James knows "Hamartiology."
If you read my previous blog, you’ll have noticed that it was riddled with grammatical errors. I suppose I thought, at the time, that since I’m such a good typerist and an expert in using the words with correctedly, that I didn’t need to proofread it.
I have no idea how that ties into the Doctrine of Sin...but if you think of something, let me know.
Hamartiology is from the Greek ἁμαρτία (to miss the mark) and -λογια (to study). If you’ve been in a church setting long enough you have likely heard sin described as “missing the mark.” That is, of course, if your church even discusses sin at all (but we’ll save that for another Oprah). Therefore, we are really trying to understand: one, what is the mark; two, how do we miss it; three what are the effects of missing it.
As a disclaimer, there are varying views within orthodoxy on this subject. We will not deal with those here. This is a 1000ft high overview of a sliver of the topic that we can consider “settled theology.”
What is the mark? In one word...perfection, but that’s hardly helpful. 1 John 3:4 says that “sin is lawlessness.” It is breaking God’s law. But this can be a little sticky. Like the Rich Young Ruler, we can assume that adhering to the letter of the law is sufficient, whereas Jesus clarifies (in the Sermon on the Mount) that we sin when we break the spirit of the law, which can be summarized as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” So, “missing the mark” is failing to love God and your neighbor, in all its implications. And, these are intentional acts. Sin isn’t a whoopsie daisy, it’s rebellion. Sin is breaking God’s law as an act of rebellion.
So, how do we miss this mark? Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that sin entered through Adam. But, take a look at the full verse and notice his argument (hint: it’s like a mirror.)
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, [mirror]and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”
Through Adam, all have sinned. To the modern, western, ear this sounds absurd. How can I be held responsible for the sin of some other dude? But, this really isn’t the case for Paul’s audience, and for most societies. The idea that the actions of a federal head affect everyone he represents is the norm throughout history. It is also important because as through one man all became guilty, through one man they might be saved. For some reason we have a problem when one man’s actions condemn us all, but are totally groovy with one man saving us.
While there is a corporate aspect to sin, which necessitated the virgin birth, etc. etc., there is an individual aspect to it as well. This is where we get into “sin nature” and touch on some of what was covered in the Anthropology post. As stated above, sin is the breaking of God’s law as an act of rebellion. I’ve heard pastors, and others, describe sinning as “a mistake.” And, everybody makes mistakes, right? This is bad theology. When Paul talks about his struggle with sin, that he does not do the things he wants, but does the things he hates, there is no room for “mistakes.” We don’t struggle against “accidents.” For the unbeliever, this is obvious. Even their good deeds are driven from self-interest. Believers, however, have this “old self” that we struggle with. It is the selfish, prideful, greedy, lecherous remnants of our flesh...but it doesn’t act by misadventure, it is rebellious. Otherwise, why bother resisting it. If we’re already forgiven, why stress out over one more oopsie? No, sin is an active rebellion against God by breaking his law.
Finally, what are the effects of missing the mark? As we saw earlier, death entered the world. Our culture has sanitised death. We deal with it, clean it up, and put it aside (typically). I used to work for a mortuary/cemetery, and you would be amazed at how little time passes before the flowers stop showing up on gravesites (yes, this is a generalization, but it’s also an accurate one). We don’t think about death, what the implications of it really are. Death is suffering, and the suffering is constant. If you’re old enough, just look at your own body. It’s decaying. It’s causing you pain. It will cease. And that’s just the temporal, physical pain. This life is a “momentary light affliction.” While Paul means that as an encouragement to those suffering yet will see glory in Heaven, it is also a frightening prospect for those who aren’t. For them, this life is a momentary, light, joy. They are living their best life now...it’s only going to get worse. The “death” that sin ushered in infects everything and, for some, will last forever.
Sin is an act of open rebellion against the God of the universe. The beings he created, so he could commune with them, and give them good things, spit in his face. We exalt ourselves. We pursue basic instincts rather than loving him. Sin is a blight, which will be eliminated. Come quickly, Lord.
“Nerd, why do you have to be such a downer?”
All I can say, is it gets better from here because next time we’ll look at the Doctrine of Christ.