What do the words Sin and Hell have in common?
No, it's not that one leads to the other.
Any other ideas?
Ok...well the surprising fact is that neither of these words are actually originally in the Bible!
Let's take a closer look at sin and see what we find (you can find more of a discussion of hell over at the Faith of the Dead site).
Sin comes from the Old English word "syn" - its original roots are in the Latin words "sons" and "sont-is," which mean "guilty." In has taken on very strong associations from it's Catholic usage denoting guilt for the things we do wrong. Although this is certainly included in the original Biblical texts, the original words that have been replaced by 'sin' have a much broader perspective.
Some of you may have already discovered that the original Biblical words ("hatat" in Hebrew and "Amartia" in Greek) were terms related to archery and embodied a concept of shooting at a target, hitting the target broadly but missing the bullseye...they translate more literally as "missing the mark."
This is what Paul means when he says that all of us have "fallen short" of the glory of God...he's picturing our lives as arrows that are fired across the course of our living at a target of representing God's character...and acknowledging left we all fall short of the mark (Romans 3:23).
You see the same concept being used in Judges 20:16 which describes a group of left-handed Benjamite soldiers who were so skilled they could "sling a stone at a hair and not miss," whereas Leviticus 4:27 describes the required sin offering for someone who "sins unintentionally" (ie those who are intending to aim at the target of matching up to God's character, but end up falling short and missing the mark).
Remember our conversation about confession and there being four key things we need to confess: our individual sin, the sins of our ancestors, the fact the we are not God, and the fact that Jesus is the Christ.
Why does this broader understanding of sin matter, and how does it relate to community?
This quote from Jewish site J Weekly outlines it beautfully:
“One has a tendency to miss the mark; one behaves in a way inaccurately; one misses the mark and so one needs a ceremony of atonement; others help one undergo that ceremony.”
We need others to help us with the process of finding God in place of our weaknesses. It's a beautiful picture that again suggests one reason we perhaps don't experience the life of community we are supposed to find in becoming Church together is because we don't live in honest recognition of our weaknesses (which isn't to say we should wallow...just that we should have an honest estimation of ourselves: Romans 12:3 makes this point).
In the powerpoint slides you below you'll find a range of scriptures that expand on these concepts of sin in both the Old and New Testaments.
The key thing for the moment though is that the concept of sin is much broader than all the things I do wrong, or anytime I give into the temptation of evil. It's all about aiming to live in a constant embodiment of God's character and aiming to reflect him to this world...and recognising that although we will fail to achieve this perfectly, if we live in honest recognition of that and continually restore each other, then he will overcome our weaknesses and the world will know he is real (that's kind of a whirlwind mash up of Rom 3:23, Rom 12:3, 2 Cor 12:9 and Jesus' prayer in John 17).
In a world where the very foundation of creation is based in love and self-sacrifice, actions that embody selfishness, exploitation and greed are like a virus - a foreign body that corrupts the system they are introduced into. Or like graffiti that vandalises and obscures the original artwork it now covers up.
These sorts of concepts fit perfectly with the original view of sin as missing the mark of God's character. It's from a deep understanding of exactly this concept that David, when confronted with his own sin, repents by saying: "Against you and you only have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4).
- In the Old Testament, sin is transgression ('going against') the Law
- The Law embodies God's character
- Going against that replaces life with death
- Deliberate sin is partnering with the kingdom of darkness
We are called to help release the power of the kingdom of heaven here - Jesus has set his kingdom among us and given us the keys to its doors. As we confront the powers of hell around us and invite the the kingdom of God of God to pour through our lives, we increasingly displace the kingdom of darkness - reducing it's territory. Seeing the fruit of that is a wonderful thing!
However, when we sin we fail to embody God's being here (conversely, when we do succeed we shine like stars and "in this world, we are like him" 1 John 4:17). Worse though is when we willfully and knowlingly sin - in those moments we are actually partnering with the kingdom of darkness. That brings death. When I die, the last thing I want to be told is that through my sin, I helped the kingdom of darkness gain a foothold in my community.
That is why Jesus could walk fearlessly towards the cross, recognising that Satan was coming for him (who is perhaps the world's greatest example of premature anticipations of victory!) and announce:
"The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me."
Let's pray that, increasingly, we can say the same!