Seventh Letter

Dear Abdallah,

I appreciate your appreciation for the central themes of our faith. After having spent some time on our investigation into the very central theme of who God is, I suggest we tackle a topic which contains a problem that affects us day by day, and which is, consequently, most relevant. It is the concept of sin.

Some time ago a Muslim acquaintance of mine asked me why Christians are so ‘obsessed with sin’, as he put it. ‘Because it is the antithesis to God that effects us every day of our lives’, was my reply. Naturally, we all want to stay clear of sin, yet yield to it all the time. If we want to live with God this is an existential theme. It addresses probably one of the most crucial issues of life. Any honest person with a functioning conscience and some basic awareness of ethics, will be alarmed at our ever-present readiness, not to say urge, to think or do what we know to be wrong. Even our biblical fathers succumbed under this pressure.

Adam disobeyed God, Cain killed his brother Abel, Noah got deliriously drunk, Lot’s daughters slept with their father, Abraham blatantly lied by declaring his wife to be his sister, Jacob was a deceiver, Moses was a killer and acted against God’s orders, David committed adultery and planned a murder, and so it goes on.

Why do we all have this tendency to sin, even against our will? It is apparently the heritage of our nature from our parents and forefathers. Already at the time of Noah,

the Lord was grieved ... and his heart was filled with pain.

Why? Because

the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5)

Already at the very beginning when Adam was created, God had given man the choice of acting in agreement with or against Him. Without such an option man would be little more than a programmed robot. He could not be responsible. He would not be able to love—God and his fellow man. The ability to choose is foundational.

We read of Adam and Eve that they chose against God’s purpose. Every human being since that time made wrong choices. Adam, as all the people who lived since then, again and again questioned God’s good intentions, and endeavoured to be ‘god’ of their own lives. But it is Satan, the deceiver, who becomes that ‘god’. That is why we cannot stop sinning at will.

The New Testament states a case which we all can unhesitatingly confirm:

I do not understand what I do;
   for what I want to do, I do not,
   but what I hate, I do ...
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out.
(Romans 7:15-18)

Are we really like that? Why do we fail? To answer our question rightly, we will have to define the meaning of the word ‘sin’.

The exact meaning of the words that are translated as ‘sin’ in the Hebrew and Greek original of the Bible, actually is missing the mark, the target or aim. A warrior takes bow and arrow, aims—and shoots. But the arrow misses! The purpose is not fulfilled. It does not really matter whether he misses by one millimeter or a kilometer. Even his good intention to hit is ultimately of no consequence. Other meanings of the word are departure from an appointed path, a revolt against rightful authority, transgression of the law of God, the breaking of a covenant, unfaithfulness, treason and vanity—all in relation to God. At the root lies the ‘fundamental and positive choice or preference of self instead of God’ (A.H. Strong).

The underlying principle governing our proneness to do wrong is explained in the New Testament:

The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:16-17)

I am sure we agree that by virtue of the fact that God created us and is Lord, he can rightfully expect us to think and do according to his will and purpose. To instruct us about this, he has given us his Word, which tells us about the conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, and how to overcome evil. He also tells us about his will for us:

It is the will of God that you should be holy. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)


Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)

Holiness is a biblical term and means to be separated for God’s purpose. Of course, this meaning clashes ever so often with our personal desires and interests, which seek self-gratification. While we may strive to honour and please God, the demands of our self are, in fact, ever stronger.

We are inclined to compare ourselves with other humans, and that may well be satisfying to a certain degree. But God judges us by his own, divine standard. All too many people are irresponsibly instructed that if 51% of what they do complies with God’s laws, it will suffice to take them to paradise or heaven. What God wants is our whole heart, our whole heart:

Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking the whole of it. (James 2:10)

This verse reveals to us the desperate state we find ourselves in.

We must understand a fundamental truth:

We are not sinners because we have sinned.

But we sin because we are sinners!

Sin comes naturally. It is our element. We need no training to do it. Whether we like it or not, in each of us is, deeply rooted, the irresistible urge to sin. Sin is all that is contrary to God’s nature. It begins with unkindness and lovelesness, which turn into hatred, discord, jealousy gossip, envy, greed, fits of rage and covetousness, not to mention the graver sins. Yet deep in our hearts we want to be pure.

It is touching to read a Psalm of a brokenhearted David, which he prayed after having committed adultery. He had just one wish:

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin ... Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight ... Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God! (Psalm 51:2,4,9-10)

David realized, that he had not just sinned against people, but that he had actually sinned against the holy God!

I suggest we stop at this point. There is more than enough to think about. I like to continue and conclude this subject in my next letter. If you found this letter to be too negative, you are perfectly in the right. It would be depressing to stop here without the hope for a solution. Fortunately, God offers one!

So then, as-Salam‘allay-kum!

Yours sincerely