This is a tough challenge I have been given today. What can one effectively say about sin in three minutes? Where would one even begin, and what could one say to contemporary America about this naughty word? Ours is a culture saturated with the dualism of Star Wars and Harry Potter, the Gnosticism of the Matrix, the animalistic / evolutionary determinism of Vampire Lit, the hedonistic individualism of Oprah, all competing with the all-too-literal and legalistic book-banning attempts of evangelists like Bob Jones, and even some misguided politicians like Sarah Palin. In this chaotic mess, I can only start in the cupboard of Dr. Timothy Larsen, Wheaton College’s Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought. Buried amongst other cups and glasses is a rather sharp-looking beer stein, and what kind of beer stein is owned by a distinguished professor of Christian Thought?
One with a pithy quote from Martin Luther, of course. Right there on the side, it reads “Sin Boldly!” So is this distinguished professor advocating that his sinners break the Wheaton Community Covenant and indulge in all manner of bacchanalia? To quote the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!” These words of Luther reveal the great man’s thoughts on human nature as revealed more clearly in the Larger Catechism and his classic The Bondage of Will. In these works and others he argued that we, all of us who call Christ our Lord, are simul Justus et Peccator, that is simultaneously Just and Sinful. If one does not believe that you are both just and sinful, you may ask your spouse or children to set you straight. However as a single man, I guess I can make due with Luther’s discussion of the 10 Commandments found within the Larger Catechism. As he rolls through each commandment he seemingly takes great joy in exposing how each of us break each of these in amazingly imaginative ways each day. He even shows how even when we are trying our best to be holy, just, and dignified, we are still infinitely short of the great glory and purity of our role model, Jesus Christ.
Along these lines, one can see and hear as this wild German monk harks back to the words of the founder of his order, Augustine, who taught that in this beautiful world that God created and called good, there are two types of things. There are the heti and the eti: those things that ought to be loved and those things that ought to be used. Yet bound as we are by our foolish thoughts, wrong desires, and fractured relationships, we often seek to love what is only to be used, and try to use that which was meant to be loved. In this way we have become a gluttonous nation of sex addicts, rage-aholics, and bulimics who binge and purge on relationships, churches, and ideals. Things have gotten so bad for us that even the “liberal, god-hating” editors and writers of Time magazine can produce a cover story asking Americans to rethink the words of Jerry Mcguire, and stop seeing marriage as a way to personal wholeness, completeness, and self-fulfillment.
Growing up the words most often heard in our house were “I can do it myself.” Usually these were said by my sister or I at the top of our lungs. We needed no help from each other, no advice, no fellowship, we could, as it were, do it ourselves. It is these words that are so harmful to Christian’s pursuit of the good or virtuous life. Adam and Eve did not need to listen to the voice of God as he strolled though the cool of the day, they gain the knowledge of good and evil themselves, by eating the apple. Abram did not need to wait for God’s promised heir, he could create life himself, with his servant Hagar. In the modern age we, too, are a people who desire to do-it-ourselves and have created warehouses full of torture porn, gourmet food, and books full of promises on how we can lose weight, gain vitality, and increase our bank accounts all by ourselves and at the push of a button, or the popping of a pill. Wide is the path to our destruction, and easy is the road to desolation.
It is here in this motley crew, that we come to the Bible and meet a stranger in our world, a man who did it for us, a man who embodied and exhibited the selfless love of his father. And we find another way. And we might be mindful of the poet Robert Frost who famously declared:
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It is here that the Christian learns to sin boldly, but live much more boldly. There are two ways to live: one which ends in death and the other which invites death to come but ends in life. For in our willingness to look like the world’s boldest fools, and at times the world’s boldest sinners that we find the narrow gate and narrower paths. And it is here that they may hear the words of Kyle Reese-esque words: “Follow me if you want to live.”