Sin: An Essential 15 Minute Primer

What is sin?

Why is it such a big deal?

Who’s to blame?

What can be done about it?

Neal Plantinga answers these questions about sin in this brief video, which warrants repeat viewings:

Read Plantinga’s excellent essay about sin here.

Also read Plantinga’s devastatingly sublime book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

Using Your Imagination to Fight Sexual Sin

Like most men with a healthy libido, I too struggle with my oft sin-tinged imagination (yes, even as a very happily married man with a great wife and five kids.) And while I can quickly recall the seventh commandment regarding adultery and know Jesus’ words, “that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), sadly sometimes those texts (and similar passages) aren’t enough to curb the imagination.

But herein lies the problem. I’m not called to merely curb my lustful imagination. I’m called to kill it.

Or am I?

God doesn’t call us to kill our imaginations as much as redeem them.¹ Jesus didn’t come merely to redeem your soul from hell. Rather, he came to redeem all of you for himself. So how do you redeem lustful thoughts? Surely there’s no one right way, but here’s what I often do: I imagine.

I imagine that 30 years from now, my three sons and I are gathered together. One of them asks, “Dad, were you faithful to mom all these years?” Then I imagine what would happen if I weren’t faithful to her, looking into my sons’ eyes and shamefully telling them I wasn’t faithful. I imagine how this might affect their marriages, their fight with sexual sin, their raising their children in a hyper-sexualized culture.

But then I also imagine a very different answer. I imagine that I have been faithful to their mother all of these years, and I could look into my sons’ eyes, and without a shadow of doubt truthfully say, “Yes, I’ve been faithful to your mom all of these years. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it’s hard. But, by God’s grace I’ve been faithful to her.”

Yes, by God’s grace. But also with no small amount of redeemed imagination.

¹I fully realize that killing sin, i.e. mortification, is not an option for the Christian. But I consider the above exercise as a form of mortification, not antithetical to it. I also realize that the relationship between thoughts, imagination and fantasy is often complicated, as well as how sin influences both. Bottom line: there are many ways to kill sin (negative) and foster sanctification (positive). This is just one of the many tools in my arsenal that has helped me over the years. Your situation may be very different from mine (i.e. female, married/single, no kids, etc.). The question before us all is the same: How might a redeemed imagination look given your context? 

Now Available: Plantinga and Douthat Audio on Sin

Neal Plantinga and Ross Douthat’s talks about sin—Plantinga discussing sin’s essence and force, laced with many pop culture references, with Douthat discussing sin’s migration in the US—are now available in here.

The audio session is one hour, with both speakers evenly divided, followed by a 90 minute Q and A. While I commend them both, if you have time to listen to only one, listen to Plantinga’s (i.e. the first 35 minutes). Concise, lucid and sane, it’s a tour de force description and defense of sin—among the best I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t consider yourself a Christian, I think you’ll find Plantinga’s talk (given to journalists) refreshing yet challenging. Give it a listen.

Douthat’s talk is briefly discussed here, along with some photos of the event.

Transcripts of both talks will be available within a few weeks, and I’ll post them here.

          Update: Transcripts of Douthat and Plantinga’s talks on sin are now available here.

So Long, Sin. Hello “Ceasingly Cheerful Worship”

Sin. Lament. Confession.

According to Cornelius Plantinga Jr., senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, these words and concepts are absent in many evangelical—even confessionally Reformed—churches in the United States.

So what’s the dominant tone and tenor of these churches?

Ceasingly cheerful worshiper? Yes. says Plantinga.

Ceasingly cheerful worshipers? Yes, says Plantinga. And it’s not good.

Ceasingly cheerful worship.”

Plantinga, along with The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, spoke at the Ethics and Policy Public Center’s recent 2014 Faith Angle Forum on the topic “Whatever Became of Sin—2014 Edition.”

Read Plantinga’s perceptive comments and consequences of this shift here.

Also read Plantinga’s bracing book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be:  A Breviary of Sin, or download a condensed article of his book in this free PDF.




Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams (Part 3)

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

Here are Puritan Richard Baxter’s final three (of seven) practical suggestions regarding potential causes and cures for dealing with sinful dreams:

5.   Mind your last waking thoughts: Let your last thoughts before you go to sleep be holy, even quiet and consolatory, thoughts. Your dreams are apt to follow your last thoughts. If you go to sleep with worldliness or vanity in your minds, you can’t expect to be wiser or better when you are asleep than when you are awake. But if you end your day’s thoughts with God, then you’re more likely to dream about these things as well. Conversely, if your thoughts are distrustful, unbelieving and fearful, you’re more likely to dream about those things instead. Frightful and often sinful dreams follow sinful doubts and fears. But if you sweeten your last thoughts with the love of Christ, and remember your former mercies, or think upon eternal joys, or can confidently cast your thoughts and yourselves upon some promise, it will tend to the quietness of your sleep, and to having better dreams. And if you should die before the morning, wouldn’t it be better that your last thoughts be holy?

6. Mind your repentance: When you’ve found any corruption appearing in your dreams, make use of them for the renewing of your repentance and as fuel to better mortify that corruption.

7. Don’t read too much into your dreams: Don’t put greater stress upon your dreams than there is just cause. Don’t conclude more than your waking evidence discovers. Don’t give preference to your dreams above and beyond what you’re like when you’re awake. Moreover, hate the stupidity of those who dissect their dreams, measuring their expectations by them, casting themselves into hopes or fears by them. Diogenes once said, “What folly is it to be careless of your waking thoughts and actions, and inquisitive about your dreams! A person’s happiness or misery lies upon what he does when he’s awake, and not upon what he endures in his sleep.”

Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams (Part 2)

[Read Part 1)

Here are Puritan Richard Baxter’s first four (of seven) practical suggestions regarding potential causes and cures for dealing with sinful dreams:

  1. Watch your diet: Avoid those bodily distempers  as much as you can which cause sinful dreams, especially fulness of diet. A full stomach causes troublesome and lustful dreams, and has its ill effects by night and by day.
  2. Watch your mind: Endeavor the cure of those sinful distempers of the mind which cause sinful dreams. The cure of a worldly mind is the best way to cure worldly, covetous dreams. And the cure of a lustful heart is the best way to cure lustful dreams, and the same goes with the rest. Cleanse the fountain, and the waters will be sweeter day and night.
  3. Watch your day: Don’t let your thoughts, tongue, or actions run sinfully upon that in the day, which you would not dream sinfully of in the night. Our dreams are apt to follow our foregoing thoughts, words, and deeds. If you think most frequently and affectionately of that which is good, you will dream of that which is good. If you think of lustful, filthy objects, or speak of them, or meddle with them, you will dream of them. And so of covetous and ambitious dreams. If you don’t endeavor to sin while awake you aren’t likely much to entertain sinning in your sleep.
  4. Pray before you sleep: Commend yourselves to God by prayer before you take your rest, and ask him to set a guard upon your fantasy when you cannot guard it. Cast the cure upon him, and fly to him for help by faith and prayer in the sense of your insufficiency.

See also: “Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams” (Part 3)

A Very Merry Debbie Downer Christmas

Pondering sin during Christmas seems like Debbie Downer crashing your office party.imgres

But I’ll be brief.

Cornelius (Neil) Plantinga Jr. wrote an accessible, winsome, and condensed update of his exceptional book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of SinThe article, available as a PDF document, should be required reading for anyone who wants to better understand sin, and subsequently the need for redemption.

Plantinga progressively—and deftly—unravels sin in the following way:

  1. Shalom
  2. Vandalism of Shalom
  3. The Human Race “Has a Habit” Where Sin Is Concerned
  4. Parasite
  5. Corruption
  6. Who’s to Blame
  7. The Bottom Line

Advent is a most appropriate time to dwell on the nature of our sin, looking to the Redeemer who was promised in Genesis 3 who would deal with it and its ruinous consequences head on. If you can, get the book. If you’re unconvinced, read the PDF updated abridgment first and then buy the book (and thank me later.) It’s that good, in a devastating sort of way. It will make you newly appreciate Advent’s significance on the need for Christ’s Incarnation.