I recently heard someone speaking of a hometown acquaintance with some disdain. After relaying that this person had struggled with a long illness and eventually died, she added a comment about his family, followed with the phrase, “He was living in sin.”
Now I have been blessed to live in the Bible belt all my life (and indeed, it is a blessing – but that is another post for another day). So I know all that is implied by the phrase, “living in sin.” I’ve heard it a hundred times before. I’ve probably even used it a few times in theological conversation to avoid speaking directly about sexual relations. And being a pastor and teacher of God’s Word, I certainly respect, support, and encourage the keeping God’s commands to the best of our abilities with regard to sexuality, as well as every aspect of our lives.
But for some reason, hearing that phrase from someone else’s lips really cut me to the heart. Never had my ears heard it with the intrinsic deprecation it so aptly conveys. And then, in the same instant, came a flicker of realization, a moment of clarity in the midst of the common commotion of life. – And a question: “Aren’t we are all ‘living in sin?'”
The answer to this question is a resounding and humbling, “YES!” In his letter to the churches in Rome, St. Paul writes with both certainty and humility, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:22b-23, ESV).
There is no distinction among believers. No one keeps God’s commands perfectly. No one lives without sin. All of humanity sins and falls short, even saints, martyrs, missionaries, disciples, and yes, even pastors. We are all guilty as charged, condemned as “living in sin” by the Law of God’s commands.
But we are not without hope. Because we are marked with the cross of Christ and place our trust upon Him, we are also clothed in His righteousness. Jesus alone is without sin. He alone has never and will never fail or fall short in keeping God’s commands. He is the culmination and the fulfillment of the Law.
And on the cross Jesus accomplished what no saint, martyr, missionary, disciple, or pastor could ever do. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself, died, and rose again to new life; that with Him, in Him, we too may die to sin and be raised to newness of life. “By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV)
This is our aim as Christians, our baptismal and daily calling: to give up our way of living and take up, instead, the cruciform way of Christ-like, resurrected life, that we may live into His righteousness, and so give glory to God.
Do we still sin and fall short? Of course! Everyone of us, every day of our lives! But just as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” so all, St. Paul continues, “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22b-25, ESV)
So let there be no distinction among us. We are all living in sin. But in Christ, we all, too, share in His redemption. Let us also share His grace and His love. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV)