Sin and Why We Lie

This afternoon I spent some time with a friend looking at Isaiah 14:11-15, a passage that, although addressed (historically speaking) to the king of Babylon, has been found by many to be indirectly aimed at Satan as a paradigm for sin. The passage reads:
Your pomp is brought down to Sheol [the grave], the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers. How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.
The point being made (regardless of who the passage is ultimately about) is this: sin (in its essence) is elevating something that isn’t God (in this case, ourselves) to the place of God. Tim Keller, using idolatry as an organizing principle, puts it like this: “Sin is taking a good thing and making it ultimate.” Like the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14, our great sin is trying to be god for ourselves—trying to be the sovereign king or queen of our own private kingdoms.

So, if that’s what sin is, then why do we sin?

The basic answer is simple: we sin because we’ve stopped trusting and relying on God to be God and have started to play the role ourselves. As an example, let’s take something as seemingly mundane as lying.

Why do we lie?

All lying is done as an attempt to protect ourselves from other people knowing the truth about who we really are. In other words, we lie to keep people from discovering—from actually seeing—the “real” us. We do this in one of two ways. Either we lie to hid something about us that really is true (something that if other people knew would cause them to think less of us) or we lie to create something about us that’s false (something that if other people believed would cause them to think more highly of us). On the one side, we lie to keep our reputation afloat; on the other, we lie to elevate it. In both instances what we’re doing is trying to control the way other people see us, think about us and regard us.

This means that every external, mouth-lie grows out of an internal, heart-choice that says: “What other people think of me is more important than what God thinks of me. I like them more than I like God. I need their approval more than I need God. I depend on their love and security more than I depend on God’s.”

The antidote for lying then (as with all sin) isn’t to simply buckle-down and just tell the truth. No. The real antidote for lying is to believe that God is God, to trust that what the Creator and King of the universe says about us is what really matters. And to believe that, in union with Christ, what he says about us isn’t rooted in who we are but in who Jesus is.

Two Sides to Pride

The Valley of Vision, “Shortcomings”
My sin is to look on my faults and be discouraged,
or to look on my good and be puffed up (85).
Aaron Orendorff
There are two sides to the sin called pride. On the one hand, there is blatant and overt pride: the belief that we are fundamentally “better than.” This sort of pride is easily identified; it is pride as we know it; pride in its most recognizable form; scarlet letter pride with an emblazoned, capital “P” painted across its chest.

But there is another form of pride that is much more subtle, much more insidious. While overt pride flourishes in the light, its underside hides in the dark. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tellingly calls this sin “pride in reverse.” Not that it is the opposite of pride (i.e., un-pride), but rather that it is pride run off in another direction. The motive and power are still the same, but its shape is different.

Reverse-pride wallows. It revels in self-pity. It moans of embarrassment and shame. Reverse-pride often feels like justice—particularly if we’re in the wrong or if we’ve legitimately messed-up—but it does nothing to bring us closer to God or other people. Reverse-pride is built on the assumption that I am the center of the world, that if I fail, the world will fail (or at least the small part of the world I’m desperately trying to rule and control).

Humility (that which is legitimately “un-pride”) begins not by degrading or devaluing ourselves, but by recognizing who we actually are: we are not God. God is God and the world (even our petty corner of it) is His, not ours. Humility aims to forget itself by refocusing its attention on God as God. It delights to see God made much of (whether through us or not). Humility brings freedom from the crushing self-centered weight of both success (“better than”) and failure.

Evangelism and Being Authentically Human

Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker & into the World
Our problem with evangelism is not that we don’t have enough information—it is that we don’t know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don’t know. The key on our part is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology. We haven’t grasped that it really is OK for us to be who we are when we are with seekers, even if we don’t have all the answers to their questions or if our knowledge of Scripture is limited.

But there is a deeper problem here. Our uneasiness with non-Christians reflects our uneasiness with our own humanity. Because we are not certain about what it means to be human (or spiritual, for that matter), we struggle in relating naturally, humanly to the world (22-23).

