Each month we ask two writers to respond to a quote by Dr. Stanley. During July we’re learning what sin is and what it is not—and how that understanding can change the way we discern the Lord’s will. The better we understand the God's hopes for us, the more closely we can follow Him. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “Jesus the Savior,” with responses from Kayla Yiu and C. Lawrence.
“Sin is the expression of man’s struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in life, independent of God.”
Now if I should ask you how you would define sin today, what would you say? You would probably say, Well, sin is a violation of the law of God. Sin is a transgression of the law of God. Sin is a violation of the moral law. Sin is falling short of what God intended for us to be. Sin is crossing over, transgressing the perimeters of God’s will and purpose for our life. And all of that is true, but I want you to think about sin from a different perspective this morning. I want you to think about it in this light—that in essence, sin is the expression of man’s struggle—the struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in life, independent of God.
Now, think about that … every time I choose to disobey God, transgress His law, violate His moral law, every time I choose to sin against God I am choosing to meet my own needs, satisfy my own desires, do my own thing independent of the purpose, the plan, and the will of God for my life.”
by Kayla Yiu
For a long time, I’ve viewed my obedience to God through the same frame as my childhood obedience to adults—black-and-white instructions to do this, not that. But Dr. Stanley’s definition of sin here suggests that real obedience is dependence on God alone—if I’m relying on Him, I’m obeying. And while the thought of letting go of my independence is frightening, this perspective on sin actually opens up a world of ways to follow Jesus.
I used to get caught up in figuring out God’s plan for me, thinking that at any crossroads there was one right move. Some days that decision was clear (like obvious infractions called out in Scripture), but most days it was a mystery that ended with me overthinking and analyzing: God, what should my major be? Should I invest more in this friendship? Which jobs should I apply for? It felt as if I were standing in front of 10 identical closed doors, wondering which one of them was the godliest. (Can a door even be godly?)
But what if instead of there being one “right answer,” all 10 doors were open, and through them I could see 10 different life paths, each equally colorful and rich? What if any one could be God’s plan as long as I depended on Him? If obedience is, as Dr. Stanley suggests, finding meaning and fulfillment in Jesus, perhaps our time here is not so much about what we do as it is about how we do it.
I remember sitting on the couch in my dorm room, speaking with a friend who was one year ahead of me and graduating in a few weeks. She had multiple options for life after college, Teach for America and the Peace Corps among them, and needed to make a choice. I’ll never forget her saying, “These are all good things, and I don’t think God is rooting for one over the other.” She seemed to understand that what the Lord really desired was her dependence—in whatever job she chose. True to His nature, Jesus reminded both of us that obeying Him is, in fact, the most freeing thing we can do.
by C. Lawrence
Discerning God’s will has to be one of the most fraught aspects of the Christian life, if the conversations I’ve had and overheard through the years are any indication. All the hand wringing and anxiety, the endless reasoning and crippling indecision—it’s difficult, if not impossible, to square all this with the peace that supposedly belongs to us in Jesus.
We worried about making the wrong choice and suffering for it.
Some Christians, in seasons of discernment, are content to wait until the point of crisis. Others take God’s apparent silence and conclude it must mean they can do as they please. But between asking God which parking space to take and electing not to think of what He wants for us at all is a middle way that’s less concerned with what we do and more with how and why we’re doing it. That is, so long as there’s no obvious contradiction to Scripture and the church’s wisdom handed down through the ages. This third way is nothing less than life in the Spirit.
Years ago, my wife and I were on the cusp of a transcontinental move—or so we thought. Life in Atlanta hadn’t added up the way we had hoped. So at the end of winter, we booked a flight to Portland, Oregon, for five days. We had a wonderful time—it was easy to imagine living in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and enjoying the city’s restaurants and bookstores and coffeeshops. But back home, we were riddled with indecision. We worried about making the wrong choice and suffering for it.
I decided to bring up our dilemma one day over tacos with my pastor, explaining the agony of discerning God’s will. Without looking up from his carne asada, he said, “Just do something. And if it’s wrong, repent and do something else.”
“That’s it?” I said.
“Yep. That’s it.”
He went on to explain that all Christians share one calling—we’re all bound to God’s will in the same way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40 ESV).
The thought was liberating, as I considered that it was possible to remain within God’s will regardless of what I pursued. That God’s ultimate will for our life was that we become like His Son—a likeness that translates across careers, relationships, interests, and locations. All of it can be part of a thriving, intimate fellowship with the Lord.
I didn’t need to be afraid—God would love and shape us through any decision we made.
What my pastor was getting at it with his initial, brief response is that I didn’t need to be afraid—God would love and shape us through any decision we made. At the same time, being perfectly aligned with His will is no guarantee that we won’t be tempted to sin.
Through it all, we can believe that what Jesus said to Jairus—when He healed the man’s daughter—is also true for us: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). So much of our indecision, as well as the impatient choice to close our ears to the Holy Spirit’s leading, comes down to fear in one way or another. On the one hand is the fear of making a mistake. On the other, the fear of missing out. But remember: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7 ESV). The Holy Spirit lives within each of us, guiding us in every way toward greater oneness with God.
We can move through the world with confidence, knowing we’re not alone and never will be (Rom. 8:35). And if we do happen to get something wrong and end up far from where we ought to have been, like the prodigal son in Luke 15? We’ll find that the distance home is much shorter than we imagined it to be. And that the Father is always ready to welcome and hold us strong in His arms.
Illustration by Adam Cruft