Why Not Sin?
Frequently, I hear people ask the question: “If God loves me no matter what, what difference does it make if I sin?” Another way the question gets asked is: “Why not sin and just ask God for forgiveness?”
It sounds like an innocent enough question that can be engaged through a nice theological discussion. However, I want to argue that the premise of that question needs to be examined. While there are important theological distinctions that can and perhaps should be made in thinking through that question, I believe that we need to look at the assumption behind the question first.
The assumption behind the question is that we would want to sin in the first place. The premise is that sin is a desirable thing. The more important and significant question is not “why not sin if God is forgiving?” but “if you know God and have a relationship with Him, why would you ever even want to sin?” The discussion needs to center around the nature of sin and the nature of having a relationship with God.
Certainly, we are drawn to sin and desire to sin on one level. However, on another level, we don’t want to sin. We may be drawn to sin and wonder whether its really a big deal, but what is deeper and truer is that we don’t want to sin. There are things that get in the way that distract us from what is deeper and truer … to the point that we might not be aware of the deeper desires. What might be more significant to ask is: “what is going on in our hearts that we would want to sin?” rather than “will God forgive us?”
So, what is sin? At its core, sin is living independently of God. It is doing life on our own terms, in our own power, and for our own pleasure. Sin is a state of being before it ever results in actions. Therefore, sins are the actions that result from doing life apart from God. As humans, we were created to live life (most freely and naturally) in a relationship with God. So, indeed, the question is not “why not sin?” but “why would we ever want to sin?” Sin, as a state of being and as actions, is against our very nature as beings made in the image of God.
The nature of relationship with God is that we live in dependence upon Him rather than independently relying upon self – our thoughts, our ways, our desires. There is a way that seems right to us but in the end it leads to death (the words of an old Hebrew prophet). Death is essentially a relational issue. Death means separation … and in this context, it means separation from our created design.
All the while, we frequently feel like we want to live on our own terms. We are drawn to self and self-centered ways of life. This can be confusing to us and lead us to a place of hopelessness. Hence, the question: “why not just give in and ask for forgiveness?” What we are longing for is freedom but we misunderstand the nature of freedom. We might think that freedom is being able to stand on our own two feet and live independently with nothing controlling us … needing nothing.
However, there is another way of thinking about freedom. In his book, “The Reason for God,” Tim Keller puts it this way: “Freedom is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” He gives the example of a fish swimming in water. The fish is free when it lives in the freedom of the water. When a fish is “out of water,” it is not free. Likewise, humans are only free in the context of a dependent relationship with God. Keller goes on to say:
“Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and constraints. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature.”
Why do we rely upon self? Why do we choose to do life in our own power? Look at how it is described in the book “Sacred Romance” by John Eldredge and Brent Curtis:
“Satan continues to use the evil that he himself creates to tell us a very different story (than God tells). In his version, good is gained through our own understanding, not through a relationship with God. Life is gained by appropriating what we can see with our own eyes and by controlling any unknown hurts that may strike us rather than living in the bigger Story that God is telling. Jesus invites us to thirst. Satan invites us to control through performance of one kind or another.”
The challenge to consider is our desire to control. We were created with desire … desire that can only be satisfied in the confines of our loving relationship with God. We find those desires unfulfilled and so we strive to control our lives, our environment, and our relationships in order to fulfill those desires. When we seek to control, we are taking life into our own hands and therefore living independent of God. This leads to sin.
Often, our thinking considers only two options. The first option is that we give in to sin. The second is that God needs to take away the desire. However, the desire is not the problem. The problem is the object of our desire. The word for “lust” in the Bible is a word that literally means “over-desire.” The idea is that lusts are a distortion or misdirection of desire. Desires, at their core are God given, but we misunderstand the true object of desire. As C. S. Lewis famously said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Rather than giving in or asking to get rid of the desires, we should bring those desires to God and pour them out to Him. When we feel desire, we should feel our desire like a thirsty traveler in the desert. As physical thirst drives us to a source of water, our spiritual thirst (whether in the misdirected form of anger or loneliness or sexual lust or fear) can drive us to the throne of God.
A spiritual director that I met with years ago shared that “His presence in this life is real, but He comes dressed in thirst.” Rather than letting our thirst become a discouragement, we can let it drive us to the throne of God. We have access to the throne of God because of the cross of Christ. We don’t have to clean ourselves up and have our desires in order to come. We can just come. At the cross, we receive forgiveness of sin which allows access to God. We also receive a new heart which unlocks those deeper desires. However, transformation of the old comes as we bring ourselves to God in prayer. Relationship is what ultimately changes us.
On the night before Jesus was crucified, He sat in a garden praying … pouring His heart out to God the Father. He was feeling the stress and anticipation of what lay before Him. He prayed: “remove this cup from me.” (Luke 22:42) At the depths of His heart, He knew that the “cup” of the cross was God’s will but the present circumstances were conspiring to shape His desire in a different direction. The text goes on to say: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” He took His desires, pain, and frustration and laid them before God. He modeled a life lived in dependence upon His Father. As we follow Him, it doesn’t mean that we have our lives all figured out and squared away. It means that we bring ourselves (whatever is going on) to Him.
The Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with examples of people coming as they were … with frustrations and pain and agony … often even murderous thoughts and deep despair. Where do we go when we are faced with the draw of living on our own terms? Do we turn inward to try to control things or merely indulge? Or, do we come before a living God who is gracious and gentle and loving and powerful?
Take a few moments today and engage in a simple, yet powerful, spiritual exercise: when you feel the lure of sin, stop and reflect on the fact that your desire is actually for Him (on some level even deeper than your present awareness). As you stop, simply pour out your heart to God and tell Him everything that you are thinking and feeling. Let Him love you in that moment of thirst. Let Him listen and simply be present with you. Repeat as necessary. (And, it’s necessary often!)