This is the third part of the series of articles called, “What is Sin?”
If you haven’t read What is Sin? (Part 1), I suggest that you read that article, first. In part 1, we took a look at the Greek words which our English word ‘sin’ comes from: hamartano and hamartia. We looked at the fact that often times, when we ‘miss the mark’ or we “wander from the path of God”, that He would spare us from further punishment, especially given the likelihood that we have already punished ourselves far more severely than the Father would have intended.
I would also suggest that if you haven’t read What is Sin? (Part 2), that you read that article next. In part 2, we used an excerpt from the 2nd chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to discuss the ‘natural’ occurance of sin which takes place when human beings selfishly put their personal needs first, over and above the needs of others. We closed part 2 by recognizing that when we put the needs of others first, and recognize that this is what the Father intends for us to do; that this line of thinking comes dangerously close to the misguided doctrine that would have us believe that we are ‘saved by works’; a doctrine that the Apostle Paul, and later the leader of the protestant reformation, Martin Luther soundly rejected!
Luther arrived at his doctrine of being ‘saved by faith’ as a result of going back to the back to the original Greek texts of Paul’s letters; such as in Romans 2:15 (NIV) where Paul writes that “they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness…”. (To understand more about ‘the law’ which Paul is referring to, read the article “the Commandments and the Law”.) In the letter he wrote to Fr. John Staupitz, accompanying the “95 Thesis”, Luther refers to his new interpretation of Paul's writings, as a ‘change of heart’. This idea, that we need to ‘change our hearts’, has been interpreted by many people, to mean that we are only saved, by faith; that it is simply enough to “believe that Jesus died for your sins”, and this belief will assure you eternal life. The problem with this line of reasoning, is that while Yeshua did teach about faith, such as in his teachings about “the mustard seed”; He also taught about action, such as in the parable of “The Good Samaritan”, or as his teaching of “the sheep and the goats” or when He taught about how to pray as part of the Sermon on the mount.
Let’s take a closer look at the passage where Yeshua described how we should pray. In the Gospel of Matthew, He taught:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:5-6 RSV)
In these two short verses, Yeshua has described two people. The first, is the ‘hypocrite’, the other is the righteous person. From what we have learned so far about sin, we understand that the hypocrite, can choose to be like the righteous person, and therefore become righteous himself; and Luther has helped us understand what makes this possible: It simply requires a ‘change of heart’.
By implementing this ‘change of heart’ and not actually doing anything else differently, the hypocrite becomes righteous. This gives us better sense of what this ‘change of heart’ is really all about. The important part of all of our actions isn’t the ‘what’ of what we do, but rather the ‘why did we do it’ of what we do. The important part of our actions is the motivation behind them.
Look again, at the hypocrite as he prays. Yeshua explains that his motivation is to be seen praying. We assume that he wants people to think that he is a good person, and that they will think this, because they have seen him praying. The motivation of the righteous person, however, is simply to pray to the Father. What Yeshua doesn’t say (but does imply,) is that because the righteous person is already praying to the Father with proper motivation, it really doesn’t matter if anyone sees him praying or not. (The ‘praying in secret’ is included to help us understand that the Father really does know all of our thoughts, spoken, or otherwise.) The important part of prayers is the motivation behind them. Another look back to the text in Romans shows us that Paul is in full agreement with this fact. At least one translation* of Paul’s letter reads (in Romans 2:16,) that “Christ will judge...their inmost thoughts and motives...“
Now, I think that we have enough information that we can answer our question, in the context of a New Christiainty!
What is sin?
Sin is the label that we apply to all thoughts, words and actions which originate from a selfish motivation!
In the conclusion of “What is Sin?“ we will take a look at one more important consideration in regards to our selfish motivations.
Grace and peace to you all,
* The Living Bible (Paraphased): This translation is currently not available online
(Copyright 1971 Tyndale House Publishers)