That unsightly zit

We wonder about how people in this world can inflict such pain on others. We wonder about how evil can exist in this world. Think of the most evil person in the world. We point out the evil and call it out and name it. It’s especially horrifying when evil is done to us.

Truth is, we also do harm against our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. The harm done is just more apparent when it’s others doing it to us.

This sickness called ‘original sin’ begins as microscopic viruses–invisible. We don’t know we have it we’ve been infected. Eventually shows up. When others point out our wart or zit, we are embarrassed. When it comes out, it’s rather ugly. We try to cover it up. We might even go as far as turning our face the other way, wearing a ball cap or shades. Anything to hide the unsightly zit.

Sin is like this too. When it comes out, it’s unsightly. It shows in how we mistreat other people. We don’t even know why it happens, but it happens. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

This spiritual sickness in the human race leaves no one untouched. It describes who we are, not only as human beings, but also as redeemed Christian people. It explains why we as Christians still sin. There is no sin we are incapable of committing as human beings. Some call it total depravity. We cannot escape its grip and only Jesus can release us from it.

Jesus, thank you for forgiving me of my sins. Release us from this grip. Help me forgive people in this world who have hurt me. Give me strength to bless them because I cannot do it on my own. I’m incapable of forgiveness but with your help, I can. I want to walk in your paths of righteousness, holiness, and experience your peace, joy and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The human condition: infection of original sin – Luke 18:9-14

As people, we want to believe that humans are innately good and born pure. We prefer to imagine ourselves far away from the sins that only the worst of sinners commit. The more heinous the sin, the more we distance ourselves from these sins.

We do this all the time. Ever catch yourself outspokenly critical of bad people? You know, those ‘others’ who commit the big crimes. It’s almost like we intentionally and publicly display our hatred of sin in order to prove to others (and even to ourselves) that we are unlike those ‘bad sinners.’

Making contrast-comparisons doesn’t makes us any less of a sinner, nor any better of a Christian. Sometimes, we fall into a mode of being critical of others, and at other times, being judgmental. We hide our self-righteousness behind a veneer of righteousness.

Pharisee and the tax collector

Jesus told a story or parable about a pharisee and a publican:

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14, Holy Bible (Common English Bible)

Each person, has been impacted by a sickness at birth. This sickness has impacted even our ability to make decisions. The only way out is to depend on God’s grace and mercy.

By placing ourselves in a lower position, we can see ourselves for who we really are–as both a saint and a sinner at the same time. As Christians we are simultaneously redeemed and yet still sinful. Until that final day when the Lord Jesus returns to earth, we will become fully redeemed. In the mean time, we are still bound by original sin.

The cure: God has provided us a cure from this infection of original sin through a spiritual rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is made possible only through faith or believing in Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. By believing this (through faith alone) we are made holy (or sanctified) and righteous through the washing of God’s word as we repent each day. Though I am weak, it is God who strengthens me each day.

Struggle of Religious Leaders

ravi zacharias
Rev. Ravi Zacharias, RZIM

In the past five to ten years, we’ve seen some explosions in the church world across many denominations: from Evangelical, Protestant to Catholic. For many it was a shock and a let down, especially for those who followed the teachings of these religious/spiritual leaders.

A recent evangelical, Ravi Zacharias, was a well-known Christian apologist. Other ministers in the past were Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart. There are hundreds of pastors and priests who have faced allegations of misconduct of some sort. All these Christian men have had great ministries and have led many people into a deeper understanding of faith and knowledge of Christ.

It is easy to label them as fake, but doing so does not make sense. They got into ministry for all the right reasons. Their calling of God was very real—as real as anyone else’s. Their faith and ministry are real and it would not be fair to dismiss their prior ministry accomplishments.

What is also real is their struggle with sex, money, power. Some might even struggle with all three. This struggle is common to all persons in vocational ministry and people in all stations in life–regardless of spiritual calling.

The temptation that ministers and common people have is to hold up our religious leaders as spotless examples of “good Christians.” It is an impossible expectation to fulfill one-hundred percent.

Actually, the higher a spiritual standing one has in the church, the greater the expectation one has to be that “spotless Christian example.” This is especially true in evangelical and Catholic traditions that follow 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:8. It’s a bizarre expectation of anyone because we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is about forgiveness of sins–not about moral perfection, but yet, we make it about moral perfection. The only expectation we can actually fulfill is to fall upon the grace of God and plead for his daily mercies.

