What’s the Big Deal with Sin

Aug 01, 2018

Vince and Jo Vitale seek to answer questions about the Christian concept of sin. What is sin and why is it a big deal in the Christian faith? How can we trust that Jesus’ death 2,000 years ago is still effective in forgiving our sins today? Join us for this episode on Ask Away.

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of ask away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. A proper understanding of the nature of sin and what it does to our relationship with God is essential to understanding the Christian faith and the necessity of the cross. Yet our modern culture has lost even the concept of sin. One must first come to a realization of their sinfulness before they can come looking for a cure, but most don't even have a category for external objective concepts of good and evil.

What is sin? Why is it such a big deal? How do we struggle for holiness in a culture that doesn't even think it is a virtue? But before we get started, Vince, could you give our listeners a sneak peek into our upcoming initiative the RZIM Certificate program?

Vince Vitale: Thanks Michael. This is something that we're really excited about. Over the last couple of years, there's a whole a number of new resources at RZIM and we want people to have the chance to be able to engage with those resources in a way that builds and that builds relationship with us as a ministry and that has a continuance about it and that can lead towards the earning of different RZIM certificates. So you can do that through modules at the RZIM Academy, our online courses. You can do that through our programs that the Zacharias Institute here in person or by watching those programs via live stream. Then there'll be self-study materials that you'll be able to engage with as well after the different events.

This is coming soon in the next few months. Keep your eye out on the website. Join our Facebook page. Keep your eye out there as well. We're excited about it. You're even going to be able to take courses at Passion Global Institute and that even count towards the certificate as well. So it's an exciting development, a certificate program at RZIM a whole variety of ways both at RZIM, and even through Passion Global Institute to earn points towards the certificates that you'll be able to apply to the study that you're doing with us.

Michael Davis: That's a really exciting new initiative. I think it's going to bless a lot of folks and I think that it's going to be a really great way to engage with RZIM.

Let's get started. To get started on the topic, can you say something about why sin is such a big deal in the Christian faith? Many think we are basically good and the focusing on sin is overly dramatic. What would you say to someone who holds this view?

Jo Vitale: That's such a big question, such a great question. It's actually one I wound up having about an hour and a half conversation around this topic in a coffee shop in San Francisco last week at one of those random situations where you get talking to somebody and really great spiritual conversation. The guy I was talking to you, really nice guys, super engaged, asked a lot of very good questions, but we just came from such fundamentally different perspectives. He was working in virtual reality and actually one of his visions was to build something like a church for atheists, like a kind of community that you could create, apparently doing the function of everything church does, but without the God element in it.

This was very much his point of view, that basically everyone is fundamentally good and he was putting a lot of hope in humanism and the progress of humanity and saying we're on a really positive trajectory the way that we going. What it basically came down to in our conversation was us both recognizing the fundamental difference between on the one hand saying the purpose of life, your identity is to make your own meaning or saying that actually you're made for meaning. And depending on where you come down on those two different things, whether there is a God or isn't a God, really has a lot to do with how we understand sin.

Because sin, I would say, isn't just something external to us, like a sort of list of things that we do. But fundamentally we're good people. We just do a bunch of bad stuff. But actually sin is that disposition, almost that attitude of saying actually there is no God, I am my own God, a state of rebellion against him if you will. So it's the difference between something outside of you and something that almost you're under, you're under sin. It has a power over you.

The irony is we're so caught in it that I think we don't even see it clearly. We don't even see ourselves clearly. I really find it helpful, the line in Job five when it says man is born into trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward. That idea that as soon as you're born, you're already in trouble. That's just the state that we're in. But sometimes it can be so ingrained we don't get it.

I remember when I lived in Uganda for seven months and there was a drought while I was there and there was no running water in the house, no hot water. And so we would wash out of buckets. We did the best we could with the cold water. And I built up this fantastic tan that I was really proud of when I came back to England. I was no longer pasty white and I thought I looked so good with this great golden tan. Then I got in a hot shower and literally watched my tan run down the drain and realized that wasn't tan at all. That was just ingrained dirt.

Michael Davis: Oh that's gross.

Jo Vitale: Months of dirt that just built up and I really wasn't the golden color I thought I was. The irony of that being sin is so ingrained in us sometimes we don't even know we're not clean. We don't even see it. And actually we kind of think we look good. I think of the words from Hozier's song Take Me to Church, which I think is kind of like the anthem of this generation almost. He has this line, he says I was born sick, but I love it.

