February 13, 2013

Sin Avoidance or Doing Right?

Rondall Reynoso

“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
-Eric Metaxas*

I posted this quote on my Facebook page yesterday and was interested to see how much it resonated with people. But, as I thought about this quote it resonated more and more with me also.

On the about section of this blog, I describe myself as “uncomfortably” evangelical. A few months back, I had a family member ask for a concise explication of where I disagree with evangelicals. I struggled with this because I share the methodological assumptions of evangelicalism and theologically I am very evangelical. I tried to briefly explain that the “historical ethos” of evangelicalism is reactionary, isolationist, and anti-intellectual. That is certainly a part of the evangelical ethos that I struggle with. But, I think the Metataxas quote above gets to the issue even more concisely and precisely.

There is no doubt that avoiding sin is an important part of Christian life. But, I think it is a matter of focus. Is our focus on doing the will of God? On living the character of God? Or, is it simply about avoiding sin? I believe for many evangelicals it is simply about avoiding sin.

Why is this a problem? I think that when we focus on sin avoidance we tend to take a rules approach to the faith. Don’t do this…Don’t do that… sometimes we will be a little more forward-thinking and add a couple of rules we should do…go to church every time the doors are open…read this version of the Bible…vote republican. The problem is that none of those things are living the life of faith. Jesus claimed that the great commandments were to love God and love others. The heart of the gospel is defined by what we do, by who and what we love, not by what we avoid. The reality is that we become what we think about most of the time. With that in mind, we may want to focus on living the heart of God and doing right rather than the avoidance of sin. If we set our eyes and heart on God and living His will, sin avoidance will happen naturally.

This could revolutionize the way Christians are seen in the world. I am not saying that Christianity will ever be the darling of the secular world. I think scripture is clear that will never happen. But, how are evangelicals known in this world? Christ said we will be known by our love. Are we? I think we are known by our hate. The hate of sin is a good thing.  But, by having the heart of our spiritual commitment be our hate of sin rather than our love of God we miss the mark. Further, we become what we think about or maybe how we think. We become hateful. Also, since the avoidance of doing wrong rather than a commitment to doing right is the heart of our religious experience we lack the courage and commitment that it takes to stand up and do right. We become a cowardly people who are able to shout against the evils of the world but is incapable of standing up against the world or the church to actually DO right.

I believe that many evangelicals completely miss the life of faith by redefining a faith that is centered on the love of God as a faith that is about hating what God hates. These are not the same. The walk of faith is found in loving God and loving what he loves. It isn’t so much that we avoid sin but that God moves our affections from sin to Him.

* An earlier version of this article, actually one that was on-line for 16 months, attributed the quote that starts this article to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It turns out that it is a quote by Eric Metaxas when he was summarizing Bonhoeffer’s philosophy. Sadly, this misattribution is ubiquitous and I took it to be true.

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Rondall Reynoso

Rondall is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a Ph.D. in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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  • “incapable of standing up against the world or the church to actually DO right.” ; I would just add that, regardless of religion or faith or whatever, most people are also incapable of looking inward at their own faults. How’s that saying go? “Let he who is free of sin cast the fist stone”? You know what I’m talking about.

    • That is so true, Jim. With my art students I tell them that artists need to develop self criticism (analyzing work to fix bad parts and improve in what you do) and self editing (don’t show the junk that you produce). That sort or inwardness would be helpful for non-artists as well. Look at how you can improve which means admitting where you need it and the junk that your life and mind produces to yourself.

  • I have never heard this so concisely and well said. Thanks!

    • Robin, Thank you for letting me know. The internet is a terrible wonderful thing. So much informationis available but at the same time misinformation is just as available! Thank you for helping me to try and staymore on the information rather than the misinformation side of things.

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