Whatever Happened to Sin?
by Dale Reeves
Back in 1983, Christian artist Steve Taylor recorded a song called “Whatever Happened to Sin?” You can check it out here. Among the in-your-face lyrics he sang were these:
“A Christian counselor wrote, quote, ‘It’s the only human choice ahead. If you can’t support it, why don’t you abort it instead?’ . . .
I heard the Reverend say, ‘Gay is probably normal in the Good Lord’s sight. What’s to be debated? Jesus never stated what’s right.’ I’m no theology nut, but the Reverend may be a little confused, for if the Lord don’t care and he chooses to ignore it, tell it to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Call it just an alternate lifestyle, huh?
Morality lies within, consciences are restin’. Please repeat the question again. Whatever happened to sin? . . .
When the streets erupt in your own backyard, you’ll be on your knees praying for the national guard. If you don’t care now how the problems get solved you can shake your head later that you never got involved.
Whatever happened to sin?”
Twelve years later, when he was interviewed about this song, Steve Taylor said this, “This lyric still feels like I got it right. I don’t always expect outsiders to understand why abortion is wrong, or why a homosexual lifestyle is incompatible with biblical Christianity, or even why we shouldn’t shrug it off when politicians lie. . . . the church and its leaders must remember that our mission is to make disciples of Jesus, not to “de-sinsitize” sin.
I resonate with the word he coined there—de-sinsitize. Honestly, thirty-seven years later, I believe that Steve Taylor’s lyrics were absolutely spot on. And how they speak to what we are experiencing in our culture today. This past week I was teaching the young adults in our church about some of the names of God in the Old Testament. We got into a discussion about sin vs. holiness—two words we don’t hear thrown around much these days in our society. One of the young adults in that group said, “I admit it. I am desensitized to much of what is going on in our world today.” We’re not just desensitized, we’re de-sinsitized!
We hear so much in the news every day about the latest shootings, mob violence, lies from our politicians, extramarital affairs, sex with minors, malice and slander aimed at anyone we don’t agree with, and many other stories that make it to the news outlets and our social media platforms. But we don’t hear the word SIN attached to the stories, do we? Whatever happened to sin? We don’t like the sound of that word because it means we’ve done something against God’s will for our lives. We live in a society in which very few people are willing to own it, confess the sin, and ask for forgiveness, because to claim responsibility necessitates a change in behavior.
Do you realize that in the Bible there are only four chapters without sin, the first two chapters and the last two chapters—Genesis 1, 2; and Revelation 21, 22? Genesis 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve as they fell to the temptations brought to them by the serpent, Satan. Revelation 20 speaks of the final defeat of Satan and the great white throne judgment; then chapters 21, 22 deal with the place of perfection, Heaven, where no sin dwells. It’s hard to imagine a world with no evil and sin, isn’t it?
Owning Our Sin
The word most often translated for sin in the New Testament is the Greek word hamartia, which is an archery term for “missing the mark.” We miss the target or standard that God desires for us so often that it just becomes easier sometimes to repeat the bad behavior than adjust our words, thoughts, and actions. Sometimes, when we’re honest with ourselves, Billy Joel’s lyric rings true with us: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, ’cause sinnin’ is much more fun.”
We sin every day to the point that our consciences may be seared as with a hot iron (as the apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:2). It is like being enslaved to a drug. Like a chemical addiction, sin can become an unshakable habit, so that every next time makes it easier to absolve ourselves of guilt. Even petty sins, if numerous enough, can immobilize us until they completely harden our hearts.
In Greek tragedy, hamartia was commonly understood to refer to the protagonist’s fatal flaw that led to a chain of plot actions culminating in a reversal from their good fortune to bad. Just think about the word sin for a moment. SIN begins with the hissing sound of a serpent, has a big self-centered “I” in the middle, and ends in a groan.
Best-selling author and theologian Timothy Keller said this: “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
As God’s people were inheriting the promised land under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, God warned them of the surrounding nations who practiced all kinds of evil such as idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality. The pagan deities they worshiped sought service and submission from their subjects. But, the God of the Bible sought more. He sought to bring change to those who would follow him. He was looking for a people to be set apart for him from all other things that might distract them. This concept was introduced in the book of Leviticus, a handbook for the priesthood. In Leviticus 20:8, God described himself as Jehovah-M’Kaddesh, the God who would make them holy.
This name of God is found several times in the Old Testament, and it can be translated, “The Lord who sanctifies you” or “The Lord who makes you holy.” This name is derived from the Hebrew root word kadosh, which means to “sanctify, dedicate, consecrate, set apart, or make holy.”
God’s goal for our lives is that we would be made “holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. . . . without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault” (Ephesians 5:26, 27, NLT). We won’t ever get there because of our conduct, but because of our position in Christ! All we have to do is look in the mirror at ourselves to realize the imperfections we see in our outward appearances, and we are fully aware of the bad things we have said or done or thought in our hearts. Our enemy Satan is constantly trying to accuse us, whispering to us that we are not worthy, we are far from being holy, we don’t deserve to be loved, and we have disqualified ourselves from receiving the many blessings God wants to send our way.
But when Jesus hears the devil whisper those lies to us from the pit of Hell, he simply says, “You don’t have to do anything to be holy, you don’t need to worry about that, because I’ve taken care of that for you on the cross when I became sin for you.” Jehovah-M’Kaddesh sees its completeness in Jesus. We read in Hebrews 10:14, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV). If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you are “being made holy,” you are being transformed from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit within you.
Whatever happened to sin? When Jesus allowed himself to be crucified on a Roman cross, he took all of your sins and my sins upon himself. That’s enough reason to praise him today.