I kind of think that's the state we're in. We are born sick. We're born in sin. But the irony is we delight in it, which is why Jesus' question makes so much sense when he says to you to the leper who comes to him do you want to be well? And I always thought what a weird question. Of course he'd want to be well, who wouldn't want to be well? But actually I think that's the state we're in in our sin where we're born sick, but we love it and we're not sure that we want it to be well because being well means repentance and change, fundamental change at the very core of our identity.

That is a big ask and that is offensive to people. I think that's what the guy in the coffee shop I was talking to was experiencing that. There were certain things I was saying about the Christian faith I could see he found really beautiful and attractive about God and I could see times when his face was just lighting up in this conversation, but it was such a steep challenge. What I was saying just went so counter to everything he believed in about the goodness of humanity and what we can construct ourselves as opposed to needing rescue.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's good. I often find myself really sad when people don't see sin as something serious. And I think it's partly because it reflects the fact that people don't have big expectations for life. I remember one conversation that I had with a friend. I was trying to communicate to her the significance of conversion and of transformation in the context of the Christian faith. At one point I shared with her who I was before I was a Christian and the things that I was involved in and the ways that I was unfaithful in the context of relationships. I shared with her maybe the worst thing that I've ever done in my life and it had to do in this area of unfaithfulness.

I remember her hearing it and I thought she was going to be so blown away. Like wow, I can't believe that's who you were. And clearly the Christian faith has made a difference in your life. Instead she was just thought it was completely normal and just sort of said to me but isn't that just what guys do? I found myself really saddened and I thought, this is partly why we don't take sin seriously, because we think that the world we see around us, the lives that we're living are basically as good as it can be. So the gap between ourselves and what we think is possible isn't that significant.

This is why I think the Christian faith is so exciting though because Jesus breaks in and says re-envision life. Start to dream bigger. Start to set your expectations higher. I remember significantly later in my life when Jo and I met, I probably shared this, but I'll share a different piece of it on this podcast, that Jo wrote me out a list of 40 things that no one knew about her that you wanted me to know before we got engaged. A very traumatizing thing to do, but a very beautiful thing for her to do.

We got about halfway down this list and she said now this one, I'm really ashamed of. I think this might be the worst thing I've ever done to you. I feel like I've really betrayed you. And now you can imagine what's going through my mind.

Michael Davis: Are you going to tell me what it is?

Vince Vitale: I'm thinking there's a serious problem here. Then she shared with me that one time when we were already looking at photos on my computer, so we're already looking at photos on my computer and the doorbell rings downstairs and I go downstairs to get the front door, and Jo just continued perusing the photos on my computer.

Michael Davis: Jo.

Vince Vitale: Basically a bit of Facebook stalking. But I thought to myself this is the worst thing you've ever done to me? This was your huge betrayal? And all of a sudden I had this conviction that she was saying this is probably the worst thing I've ever done to you. And I thought wow, that's almost nothing.

Michael Davis: Compared to what you've done.

Vince Vitale: Exactly. But it set that bar for what our relationship could be in the faithfulness that you could have in the context of relationship so much higher. And when I think you're in the presence of someone who's holier than you are, then you understand stand the seriousness of sin because you see the extensiveness of the gap between where you are and where that person is. I think that's why as Christians, when we say that one day everyone is going to stand in front of the perfectly holy God, that's why it makes sense that on that day everyone will be able to recognize the reality and the severity of sin.

Jo Vitale: I think it's weird to an American. An English person would understand my guilt over that one because we're obsessed with privacy. So it really was a terrible thing for me to do to you.

Vince Vitale: I forgive you.

Jo Vitale: Thank you.

Michael Davis: I think the modern is looking through someone's cell phone, so no, I can understand. I can understand. I mean, one other just brief way to put this, I think that your sin against someone, there's a sense in which sin against someone is worse the more that person loves you. Sin against anyone is a terrible thing. But when someone has loved you sacrificially, when they have given their life for you, when they have served you, if you turn around and spit in that person's face, there's something particularly important about that.

