On rationalization of sin


Gold BarsThis morning I read the story of Achan whose sin caused the defeat of Israel when they went up against Ai. This story can be found in Joshua 7:16-26.

As a 21st Century American, I bristle when I read this story. I want to tell God that it was such a little sin. It seems natural that Achan should desire the goods that he confiscated. He had a momentary lapse of judgment and for that he and his entire family got stoned?

The danger of grace is that we can take Grace for granted and lose perspective on how serious God is about sin. I once heard a definition of sin as man playing God in his own life. By this definition, anything that I do that is contrary to what God expects is a sin.

I observe in myself and I believe I observe in others that humans have an almost infinite capacity to rationalize sin and make it sound legitimate. In this we follow our first parents in their response to the very first sin. Adam blamed Eve (and God) and Eve blamed the serpent.

When confronted with sin, like Adam, I want to find a way to say that it is not my fault. But it is my fault, the fact is that I choose to disobey.

The fix for this problem is not a legalistic system of do’s and don’ts. Legalism exacerbates the problem by focusing attention on the symptoms rather than the disease. The disease is a heart that is unwilling to yield to God. Legalism does nothing to soften the damaged heart and bring it in submission to God.

Legalism produces two undesirable effects. For those who are successful at keeping the rules, pride sets in which makes the heart even more unresponsive to God. For those who recognize their inability to keep the rules, an inappropriate sense of unworthiness can set in. This sense of unworthiness can then trigger rejection of the very God who gives them worth.

The sin of Achan was not that he desired the loot. The sin was that he did not desire God more than the loot. As C. S. Lewis points out, the problem was not that Achan’s desires were too strong, they were weak and focused on the wrong thing.

We presume upon Grace when we rationalize sin. The fact that we don’t end up under a heap of stones is not because we don’t deserve that heap. I share in the sin of Achan and that is why this story makes me feel uncomfortable.