Who’re You Gonna Sin With?

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The late pioneer of Christian rock Larry Norman once sang, “Everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose, follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with.” I’ve always thought that was pretty clever. Because when you get right down to it, we are all making that choice.

Sometimes you hear people say they don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites. This is definitely true. But it’s not like the outside world is some kind of hypocrisy-free zone. Maybe you do see the same kinds of sins among Christians as you do among non-Christians, and this is a painful reality that the New Testament is neither ignorant of nor ambivalent about. And yet, one thing the church has going for it is that (most of) the people who align themselves with it acknowledge they are sinners!

This is what I take Larry Norman to mean—not that we ought to choose some people to willingly engage in sin with, but that we’re all sinners, and we’re going to fail and engage in relational messiness, so why not align with other people who realize that and are seeking help from Jesus? If I have no choice but to pick a culture to “sin with,” I’m going to pick the one that is warring against that sin, holding me accountable for that sin—perhaps even disciplining me for it—and constantly pointing me to the Jesus who forgives my sin, taking it to the cross in order to kill it.

We all have to choose who we’re going to sin with. Why not choose the church?

If we could understand just what is taking place spiritually in and through the messy fellowship of repenting sinners seeking help from God through Christ, we wouldn’t be so reluctant to immerse ourselves in its relationships. What prevents us from doing so, no matter our stated reasons, is the spirit of Babel.

Do you remember the story of the Tower of Babel? The people of earth sought to build a high tower, all the way to heaven (Genesis 11:1-9). They are blatant about their reasons for doing so: to “make a name for ourselves” (11:4). They are also concerned about dispersion, so in a way, they are trying to experience community. But it is not the kind of community God had mandated for them. This attempt at community is built on self-interest and human glory. If you know the story, you know what happens next.

So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. (11:8-9)

This is not the entrance of sin into the world; that happened at the fall of mankind when Adam disobeyed. But this ancient disaster is another great explanation for why our attempts at relationships and fellowship are so fraught with difficulty. We are, in effect, speaking different languages. I am trying to do relationships in a way that satisfies me; you are trying to do relationships in a way that satisfies you. We’re not on the same page, and we both think we’re going to lose if the other doesn’t get on ours.

This relational chaos becomes part of the communal DNA throughout the history that ensues. God’s people never can quite get it together. They turn on each other, and they become way too comfortable with the idolatry of the surrounding nations. But when we fast forward to the earthly ministry of Jesus and its after-effects, we see something astounding. What God had torn apart, he was beginning to put together.

Before Jesus’s death and resurrection, he tells his followers that he’s going to “go away” so that he can send the Helper to them. And after he ascends to heaven, he makes good on his promise. The Holy Spirit officially descends upon the earth, and he does so in dramatic fashion.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[ on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12)

It means that the Spirit is knitting back together by grace what had become unraveled by sin. Pentecost is the un-babeling of Babel.

Through the Spirit’s unifying work sinners can finally get on the same page, because the Spirit is helping us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. And when we all have our sights set on Jesus, we stop thinking about our own glory and begin basking in his.
And this new community re-knit together by the Spirit’s power is a new humanity, a new civilization within the world, a new culture running counter to the competing cultures of the world. And while this new community is made up of the same kinds of sinners you find in other places, it is nevertheless the only community that is going to prevail against the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18).

When you choose to sin with the world, you go the way the world is going. But when you choose to join the sinner-saints in the body of Christ, the same people you sin with are the people you’ll reign with.

If we’re going to spend eternity with these people, we should probably start figuring out how to live with them now. This is the whole point of human relationships, really—to glorify God by living graciously with others as Christ has lived graciously with us. When you think about it that way, taking the risk of engaging relationships in the church is no risk at all.

Excerpted from my book Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life

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