So, I've been thinking a lot about sin lately. Cheerful topic, I know.
Much of this contemplation stems from the homosexuality discussions that seem to be running amok lately. One of the assertions of those who do not agree with me about THE ISSUE is that we who advocate for the full participation of GLBT people in the church do not take sin seriously enough. My first inclination, of course, is to retort that the fact that I don't think homosexuality or same-sex relationships are sinful does not mean that I don't take sin as a whole seriously. But in the spirit of continual Christian formation, I've been considering this critique. What does it mean to take sin seriously? Do I hate sin and struggle against it in my own life and in the lives of those under my spiritual care?
When I first came to faith in Christ, I was part of a Christian fellowship that talked a lot about sin. Discerning and rooting out sin was a big part of my faith at that time. I was constantly conscious of the areas in which I had particular struggles and temptations, and I really worked at submitting those areas to Christ and getting them out of my life. The title of this post, by the way, came from a t-shirt I owned during this period of my life. It bore a laundry detergent-like logo that screamed in huge letters: "REPENT!" Underneath was the slogan, "Tough on Sin." Appropos, I think.
At some point, God started showing me through Scripture and prayer that some of the things I was trying to root out were not actually sin at all. For example, this fellowship placed a high emphasis on the submission of women. I strove to be their paradigm of the "godly woman," who stayed silent in church and did not teach or have authority over men. Quite frankly, this made me a miserable and useless person, and I had a constant sense that I was not using the gifts God had given me for teaching, preaching, and leadership. I simply did not have the gifts these people told were acceptable gifts for women: service, hospitality, intercession, etc.
God and I came to an impasse. God essentially said, "Look, these gifts I've given you are not an accident; I have something in mind for you. Here are some biblical examples of women having and using these gifts. Now you have to make a choice: you can listen to these people, or you can listen to me."
Well, God won. I separated myself from this group, and began a new part of my faith journey, in which God allowed me to experience freedom and grace. After the legalism and repression, this was a great blessing, and I began to experience the fullness of God's forgiveness. Accordingly, this is the message I have carried to others ever since - and it's a good message, the true good news of the Gospel.
But...somewhere along the line, I think I've lost proper perspective on the seriousness of sin, and of the hard work of repentance. I've begun to offer comfort instead of a call to new life. I've begun to focus on structural sin rather than confronting the personal sin patterns that lie within each of us. This is a problem. Without recognizing our sin and hating it as God hates it, we cannot turn away from sin. Forgiveness becomes empty; grace turns into a wishy-washy warm fuzzy feeling rather than God's true freedom.
I have no desire to return to the judgmental view of sin I had early in my Christian life. Given the choice, I hope I will always err on the side of grace. But I also need to be able to say to myself and others, "Hey, this is sin. God offers you forgiveness and new life, but you're not really going to receive those things until you acknowledge that this really is sin and start the process of turning away from it." If I can't do this, the grace I preach is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace;" that is, not grace at all.