Last week while hanging out with the AU United Methodists we encountered the subject of sin, how sin affects the people around us, the nature of sin and how to overcome sin. While being with a group of close friends, eating snacks and trying to embrace the autumn weather that has finally come to the District, we thought of ways of how acknowledge sin, repent for sin and overcome sin. We threw around ideas from various Christian traditions on describing the nature of sin, acknowledging sin and overcoming sin. In the end the group decided that we should learn from other Christian traditions and their handling of sin, since each tradition has a helpful and unique way of dealing with the topic. But I thought I would focus this post on how the Episcopal Church understands the nature of sin and how to overcome sin.
“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”
This is the statement of confession in the Episcopal Church and is said as a congregation or by oneself in prayer. This confession of sin serves as a reminder that all people sin including the priest, who also says the confession of sin along side the congregation. As with all prayers and statements recited in the Episcopal Church, there is a substantial amount of theology found in the confession of sin.
The confession states that we sin against God by having negative thoughts and actions, both done and not yet done, towards other people and not by treating others as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. This also means that we can sin against each other and God while not intending to so and as a result we are not always aware of our sins. This is why confession is always said during any kind of service to acknowledge that we, as humans, are not perfect and are capable of sinning intentionally and unintentionally.
The Episcopal Church teaches that sin is caused when we, as Christians, fall away from God and put ourselves above God. This will destroy our relationship with God, with others and with God’s creation. In other words one can say that we loose our liberty when our relationship with God is not what it should be and, thus, sin has power over us. It is important to remember that humans are created in the image of God and are capable of following God’s will, however we have fallen from God’s will by inheriting Adam and Eve’s sin. This is known as original sin or ancestral sin depending on various church theologies. What should also be known is that humans are capable of following God’s will and not all hope is lost with the doctrine of original sin. With that said, humans are able to choose between following God’s will and not. It should also be kept in mind that God is a merciful God and that violence and suffering caused by humans is not a representation of God.
The big question to answer here is why humans are able to choose between following God’s and not. This answer lies in the teachings of human nature and what human nature is. Frist off humans are part of God’s creation and there for are made in the image of God. This means that we, as humans, posses some God like qualities and are able to follow God’s will. Being made in the image of God also means that we are free to make our own choices: love, create, reason and live in peace with creation and God. With this blessing also comes a curse: we are free to make our own choices. Having the freedom to make our own choices is wonderful if we make the right choices and don’t cause harm, violence and pain to others. Having the freedom to make our own choices becomes a curse when we make the wrong choices that cause hurt, pain and violence. This, as people might already guess, is sin. This happens because we fall away from God and replace God with ourselves. This falling away from God is also seen has being in a state of hell in the Episcopal Church (not all Episcopalians believe in this).
To overcome sin humans have to recognize that sin causes us not to become close to God and that we have to overcome sin to be close with God. But because humans are not perfect, we will always sin. Just because we sin doesn’t mean we cannot be close with God. This is the struggle within Christianity. Christians want be close to God but as humans, we sin and then fall away from God but if we are aware that we sin and seek forgiveness from God, then we can become closer to God.
To become closer to God we have to realize that we sin. Being aware that we sin is a hard idea to come to terms with and if we can, some people will ignore the fact that they cause hurt and pain. To be more aware that we sin, people should be more mindful of their actions and the consequences those actions will have. Having to say a statement of confession during church also helps us to be aware that we sin intentionally and unintentionally since having negative thoughts also counts as sin. Having a confessor also helps with the awareness that we as well since being required to tell a Father about our actions and being accountable helps people to come to terms with their actions, to talk about them, how to reconcile their actions and then asking others to forgive them. On this same note, what doesn’t help people to come to terms with sin or negative actions towards others is saying that God already forgives sin and there for should not have to be worried about sinful actions. The issue with this belief is that it doesn’t force a person to come to terms with actions and the hurt it causes others but instead encourages a person to think that the only entity they have hurt is God. This, as we know, is not true because God will forgive but people will remain to be hurt by negative actions. To be forgiven of sin, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness but also and even more importantly, the forgiveness from others whom we have hurt.