So the other reason why I think sin is very serious is because God does exist and he's a God who is love and he's a God who loved us so much that he came and literally gave his life for us. IF we therefore turn our backs on him in the way that Jo described, part of the reason that sin is so serious is because it's a sin committed against someone who loves us infinitely more than anyone else in our lives could ever love us.

Jo Vitale: I think that's the challenge in our culture is that like we're saying, we don't see it clearly. I remember we were talking with one of Vince's friends who isn't a Christian a while ago and we brought him to church and they played the song Amazing Grace. You've heard it like a thousand times. You never think about it. But he was so offended by the line that saved a wretch like me. The idea that he was a rat, he just found it appalling. But actually, once you do come to the point of seeing your sinfulness, then you're in that horrible situation where you can see it but you still can't fix it.

That's a really hard thing as well because we suddenly realize even our own moral standards, and we may all say morality's subjective and we may have different values, but all of us deep down have to admit that no matter what our standard is, we never even meet our own standards for ourselves. That is really, really depressing when you realize you can't actually measure up even to the own goals you set yourself. And that's when you're like, wow, sin is bigger than me. It actually is a power over me. This isn't something I can just flip a switch and make it go away mind over matter. We do not have that kind of control over it. And that is the power of what we're under. That's the situation we're in, that actually we need help from outside because we cannot fix this ourselves.

Michael Davis: Well, let's go to the question number two. This is from Mel. “My question is what does Paul mean when he says it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me? But it's as if he is saying that sin is some type of separate entity that lives within me. This is from Romans 7:17.”

Vince Vitale: I think you put the question really well. Thanks Mel for that. It is difficult to understand on the one hand how we can as Christians come to belong to God and yet on the other hand we still sin. And even First John says if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So we need to accept this tension between on the one hand belong to God and on the other hand being people who still sin.

I think it's a question of identity. When we become Christians, we are adopted into the family of God. We become God's children. We become reborn. We become a new creation. And therefore our identity, who we are in the most fundamental sense is Christians. We are identified by the name of Christ, but that doesn't mean that we don't still sin. It doesn't mean that we don't still do things that are wrong, but that's no longer our identity. We once were slaves to sin and so there's a sense in which sin owned us and we belonged to it. We now are in the family of God and we belong to God. We are adopted by him, we are in his family. We are reborn into a new identity.

So I think it's a transition of identity. This is an imperfect analogy, but I think of maybe a professional athlete who the defining characteristic of that person is the fact that they are a baseball player or a football player or whatever sport they play. Later in life they stop playing that professionally. It's still something they can do, but it's no longer defining of who they are. And in the same way when we are reborn, we get a new identity in Christ and as a family member with him, he is the one who identifies us. It is no longer sin who identifies us. We're no longer slave to sin even though it is the case that we continue to wrestle with sin itself.

Jo Vitale: I actually find this a really hopeful image. I know sometimes people look at Romans seven and you can feel pretty depressed because you think oh, I'm a Christian, but why am I still battling? Paul still calling this a body of death. He's still he's still struggling with this. If Paul is struggling, how much more am I going to struggle? I think sometimes that's how we feel about it.

But actually I think this is an incredibly hopeful image for us because it's the difference between fighting in a battle when you know that defeat is ensured, there is no way you're not going to lose. There is no hope. It is game over. It's the difference between that situation or being in a situation where actually the tide has turned, the battle has been won. You already know that you have the victory and yet there's still some minor pockets of resistance. There is still some small skirmishes going on that you still have to deal with in the process. But the point is you are ensured the victory and that's the situation that we're in. We're in a situation where we belong to Christ, we are his.

When Paul talks about wrestling with this body of death and being at war, the point is we're now capable of waging war. We're now capable of having that battle within the flesh. Whereas before it wasn't even a battle. We were just owned. We were just beaten and defeated. So we've been put in a situation where we know and that God is going to triumph in our life. He will triumph over sin. That what he started in us, he will bring to completion. But in the meantime we live in that situation where sometimes yes, we fall and we fail. And it may be that we're taking captive for a moment, but we're not in a permanent state of captivity. I think that's a really important distinction for us when we think about our identity in Christ and how we deal with sin.

Michael Davis: So that hope is fantastic. Could you maybe unpack a little bit, because as a believer, sometimes I am just constantly aware of my sinfulness. Can you maybe explain a little bit about what the process of becoming conformed into Christ's likeness over the course of someone's life as even a greater hope for people like me who am constantly falling and failing?

