A buddy of mine recently posed this question on my Facebook, which I think is a very good question. I wanted to post it, and my response, here. Would love to hear YOUR thoughts on the issue as well.
QUESTION: Mr. Seminary Student, I have a question. Is it possible not to sin? Not to have NEVER sinned. But to not sin moving forward. Isn’t it possible? If so, for how long? 5 minutes? 10 days? A year?
RESPONSE: Hey Mark. Interesting question. As a seminary student, I can certainly give a high and lofty answer that makes me sound really smart, while throwing in unnecessarily long words for effect. But I’d probably just be making stuff up to sound good.
Instead, I offer a response (which is slightly different than an “answer”). A response generates dialogue, whereas an answer comes across as definitive and final. Besides, I don’t even know the “answer” to this question.
First, I would probably suggest we create a working definition for ‘sin.’ I suggest we think of ‘sin’ as missing the mark (which is what the greek word literally means) with regards to the best that God has for us. I also suggest we shy away from thinking of sin as making “bad moral/ethical decisions,” although it may include that at times.
I start there because I think it helps us move forward in thinking more critically about your question. If you’re asking, “Is it possible to move forward in life and avoid making bad ethical decisions (such as: not lying, not cheating, not swearing at people, not lusting, etc)” then I think the best response I could offer might be: well, sure, for a while I suppose that’s possible. But sustaining that for any length of time would require intense discipline and years and years of practice. For the average person, this is highly unrealistic, and might not even be an advisable way to live.” (Pause: why would I say “might not be an advisable way to live?” Because life can get very negative when we become focused on NOT doing thing A or B or C or D… we become obsessed with avoidance, and eventually we’re goverened by fear and guilt and shame. Not an advisable way to live, in my opinion.)
But, if instead the question is: “is it possible to move forward in life living out the best kind of life God has created me for” (which would be another way to say “not sinning… not missing the mark on God’s best for my life”) then NOW I think we are on to something. Because now I would respond by saying: absolutely I believe that type of life is available NOW! For both the brand new follower of Jesus as WELL as the disciplined veteran (and it would most likely look very different for these two types of people).
This is a life lived from a place of love, from a place of trust. This is a life lived in pursuit of the things God’s heart pursues: beauty, truth, justice, peace. This is life lived not from fear and guilt and shame, but from freedom and joy and honesty. This is a life dependent on God as the source of everything, believing in his goodness and mercy and grace, not a life requiring that we must behave a certain way or else face the smiting hand of the Creator. This is a life modeled after the Way of Jesus, knowing and experiencing God through love, faith and hope. This is finding out who we really are, who God made us to be, and living that out, being everything we are. This is a life empowered by the Spirit to be agents of change in the world, not a life consumed by avoiding the world and what is in it.
One of the greatest things a follower of Jesus can do, I believe, is to discover this life for themselves. Discover who they are in light of who God made them to be. And to LIVE that life in the pattern of Jesus. And when they do that, when you and I do this, we are living IN the Kingdom of God and we are living OUT the Kingdom of God. We are experiencing abundant life and knowing what it is to know God’s best for us. We have found the mark, not missed it, with regards to God’s best for us.
We have, in a sense, found a way to live not in sin.
So that’s how I might respond to your (very good) question. It is, admittedly, a very “scratching-the-surface-of-the-issue” type of response. Much more could (and should) be said about ‘sin.’ What is is. What it looks like. How it affects the life of the believer and the person who does not yet believe. Etc…
How might YOU respond to this question?