If Sin is Sin…
We’ve heard it before, the idea that “sin is sin”, but it’s quite counter-cultural not to rank-and-file an action or thought. Unaccustomed to God’s infinite perspective, it isn’t natural for us to see sin as merely a single, level dimension.
1 John 5:17 says “All wrongdoing is sin”, though it is plain to see in this world that some sins have worse consequences, and some are more destructive. But all sin condemns. It is the evidence of a shortsighted mindset. It is the byproduct of eyes which are not on God. It is the fruit of being born of flesh. It is everything we do and the reason we do it when our head is turned.
We were born with a turned head. It’s a genetic trait which we inherited from our first earthly father. Our nature begins minded of the flesh. Romans 8:8 “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God”. Nothing we do from this restricted vantage point yields any delight from God. We are born a slave to the finite, and all deeds which serve this master can be no more fruitful than digging our own grave.
Sin is sin, or as Forest Gump might say, “Sin is as sin does”. It covers the eyes, it deadens the nerves, dulls the mind, and shuts the soul. It reinforces the misdirected gaze. Even sin’s ripples are expectant with destruction, and are opportunity for more sin. It is done out of greed or impatience as I seek to indulge my human desire for temporal goodness.
Once I make a decision to live for an eternal reality, I become transformed. I no longer choose myself as my means and end. Not only do I face a new, eternal direction, but that eternal power comes to “BE” in me, and the thoughts and deeds that occur in me as I live in that reality are of an eternal source, for an eternal source. I am gifted a new nature, but I still have the freedom to choose whether or not I will live according to it.
Old habits die hard, but I have no good reason to dwell in my old nature, or my confessed sin. To take back my old ways and reassume my old actions is likely a sign of distrust, or a lack of understanding. It reveals my delusional egotism, impatience, my inclination for ruin, and lack of belief in God’s power of renewal, and God’s sufficiency.
I John 3:9 suggests that those who are born of God “cannot sin”. The commentaries seem to hem and haw over this one. There’s a backpedaling to try to explain the obvious-seeming inaccuracy. They suggest this is hypothetical, or speaking of a general practice of not sinning, or of an idea that not sinning might be our goal. Maybe all of this is true. “Cannot sin”? But I sin moment by moment! Might this mean that I must choose to live “born of God” moment by moment?
Anyway, one day as I was dusting and vacuuming and toilet scrubbing, strangely content (for a moment) with the idea of servant work being the height of my grand purpose, I contemplated the following:
If sin is sin, then good is good.
It might not be a new or revolutionary concept, but culture certainly doesn’t reinforce this. By “good” I mean whatever it is that results from being born of God—that state of being which pleases God. Is this a dimension where cooking a meal for someone yields the same decibel level of stadium-style angelic shouts as a person donating millions of dollars to help fight human sex trafficking? With our eyes fixed solely on God, isn’t there only, simply, good? When a person chooses to forgive an enemy, or extend grace to the lost neighbor boy and his very lost mother—is that decision celebrated every bit as victoriously as when a group of people unite in compassion to feed a starving village? Or a starving country?
It’s true; God does make some delineations with regards to the principles of being born of God. For example, Matthew 22:37 says the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord. When it comes to celebrations, heaven rejoices more over repentance than righteousness (Luke 15:7). In I Corinthians 13 we learn that the greatest gift to possess, above faith and hope, is love. In I Corinthians 14:1 we see that some spiritual gifts are more desirable based on their potential to be more edifying to a body of believers. But, if we are in Christ and of these ways and gifted in whichever ways God sees fit, is there one better way than another for this to manifest?
The Bible seems to reference “good works”, “fruit” and “good deeds” without specifying which produce, or are of, a more loved or more spiritual person. For example, if out of love for Christ, a person helps out at church, and another offers to watch a friend’s children for a few hours, it’s all good! Participate in benefit concerts, affirm your spouse, or offer a listening ear to a friend at work… all good! Give, receive, rest, work, prayer, study—yes, yes, yes! There is only that which does not please God (anything which stems from the flesh); and that which pleases God (all fruit born of His vine). When we are in Christ, there are no classifications or magic percentage of good works to achieve throughout the day, and no higher or lesser sanctioned venue to operate within. A good deed done according to each one’s ability, done from love for Christ, is a good deed.
We know good works don’t save; they are just indicators of a righteous heart. We act like they save, though, when we wonder whether our good is good enough, or when we act as if to outdo someone else. These doubts and misunderstandings have us running around as if we’re trying to fulfill a quota, or fumbling over ourselves to figure out exactly which good we’re supposed to do.
Which good were we specifically designed to do? Which is God’s will for us? How much good should we do? We should first consider the idea in 2 Timothy 3:17, being that the end goal—that state of perfection—is to be fully equipped to do all good works, or that we would “bear fruit in every good work” as it says in Colossians 1:10. Far be it for God to limit Himself in us.
Through Him, we are able to generously have and give love, grace, joy, peace, wisdom, discernment, forgiveness, and more. We are enabled to trust, obey, pursue, be humble, have faith, and do all of this even just inside our normal daily activities. Are these not some of the essences of God’s goodness which are seeded within all good deeds, no matter the composition of the deed?
In Christ, there is no scarcity, deficiency, or fallibility for the good deed at hand. And there is no missing out or losing out by doing good as opposed to doing something else. There is flesh in the way, or disrespect toward God when I wonder if my good is good enough. It never is me making goodness, it is Christ in me. And we are either in Christ or we are not. And when we are in Christ, we are equipped with Christ Himself so that in abiding in Him, we are good in His eyes before we even do a single thing. Then, as we seek to love God first (not the deed), we are in the right posture to let our calendars begin to evolve—to empty or fill—according to our unique abilities and resources, and the hopes of our new nature.
Now let’s just say (and this is completely hypothetical, of course), but let’s pretend, that between writing the last paragraph and this, I snapped at my husband and disciplined my girls from a completely unloving disposition. What’s more, (let’s say that) as I write, I’m mostly just fantasizing about lots of people liking me for my wit. Clearly, this is evidence that my heart is not turned toward Christ. I am of the flesh! I have aligned myself with my old nature, yet I’m sitting here trying to crank out some “good”. Can there be any hope for this essay? Can these words be pleasing to Him? Can God use this for His ultimate good, even though I waffle in and out of abiding in Him?
Here’s a working theory: God can inhabit whatever he wants to inhabit. God can breathe purpose and meaning into dirt, or bad decisions, or stale deeds, or a lifeless grouping of words. He works for the good in me—even in my moments of disloyalty! “I have equipped you for battle, though you don’t even know me”, Isaiah 45:5. He can inhabit hell if He wants to. He empowers me to make good fruit, but He can also take my rotten fruit and make it good for someone else, and good as well for that part of me that is born of God.
God is good. He creates goodness, and He has created us to do good things. And in the act of doing good we reap more goodness! Our good deeds can actually yield nourishment for us. His desires for us are good. Even when we are acting outside of God, He, like a loving parent, chases down our misguided measures and shortcomings, and grave-digging deeds, and recreates them into something good in hopes that it might turn us back to Him, so that we might know true goodness.
These are thoughts that fill me with humility and awe and gratitude, when I consider how intentional and active God is. It’s true, some good deeds affect a larger population, or may appear more sensational, but all good is evidence of righteousness—God’s righteousness. God’s goodness opens the eyes, awakens the mind and rescues the soul. Doing His good work reinforces a right direction. They are byproducts of being born of God. They are evidence of an eternal mindset, and are proof of God’s restoration and abundant provision. When we are slaves of the eternal One, everything we do in His kingdom is life-giving.
Sin is sin, but God is good.