So far we’ve widened our definition of sin beyond the bad thing we do to a state of being in self-deceit, or refusing to be oneself. We’ve also deconstructed our faulty definition of justice based in retribution, to the hopeful promise of justice based in restoration. For those diminishing few who are still following this series, there remains many questions about indwelling sin and how we can (if at all possible) rise above it.
Below is the framework which I have derived from Scripture, and countless other works such as John Owen’s treatise on “Sin and Temptation.” It is a visual model to help you understand how change is possible and why we do the things we do.
To understand why our world is in such a mess, today I’ll reverse engineer our social decline back unto it’s foundational problem-that of indwelling sin.
Everyday we watch society try and sort out the pain and suffering of our world, but sadly we cannot, again because we are not capable of agreeing about what is ultimately true. Institutional evil is real. It exists and oppresses people because people feed it with their own selfish ambitions and self-delusions. Sin is a seed found in our deepest soul and if not rooted out and warred against, it blossoms into countless forms of suffering in our world. Every big evil is directly linked to our tiny evils. Each of us is (and always has been) personally responsible for knowing the truth and obeying it. Suffering is the byproduct of delusion, of not-knowing or not doing what is true. To solve the world’s problems, each of us must first reconcile our own fundamental problem of sin within.
As you can see from the above diagram, most of sin is a “non-physical” (unseen) reality. The sin of stealing, adultery, or murder manifests itself in the material world, but long before the action takes place, it’s first a sin of the will, the affections, the intellect and one’s grasp of the truth. In my book “Getting Better When You Can’t” I take great care to explain how each level is understood, experienced and overcome. I encourage you to get a copy, it will be a powerful tool of self discovery.
When our suffering world seeks help to overcome our personal failures or improve our lives, we end up in the chair of a psychologist, counselor, pastor, life coach, or guru of some sort. After studying countless platforms for personal change, development, and healing, I can say quite confidently, that most professionals do not understand the architecture of human behavior as well as scripture. This means we assemble these internal blocks out of order, and when this happens, failure occurs with predictable results.
A common assumption is that a person lacks will-power to change. This presupposes that the will has or needs power. The will is no power. It only executes or transduces what is happing within us into an action outside of us. The thing we do is the last domino to fall in an internal cascade of falling dominoes. Once we change them, behaviors change immediately.
Whether we want to get out of debt, lose weight, overcome an addiction, control our temper, find success, heal a broken relationship, or end any type of suffering, the key is the spiritual awakening of knowing ourself and how we actually function as depicted above. Personal change (and subsequently changing the world) will not occur if our will is not directed to do so by our affections. Our affections will never direct our will to make a change until our intellect directs them to do so, and our intellect will never direct our affections correctly until we grasp the truth of who we are and how we are made. This is the function and design of indwelling sin and it is shared by all us.
Changing the world is possible, after we each change ourselves. Changing ourselves is possible, but it’s not easy, and every time we try we discover how desperate we are for grace. We can never just coast, for the moment we relax the slightest bit from this dark self-knowledge, is the precise moment we lose our bearings and the internal chain of events always unfolds.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
All suffering, all pain, all problems in our world and in our personal lives are all TRUTH PROBLEMS. They are problems in either apprehension (Do we know the Truth?) or in application (Have we done what we know to do?). I’ve been studying this paradigm and counseling and coaching thousands of people for more than twenty years and I have never found a single instance where this was not the case.
If we want freedom from debt, bad relationships, addiction, or distractions, then we must seek the Truth. If we want climate change, better politics, or to solve the housing crisis we must all take personal responsibility for our own sins and change these global problems within ourselves. The cosmos is related to every personal sin through this chain.
I’ll close with an example of deconstructing this chain of false being (sin) as I would in a session of pastoral counseling or un-coaching.
In America, the sin of gluttony is nearly invisible. Feeding our appetites has long replaced intensional fueling and nourishing our bodies with what it needs for survival. As a result we over consume so many harmful and destructive products which are marketed to us as food-they aren’t. Our public health crisis of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and countless inflammatory diseases are essentially diseases of choice all directly linked to the sin of gluttony. If each person managed their own sin of gluttony, the world’s economics, farming, and ecology would immediately transform, with no laws, regulations or other outside-in changes.
