CS Lewis famously once said:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
I personally know many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, who fall all too easily into one or other of these errors not about devils, but about sin.
How many churches have we attended, visited or heard about which seem to have strict moral codes of conduct where following the rules is essential to membership?
And how many churches do we know where the message is all about ‘love and peace’, where what matters is simply feeling better about our lives?
This is not to tarnish all churches with the same brush by any means! Simply an acknowledgement that there are churches which seem to focus on avoiding committing sins and there are churches which seem to pretend that sin isn’t an issue.
To paraphrase Lewis, There are two equal and opposite errors into which our churches can fall when it comes to talking about sin. One is disbelieve it’s a problem. The other is to believe it is, and to feel an excessive pressure to focus on sins.
I’ve written before about the relationship between the Gospel Grace of Christ and the Judaic Law. It is how different churches understand this relationship which ultimately shapes the way they teach and preach (or not) about sin.
I’ve found it thought provoking to listen to a non-Christian talking about sin and I’m curious as to how their way of approaching it can help us reflect on how we approach sin.
A Non-Christian take on the value of Sin
The author, Mike Cernovich, is an interesting man who runs Danger&Play. The site is primarily aimed at men and discusses and demonstrates the importance of mindset for living a successful life. Regardless as to whether or not one agrees with his political or ideological views, Cernovich has successfully built up a dedicated following – in particular with his podcasts.
A couple of years ago he did a podcast called ‘3 Self-Improvement Lessons from the Bible‘.
In this podcast he dismisses the idea that the Bible has no value for non-Christians.
Taking a philosophical approach, he divides the Bible into Metaphysics and Ethics. Despite rejecting the biblical narrative of Jesus as God or the Christian conception of creation, he finds it a valuable source of information and wisdom when it comes to Ethics.
Whilst making it clear that he doesn’t subscribe to Judeo-Christian morality, and he presents ‘three powerful metaphors that will improve your life’.
Three Biblical Metaphors
- “The Wages of Sin are Death”
Put simply, sin means ‘behaviour which leads to an unwanted outcome’.
Cernovich advocates examining one’s behaviours with the question: What is going to start happening to me if I keep doing this in ten years?
He gives a couple of examples of what he thinks are sinful, such as constantly seeking out material to read on the internet which will make you angry, and that being generally angry leads to self-medicating with food or alcohol or other things. He includes not thinking like an entrepreneur, or to not exercising discipline; failing to be vigilant. At one point he asks, ‘are you being a sinner?’
Many many things you might not think of being sinful, are sinful.
Is watching pornography a sin? Maybe.
Some of you guys medicate yourselves with the pornography. You watch the pornography, jerk off and get dopamines and opiates in your body and then you play your video games. Where is that going to get you? Where are you going to be in ten years? A Porn Addict? Fat? Health problems, no vitality? That’s sinful behaviour.
- Keep your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Remembering the parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25, he suggests that the moral of the story is to always be prepared. It’s important to always have your light on, you are your own marketing so represent yourself at all times. Be ready for opportunity every time you go out. Be vigilant, be prepared and focus on your mindset and approach to life every time you leave your house. Each of these are ‘straight out of the bible and directly applicable to your life’.
People want to go out and do bad things. Saturday night people want to go out and get wasted. Okay – the wages of sin are death. Go out and get wasted tonight and you’re going to wake up with a hangover. Are you going to be working on your business tomorrow morning? Highly doubt it.
And this divorced completely from any Judeo-Christian conception of sin. I would just say look at what you’re behaviour is and look at what outcomes you’re getting; then ask your self if you’re living a sinful life; ask yourself if you’re keeping your lamps trimmed and burning.
– 10:40-50, 12:35-43
- Parable of the Talents
The last of the three metaphors is the parable of the talents, also from Matthew 25. Cernovich describes this as his absolute favourite parable, even out of all Aesop’s fables. He tells the story and asks what talents we have, what are we doing with our talents? The rhetorical inference throughout this section is that if you want to achieve something then you have to start. You can’t just sit around in fear that you won’t be good enough or capable – that would be burying your talent in the ground and nothing would happen.
Cernovich then goes on to talk about the value of loyalty and integrity. Put yourself in the place of the Master. Lend money to people that ask but don’t ask for it back and you’ll see who’s a positive person and who’s a negative person to have in your life.
My take on this
Naturally enough as a Christian with a love of theology I cannot respond to this and say that I entirely agree with Mike Cernovich’s understanding of sin. However, he is explicitly setting out to separate the metaphysical from the ethical and as such it’s inevitable that he would arrive at a non-gospel grounded conception of sin.
That said, what he’s said is not wrong. In fact, it’s a darn sight better understanding of sin than I have heard in some places. From my perspective, it’s not a case of rejecting what Cernovich has presented in this short podcast, but rather seeking to place the beneficial elements he has removed from their metaphysical context back into a more rounded conception of sin. We would want to have a more holistic understanding of sin, and we would also want to assert the supremacy of Christ over sin and to present the Gospel as something which is not just a nice story, but something which is true and intrinsically valuable to our lives, renewing and transforming us day by day.
What I find most interesting about Cernovich’s approach to talking about sin is just how practical it is. His approach makes sin quantifiable and definable, and once it can be measured it can be engaged with, strived against and overcome.
Responses to Cernovich’s Podcast
This practical nature has enabled Cernovich to use these biblical metaphors to be able to talk to a group of men about how to evaluate their lives and to identify what they need to work on if they want to improve themselves and achieve their goals. For proof, just look at some of the comments on his podcast:
“Solid podcast Mike, thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“Talk about coincidental.
I was thinking about all the things that I’m NOT doing in order to be prepared to… just prior to this podcast.
My lamp is NOT trimmed and burning.
I realized all of these things, then just so happened to listen to this podcast.
How ——- fitting, Mike.
I’ve seen guys on here say before that your article is exactly what they needed to hear at the time. Just happened to me.
“I enjoyed this podcast a lot, I knew I had to make time for it to devote my full attention to the message.”
“Another valuable podcast Mike. I might read more of the bible now but with a different filter. Particularly liked the notion of always being prepared and maintaining high standards. ‘How I do anything is how I do everything'”
These men listening to this podcast have spent 18 minutes, the same kind of length as a sermon in many churches, listening to Cernovich present three biblical metaphors and they valued it. As any priest or minister will tell you, that’s an achievement!
Returning to the ‘two errors’, to the temptations to either focus obsessively on moral conduct or to ignore the reality of sin, it seems that we need to be encouraged that it can be possible to talk about sin in a constructive way. What we need to do as Christians it to be confident that we can actually communicate an understanding of sin in ways which are both informative of our belief in the Gospel, and adds practical value to the lives of those we encounter.
I’ll end with three thoughts:
- We should talk about and reflect on Sin – it’s important.
- Talking about sin never comes without talking about the Gospel; both what Jesus has done for us, and what he has set us free to do for ourselves.
- Being disciplined about sin and living righteously is good, but obsessing over it is not.
Remember, Jesus says ‘My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’