[T]o share the gospel we must share out life, our very selves. If we don’t grasp that Christ has freed us to be authentic, we will see evangelism as a project instead of a lifestyle. And we will tend to see non-Christians more as objects of our evangelistic efforts than as authentic persons. . . . Evangelism involves taking people seriously, getting across to their island of concerns and needs, and then sharing Christ as Lord in the context of our natural living situations (28).

In Jesus . . . we have our model for how to relate to the world, and it is a model of openness and identification. Jesus was a remarkably open man. . . . We must learn, then, to relate transparently and genuinely to other because that is God’s style of relating to us. . . . We must open our lives enough to let people see that we too laugh and hurt and cry (30).

First Things First - Disciple-Making Disciples

Aaron Orendorff
With the launch of re:Generātion quickly approaching—February 28th is just 47 days away—and with the launch team ready to begin training and preparation, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what’s often called “first things.” Why are we launching a new young-adults ministry? There’s probably a hundred different ways to put it, but every answer worth anything has to boil down to one thing: the glory of God in the lordship of Christ by the power of the Spirit. My greatest hope for re:Generātion is that God would use us to make disciple-making disciples. Everything else—attendance, websites, Life Groups, music, and even in one sense the teaching itself—are worthless if they do not fuel and directly contribute to this one, consuming end.

The great joy of making discipleship the central aim of re:Generātion is that it means doing ministry after the pattern of Christ and in the presence of Christ. The first—imitation—is utterly impossible and existentially crushing without the second—indwelling.

In the spirit of keeping first things first, I’ve pulled out a number of excerpts on the topic of authentic gospel-ministry from a recent book by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne entitled The Trellis and the Vine.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine
The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel (8).

The [Great C]ommisison is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. . . . [W]e must . . . see disciple-making as our central task in our homes and neighborhoods and churches (13).

To be a disciple is to be called to make new disciples. . . . Thus the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measureable: are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ? . . . The mandate of disciple-making provides the touchstone for whether our church is engaging in Christ’s mission. Are we making genuine disciples of Jesus Christ? Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus (14).

[S]tructures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises [lattices] grow vines, and . . . most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintain structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ (17).

[T]he real work of God is people work—the prayful speaking of his word by one person to another (27).

[I]t’s interesting how little the New Testament talks about church growth, and how often it talks about “gospel growth” or the increase of the “word.” The focus is on the progress of the Spirit-backed word of God as it makes its way in the world, according to God’s plan. . . . [T]he emphasis is not on the growth of the congregation as a structure—in numbers, finances and success—but on the growth of the gospel, as it is spoken and re-spoken under the power of the Spirit (37).

[I]f this is really what God is doing in our world then it is time to say goodbye to our small and self-oriented ambitions, and to abandon ourselves to the cause of Christ as his gospel. . . . [Gospel growth happens as] a Christian brings a truth form God’s word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working of his Spirit (38-39).

[T]his means that the two fundamental activities of Christian ministry are proclaiming (speaking the word) and praying (calling upon God to pour out his Spirit to make the word effective in people’s hearts) (41).

To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker. The radicalism of this demand often feels a world away from the ordinariness of our normal Christian habits and customs (43).

Praying Our Way Out of the Gospel

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
In the gospel, Jesus took my sin, and I got his righteousness. That is how gospel stories work. . . . Whenever you love, you reenact Jesus’ death.

Consequently, gospel stories always have suffering in them. American Christianity has an allergic reaction to this part of the gospel. We’d love to hear about God’s love for us, but suffering doesn’t mesh with our right to “the pursuit of happiness.” So we pray to escape a gospel story, when that is the best gift the Father can give us. . . .

The Father wants to draw us into the story of his Son. He doesn’t have a better story to tell, so he keeps retelling it in our lives. As we reenact the gospel, we are drawn into a strange kind of fellowship (214).

When I begin praying Christ into someone’s life, God often permits suffering in that person’s life. If Satan’s basic game plan is pride, seeking to draw us into his life of arrogance, then God’s basic game plan is humility, drawing us into the life of his Son. The Father can’t think of anything better to give us than his Son. Suffering invites us to join his Son’s life, death, and resurrection (236).

Prayer and a Larger Story

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
I often find that when God doesn’t answer a prayer, he wants to expose something in me. Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own. We are in dialogue with a personal, divine Spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us. For God to act unthinkingly with our prayers would be paganism, which says the gods do our will in response to our prayers.