If you have ever tried to make a permanent dietary change then you know how hard this is. It’s not as easy as saying, “stop eating carbs.” The function of this rule or law would only reveal how broken we are. Nonetheless, the action of buying and consuming non-food simply because it tastes good doesn’t make it a sin, but our inability to not do it proves that it is a sin for us. This example reveals how cavalier we are about sin. Our churches will offer a potluck without ever saying a word.
“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)
It may be a great start to not buy junk food for your family and enable gluttony to take root, but if a family that eats junk food is met with grocery bag full of fresh produce and healthy alternatives, we quickly realize that the sin of gluttony is not simply a matter of what is available to eat. The sin is deeper and has manifested in the will of each family member. The appetite for junk food reveals a physiological, psychological, and spiritual addiction, it is to not know who we are, how we are made, and why we need to do better. Immediately in such a family other sins rise to the surface manifesting themselves as ingratitude, hostility, anger, or disappointment.
If each family member had enough self-awareness (were not trapped in their self-deceit) to recognize that the healthy food in a healthy portion is what is right, then each would realize that their desire is for non-food. This means the sin of gluttony has manifested deeper in the affections. If you doubt this, try eradicating all junk food from the house and see if it elicits an emotional response.
With the indwelling sin of gluttony, the cessation of eating non-food for the mere sake of pleasure, will elicit a tremendous amount of pushback from the intellect. You know the sin has manifested in the intellect when the justifications begin to surface. “We don’t eat that bad.” We don’t eat that much.” “We only have a little here and there.” “We don’t eat as bad as those people.” “Who said this was unhealthy?” “I don’t like the taste of healthy food.” Essentially, these justification are appeals to that which is not true. It’s the pseudo (lie) or falsehood speaking, not the voice of Truth about what our bodies need compared to what we are feeding them. The sin of gluttony is a mind which is darkened to the truth, which refuses to acknowledge or which suppresses the truth. It’s the sin of setting the mind on the flesh which Paul says is death.
All problems in the world trace themselves back to indwelling sin, which are all manifested in our grasp of truth. Just like gluttony, each sin is overcome by replacing what we thought was true for us with what is actually true. The bible calls this salvation, putting on the mind of Christ, or being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Others call it enlightenment, healing, maturity, wholeness, or integration. It’s to know oneself and to know the truth and to align oneself with what is true rather than what our appetites tell us to do. The affections are not good gauges for life.
In the case of gluttony, takes time to dismantle all the malware scripts, or untruth (lies) which have formed our worldview and blossomed into this personal sin, which goes out and harms others and the planet. It’s rare to knock them all out at once. It takes a constant effort to mortify (put to death) sin in the body by replacing what is false with what is true.
“And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line uponline, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 28:13)
As truth takes hold in the intellect, it immediately cause the affections to want it. For example, we hear a talk about healthy diet and we decide we want to align with it and we make changes. The affections can only do what the intellect construes as more true than what we presently believe. As soon as we relax the standard of truth, the affections default toward wrongdoing.
Once the affections are ignited to do the bidding of the intellect, the will seeks opportunity to bring it into physical reality. Everything is working exactly as it should. Addiction proves everything is working as it is designed. The addict can hide their stash only if everything is working (because the affections for not getting caught are only slightly higher than those for the stash). The design is the design. Sin is the epicenter of all suffering. Knowing how it works means that it’s possible to restore everything-that’s the design too. Once we know it, we have a chance change it, which changes our lives, which changes our world.
Now if our sin causes suffering toward those we are supposed to love the most, what do you think we do to those we don’t care much about? What do you think the consequences of not knowing who we truly are will ultimately be? Is there an end to all this pain and confusion? Is this something which determines our afterlife? Is this too big of job? Why didn’t I talk about substitutionary atonement?
Join me next week as we conclude this series with an ending most of us will not expect.