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Sin in the City and the Ten Commandments

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

You will rarely hear a politician say, “This is as good as it gets,” or see an advertisement that promises that this will leave you with nothing better than you already have. We all live with the assumption that there is a better and a worse, even if we cannot agree on what is good or evil. This is how we evaluate life. It does not matter if we are Christians or not Christian.

In Genesis we read that God created and he declared his creation to be good, but then sin enters; we are living in a fallen world, under a curse. God created good and that creation is now broken. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.[1] wrote, “… even when it is familiar, sin is never normal. Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Sin is always a departure from the norm and is assessed accordingly.” Sin is common; it is part of our daily lives but not normal, according to God’s intent. Sin is not the way it is supposed to be.

If we get the biblical teaching about “sin” wrong, we get everything else wrong. During our CityGate Gospel in Society sessions, we spend several days looking at the issue of sin in preparation for a reflection on, “What is the gospel?” Our view of sin affects our view of God’s grace. We study Genesis, chapters 1-3 extensively, looking at God’s good creation and how sin entered, bringing death. The Hebrew understanding of death is separation. We begin to articulate our belief about what is, and is not, sin and who defines it for us. We look at sin as the perversion of good, as a parasite that damages and twists what was created as good. We look at addictions and our struggles with sin as it distorts and corrupts.

In a simple exercise we call “Sin in the City”, we try to identify the impact of sin on the structures of society as they influence everyone’s daily life. With the Ten Commandments and a pen in their hands, participants are sent out to explore the city and look for examples of violations, or structures that society has developed to manage disobedience to God’s law.

We experience the fall in our everyday reality. Not in some religious reality but in the rough and tumble of daily life, in the cycle of morning and evening. We must not be surprised that life is not as good as we would like it to be. We must learn to discern between the good and the bad, which runs through every aspect of life. There is no place in the Christian life for idealism. Thousands of years of depravity have corrupted us systematically, socially and personally. We do not trust as we would like. We set up bureaucratic systems to control and restrain ourselves and in the midst of these we see beautiful acts of kindness and great dignity.

When thinking about the Ten Commandments, our first thoughts are all those “thou shalt nots” and how they affect me personally. But do we consider the consequences of disobedience through all the millennia in how our societies function and organise themselves? Sin is not only personal. Much of our society is structured around the management of sin. Look at the commandments; look at the world around you. How have we organised life to work around the fact that we are committed to the violation of God’s law? What structures have we put in place to deal with sin? This costs vast amounts of capital and social energy that could go into something much richer and more glorious. How much more could we have discovered about the world around us if these resources were released from “sin maintenance”?

The participants come back from their excursions with a wide range of observations, perceptions and violations. They begin to see the world in some small way as God sees it. We ask them to identify the commandment that goes with their example. Responses include: fences, guard dogs, bars on the windows, keys and locks which are structures to manage murder, stealing, and coveting. The police and palace of justice (court house) are there because we don’t honour our parents, we bear false witness against our neighbours, we steal, murder and covet. They have wondered if banks are needed, in part because of stealing, and even as a place to protect our “other gods”. Millions of viewers of adult cable TV, pin numbers, cars with locks, computer viruses, adulterous homes—how many of these things are common for us? We even make them beautiful: ornate gates, exquisitely tooled, wrought iron bars on the windows, gold initialled key rings. How used to working on Sunday, security cameras, locking up the car and house securely, or even chaining the lawn chairs together, are we? This is not the way things were meant to be. It is abnormal, well below the standard. What is familiar must never be considered normal merely because it is so widespread.

The impact of sin on our world is far-reaching, affecting who we are, our societies and how we function. Consider the economic consequences of breaking the commandments. Vast amounts of capital have been put into elaborate security systems in order to protect our things. Theft adds about 9% to the cost of everything we buy; in Central Europe corruption adds another 9%. The consequences of sin affect us as individuals, as people relating to others, to our communities and societies and the way they function. There is fragmentation in people’s lives because of ill-treatment of parents, children and neighbours.

The God of the universe decides what is good and what is evil.[2] The Puritan, Thomas Watson, writes, “Though man has lost his power of obeying, God has not lost his right of commanding.”[3] ”A Christian mourns that he cannot keep the commandments fully. When he fails he weeps: he is not angry with the law because it is so strict, but he is angry with himself because he is so deficient. He takes a sweet, complacent delight in the law. Though a Christian cannot keep God’s law, yet he loves his law; though he cannot serve God perfectly, yet he serves him willingly. He really endeavours to obey God’s law perfectly; and wherein he comes short he runs to Christ’s blood to supply his defects.”[4]

What is our response to sin? Do we see the results of sin; do we even notice them anymore? Or have we accepted the commonness of sin as normal? Are we angry at the consequences of it, both in our own lives and in the society around us? Are we learning to hate what God hates and love what he loves? Do we long for the good and hate what is evil? Are we learning to withhold judgement on others and to discern the times? We must not make the mistake of thinking that everything in the Christian is good and “the world” is bad, because we are “them”. We should not forget that Christ called us to be restored humans. We are all human; the difference is that we are forgiven humans. The dividing line of good and evil runs through every human heart.

[1] “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. A Breviary of Sin”, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. 1995, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (p.5, 88).

[2] Udo Middleman in a lecture at CityGate, 2003

[3] “The Ten Commandments”, Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth Trust (page 185)

[4]“The Ten Commandments”, Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth Trust (page 188)

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