"corporate sin"?

I'm back from Colorado, after a great visit with Becky, Jared, and the kids. I really feel close to them and hope we continue to have opportunities to be together like this past week. And I'm so grateful to them for flying me out there and sharing their family and home with me.

Lots of good discussions. Especially the one about family, and ways to be focused together on a common purpose (or ministry) rather than becoming completely child-focused, like I see so much in young families. This was encouraging. Because I really can't see myself living a family life that's totally dominated and determined by children's desires (or what society thinks children "must" have), and I even think it's better for the children to grow up as part of something more ultimate than their own immediate wants.

We agreed on most things. But I resisted strongly their idea of "corporate sin" (that since we inevitably share/participate economically and physically with the society around us, we are also implicated in the evil/sin of others in society--and this is something we cannot escape; we can only be freed of this evil/sin if we all are freed together, which of course is not happening anytime soon). The discussion reminded me of another discussion from the Jesus Radicals forum (a couple years ago): "Original Sin"? "Collective Sin"?

One of my main objections is that "corporate sin" implies that we are guilty for the sins of others (because we enabled them in some way through our unavoidable inter-connectedness), implying that we sin without meaning to, without even knowing about it. This is not the understanding of sin Jesus preached, i.e. that sin is "in the heart," or in the intention/will (whether or not you're actually able to carry out that intention--for example Jesus said lust is sin, whether or not we actually commit adultery). In the forum discussion, I wrote:

Sins in the OT, especially as defined in books like Leviticus, were fixed, written laws. The Ten Commandments, plus a whole lot more. If you broke a law, if you did what "thou shalt not," then you "sinned." End of story. It didn't matter if you hadn't studied up on the laws. (Kinda like our legal system.) So sin, defined in this way, could be unintentional. All that mattered was whether or not you did it, not whether or not you knew about the law.

However, with the arrival of Christ, things change. For one, we are introduced to a deeper understanding of sin. An example of this appears in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5.21-48), where Jesus says over and over, "You have heard it was said that... But I tell you...." The lesson being that it's the heart, the motivation, the intent, that makes something a sin or not, not just the outward action. That's not to let people off the hook. Evil actions are still evil; we can't say "Yeah, I killed him, but my heart was in the right place." All of Jesus' "revisions" made the requirements much, much stricter. Not only do our actions have to be right, our heart also has to be pure. We have to follow the spirit of the law, not just the letter.

Jesus emphasizes this again during his "Sabbath breaking" incidents. And Paul writes very strongly on "new covenant" issues and "the letter" vs. "the spirit." But I think the point is made: Sin is not "breaking a fixed set of rules." Sin is wrong intent. If love (God's will) is truly our intention, then we are not sinning. If anything else is our intention, we are sinning. Of course, we can lie to ourselves about our intentions (i.e. when our intent is bad and we won't admit it). That's usually the problem. But the question of sin is always a question of intention. Sin is intent.
I think this is important, so we don't externalize (or legal-ize) sin. I also think it's very important understand that sin is something that we can be freed from, that we never need remain in slavery to it (at least not since Christ's coming). Jesus preached the good news of release from the evil ways that bound us, the possibility of freedom and new life in him. That's what I want to preach as well. And preach against any concept of sin that is "unavoidable" or "inescapable."

Jesus made clear what sin is, and opened the path to true freedom for us--right now.