May 13, 2017

How to talk about sin (and idolatry) in the world today

Posted in Good reads tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 3:30 am by sanguinemare

Here’s a great article one of my friends posted on Facebook today by Tim Keller titled “How to Talk About Sin in a Postmodern Age“.  There’s good reminders in there for us as Christians to be aware of how idolatry manifests itself in our own lives today, and it also gives suggestions on how to approach others about what sin and idolatry actually mean.

Here are a few excerpts that I liked.  To start with, here are some that I felt were good reminders for the Christian – that we all have a tendency to want to have control over our lives, or to worship things in place of God:

“In the beginning, human beings were made to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in Godʼs name (Gen. 1:26­–28). Paul understands humanityʼs original sin as an act of idolatry: “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God . . . and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:21–25). Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or for our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order.

And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.”

“[Romans 1:21] tells us that the reason we turn to idols is because we want to control our lives, despite the fact we know we owe God everything: “Though they knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to him.”

“[Luther] observed that the Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. This is because the fundamental problem in lawbreaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the first commandment—the law against idolatry. Luther understood that the first commandment is really all about justification by faith, and to fail to believe in justification by faith is idolatry, which is the root of all that displeases God…

For example, letʼs say a person cheats on his income tax form. Why does he do that? Well, you say, because he’s a sinner. Yes, but why does his sin take this form? Lutherʼs answer would be that the man only cheated because he was making money and possessions—and the status or comfort from having more of them—more important than God and his favor. Or letʼs say a person lies to a friend rather than lose face over something she has done. In that case the underlying sin is making human approval or your reputation more important than the righteousness you have in Christ.

The Bible, then, does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many. Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are, at root, idolatry—something we make more important than God. There is always a reason for a sin. Under our sins are idolatrous desires.”

In other words, we need to remember that everything we have is by God, and through God, for our good.  And thus, all our faith and trust should be put in Him, and not in the things He created.

Then, Keller gives some advice on how to approach the topic of sin and idolatry with those who may not believe.  I personally struggle quite a bit with this because I tend to get side-tracked like he mentioned here and go into apologetics, which usually results in both sides feeling unsatisfied and believing the same things they started with. So I thought these were some good pieces of advice:

“The typical way Christians define sin is to say that it is breaking Godʼs law. Properly explained, of course, that’s a good and sufficient definition. But the law of God includes both sins of omission and also of commission, and it includes attitudes of the heart as well as behavior. Those wrong attitudes and motivations are usually inordinate desires—forms of idolatry. Yet when most listeners hear us define sin as “breaking Godʼs law,” all the emphasis in their minds falls on the negative (sins of commission) and on the external (behaviors rather than attitudes). There are significant reasons, then, that “lawbreaking” isnʼt the best way to first describe sin to postmodern listeners.

I ordinarily begin speaking about sin to a young, urban, non-Christian like this:

Sin isnʼt only doing bad things; it’s more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

Why is this a good path to take?

First, this definition of sin includes a group of people postmodern people are acutely aware of. Postmodern people rightly believe much harm has been done by self-righteous religious people… When we define and describe sin to postmodern people, we must do so in a way that challenges not only prostitutes, but also Pharisees, to change.

There’s another reason we need a better explanation of sin for postmodern people. They are relativists, and the moment you say, “Sin is breaking Godʼs moral standards,” they will retort, “Well, who is to say whose moral standards are right? Everyone has different ones! What makes Christians think theirs are the only right set?” The usual way to respond is to become sidetracked from your presentation of sin and grace into an apologetic discussion about relativism… I take a page from Kierkegaardʼs The Sickness unto Death, and I define sin as building your identity—your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. Instead of telling them they’re sinning because they’re sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they’re sinning because they’re looking to their careers and romances to save them, to give them everything they should be looking for in God. Such idolatry leads to drivenness, addictions, severe anxiety, obsessiveness, envy of others, and resentment.

I’ve found when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not offer much resistance. They doubt there is any real alternative, but they admit sheepishly this is what they are doing. I’ve also found this makes sin more personal. Making an idol out of something means giving it the love you should be giving your Creator and Sustainer. To depict sin as not only a violation of law, but also of love, is more compelling. Of course a complete description of sin and grace includes recognition of our rebellion against Godʼs authority. But Iʼve found that if people become convicted about their sin as idolatry and mis-directed love, it’s easier to show them that one of the effects of sin is to put them into denial about their hostility to God. In some ways, idolatry is like addiction writ large. We are ensnared by our spiritual idols, just like people are ensnared by drink and drugs. We live in denial of how much we are rebelling against Godʼs rule, just like addicts live in denial of how much they are trampling on their families and loved ones.”

Thank you, Tim Keller, for this great article :).

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