Listening to hymns this morning, I heard an old song that included this refrain: “I’m so glad He took my sins away. He took my sins away.” Though the sentiment the song expresses is meant to be fully in line with orthodoxy, the lyrics themselves struck me as espousing faulty theology.
The lyrics reminded me that there is a good deal of talk about sin that leads to a lack of clarity with respect to what we believe. Here, then, is my clarification of what we mean when we talk about sin.
There is a categorical distinction to maintain between the noun “sin” and the noun “sins.” Just as there is a difference between the concepts of light and lights.
Sin is the spiritual-genetic trait that all humanity inherited from our first parents. Sin is a spiritual-genetic trait that is ultimately fatal. Jesus’ work on the cross is the cure for this spiritual-genetic defect. By Christ’s atoning act, our sin condition is cured.
It is this sin condition, which affects us like a traumatic brain injury, that makes us people who commit sins. Sin contorts our thoughts and intentions, our desires and our deeds. However, since our sin condition has been cured, sin no longer has to drive our being in the world. Though we can still engage in sins ( in other words we can “sin” (verb)), we can also NOT engage in sins. The end of sin, resulting in the power to not sin (verb), is the gift that we celebrate when we talk about our gain from Christ’s sacrifice.
The trouble is that the habit of committing sins (sinning), passed down from generation to generation like language, is easy to continue in, and seemingly impossible to quit. These habits, like our first languages, feel natural to our lives. We began in them before we were born, while we were in our mothers’ wombs. Despite feeling natural, and pervasive, though, committing sins is habit only. Habit that, because of Christ, can be unlearned and resisted.
To return to the lyrics of the hymn, it would be a better expression of why we are joyful, to exchange the word “sins” for the word “sin” in this hymn. “I’m so glad he took my SIN away. He took my SIN away.” Our sin is gone. Our sins we will work on being rehabilitated from committing throughout our lives on earth.