POPULAR NOTIONS OF SIN
Many popular notions of sin, are mediaeval and theological, but are, I think, anti-Scriptural, and particularly opposed to the teaching of Jesus. The notion that sin is such a subtle thing that Christians commit it without knowing, and the opinion that the best thoughts of the best men are tinged with sin, are not according to the Scriptures, and I am sure are great hindrances to spiritual progress and loving fellowship with God.
That of necessity Christians constantly sin in thought, word, and deed, is a doctrine dishonoring to God and belittling to the work of Christ, in that it is a reflection upon the completeness of the salvation provided by the love of the Father, and wrought out by the love and suffering of the Son.
Logically, it is a salvation in sin, but the salvation taught in the Bible is a salvation from sin. As evidence of this take a sample passage among hundreds: "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.." There is no room here for sin in either " Thought, word, or deed," and I believe that God can do all He undertakes.
In my opinion, none of the passions and appetites of the human body are naturally sinful; in fact there is no necessary moral quality in them as they are purely animal. They inhere in the body and not in the soul.
Adam before the fall had the same kind of original human nature that we have, and all those appetites and passions which are popularly supposed to be sinful, and for which many Christians take condemnation, existed in him in his innocence. In fact, if we may predicate moral quality, of those things which are natural and animal, they are good and not evil, for they are as God made them and work out His holy purposes. It has been surprising to me that many good men pronounce as evil, what God pronounces good. That these appetites and passions may be a means of sin, or temptation to sin, is undoubtedly true. That they often do lead to sin, as do other natural gifts of God, is doubtless so, but to stamp them in themselves as sinful, I think is a reflection upon the workmanship of God, and plays into the hands of the Devil.
I would also remark that no temptation in itself is sinful. Temptations to sin are permitted by God, as educational processes to develop our will power and our strength of character, and give us opportunities to test the grace and the power of God; but they are not sinful no matter how strong they may be, or from what quarter they may come. Temptations whether arising from one's own nature, or from the outward senses, or straight from the Devil, are not sinful, for it is said of Jesus that, "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." But, certainly many Christians do take condemnation to themselves when they are tempted, and in this they are aided and backed up by the enemy of our souls, and the peace and communion which should constantly exist between the soul and God is frequently interrupted. From the above and many similar considerations, I conclude that no thought or act can displease God, except the consent of our will to sin is first obtained, and further that the knowledge of this would tend to make Christians a conquering host, instead of an army most of the time in the hospital.
I will now make the statement, that if a man is fully in love with God he CANNOT sin, be he ever so ignorant. Some persons, act above man's reproach and doubtless sin constantly, because their polished manners and careful outward conduct, are prompted by impure motives; while on the other hand, some persons whose acts in themselves look faulty and blameworthy, are well pleasing to God. Outward conformity to the rules of good conduct and good actions, is largely the result of education and culture, and of a man's surroundings; but God looks deeper than outward conduct and the rough exterior which to us looks so faulty He heeds but little, for if He sees in the heart purity of intent, with love to God, as the dominating principle, He is well pleased.
The notion that Christians constantly sin but that in some fanciful way; their sins are covered up with the robe of Christ's righteousness, is I believe unphilosophical, un-scriptural, and untenable. Jesus came into the world, not to cover up sin in man, but to cure it; He came not to hide sin in His followers but to exterminate it. His mission is not to put His robe of righteousness around an impure and unholy man, and to give him an outward show of goodness; but He came to work righteousness in the inward parts; He came to destroy the works of the Devil, and to make new men. He makes the sick well, and not simply a little better; He came to turn bad men into good men. He came to make sinners into saints, and He does this in no sham way, but in a real way, so that when Jesus finishes His work upon a man, God looks upon him and sees His own image. He looks him through and through and is pleased with him. Pleased with his thoughts, with his words, with his deeds; and as He said about His Son Jesus, who is the first-born among many brethren, so He says about each new son, "This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
I certainly believe that while many real Christians hold such notions about sin in themselves, and in other Christians, they are a great deal better than their creed, for although they write such bitter things against themselves, it is a fortunate thing for them that God does not write the same things about them.
The notion which these dear people have about the difficulty of pleasing God, and doing the will of God and living without sin, is contrary to the Scriptures, as well as to the declaration of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light," whereas this theory makes it hard. The question is, "Is God an easy or a hard
master to please?" Does He bid us perform tasks impossible of fulfillment? Does He bind heavy burdens upon weak shoulders? Does He bid us do the impossible and then blame us because we cannot do it? I think not. I think God is of all beings the most reasonable, and of all masters, the easiest. Our creeds and theologies and accumulation of notions, have so enshrouded the subject of religion with mists and fogs, and have so encumbered it with duties and obligations, that it is hard for one to divest himself of these theories, and see the exceeding simplicity of the Gospel, and see the loving Fatherhood of God, and practically experience what Jesus said, that His yoke is easy, and His burden light. Yokes are bound again about the necks of the disciples, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
According to the New Testament and its teaching concerning the requirements of God, living without sin is the natural and normal condition of the Christian. It is as easy to do as it is to breathe. Indeed, John puts it stronger, for he said, "He that is born of God CANNOT commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." This looks to be reasonable, for the fruit will be according to the seed, and a man with the seed of the Holy God in him, certainly will not sin. A man without this seed, no matter what his excellencies, must constantly sin, but John says again, "He that sinneth is not born of God." They that have the evil seed in them will bear evil fruit and they that have the good seed, good fruit. A man born of black parents will be black, while he that is born of white parents will be white. "Men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit."
The teaching of the Master on this matter, is in harmony with that of John, in harmony with common sense, and should be in harmony with Christian experience. The fruit of a Christian man is obedience to God; while sin is thinking and doing, contrary to the will of God in each particular circumstance. To be obedient to God is the natural and normal condition of the man who is born of God, and to teach the contrary is certainly to differ with the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Still while I thus speak it is certainly true, that if we measure our duty by the various creeds, if we put ourselves under obligation to do what a great many good people think we ought to do, if we try to measure up to the standard others may set for us, if we aim to do the thousand and one things which Christians are urged to do, and if we think all these are requirements of God, we shall constantly be under condemnation. Or if we get ideals of Christian life, or Christian feeling, or Christian thought or sentiment, from any source other than the Holy Spirit, we shall fall short of measuring up to these ideals, for man and the Devil are hard taskmasters; but if we conceive of sin as doing that which God forbids, and of Holiness as doing that which He commands, and if we realize that the Holy Spirit is constantly with us to direct us and give us power, and if we have the heart and disposition to obey the Holy Spirit, we shall find that God's standard for us is one which we can reach, that the duties which God requires are those which we can perform, that His requirements any honest man can conform to, and we may live constantly with the assurance that God is well pleased with us.