From the Head to the Heart is a blog series exploring common issues people may encounter that prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. We will then dig into strategies for helping make the connection between the head and the heart.
In the movie, The Matrix the protagonist, Neo, has the curtain slightly pulled back on the world he lives in to reveal an evil presence that he never knew existed. Life is much darker and corrupt than Neo knew to be possible. After getting a glimpse of the reality that surrounds him, he’s given a choice to have his eyes opened even more to the reality of life, or, return to a blissful ignorance and forget everything he saw and experienced. Morpheus said to Neo, “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” Neo takes the red pill offered by Morpheus, and his eyes are opened to a world he had lived in his entire life, and yet never truly saw the evil that encompassed what he thought he knew so well. I often think of an increased awareness of sin here on earth as taking the red pill Morpheus offered to Neo. Once mindfulness of sin starts to grow it is as though you see the world for how it truly is, much like Neo did by taking the red pill. The depths of the rabbit hole (i.e., your realization of sin in the world) is far deeper than your mind is capable of comprehending. The farther down the hole you go, the more you begin to see how sin has permeated the entire world in which you live. A wise mentor once said to me that people need to see the stark difference between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. If you read Genesis 3 and do not come away seeing the massive atomic destruction that has occurred after Adam and Eve sin, then you are missing the bigger picture of the reality with which we all live. Sadly, many people choose to take the “blue pill” and live in ignorance of how sin has been like a cancer that is eating away at this world.
The ultimate barrier of connecting the head to the heart with God is the presence of sin all around us. The following blog will be broken into two parts. Part 1 will address what exactly is sin while part 2 will focus on the subtle slide of giving into sinful temptations.
DEFINING THE “S” WORD
Wayne Grudem, author of Systematic Theology, will be our Morpheus as he will show us what is down the rabbit hole to a world of sin with which we are surrounded. To know what sin is it needs to be defined. Grudem provides the following definition of sin: “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” Grudem states that certain common definitions of sin are not satisfactory. For instance, many people define sin as selfishness, however, Grudem points out that Scripture does not define selfishness as sin. Yes, sin can be a selfish act. However, you can be selfish in your desire to grow in righteousness and maturity as a Christian which is not sin. Also, God wants to be glorified, which many may argue is selfish. However, Scripture states God is without sin, therefore, selfishness cannot equal sin.
Grudem pulls his definition of sin from Scripture (e.g., 1 John 3:4; Proverbs 6:16-19) which is where we must look to know exactly what sin is and how it impacts us all. To understand failure in the moral law of God, you must first know the moral law of God. That means you need to be reading Scripture to fully understand what sin is.
Sin first enters the picture through the narrative of Adam and Eve. Grudem asks three questions (what is true?, what is right?, who am I?) that get at the heart of sin, which led Adam and Eve to give in to temptation and which leads all of us to eat of the same fruit with which Adam and Eve ate.
What is true?
Grudem writes, “Whereas God had said that Adam and Eve would die if they ate from the tree (Genesis 2:17), the serpent said, ‘you shall not die’ (Genesis 3:4). Eve decided to doubt the veracity of God’s word and conduct an experiment to see whether God spoke truthfully.” Now, before we turn and judge Eve’s choice, we must realize that we too question what is true. We are daily tempted to decide for ourselves what is truth based on our own knowledge. According to God’s word, the only truth is the truth that is defined solely by God. I do not know about you, however, daily I get caught in the web of doubting God’s truth and seek to discern truth as I see it. For instance, spouting my opinions on various topics is me asserting my perceived truth based on my knowledge apart from God. Another trap many people fall into is questioning the truth of Scripture. Maybe you succumb to the temptation to believe your thoughts about who God is above what Scripture says. For example, many Christians wrestle with how the Old Testament reveals God as wrathful and angry. Such individuals choose to believe their perceived truth about God over what his word says about him. An example of a perceived truth about God can be that God is mean and angry when the Bible says God is justice and loving. We can all give into this temptation.
What is right?
Another temptation we give into is defining morality by what is right in our own eyes.
Sin strikes at the basis of moral standards, for it gave a different answer to the question what is right? God said it was morally right for Adam and Eve to not eat from the fruit of that one tree (Genesis 2:17). But the serpent suggested that it would be right to eat of the fruit and that in eating it Adam and Eve would become “like God.” Eve trusted her evaluation of what was right and what would be satisfying to her, rather than allowing God’s words to define good and evil.
