Another senseless shooting leads off the evening newsreel.
Another corruption is unveiled in a major corporation.
Another marriage is ruined by infidelity.
Another child is abandoned by their addicted parent.
Another drug bust sends teenagers to prison in the prime of their lives.
It’s as if the news apps, broadcasts, and papers are singing the old childhood song:
Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.
And if you’re like me, it can make you want to cry out to whomever will listen:
Houston, we have a problem!
We have a problem.
America has a problem.
The world has a problem.
Humanity has a problem.
The things we see every day are not biological mistakes.
They are not glitches in the evolutionary process.
They are not cultural deviations.
The Church at large recognizes this truth. And we frequently hear it lament, in a variety of ways, the “sin problem” in our nation.
But this phrase gives me pause. Because it makes me wonder:
Is sin simply a problem? Or is it something more?
In order to answer this question, two definitions are in order: the definition of sin and the definition of problem.
First – What is sin?
In the original Greek
, “sin” means to “miss the mark.” It is an archer who shoots wide of the bullseye, a marksman who misses his target, a hunter who misses the deer in the wooded alcove.
When we sin,
we “miss the mark” that God has for us. We “shoot wide” of our targeted holiness.
But this definition requires further explanation. After all, who sets the mark?
Society? The government? My own desires?
The New Testament answers the question.
God sets the mark that determines what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’
I John 3:4-6 refers to sin as “lawlessness.”
Lawlessness refers to an action that violates the Law that God has given to us.
His Word is the bullseye.
Sin is living, acting, speaking, thinking that misses His bullseye.
It is lawless living.
At first glance, it appears obvious:
Sin is the problem with our society.
With our world.
With our race.
Not so fast.
In order to say sin is a problem, we must look at its definition, too.
So — what is a “problem”?
Cambridge Dictionary defines “problem
” as “a question to be solved, especially by reasoning or calculating.”
Whoa. Stop right there.
Houston, we have a problem!
Can sin be solved?
Can reason overcome sin?
Can righteousness be cultivated by calculation?
I don’t think so.
Yes, sin is rampant in our culture. Our country. Our world. Our race.
But the crime we see all around us isn’t evidence of the problem of sin.
Because sin isn’t a problem.
At least, not as Cambridge Dictionary defines it.
Adopting this definition of sin leads to disastrous consequences, because viewing sin as a problem….
…strips the cross of its power.
…nullifies the necessity of grace.
…exalts humanity to a position of illegitimate authority.
…undermines the very foundation of Christianity.
Wait just a minute, you say.
Aren’t you jumping off the deep end?
Isn’t this just a question of semantics?
An over-analytical glimpse into theological jargon?
You see, the Bible doesn’t portray sin as a “problem” to be solved, but as a perpetual, original, intrinsic state of being.
In middle school English, we learn about “state of being verbs”: am, are, be, been, being, is, was, and were.
Each verb portrays the current state of a person or object. Example: “I am Emily.” Not “I have Emily” or “I struggle with Emily.” I am Emily.”
Likewise, the Bible portrays sin, not as a problem, but as a state of being:
Lord, have mercy on me, [for I am] a sinner. (Luke 18:13)
Through Adam and Eve, we became sinners. (1 Tim. 2:14)
I am living in a body of sin, which Christ conquered on the cross (Rom. 6:6)
In fact, 81% of the time that “sin” is mentioned in the New Testament it denotes who we are, rather than something that we do.
Violence, theft, drugs – these are “sins.” But they are the fruit, not the root, of sin.
To call sin a “problem” is to stop at the fruit without looking at the root.
Water flows from a river to the ocean via tributaries.
The tributaries don’t ‘invent’ the water.
They just carry the water from the river.
Just as sinful actions don’t ‘create’ the problem of sin.
They just flow from the tributaries of the heart – which is already sinful.
Why is this important?
Because Jesus died and rose again…
not to solve an external problem, but an internal state of being;
not to create a utopic society, but a redeemed spirit and soul;
not to eliminate evil deeds, but to transform evil hearts.
Sin must be a state-of-being if the amazing power of grace is to be realized.
Sin must be a state-of-being if the cross is to be properly understood.
Sin must be a state-of-being for salvation to be received.
And that, friends, is why Sin Isn’t (Just) A Problem in American Society.
Rather, it is a State of Being for Every Human Heart.
For when we reach the heart, the “problem” of sin will rectify itself.
Anyone can say the words I sin.
But only those who recognize their true spiritual state can say I am a sinner.
It is time to look past the fruit to the root.
Past the tributaries to the river itself.
Past the hurt to the heart.
“Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in Your way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24