Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Sin and Freedom

Sin is a hot-button topic for Christianity, in fact for many non-Christians it's what they associate Christianity with. Being a Christian is all about having to feel guilty about anything fun, right? For Christians freedom is an equally big topic, being a Christian isn't about the sin, it's about being free and the freedom Jesus brings. With such central subjects it's easy to have the wrong idea, even subconsciously, and it's vital that we have a right understanding. So sin and freedom are the topics of this post. Specifically, what is sin and what kind of freedom can Jesus bring to us.

When Christians talk about sin it is almost inevitably in the context of some particular kind of behaviour. Is this a sin or is that a sin? We tend to think that if we could only stop sinning then we'd be right with God. We often debate the minutiae of sin; is entertainment a sin, what about drinking alcohol? And so on... Some acts are clearly sinful. If you stab someone then it's generally going to be clearly an act of evil. In general though I think God is far less concerned about whether or not an individual act is a sin or not (both in the general and the specific case) because that simply isn't what sin is.

Sin is what separates us from God, it's the darkness that blinds us and covers the world. It's what makes us unable to love people, unable to see the world as it really is. If we were truly free from sin we would be fully united with God, perfect in love. Sin is our inability to love, our failure to love.

So the problem is not that we sin (individual acts), but that we are weak and blind. Unable to bring people real healing, unable to really love people deeply, unable to hear God and walk closely with him. This is our real sin, and this is what we need to sorrow over and find repentance for. ("The world that has been pulled over your eyes" as The Matrix so wonderfully describes it.)

It's not really our fault is it. We didn't choose to be born into this world of darkness, we inherited the sin and blindness from our parents and the society we grew up in. And they in turn inherited it from there's. All the way back. But, "it isn't my fault" doesn't help. We must take responsibility for the state of our own souls if we're to change. However it happened in the first place there's an opportunity for us to be more than this. If we have a right understanding, this change has little to do with stopping our bad habits (directly anyway) and far more about finding a new depth and capacity for love. A real love that is able to change and heal and free ourselves and those around us.

If we understand that our sin is our blindness and weakness then the question of whether some individual act is a sin or not becomes almost an irrelevancy. The individual acts, that can rightly plague our conscience at times, are more often a symptom of the sin (and need) that grips our soul rather than the real problem itself. Jesus was much more concerned about the inner problems than the external (which notably were the focus of the pharisees). The problem is that sin is part of who we are. We need our character to be washed by pure and sacred love, right from the inside out. It's hard to say that without it just being more religious words but we need a real meeting with divine love.

As the focus of our lives is more and more on having a more real experience of God, of knowing the heart of Jesus in a deeper way, then those habits and problems that worry us so much start to melt away. Dying (to self) is a lot easier when you're actively pushing into resurrection life. When all you see is a wilderness on the other side it's a lot harder.

Finding a release into love and power segues us neatly into our next topic. We say, and sing, that Jesus brings freedom. What is that freedom, is it real in us or are we happy to sing about it but not really understand or experience it? I've mentioned a couple of times freedom from sin as well. The freedom that Jesus brings us isn't directly freedom from sin, nor directly a release into love. Both of these of course are wonderful "side effects" of freedom. In some ways they're different sides of the same coin of freedom, but the freedom itself is a freed will.

We like to think we have free will, but the reason that we find it so hard to change (and why we need God's involvement) is that our wills are so entrenched and submerged. We feel like we have free will, that we're in charge of our decisions and actions, but in reality our lives run according to habits and patterns. Many of these habits are rooted in fears or hurts accumulated through the years, but some are just routines. The trouble is not that we have routines, but that we give our will over to them. Routines and processes are necessary to keep life moving, but whatever we do we must be wilful in it - really present in the moment - otherwise we're not really living, just existing and going with the flow. Do you ever feel like you're not really in charge of your life, ever tried to change a habit or establish a new one and found it hard? These are signs that your will isn't truly free.

This is why you sometimes see middle aged people, usually men I guess, suddenly throw off everything. Leave their family, buy a ridiculous car, changing jobs, whatever. They feel that their life is on rails, that they have no freedom, and they think that the only way out is to change everything. Unfortunately even if you throw away everything you've built you still remain you. Your will, who you are, will be just as submerged afterwards as it was before. This isn't the path to freedom, and you don't need to throw everything away to find freedom.

God wants us to be free. God wants us to be people of volition and agency, capable of acts of great love. We're big people. All of us. You're a big person. You have the capacity for greatness. Think of everything you know, all your skills and abilities, everything you've learned and experienced. There's a lot of it! It isn't all in your conscious mind at once, you're not aware of everything you are all the time. If our whole selves was alive with the life of God, the life and power of God moving through all our past, all our mind, all our soul, then what people we would be! There aren't enough exclamation marks in the universe to emphasise this point appropriately! But who we are is submerged, tied up in fears and ingrained habits. The process of becoming free, of gaining a freed will, means becoming that bigger person. With a will that isn't trapped in the past we're capable of wielding great love (or acts of great malevolence, freedom is a double edged sword) and being that bigger person.

This is not really a separate topic from sin. Being free from sin means having a free will. In order to really love, to really see people as they are, we need who we are to be untangled from our hurts and fears. We need the life of God flowing unimpeded through our souls.

So whatever we do, let it be an act of conscious will. If you spend your time doing things your heart isn't really in then you have a choice. If you have to do it, it's a responsibility you've taken on, then choose to do it. Let's be people of will. By all means look for a way of changing things, but don't give over your will and passively follow along with something you don't really want just because you're afraid to make changes. Be wilful, make a choice and follow it through. And if you can't put your will into something, if you really don't want to be doing it, then be true to yourself and stop! Let the chips fall where they may. This life is the only life you have, don't let it stay submerged and bound. What's the alternative, to watch our lives slipping away wishing things were different?

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