Thursday, June 4, 2015

What is Sin?: Some Helpful Insights From Driscoll and Breshears

I know its not theologically cool anymore to quote Mark Driscoll, but in spite of the events that have transpired recently culminating in his resignation from Mars Hill, his writings remain important. One of my favorite systematic theologies in my library (and I have many) is Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear's book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. It combines clarity, theological debth, and pastoral care in one (fairly) short volume.

In his chapter on the Fall, the authors provide a helpful survey various aspects of what sin in as revealed in both the Old Testament and New Testament. First the Old Testament:
1. Sin in the Old Testament is first a relational breach. This is painfully clear in Genesis 2-3 where, because of their sin, our first parents are separated from God and one another; they hide from God and one another, fear God, blame one another, and seek to cover their sin and shame while living their life apart from God.

2. Sin in the Old Testament is a social matter because shalom has been vandalized. This is evidenced by the litany of murder, perversion, drunkenness, the continual evil that precipitated the flood, and human attempts at an Edenic-like society without any regard for God that spring forth in Genesis 4-11.

3. Sin in the Old Testament is a covenantal rebellion against God and his authority. This is witnessed perhaps most clearly in Exodus 32 and 34, where following God's liberation of his people, they dishonor, disregard, and disobey him by worshiping idols while God is giving them the Ten Commandments through their leader Moses.

4. Sin in the Old Testament is a legal transgression that results in guilt that necessitates punishment. One clear example is found n Deuteronomy 32, where in worshipful song Moses recollects some of the most treasonous behavior of God's people and the price that had to be paid for justice to be maintained.

5. Sin in the Old Testament results in ritual uncleanness, pollution, and filth, marked by the use of words such as "filth," "defiled," "unclean," and "whore."[1] Importantly, this defilement happens both to sinners and victims; we defile ourselves by our own sin and are defiled by others when they sin against us.

6. Sin in the Old testament includes emotional pain such as shame and disgrace.[2]  This is first seen in Genesis 3, where our fist parents sin and then hide in shame and disgrace, whereas prior to their sin they "were not ashamed."[3]

7. Sin in the Old Testament is spoken of in historical terms as an accumulating burden whereby sin is piled up from one generation to the next.[4] In this way, sin only worsens over time as people invent new ways to do evil more effectively

8. Sin n the Old Testament is spoken of with the finality of death.[5]  Sin is deadly, and ends only in death. This is because when we sin and prefer created things to our creator God, we stop ruling over creation and are ruled by it so that in the end we lose and the dust wins.[6] (149-150)
The authors then discuss sin from a New Testament perspective focusing exclusively on four specific words.
1. The most common New Testament word for sin is the Greek word hamartia, which means wrongdoing, or missing the mark. it is the most general word used for sin and refers to the innumerable ways in which we fall short of what God intends for us and miss his will for our conduct.

2. The New Testament frequently uses the Greek word paraptoma, which means "to trespass." This word speaks of crossing a line of God's law, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

3. The New Testament also sues the Greek word parabasis to speak of sin as disobedience and transgression. By using this word, the Bible is referring to evil intent, whereby someone defiantly chooses to disobey God and thus sin, knowing full well what they are doing.

4. The New Testament often uses the Greek word asebeias to speak of sin in terms of ungodliness and godlessness. This word refers to sinners' active character of rebellion whereby they act as if there were no God and/or as if they were their own God and the highest authority in their life. (151)
From both a theological and a pastoral perspective, I find the above discussion a helpful approach. The clarity is obvious, but the I have yet to come across such a thorough, yet brief survey of what all of Scripture says regarding this issue. If we get the definition of sin wrong, we get virtually all of Christian theology wrong. Furthermore, the above prevents us from minimizing sin which is all too common in fundamental, legalistic theology and churches.




[1] Gen. 34:5; Lev. 19:31; Num. 5:27; 1 Chron. 5:1; Ps. 106:39; Prov. 30:11-12; Lam. 4:14; Ezek. 14:11.
[2] E.g., Jer. 6:15; Ezek. 36:16.
[3] Gen. 2:25.
[4] E.g., Gen. 15:16; Deut. 9:4-8; 18:24-28.
[5] E.g., Genesis 5; Deuteronoomy 30.
[6] Gen. 3:17-19.
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