Jo Vitale: You're not alone in that, Michael. I think this is the beautiful thing here is that yes, sin is powerful, but we have a greater power living within us. When we become Christians, we have the power of the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and he is a life giving spirit. So the way sanctification works is that that Holy Spirit is at work within us. So it's not just a case of us having to muster up the effort just to change ourselves. But we have a god who is continually at work within us, working on us, transforming us.

The way sanctification works is you have to be open to that. The Bible talks about being in step with the Holy Spirit where every day we're leaning into God and saying, God change me, help me, mold me, work in me. But he loves to answer that prayer. I think that's been the beautiful thing. Like Vince was saying, that the difference Christ has made in his life is there are ways he used to be, things he used to do that he literally couldn't have changed by himself. Habits that he was in. That's true of all of us that way. But that is the power of God at work within him.

And sometimes sanctification is frustrating because it is a slow process. It's like the fruits of the spirit. I think it's fruits for a reason, because fruits take time to mature and grow and one day to the next you don't necessarily see a change, but one season to a next you start seeing a fruit that is being born. I think that's the same with sanctification, that we're on a journey and from month to month I don't always see any difference. And sometimes it's year to year. But when I look at who I used to be and who I am now, it gives me hope. I also look at other people who are way further along the journey than me and I think, wow, this person must've been born perfect they're so great. Then you hear their story and where they came from. You think wow, if they could have come from there, then there is hope for me too.

So I think the important thing here is not to adopt a defeatist mindset, which I think we very often do when we battle with repetitive. We spoke about it a bit when we talked about pornography. It was a classic one where we feel like we're so under the power of it or so captive to it that we can't change, but that's such a lie. It's a lie about God. It's a lie about who he is and what he can do.

Vince Vitale: And Mel, I love that this hopefulness that Jo's speaking about, it's actually right in the passage that you're referring to as the transitions from Romans seven into Romans eight. Despite the a frustration of this sin that we continue to battle against, it's not a passage of despair, but right towards the end there of chapter seven it says thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Then as we move to chapter eight we get that wonderful line, therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Then we get discussion of the spirit, the same spirit who raised Jesus from the dead living within us. Then it goes on, the spirit you received, brought about your adoption to son ship and by him we cry Abba Father. The spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

So again, the identity changes. We become part of the family of God. And when you're living within a family, then that family wears off on you. You become more and more like that family and the other members of that family as you live together with them, and then you become an heir. So that is the sanctification that Jo was talking about, that as part of our inheritance from Christ as we live together in family with him and become more and more conformed to his likeness.

Michael Davis: Awesome. This is my favorite question of the day. This guy is anonymous, but it was a really great question for whoever you are. “Jesus died on the cross before 2,000 years by shedding his blood for the sins of the world. How can we assume that his blood on the cross is valid for forgiveness of our sins today?” The answer is so wonderful. Go ahead.

Jo Vitale: Well, Mike already teed this one out for us, but he's right. The answer to this is just so fantastically glorious because the beauty of the gospel is it doesn't come with an expiration date. It's not going to run out. It's not going to, suddenly you'll find it rotten and it doesn't taste good anymore. This is life forever for all. It says in One Peter three, for Christ died for sins once and for all, just for the end, just so that he might bring us to God. I just love that that is an eternal hope that we can stake our lives on.

I think the question, the concern is coming out of two places as far as I can see. One is the fear about time. It was 2,000 years ago, it's been so long. How could this not have worn off by now? How could there not have been a sell by date? But we're thinking so humanly when we think that way. We're thinking in terms of the scope of our really small lifespans as opposed to the fact that this is the eternal son of God who died. Time means something very different from God's perspective. So don't fear that there's a time limit on here. The Bible makes it very clear that it doesn't come with that.

But the second thing I would say is there's also maybe a concern about power because we live in a world where batteries run down after a while and we think that you could need replacing or recharging or something. And that's kind of like a little bit like this sort of sacrificial system that the Israelites had in the Old Testament. And Hebrews really speaks directly to this question actually. In Hebrews seven it says that it's not like the high priest. We don't need to offer up daily sacrifices because actually Christ, he did it once and for all when he offered up himself. Then it says again in Hebrews nine, it talks about the high priest who enters the holy place a year by year with the blood that isn't his own. But the point is that Jesus himself has sacrificed himself and therefore it applies differently.

