Here’s an observation: It seems that everyone has an area of sin that tends to stump them (in 12:1 the Hebrew writer calls it “the sin that so easily entangles”). The seven classic deadly sins are:
What I find interesting is that, though most of us stumble into a number of these “deadlies,” we tend to feel more guilty about one category of sin over another. Why, for instance, do I feel like I am a completely worthless piece of carbon that should be banished into eternal darkness when I wrath or lust or let pride get the upper hand in my soul, but I just feel casually annoyed at myself when I slip into sloth or gluttonously slam too much pasta into my gullet? It’s like I internally believe that some sins deserve more shaming and guilt than others–and they just happen to be the sins that I struggle with the most.
But what if that’s wrong? What if all sin is just that–sin. And consider this. James asserts, “If anyone then, knows the good they ought to do wand doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17). In other words, it isn’t just BAD things that are sin–NOT doing good things is sin.
Am I to try and feel really badly and sinful and guilty about ALL sin–even the sin of not doing all the good I think I’m supposed to? (I would need to feel hateful towards myself about 90% of my life if that’s the case!) Or, am I supposed to abandon things like guilt, self-hatred and shame and just face my sin, ask for forgiveness (believing Jesus’ work has more impact on my life than my failure), and simply move forward?
Here are some claims made about sin in Christian thought:
1. God hates sin, not because he gets mad at us, but because it dulls the efficacy of the human life.
2. Sin is not a deal-breaker because of the cross. The real deal-breaker is when we live in TOO MUCH fear of sinning or sulk in deep guilt when we do something sinful (here we waste lots of time living on the underbelly of life).
3. We say “no” to sin because it makes us less human, not because it proves we are evil, unworthy beings.
I don’t think the response to sin is to try to feel more “sinful” when we discover it in our lives (contrition is NOT the same as debilitating shame and guilt). I think our response to sin should be like my response when I get gluttonous–I say, “Lord, I am sorry! Please forgive me. I want to live well in this world and living well means a life NOT surrendered to gluttony. Please help me conquer this by helping me be more attentive and thankful as I eat.”
I don’t sulk in guilt or hate myself over gluttony (I save that for things like anger/lust). I just realize God wants more for me. I confess my sin. I ask for grace to empower my will and my heart so I can more successfully steer toward the good.
Maybe THIS is the way all sin should be processed? No guilt. No self-hatred. No sulking in discouragement. Just, “OK. I want to be the human being God wants me to be and I refuse to live in something that makes me less than that…Lord, hear my prayer!”
It’s been my experience that life tends to get brighter, fuller, and I experience more transformation when I process life without categorizing some sin as worthy of extra shame/guilt/fear over others. When I just own my “stuff” (whether sins of commission or omission) and live in the hope that the human experience is a gift from God and that I matter to God–that he always is always cheering me on to be the best human being I can be–repentance is simple; I waste less time over foibles and failures; and I am just a better human.