It was back in the early 1970’s, that the then famous Psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote a remarkable book. It was entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin”. In many ways, what Dr. Menninger spoke about then, seems as if it could have been written yesterday.
Menninger stated that our society has shifted sin from the individual to the society. We are now angry with historic injustices. Things like murder, war, slavery, rape, molestation and murder are now seen as the result of systemic injustices. Thus, we have not come to terms with our own morality and the facing of our own consequences for our own sin. Instead, we place the blame outside of ourselves.
While it would certainly be interesting to trace the cultural move from personal sin to corporate guilt, it is far more interesting to see the theological move in liberal churches. Carter Heyward, a liberal Episcopal theologian says that sin has to do with structures of evil in our society, so that, in the end, we all become victims. I mention this because this representative view is the reason liberal churches rarely discuss sin.
However, the lack of mention of sin, is also traced to some evangelical circles. Here, God is seen as our therapist, rather than our savior. God is presented as the one who helps us in our weaknesses, encourages us in our struggles, heals us from relational dysfunction, and gives us hope and joy. Sin, damnation and judgment are rarely mentioned. Yes indeed, whatever became of sin? But in this case, how did it disappear from the church? As a simple test, recount the 10 most popular songs you sing in your church, and ask, “how many of them mention my sin, my damnation, and my need for a savior?
Contrast the liberal view and the therapeutic view with that of the Apostle Paul. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15) One notices that Jesus did not come into the world to save systemic, structural societal evil, but to save individual sinners. Paul places himself as the greatest of all.
The message of Jesus is a message of a savior who has entered the world to save men and women from sin. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul proclaims that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The good news is that God loved ruined and condemned sinners, and has acted in history to send a savior into the world.
Hence, the definition of sin becomes paramount to expressing our faith. What is sin? 1 John, often considered the epistle of love, makes much of this matter of sin. John begins by making a rather forthright statement. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) And then John moves on to tell us why he has written his book. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
John is telling us that it is very important to avoid sin. But then he has already acknowledged that we do sin. What is to be done? John says, “we need an advocate”. We need a savior.
John is then ready to explain the true nature of sin. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4) The only question remaining, is to answer which law John has in mind. The context is obvious. John is speaking about the law of God. We might say that whatever God has commanded is to be obeyed. We have not obeyed as the law demands, and hence we are hell bound guilty sinners. Oh how desperately we need a savior.
All that remains, is to ask, “Why do we sin?” We sin because we prefer other things to God. It is a heart condition. Oh how we need a savior. The thankful for the gospel.