Dana Walsh is not her real name, but her new one. That in her past she was involved with this Kevin loser in some sort of crime. Both went to jail. She got out early for good behavior and because she was a juvenile. She changed her name, her identity, left her past behind and now has a new, respectable, successful life.

Perhaps, given some of what I’ve written about lately, you see where this is going…

Kevin threatens to reveal all unless she does what he says. It will surely destroy her new life. At first she hangs up on him. But he keeps calling, and finally reveals he is out in the CTU parking lot and wants her to meet him there. She resists, he presses, and eventually out the door she goes to the parking lot to meet with Kevin. Next he convinces her to let him stay in her apartment, for the night, promising to leave the next day. Instead he calls her later and demands she come over… and on it goes.

Kevin is the perfect metaphor for the old man. He calls you up. “Hey, come and meet me in the parking lot.” He cajoles, he presses, he threatens, he won’t quit… You know it’s stupid, you know you can’t trust him, you know that this is only going to bring disaster, but … like Dana, you do it anyway.

My husband thought she was an idiot to have anything to do with the guy. I was wildly uncomfortable with it, too, but I have been made very aware of the power of fear and the resultant irrationality it produces and our capacity to deceive ourselves. Kevin is played by an actor who looks somewhat like Leonardo DiCaprio, and just looks very evil. I can’t stand him. I can’t stand that she’s doing what he wants, thinking he’s really going to go away. Finally he persuades her to help him get past security into a police storage unit where some impounded drug money — cash — has been stowed. He can take it and no one will ever know because it’s a cold case.

We all know that’s not going to be enough, but she believes him when he says it’s only this once.

So much like our old man. It cajoles, it threatens, it manipulates, it promises. We give into it, even when we know better. For me, the battles are almost all thoughts. I am astonished at how often I have to fight against it, and lately, with the teaching we’ve been having, I’ve become even more aware of all the ways it tries to slip in and take control. I’ve started thinking of Kevin, when it does. “He’s calling you from the parking lot,” I tell myself, “and you’re answering the phone. You’re going out to meet with him. Where do you think this is going to end?” Nowhere good.

It’s perfect. The visual image and the emotional revulsion I feel for what Dana lets him do, has lately been strong enough to break me out of the pattern. And after last week, when the whole carefully orchestrated plot was turned into a total mess far beyond what I even dreamed might happen, the metaphor got even better.


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