Whatever Happened to Sin?

politicianI am fascinated by a relatively new phenomenon in the public sphere: the disappearance of sin. It is not new to have brazen personalities who do whatever they please and don’t care if some see their actions as sin. But now, more and more, we are seeing public figures who have been caught in a peccadillo, retreated for a while, and now seek to regain the public trust. These folks acknowledge some sort of expectation of moral behavior from the public, but act as if they can rise above it.

What is most troubling to me, I guess, is that past problems are labelled as “mistakes” or “poor judgment.” Rarely is anything admitted to be “sin” or “moral failure.” So adultery is a mistake. It is at the same level as using your #8 iron when you should have used your #9. My bad.

My class is currently plowing through the wonderful little book of 1 John. John is a blunt dude, and I like that. He is not afraid to say stuff like:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

John is not addressing hypotheticals here. I think there are some teachers in his churches who are claiming they have no sin. I don’t know if this means they are claiming that they never sin according to traditional standards (they have become perfect) or if they are redefining sin so that all their behaviors are good. But John will not stand for this.

In his column this week, Ross Douthat lamented the passing of the “Catholic moment” in US politics. As Douthat notes, at the time of the death of John Paul II (2005), there was great respect for many Christian moral values in our country and among our politicians. Things have changed. As the time has come for another papal transition, Douthat notes:

If this era is passing, and Catholic ideas are becoming more marginal to our politics, it’s partly because institutional Christianity is weaker overall than a generation ago, and partly because Catholicism’s leaders have done their part to hasten that de-Christianization. Any church that presides over a huge cover-up of sex abuse can hardly complain when its worldview is regarded with suspicion.

While I was ministering in Los Angeles four or five years ago, the sex scandals of the Catholics in the Dioceses of Los Angeles were beginning to become public. Some Evangelicals seemed to take a certain amount of glee in this, for they had been fighting Catholicism for years. I didn’t. I remember saying, “This will hurt us all, this will damage the church.” And it has.

All of this is related somehow. If the church brings a message of God-given, biblical moral standards that the world dislikes, the world is likely to shoot the messenger. If the messenger has already shot himself in the foot, he is an easy target. We can act like we have moved to a post-Christian, post-moral world, but that does not change the reality of sin. The one who says he has no sin in a liar, and he makes God out to be a liar, too.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College