Soren Kierkegaard said sin is substituting things — any thing — for God. Good things, bad things, it doesn’t matter. If you find your identity, if you find your true self, your self worth, your emotional well-being, if your life is centered on any thing other than God, that is sin. Using this definition, Timothy Keller categorizes a lot of what we pursue as modern day men and women as sin in his terrific apologetics masterpiece, The Reason for God:
~If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
~If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
~If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
~If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
~If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
~If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
~If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
~If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.
The only real solution is not simply to change our behaviors, but to reorient and center every part of our lives on God. Our self worth and sense of purpose and reason for living and emotional well-being must all be found in Christ. If he is not the center, we’re going to be in trouble.
This passage from C. S. Lewis’ essay “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” sums it all up pretty well:
The ordinary idea which we all have is that we have a natural self with various desires and interests. And we know something called “morality” or “decent behavior” has a claim on the self. We are all hoping that when all the demands of morality and society have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on.
The Christian way is different — both harder and easier. Christ says, “Give me ALL.” I don’t want just this much of your time and this much of your money and this much of your work — so that your natural self can have the rest. I want you. Not your things. I have come not to torture your natural self; I will give you a new self instead. Hand over the whole natural self — ALL the desires, not just the ones you think wicked but the ones you think innocent — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead.
The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” — our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition — and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us we cannot do. If I am a grass field — all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat, I must be plowed up and re-sown.
Everybody is living for something. Whether you think of it that way or not, whatever it is eventually becomes your Lord.
Where are you pouring most of your time and energy, your money and resources? Where do you find most happiness and fulfillment? What are you pursuing more than anything else? The answer to that question is the lord of your life. And if its anything other than Jesus, it’s not going to work for too much longer. Jesus says lose your life for me and I’ll save it. Throw it away for me and I’ll give you eternal life forever. Make yourself last for my sake and I’ll exalt you on high.
It’s hard for us to visualize the new life. “I’ve always been a grass field, how will I still produce grass if I’m a wheat field?”