Theology and Sexuality, Part 5: The Holiness Equation


Let me just say, before we discuss a final perspective on sin, a few things:

1. I know I'm probably reinventing the wheel. Nothing I've said is original. I'm just trying to provide some structure to some pre-existing ideas.
2. I'm probably missing something. Why only five perspectives? Aren't there others? There probably are, I've just focused on what I consider to be the five most influential perspectives. And I recognize that I'm making a subjective judgment about that.
3. Further, I know I have biases. I tend to favor theological arguments over strictly Biblical arguments. Why? Because, as a scholar (can I say that without being pretentious?), I aim for coherence and depth. Simply reciting Bible verses seems thin and superficial to me. Perhaps that is heterodox, but that's where I am. You have to approach God from where you stand.
4. There is a lot more to say about all this. But, if you've noticed, these blog entries have been very long. I need to stop somewhere.

Moving on...

We now go on to discuss our final perspective on sin, what I call the Holiness Equation. Quickly recapping, we now have five perspectives on sin:

1. Divine Command
2. The Created Order
3. Terminal Hedonic Desires
4. The Harm Principle

and, today,

5. The Holiness Equation

What is the Holiness Equation? Well, it is a quirky little formulation I've simply made up. But, despite its idiosyncratic nature, I think, in a goofy way, it illustrates the core vision of the gospel. Here it is:

The Holiness Equation:

(Effort focused on Self) > (Effort focused on Other) = "Sin" or "Death"

(Effort focused on Self) < (Effort focused on Other) = Holiness or "Life"

Odd, right? Well, I hope you indulge me on this.

Let me make some observations about the Equation:

First, if you are at all mathematically inclined, you'll see holes in this right away. I'm not suggesting that there is an ACTUAL equation for holiness. The "equation" here is simply a metaphor. And, like all metaphors, is highlights some things and hides other things. And it can get stretched to the breaking point.

That said, what does this metaphor suggest? Basically, that the core vision of the gospel is that I should be Other-oriented rather than Self-oriented. Thus, to assess the degree to which I'm about this task, I can appraise my life and ask the simple question the Holiness Equations poses: How much of my time, money, attention, affections, and energy do I funnel into Myself relative to Others? It's a simple question. If all of our efforts in life are flowing toward Self, well, we're selfish. If we funnel more and more effort into Others, particularly "the least of these" and my enemies, well, that's the Kingdom vision.

This situation--(Effort focused on Self) < (Effort focused on Other)-- Jesus called "losing yourself" or "dying to self." He called it his "yoke" and his "cross." Paul calls it "taking on the form of a servant," "emptying yourself," and "considering others better than yourself." We can call this path, "holiness."

How about when (Effort focused on Self) > (Effort focused on Other)? I've called this situation "sin" and the Holiness Equation helps us get, in my opinion, a better understanding of what sin is. Up until this point we have tended to view sin as a behavior, an act. I do X and X is wrong, so that's a sin. The Holiness Equation, as a goofy metaphor, makes a different point. "Sin" isn't just a behavior (although it can be) but, rather, the SUM TOTAL OF A LIFE. "Sin" is a grand averaging of a life, the amount of "selfishness" we manifest. And I think most Christians would say that this selfishness, this focus on Me, is really the root of the sin problem. Thus, the Holiness Equation points, not to a behavior, but to your general life orientation and direction. It takes stock of the whole life.

If we where to play with this equational metaphor, we might do the following:

(Effort focused on Other) - (Effort focused on Self) = ?

If we actually performed such a subtraction I think it's obvious that we are all running in the red. We are swimming upstream on this. We spend a disproportional amount of time on ourselves. Did anyone ever run the equation in the black? Perhaps Jesus did. But note that, even for Jesus, the right-hand side of the equation was not 0.0. He had to eat and, at times, get away from the crowds. He worried about himself in the garden. That is, Jesus also spends considerable effort on his Self. But it appears that he achieved the absolute theoretical minimum on that side of the equation.

Observing that we run the holiness equation at a deficit, I like to think it illustrates, in an odd way, "original sin" or the "human condition." Given our human nature and the Fall, we are naturally inclined to be preoccupied with Self. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have to work for food and that, if you look at your week, preoccupies most of our lives. But the point is we never will run the equation in the positive direction, we can only spend a lifetime trying to close the gap and then ask for grace.

So, to summarize our final perspective on sin, sin (via this metaphor) is not a behavior. Rather, sin is a condition and the sum of a life. Even the smallest and most insignificant choices in a life (e.g., Should I buy a $15 watch or a $50 watch?) can participate in the sinful condition. The holiness equation asks us to evaluate all those choices so we can being making decisions to "die to Self." And, as we die to Self, more and more of the sum total of our lives is allowed to be "given away" for the sake of the world.

And Jesus says, if we do this, we'll actually find our Life.

And on that poetic note, I'll conclude and connect all this to sexuality in the next post.

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