When someone’s prayers aren’t answered, I want to know the back-story. . . . Most of us isolate prayer from the rest of what God is doing in our lives, but God doesn’t work that way. Prayer doesn’t exist in some rarified spiritual world; it is part of the warp and woof of our lives. Praying itself becomes a story (168).

If the [answer] comes too quickly, there is no room for discovery, for relationship. . . . The waiting that is the essence of faith provides the context for relationship. Faith and relationship are interwoven in dance. Everyone talks now about how prayer is relationship, but often what people mean is having warm fuzzies with God. Nothing wrong with warm fuzzies, but relationships are far richer and more complex (190-191).

Do you see the difference between making an isolated prayer request and praying in context of the story that God is weaving? . . . Most of our prayers are answered in the context of the larger story that God is weaving.

To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:
  1. Don’t demand that the story go your way. . . .
  2. Look for the Storyteller. Look for his hand, and then pray in light of what you are seeing. . . .
  3. Stay in the story. Don’t shut down when it goes the wrong way (201).
Aaron Orendorff
If I’m being honest (and good books have a tendency to make a person honest), when it comes to prayer, my gauge as to whether God is listening and responding almost always boils down to little more than whether or not life is going the way I want it. And of course, this feeling is as fickle as it is petty. For example, from 9am-noon, life goes well, I feel good about how “things” (usually meaning my own worth and reputation) are progressing and so (naturally) I feel “close” to God, assured that the Father hears and answers. Then, I have a bad lunch, someone treats me poorly, life goes sideways (and not even crazy sideways, mind you, it just doesn’t go the way I want), I look bad or I feel bad or I just feel awkward and suddenly, “Where’s God? This is just want I expected.” Fear comes crashing in and all of my “warm fuzzies,” as Miller calls them, go tumbling here and there.

But to live within a story larger than my own, one in which God is both the author and hero (which means, of course, by uncomfortable but refreshing consequence, that I myself am not) is an invitation to pray not that my kingdom come, nor that my will be done, but to instead ask for His. It is to pray as an agent of the coming kingdom. To pray with and for kingdom ends: ends that are better though not always in line with my own. Though such prayer is often more mysterious and far less like the spiritual, lottery ticket I oh-so-desperately want, it is prayer that matters, prayer that invites relationship, prayer that reaches beyond life on my terms and begins (slowly and with faltering success) to grow larger than good feelings about how I look.

Asking, Power and “Learned Desperation”

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
The issue of power—the ability to make a difference, to change something—is at the heart of asking (113).

[P]ower in prayer comes from being in touch with your weakness. To teach us to pray, Jesus told stories of weak people who knew they couldn’t do life on their own. The persistent widow and the friend at midnight get access, not because they are strong [nor because their requests are “spiritual” or even all that altruistic] but because they are desperate. Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life (114).

All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask. His greatest concern is that our failure or reluctance to ask keeps us distant from God. But that is not the only reason he tells us to ask anything. God wants to give us good gifts. He love to give. . . . Deep down, we just don’t believe God is as generous as he keeps saying he is (154-155).
Luke 11:9-13
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Cross, Cynicism and God’s Love

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
Audacious faith is one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ followers. . . . Jesus isn’t just offering practical wisdom. His wisdom works because in his death he himself acted boldly, trusting his Father to help him. While Jesus is hanging on the cross, the religious leaders cynically mock him for his childlike trust. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. . . . He trusts in God; let God deliver him” (Matthew 27:42-43). In effect they are saying, “Look what happens when you act like a child and trust your Father. He abandons you.” They accuse Jesus of naïveté, of acting foolishly because he believes in God’s goodness.

Jesus’ childlike faith delighted in his Father, and on Easter morning his Father acted on Jesus dead body, bringing him back to life. He trusted in God; God delivered him. Evil did not have the last word. Hope was born (84-85).

Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God’s care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one.

In the face of Adam and Eve’s evil, God takes up needle and thread and patiently sews fine leather clothing for them (see Genesis 3:21). He covers their divided, hiding selves with love. The same God permits his Son to be stripped naked so we could be clothed. God is not cynical in the face of evil. He loves (90-91).