I have spent my entire life terrified of sinning, and consequently, I have spent the majority of my life trapped with guilt and self-hatred. Despite preaching and teaching others to look to Christ, and to focus on His grace rather than their own faults, I am one of the biggest navel-gazers around. The truth is that I often think more of how much I have messed up than I do of what my Savior has done for me.
The question of sin—what is it, how can I avoid it, and what it isn’t—is regularly on my mind, and judging by the amount of Adventist videos that a simple YouTube search yield, I am not the only Adventist that frets about the topic.
I’ve been taught to hate sin, and I really do hate it. I hate it with everything I have which is why I am devastated when I find myself back in the middle of it.
When I was first introduced to the concept of hating sin, I was given a definition of sin that emphasized things like premarital sex, substance usage, and secular music. My mother embedded the belief that everything I did needed to be worthwhile which I interpreted to mean that all my activities should raise my grade, pay me, or make me holier.
Once I married these two ideas and fit them within my good versus evil Adventist framework, I was left with deep anxieties about “rightness” or “wrongness” of all my choices. Thus, I became a Christian who could only gauge like in terms of “sin” and “not sin.” In my pursuit of obedience and holiness, I have become a slave of sin-defining.
My affinity for sin-defining created a judgmental individual who openly judged sexual promiscuity, substance obedience, and entertainment consumption while living through heavy porn usage and reading about pop culture every second of the day.
Today, I am a recovering slave of sin-defining.
In many ways, I still am that nervous train-wreck despairing about the sin in my life, and in many other ways, I am closer to being a child of God’s goodness—confident that Christ is sufficient and transforming.
I believe that our individual experience with sin in our lives goes a long ways to shaping the kind of Adventism we settle into because we either seek condemnation or seek excusal. Whether you are apathetic or militaristic or stringent or laissez-faire or fundamental or liberal or anxious or defiant, I think the foundation of our thinking patterns emerge out of our experience with sin in our lives.
One of my old teachers from ARISE, Ty Gibson, extended to us John Bunyan’s theory from Pilgrim’s Progress that all Christians must go through a phase of legalism on their way to the cross. We must all taste the agony of insufficiency—especially in the West where the doctrine of humanism forms the core of our society—before we can truly appreciate the sweet relief that a Savior brings.
My fiancée works in a mental health hospital near Collegedale, Tennessee.
Collegedale is one of the great meccas of Adventists so naturally, she regularly sees Adventists. According to her, her Adventist patients are the most psychotic—often blending their obsessions with sin and the supernatural with active hallucinations.
There are various takeaways from our Adventist presence in mental health clinics; one being that perhaps our church is sitting atop a mental health crisis, it also shows to what extent our church members concern themselves with sin.
Once again, I do believe that it is natural for a disciple of Christ to spend some time journeying through a legalist phase, but when it becomes all there is to the journey then it makes sense why non-Christians call Christianity a repressive and paralyzing religion.
But the journey has been getting better, and I have been told that this “better” is just the beginning.
It is difficult to live in the tension between “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12, 13).
And yet it is the calling of the Lord upon us.
Thus, after addressing the many philosophical problems of a good God and a sinful world, but before discussing the sin that required Jesus to die, we must recognize that sinning is the human reality.
It is your reality and it is my reality and it is our reality.
But you know what?
That’s okay because Jesus came to eat with sinners and to save the rebellious.
So when human political systems crash and burn in the hands of the elite, and the church structures set up to take care of God’s people derail themselves in matters of opinion and power, and the best of people break hearts, and even you find yourself—despite your best efforts—mired in cycles of TED talks that never translate to the idealistic changes promised, then that’s okay.
As it turns out, the ancients had the right notion when they said that the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint, and from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no health in the human.
As we know, recognizing the problem is the first step to recovery, and what a recovery we have been afforded.
Note: I have been journeying through a series of posts I am entitling Recalibrating Doctrines. The doctrines will recalibrate not in content, but in expression. After a doing a series of posts on the locus of Adventist theology, I am now discussing sin.