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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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What is sin?

Still relevant no matter how much society contends it's an outmoded, old-fashioned idea

The most stubborn and frustrating aspect of human sin is this: we insist on justifying ourselves before God, and we refuse to accept that our justification comes to us as a gift of God's grace.

"Oh," you might say, "I've never heard of that. Doesn't the New Testament say sin is missing the mark? Doesn't sin consist in choosing the evil rather than the good? Isn't lusting a sin? How about coveting? War? Isn't genocide the greatest sin? Do the Democrats sin when they spend too much money? Do the Republicans sin when they refuse to compromise?"

getty images/jeffrey coolidgeCoveting what others have and perpetrating violence to rob them of their possessions, their honor or their life are some of the things we do individually and as a society that are sinful. When we gossip, we rob someone of their honor. When we go to war, we rob someone of their livelihood and maybe even their life. That's sin, to be sure.

Yet here's why we think self-justification is a term that expresses a uniquely Christian insight into human nature. Each of us individually, and all of us collectively, want to look good. We want others to think highly of us. We especially want to appear morally strong, trustworthy and, in nearly all cases, right.

This drive to appear right is so strong that we will lie to others and even to ourselves to maintain this moral facade. We would rather that other people, or even God, look wrong just to maintain our status as the right one. We daily draw a line between good and evil and place ourselves on the good side.


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