November 8 – A Root Sin?

November 8 – A Root Sin?

1 John 2:15-16

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

Many theologians hold there is a root sin from which all other sins grow, or a comprehensive sin that includes all others as aspects of the sin. What that basic sin might be, however, is a matter of strong disagreement. Since the great commandment is to love, some have held that the violation of this or the opposite of love must be the root sin. But what is the opposite of love? Is it positive hatred, or is it simple indifference? Misdirected love is a summary statement that might qualify as the root sin, but it is so general that it conveys little precise meaning.

Some hold that the opposite of love is selfishness and that this is the source from which all other evil flows. If the choice of self is the supreme end, it must, therefore, be the essence of sin. Others propose that rather than selfishness, as the root of sin, opposition to God’s character and will is the root of sin.

Since pride is the idolatry that enthrones oneself in God’s place, many, such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, have held that pride is the taproot of sin. Is not this the sin that brought down Lucifer?

On the other hand, since the right relationship to God is summarized in the great biblical concept of faith, it should come as no surprise that the Reformers Luther and Calvin held the root of all other sins to be unbelief.

Perhaps idolatry, refusing to allow God to be God in the kingdom of one’s life, could be considered the sin that summarizes the other sins. For example, unbelief is failing to acknowledge and trust God as God. Selfishness is replacing God with self, and pride is the same. Again, to fail in love is to fail in a right relationship to God first of all.

Or perhaps we should conclude that sin is so unutterably evil and so grotesquely complex that we shall never sort out all its hidden twistings and turnings. Perhaps our very disagreement serves to underscore the awful, incomprehensible nature of sin.

Sin is so hideous and destructive a force in our lives and in our society, it deserves our fullest hatred. But the sad thing is that none of us by nature hates sin. We may hate it in its final, gross manifestation. We may hate the results when they are painful or distasteful. We certainly may hate it in others. But we do not naturally hate sin in its beginning, enticing forms. And yet, we will never seek the cure until we see sin from the viewpoint of the Great Physician and abhor it.

Lists of sins. The medieval church identified seven deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Answering to these, the church also developed the seven cardinal (chief) virtues. To Plato’s four virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice were added the biblical qualities of faith, hope, and love.

The Apostle Paul presents eight lists of vices.[90] Of these sins Paul listed, it is noteworthy that Jesus also condemned fornication, lasciviousness, covetousness, railing, clamor, and deceit.

Basic sins. There is another way to put sins together in “affinity” groups or clusters. Scripture seems to identify certain basic sins of the spirit from which other sins flow. Each of these is the distortion of a good desire that God has put within us. We are created with the desire to enjoy things, the desire to have things, and the desire to accomplish things. When we fulfill these desires in a God-pleasing way, we are satisfied and God is satisfied. However, when we fulfill these in the wrong way, they become sin, sin that God categorizes as lust (the lust of the flesh), covetousness (the lust of the eye), and pride (the pride of life) (1 John 2:16).

When do these desires become evil? Note that temptation is not a sin. Temptation to do wrong is inevitable in the morally polluted environment in which we live. Christ himself was tempted in every way we can be tempted (Hebrews 4:15). We should not feel guilty because we are tempted to lust, covet, or to be proud. However, to yield to the thought is to sin. To entertain lustful thoughts, for example, is to “make provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14) and is wrong.

To break God’s laws in order to fulfill legitimate desires is wrong. For example, to lie in order to succeed or to cheat in order to possess is sinful. To fulfill legitimate desires in a wrong way, to go beyond God’s design, is to sin. Also, when the desire controls us, as in an addiction, that desire has, in a sense, become our God. This, of course, is sin.

Some people seek the solution to temptation by refusing these God-given desires. The desire to enjoy things is denied through asceticism and celibacy. The desire to have things is controlled with vows of poverty. The desire to achieve or to “be something” is controlled through monasticism. However, these are not biblical ways of handling our God-given desires. The Roman Catholic church, Buddhism, and Greek dualism have held that asceticism is the highest and best way. Our human desires are evil and are to be reduced or eliminated. But the great good news of Christianity is that Jesus came eating and drinking, teaching a life-affirming doctrine. These basic human desires are God-given and good. They are not to be suppressed or denied, but enjoyed.

Having said this, however, we must point out the biblical truth that these desires sometimes should be denied in order to demonstrate our love for God and our love for others. This is why the teaching of self-denial in Scripture is so clear and strong. Not asceticism for its own sake, but self-denial, when it is necessary to act in love for God or for others, is the biblical way. Self-denial is not a popular idea in our age or, in fact, in any age. But the way of the Cross is still the way of love. Nevertheless, in the normal flow of life, these basic drives are created by God to be fulfilled. They become sinful when abused or misused. And when this sin is repeated, it can become a habitual characteristic.

When one habitually gives in to the temptation to lust, he descends into a life pattern of sensualism. When covetousness becomes a way of life, one becomes a materialist. When pride reigns unchecked, the character becomes egotistical. Which habitual characteristic marks your life? Sensualism? Materialism? Egoism? How might you go outside God-given boundaries for these human desires?

[90] Rom. 1:29 ff.; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19 ff.; Eph. 4:31; 5:3; and Col. 3:5 ff.

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