I don’t remember a time as a child when I didn’t go to church and Sunday School, unless I was sick. At some point the Sunday School teacher told the class that all people everywhere had sinned. How I resisted that idea! I related that story in an early post.
I remember distinctly that I wanted to believe I could live without sin. I didn’t have the habit of lying and I’d never stolen anything. I was young enough that most of my actions were monitored by my parents. I was also the youngest in the family, so if my parents weren’t watching, chances are my brother or my sister was. In short, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to sin.
So maybe, I thought, with the way things were going, I could be the first person, besides Jesus of course, to not sin.
Well, I think it’s pretty clear that sin already had a stranglehold on my life. I mean, how much pride does a little person have to have to think she might alone resist all temptation and stand beside Jesus as a sinless person?
The problem was that I was blind to my pride and therefore blind to my sin. I set myself to studying the matter of sin. Everyone I knew had some sin I could identify, so I turned my attention to the Bible. Nope, all those people had sinned, too. I finally had to admit that I fell into the “all have sinned” camp, but I did so with great reluctance.
All that to say, I understand when people who are not Christians don’t want to think of themselves as sinners. Competitive people especially, who like to meet the standard set before them (and often want to do better than everyone else in the process), and people who want to be in control, don’t like to be told we can’t do something.
I can’t be sinless? What are you talking about? Just watch me!
And of course, by that time it’s already too late. The sin that was crouching at the door is now in full control.
Because sin is actually already in our hearts.
We have this basic fact recorded for us in the Bible. We know that sin took hold of Adam when he rebelled against God, and all of us since have been born in Adam’s image—in his likeness.
Most interestingly a group of Yale scientists have found a way to measure the moral values of infants too young to talk. Their findings are clear: babies aren’t blank slates at all. They prefer kindness and generosity, and yet they have prejudices. They are just and they are greedy. (See “Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature“).
In one discussion I had about sin with someone who thinks the idea is reprehensible, she explained bad behavior as immaturity. Just like newborns don’t know how to talk or walk or chew (mostly because they don’t have teeth!), they don’t know how to show empathy. They need to be taught. And if they keep learning, they will one day move away from things that create barriers between people.
Except the science shows that theory simply is not true. Infants do know which is the kind puppet and which is the selfish one or the mean one. And yet the babies themselves choose to do the selfish, the greedy when given the opportunity.
But, as my atheist friend suggested, good teaching can change this pattern of selfishness—up to a point. The scientist’s conclusion based on the study of the older children:
They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.
So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for—the selfishness, the bias—but he says the instinct is still there.
The instinct, the sin nature, is still there. We can mask it. We can pretend it’s not there. We can call it by another name, but the fact is, nobody’s perfect.
So if we’re all in the same boat, then what’s the big deal?
Here’s the big deal: we’re in the boat, and God is not. And we need God. After all, we were made for relationship with Him. That’s how we received the inclination to value kindness and justice which the Yale scientists discovered in their tests of babies.
Sure the scientists chalk these traits up to evolution, but I’m not sure why they think that greed is a trait passed on from animals. From all I’ve seen, animals seem to use what they need and move on. Sure, squirrels might store up nuts for the winter, but it’s not like they’re storing up nuts for ten winters to come, particularly so they can have more nuts than any other squirrel in the tree, and more specifically so they can have more nuts when they die. In truth, they aren’t looking to win by on-upping their fellow squirrels.
In reality, prejudice, greed, hate, selfishness are human traits. Sinful traits. We have them because we’re made in the image of the sinful people who begot us.
The key point here is that sin is universal. It’s a problem we all relate to because we all have to deal with the imperfection of the people around us and the imperfection of our own hearts that lead us to do hurtful things to others in return.
Identifying sin is only a first step, however. Sort of like recognizing you’re lying in a patch of poison oak. Once you see the problem, you can take steps to deal with it. And that’s the good news of Christianity. God has dealt with this sin issue for us, and now He wants us to trust Him.