How many times throughout the day do you seek to be like Eve in evaluating what is good and wrong? Not only do I think I know what is true but I also fall into the trap of believing I know what is right and evil. Regularly, you take a bite of the fruit of discerning you know what is good and bad. For example, when I’m driving I’m regularly judging other drivers as driving either the “right” or “wrong” way. I seek to put myself in the position of evaluating what a person does as right or wrong. Politics is another vehicle in which people regularly fall trap to sharing what they believe is good and evil and then others are judged as being wrong when their views differ. Sadly, evaluating good and evil seeps from our pores, we are not able to stop ourselves from judging others. Even if such judgment is not verbally expressed, it is thought.
Who am I?
Does sin give a different answer to the question who am I? Grudem remarks,
The correct answer was that Adam and Eve were creatures of God, dependent on him and always to be subordinate to him as their Creator and Lord. But Eve, and then Adam, succumbed to the temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), thus attempting to put themselves in place of God.
How often do you think of yourself as a creature created by a Creator who is to be subordinate? Your identity is first and foremost a creature created by God. How odd would it be if we were to see something we created to function in a capacity outside of it's created design? For example, if a telephone were to try to act like a vacuum or vice versa. Most people would find such a thing to be absurd so why do we not find it ridiculous that we are not functioning the way God designed us to work? Sadly, we live in a culture where the answer to the question (who am I?) is often answered by what you do for a living, being a parent, spouse, intelligent, attractive, etc. Who you are is an image bearer of the living God who created you for a very particular purpose, to live within the boundaries of his truth and his morality. To rebel against God’s created design is to succumb to the temptation to be “like God” in discerning on your own what is true and right. By definition, this is what it means to sin.
Grudem comments that it should be noted that all sin is irrational. Have you ever thought about the reality that rationale is solely defined by God? When you seek to determine what is true and right apart from God, you are irrational. You are trying to be like God by putting yourself on the throne of knowing truth and setting your own moral standards of right and wrong.
In The Matrix, Morpheus is providing Neo a reality check of what he perceived to be rational. In actuality, Neo lived in an irrational world in which he had no idea he was living. He had been blinded to the reality of the creation around him and his place within it. Sin is in all people, and therefore it is in all arenas of life. Nothing in this world is void of the impact of sin. All governments and elected officials are wasting away from the cancer that is sin. Everything taught, created, and written is stained by sin. Like Neo, we are so accustomed to this world that is completely blind to the evil that encapsulates us. If you’ve seen The Matrix, then you know that once Neo took the red pill, he had a whole world of darkness open up that he never knew existed. What his eyes were opened to was beyond his mind’s capability of imagining. It was far worse than he could ever fathom.
Sin is the ultimate barrier between knowing God intimately as opposed to knowing about God intellectually. To begin to know God intimately is to know what his answers are to the questions of what is true, what is right, and who are you? The process of moving toward knowing God at the heart level is to become aware of the times you seek to define what is true or right as a result of trying to be like God. When you become aware of sinning in this way the process of moving toward God in growth is one of confession and repentance.
A friend of mine once provided the following illustration of sin. Say you are standing in the middle of a football field between God and the temptation to sin. Picture yourself on the fifty-yard line. In one end zone is God and in the other is a sinful temptation. When you give into the temptation to sin -- i.e., to be like God in discerning truth and morality apart from him -- then you are moving toward the end zone of sinful temptation. In moving toward that end zone, you are automatically turning your back on God and moving away from him, creating distance between the two of you. To acknowledge your sinfulness in seeking to be like God in discerning truth and morality, you turn away from the end zone of sinful temptation and move toward God. The distance between you and sin grows broader while the gap between you and God shrinks. Repentance is the process of turning back toward God by acknowledging his rightful authority in your life and the world he created. Here’s the hard reality, we are all facing and moving toward one of the two end zones. The question you need to wrestle with is which end zone are you moving towards?
A prayer for you: Abba Father, your word tells us that “for our sake, he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Lord, I pray that my brothers and sisters would have your Holy Spirit illuminate the truth of what sin is so that the truth of your Word becoming flesh becomes their reality. May we grow in understanding what sin is so that we can grow in shouting praises toward the one who took on the sins of the world. Amen.
Exercise: Take some time to engage the three questions (What is right?; What is true?; Who am I?) discussed in the post. Ask yourself how you go about discerning the answers to the questions in any given situation you face throughout your day. Do you think other people close to you will agree with your answers to the questions in any given circumstance?
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.