That makes sense because of course animals, yeah, that's not going to cover much is it? In fact, how could an animal even cover the sin of a human being? I mean, it doesn't even work that way. The most you can get out of animals is this sort of symbolic covenant of something that God is going to do. There is no power that the animal has to make you clean. But this is God himself offering his very own life. And that's a battery that doesn't run dry. There's a power to that that is eternal and amazing.

And think of it this way, in a legal system when, Charles Bergeron talks about this, that actually once the debt has been paid, it's settled forever. You don't then say okay, well they paid it off, but now five years have passed so hey, let's pay it again. This isn't like an interest. The whole thing has been paid off by Christ. So that means it's done and dealt with from God's perspective. We are all covered by the death of Jesus and that's a hope that you can plan your life on.

Vince Vitale: And so somebody might be thinking how can you pay a debt if the debt hasn't yet been manifested? How can you pay the debt if the wrong which got some went into debt hasn't happened yet? But I was thinking a bit more about that. And actually we do that as well. Like Jo, the apartment that we have, us and the other apartment owners, we all put money into an account and we do that quarterly and we do that for future debts. We put the money in now so that we have that credited in our account for whatever comes in the future, even if it might be unforeseen.

Now, of course, the difference is that our debts are not unforeseen to God. So every analogy breaks down. That's why it's in an analogy.

Michael Davis: I was like, I was a little worried Vince.

Jo Vitale: Michael was getting out the heresy square.

Michael Davis: No.

Vince Vitale: He breaks out often. But this I think is what happens in Christ. He's credited our account in an infinite way and he's credited it beforehand, but in such a way that whatever happens yesterday, today, any day in the future, the credit that he has given into our account is enough to pay any debt that we could possibly have.

Jo Vitale: And just what an unbelievable investment in us. I mean, it just blows me away. There was a time in my life when I was running away from God and it was because I knew I'd really messed up and I just didn't think God could forgive me. I pridefully thought that my sin was too big for him to deal with or that somehow what I done was worse than what anyone else in history to ever done. But I was really holding it between us and it was really getting in the way of my relationship with him because I knew he would offer to forgive me, but I just couldn't forgive myself, it seemed too big.

But the thing that finally brought me around was I just felt like God was saying to me Jo, by saying your sin is too big for me, it's like you're saying that what I did on the cross wasn't enough for you. And I gave everything for you. So stop adding insult to injury and just accept my forgiveness and come back to me.

I think we get in that mindset where we think surely, surely what I've done is so terrible. If God really knew who I am or what I'm like, this wouldn't apply to me. But like Vince has said, that the investment is so rich and so big and so beautiful that there is always grace for us.

Vince Vitale: I read a story a while back of a mother who saved the lives of her children because their children were in a car and the car had been put in park, but somehow it knocked out of park and into neutral. The Jeep that the children were in was rolling towards a cliff that they were going to fall over. And the mother ran in front of the car and the car ran over her body and it was her body that stopped the car and saved the lives of the children. The mother lived but she's paralyzed. And the children, two of the daughters, they made this Mother's Day tribute to their mother. And right at the end of that, they say yes, she saved our lives in the accident in 1999 but she saves them over and over again each and every day.

I found that really powerful that when someone gives their life for you, when someone dies to that you can live, every day of life that you have after that is a day to be grateful to them because they have given you that gift of life. So we look back on Jesus 2,000 years ago, but every day that we live right now is a day that we've been given as a gift by him because he's given his life for us. So we should be thankful every day.

Michael Davis: And into eternity. Well guys, we are out of time. Vince sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: I think it's a really significant topic that we've dealt with, this topic of sin. If sin is not a serious issues and there's no need for a savior and then the gospel collapses. I think that oftentimes people are not willing to identify the problem of sin because they don't see a solution. And oftentimes we're not willing to admit we have a problem if we don't see a solution. That makes sense because otherwise, you just admit you have a problem and you just sit there with your problem and there's nothing fun about that.

There is a solution and we've spoken about it today, what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago. Our identity can change. We can be reborn. We can be freed from sin. Hopefully that gives someone the encouragement that they need to recognize sin as a serious problem that it is, but also recognize the reality of forgiveness and sanctification and the hope that we have in the Christian faith.

Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you next week.

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