Forming Faith Blog

Sin, Shalom, and Jesus (June 2, 2019)

Broken glass. Sin is a disruption, or breaking, of God's shalom.

As I have mentioned before, sometimes reading Paul makes my head swim. It’s not really Paul’s fault; he is just trying to explain a reality that is beyond our concrete experience of this world. The work of God in Jesus is not about a change in job, clothes, or ZIP code. It does involve a change in how we behave and how we view our world, but those changes don’t define God’s work.

Defining Our Terms

One of the critical first steps in having a fruitful conversation, debate, or teaching is to define our terms. The whole point of words and our organization of them (grammar) is to communicate thoughts and ideas. If we don’t have a shared understanding of those words, communication breaks down. Too often, terms are not defined, and communication suffers. Our arguments are not resolved, or people walk away with different ideas of what just happened.

What Is Sin?

One of the terms that is critical to Paul’s thought (and a whole lot of Scripture) is sin. Sin is a topic that many people nowadays feel uncomfortable with. Part of this discomfort is indeed a desire to avoid feelings of guilt and shame, which are kind of the point of talking about sin. However, depending on where you fall on the theological spectrum, discomfort can be caused by the (mis)use of sin and judgment by many of the dominant (loud) voices in our religious and political atmosphere.

Sin and Law

One of the primary, popular understandings of sin is the violation of God’s law. I don’t know that this can be denied. Sin is the breaking of God’s law. However, when limited to this legal understanding, a legalistic view of sin and sinners can emerge. Specific sins can be highlighted, and others can be downplayed. This can lead to self-righteousness, where “those sinners” need to repent and change, but we don’t.

Sin and Grace

Another view popular among the children of the Reformation involves an abstraction of the legal metaphor. God judges us all guilty of sin, worthy of judgment, but Jesus steps in and takes that judgment away from us, so we are free from that judgment. Again, as a child of the Reformation myself, I cannot argue with this main premise. However, this view can lead to a disconnect between the work of God in Jesus and the importance of ethical behavior. That’s the pitfall that Paul is addressing in Romans 6.

What are we to say? Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound?

Romans 6:1

God forgives all our sins, so what is our motivation for stopping our sinful behaviors?

Sin and Shalom

A definition of sin that has been helpful to me connects sin to the concept of shalom (learned secondhand from Cornelius Plantinga). Shalom is the way God created the world to be. It is the web of our relationships with God, others, creation, and ourselves defined by love, justice, and joy. Shalom is the world defined by loving God and others. It is the kingdom of God. Evil, then, is anything that disrupts shalom. Sin is specifically the things we do that disrupt shalom, as well as our state of being where sinful actions are natural.  

Shalom and the Law

Placed in this context, God’s law is meant to point us to a community and life defined by shalom. So, yes, sin is the violation of God’s law, but more deeply it is the disruption of shalom. The work of God in Jesus is to establish shalom (the kingdom of God), both now (in part) and in the future (fully). Now, we receive forgiveness and reconciliation, the love of God, to experience in part. In the future, we will experience God’s shalom completely.

Seeing sin as a disruption of God’s shalom, and not just a violation of God’s legal code, makes it easier (for me) to see the connection between grace and ethical behavior. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, but we are also called to spread God’s love/shalom. That’s our job. And, we cannot spread God’s love by words alone, but by living this love for God, others, creation, and ourselves.

The Shape of Peace

In addition to defining our terms, it is also helpful for disciples of all ages to use their artistic sides in learning and exploring. Our free activity this week “Sculpting God’s Gifts” challenges participants to use chenille craft stems (popularly known as pipe cleaners) to create sculptures representing life ruled by sin and life ruled by God’s grace. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education product, which can also be purchased by the individual lesson!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched. Check out the announcement blog post for more details. All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence.

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