Sin is a virus, but Christ is the remedy

Human sin seems to rear its ugly head day-in and day-out—everyday! Somebody help rescue us from this virus that we can’t shake off! It’s in front of us, behind us, to our left and to our right. We can’t get away from it. It’s like a viral infection we can’t sem to shake off. It’s everywhere, and it seems to follow us wherever we go. We human beings also seem to attract all kinds of sins like a magnet, e.g., gossip, quarreling, jealousy, anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, disorder, unforgiveness, sexual sins are just a few (2 Cor.12:20-21). We all contract this sin in the same way that Adam and Eve first contracted sin, and it leads to many other sins, and it spreads like a virus. We were born in sin no differently than the first man and woman were. We are born in sin and are naturally curved in on oneself.

The reformer, Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s sidekick), says in the Augsburg Confession that “all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God.” As a result, our natural human inclinations, without the grace of God in our lives, are that: we do not love God, are ignorant of God, despise God, lack fear and trust in God, hate and want to avoid the judgment of God, are angry at God, and despair the grace of God. The only remedy is that God grants all of us grace and forgiveness so that we can be free from the consequences of our sin. Jesus Christ is this remedy.

Can the Orthodox doctrine of sin be post-modern?

I have come across an alternative view of original sin which I find very compelling. The Eastern Orthodox view of sin is a little different from how Luther and Calvin saw original sin. The Reformers saw our human nature and essence as so thoroughly corrupted and damaged (total depravity) that it cannot be recognized by our human technical reason but only from logos Word and through ontological reason. This Evangelical view has been my view for a long time. But the reason I find the Orthodox view of sin compelling is in its starting point. Orthodox theology seems to view sin more in terms of a relationship than judicially (i.e., right and wrong). Holiness is still a virtue. Original sin is seen from the viewpoint that humanity has stopped being hungry for God and for God alone. It considers humanity’s failure to be hungry for fellowship with God’s Spirit. In other words, we humans have stopped seeing our whole life as a fellowship with God. It is not that sin has less to do with disobedience and unrighteousness; it does not condone sin in any way way shape or form. It emphasizes our relationship with God while not making light of sin–which is what evangelicals would agree with too. Guilt is not seen as being inherited, rather, human beings are born into an environment where doing evil is easy and doing good is more difficult. This view seems to make a lot of sense for those who do not see how human beings have inherited sin from our ancestors Adam and Eve. This doctrine of sin could potentially be repackaged as a post-modern view because it’s a way to view sin that is more understandable (perhaps you could say it is contextual to our post-modern generation). Perhaps our evangelical view could also incorporate our traditional view of sin with this Eastern Orthodox view of sin. It might also help contribute to a stronger sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Total depravity is not the only way to help us rely on God, but also, knowing Christ relationally can also help us to not trust in our own power, will, intellect, etc.

What is original sin?

Today, as I was teaching my Sunday School class on today’s lesson from Luke 3:14-17 and 21-22 on Jesus’ baptism, which led to our own baptism, and eventually onto the elusive topic of original sin. Many Christians do not seem to really understand what original sin really is and have never really moved beyond our Sunday School understanding of “Sin”. Many have a rather naive understanding of original sin, i.e., Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became corrupted by their sinful fleshly desire to be like God. However, it goes much deeper than this contemporary view that has been made popular by the cartoon image of Adam eating the apple. Our view on sin ought to be deepened and expanded. I was a little surprised the kids in the class were able to grasp the concept of concupiscence or original sin. But I really shouldn’t be so surprised because kids have much intellectual capacity than we generally give them credit for. In the Sunday school classes of our churches, we ought to draw deeper from the wealth of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin, and also Augustine. That is why I appreciate seminary education and the opportunity to put it to use in my congregation. Perhaps I will talk a little about original sin here on this blog.

The Reformers, Luther and Calvin, saw one’s guilt of original sin being washed away after baptism; however the immaterial element and essence of sin still remains. This immaterial element may be seen as concupiscence. Simply put, concupiscence is the “leftover” base human desires that cannot be erased, which can be witnessed in our natural inclinations of the flesh. It remains indelibly marked as part of our human nature. After baptism and spiritual regeneration, this inner inclination toward evil is still seen as sin; it never disappears (until the day of full redemption). Sin will pop up sooner or later…no matter how hard we may try to hide it. (Unfortunately, many of us try to hide it and work hard at hiding it too). Luther agreed with Augustine that in baptism, our “Sin” (in the singular) and “sins” (in the plural) are forgiven but this immaterial element of sin still remains within us, which explains why we still continue to commit sin. Luther described the person in sin as being “curved in on oneself.” An existential theologian, Paul Tillich, described concupiscence in a creative way. Tillich says that humans have removed one’s center from the divine center, and has made oneself the center of oneself and the world. This creates a void, which makes one seek for abundance, and the temptation is to seek for unlimited abundance. This desire is called concupiscence.