In one of my earlier posts I mentioned this concept, but here I would like to come back and explain it in full detail.
Sin… The dreaded untouchable topic, and the more we learn about it the more we don’t want to talk about it.
*The above diagram will be my working definition.
I believe this definition, that sin=selfishness & love=selflessness is not a far stretch from a theological viewpoint. From strict biblical language the word sin “hamartia” (ἁμαρτία) which is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Furthermore, expanded for a theological meaning renders the definition “to miss the mark of God’s perfection.” Simply, anything that does not hit the bull’s-eye of perfection would then be considered sin. This definition, although it may help describe the literal meaning of the text, does not help us to composite a complete view of what sin is. Viewing sin through this traditional lens of draws upon references to the law, creating a black or white system in which there is much grey. In a system that says sin is trespassing these set list of rules and laws is rally labeling the acts sinful and not the person. The act of eating pork for the Jew is sinful, not the disobedient Jew eating the pork. Jesus said in reference to ceremonial hand washing, that its not what enters the stomach, which makes someone sinful, but what flows from his or her heart. Its not the actions themselves which are sinful, but the heart that produces these act that is sinful.
Our primary definition then stands, sin=selfishness. Someone is labeled sinful not because of the acts they commit, but because of the heart in which they commit them. Thus, anything can become “sin” if it is done out of selfishness. Likewise anything can become a righteous act of love if it is done selflessly. The Scripture there have been many troubling passages where an act was committed that was clear breaking of the black and white law given from God; yet, it is somehow not seen as wrong, and never punished. Exodus 1 tells the story of when Pharaoh became scarred of the increasing strength and number of the Hebrew people so he ordered the midwives to kill all the newborn boys. However, the midwives feared God and did not do this, instead they lied to Pharaoh about why the Hebrew boys were still living. Now, we all understand lying to be “sinful” yet, it is not viewed this way here. Because when any act is done out of a true love for God, and love for others it is not a “sinful” act. There are many of these moral and ethical paradoxes that grey the line of the law, which is why the law isn’t perfect. God gave the law only as a guide to try to help illustrate acts that where selfish in nature. And to be fair there are several acts written about in the law that can only be committed out of selfishness. There is never a point at which you can become an adulterous out of selfless motives. (Oh and doing it because they wanted to is not selfless, being selfless does not just mean doing what others want but doing what is in the best interest of others, which is also the definition of love.
Someone at this point might also interject that you can “love” out of selfishness just as you can out of selflessness. To that I would simply answer any act of love done selfishly is no act of love, but a backdoor pat on the back. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is not love, its just doing the right thing. Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection means, like God we must love everyone, not just those who love us back.
The Pharisees had become masters at keeping the Law, yet, Jesus still found fault with them, and this was because even in keeping that the letter of the law they missed the heart. The Religious leaders would tithe on everything down to their spices, yet Jesus tells them they have forgotten the most important aspect of the law– justice mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Jesus confronts the loophole in the law they have created. On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21&22), furthermore Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27&28). Jesus in these passages highlighted the scary truth, that even if though they were able to follow the law they were still guilty of the heart of the law, and the heart of the law says that sin is not committed by doing certain acts but by doing anything out of selfish motives. At the end of this sermon Jesus gives some very harsh words we are all familiar with. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The question is raised how could these men do these miracles in the name of God yet still be denied access to the Father. And the answer is because of the motive in which they were done. The will of the father is not that man can perform miracles but that man would love his fellow man. Remember God is love, and we are called to be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1).
This is where the conversation will become uncomfortable for many. If sin=selfishness then those who covert to Christendom as way of escaping personal damnation have turned “getting saved” into a sinful act, and in all reality not “saved” at all. I know that may be a hard concept to swallow but let’s examine this deeper. The number one preaching point in Jesus ministry was the Kingdom of God. Above all other topics Jesus preached the most about the Kingdom of God. Jesus began his ministry with this simple proclamation, “repent the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Now if we begin to brake down this message into its parts we’ll begin to understand it as a whole better. “Repent” meaning to have a change in mind, to take a 180-degree turn in your course of action. Jesus is calling people to turn from the way they were, the selfish ways that comes natural to all of mankind. An in place of this he is offering the Kingdom of God. But what is the Kingdom of God? Much discussion could be placed here, but for space purposes I’ll keep it brief. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom or fellowship in which all lives are surrendered to the King, whom is God. The Kingdom of God is a way of living more fully in the presence of God by become more like him, which is in essence become less concerned about us. The Kingdom of God is a community where we are all united as one. So in a grand perspective to be “saved” is to put a stop in selfish thinking and acting and begin loving others and thinking and acting as one, remembering Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross that all his followers might become one just as he is one with God.
This may seem like a foreign concept. However, Jesus said he would judge our love for him on our treatment of others. Jesus separated his true followers from those who were not based on their care of him when he was sick and hungry, imprisoned and outcast. To this his follows asked when were you sick, hungry or imprisoned. This is when Jesus told them that by taken care of their fellow brother in their times of crisis they were essential taking care of Jesus. So as we selflessly take care of the needs of others we truly love God.
Therefore, to the convert who seeks salvation so that he may be pardoned from the repercussions of his selfish life, no salvation can be offered because no repentance is ever made. This is very reminiscent of the rich young ruler who claim to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus then begins to walk through the Law of Moses one by one. The rich young ruler replies he had never broken any of them, and asks, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Here Jesus replies, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Although, the right young ruler had followed the letter of the Law he had done it selfishly just like he was selfishly seeking a way to obtain eternal life all on his own ability. To this Jesus told him to go and demonstrate one unselfish act, to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The young ruler could not do it, and so he left the presence of Jesus empty handed, which is how many who have sought out eternal life for selfish gain will also end up.
* Many of the above ideas came at under the heavy influence of Walter Rauschenbusch’s book A Theology for the Social Gospel.