Sin makes us feel free and happy, doesn’t it? When we sin – when we do what God doesn’t want us to do – aren’t we satisfying our “human nature”, asserting ourselves against the rules imposed on us by a tyrant God? That feels great!
But is it really in our nature to sin?
To understand our true human nature, we must go back to the moment of our Creation. The book of Genesis introduces Adam and Eve as our first parents. They were created in the image and likeness of God, and God called this “very good”. But they freely chose to sin – to do what God had told them not to do – and we have inherited this tendency, called Original Sin or “concupiscence”.
Our lives are marked by concupiscence, and yet this remains contrary to our true nature, the way we were meant to live in harmony with God and with each other. We experience sin not only on an individual level, but also as a human community, because hurting people hurt others.
Because sin always seems attractive but never truly satisfies our deepest desires, we increase the frequency and intensity of our actions in search of that emotional “high”. As we go through repeated cycles of pleasure and disillusionment (or regret), our addiction to these acts becomes entrenched.
And because sin is a transgression against our own nature and the nature of the world around us — both of which were created good — we have to live with a worse-off self and a worse-off world.
How, then, can we be free from sin?
We cannot. Only God can do so – by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate us from our sins. This salvific action was prefigured centuries beforehand by the people of Israel crossing the sea from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. While the Israelites were led by a pillar of fire through the sea, we Christians are led by the Light of the World through the waters of baptism.
This sacramental reality is best illustrated at the blessing of baptismal water at the Easter Vigil. The priest takes the paschal candle – “the Light of Christ” – and lowers it into the water, saying:
O God, who caused the children of Abraham to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea, so that the chosen people, set free from slavery to Pharaoh, would prefigure the people of the baptised; […] look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church and graciously unseal for her the fountain of Baptism.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan.” Through baptism we come to share in Christ’s life and become free from our slavery to sin. Indeed, this freedom is our baptismal birth right and the sign of our identity as children of God. St Paul explains:
The reason, therefore, why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned, is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. — Rm 8:1-2
Baptism strengthens us to resist sin, but it does not erase the effects of concupiscence. This is why some newly-baptised Christians feel let down when they find that they still experience the same temptations and addictions that they did before baptism.
Every temptation we experience, then, becomes an opportunity to assert our identity as children of God: to deliberately and consciously say, with Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 4:10) Choosing to live virtuously strengthens us to withstand future temptations and to grow closer to God our Father.
And when we do stumble and succumb to sin, God always offers us the chance to reclaim our freedom through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament, we approach the Cross of Christ, Who restores us to our baptismal grace.
As we approach Laetare Sunday, the mid-point of Lent when we look forward to the glory of the Resurrection, let us celebrate our freedom in Christ by claiming his power over the slavery of sin. When temptation comes our way, let us recall St Paul’s exhortation:
My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” — Gl 5:13-14
Next week, we will explore how we experience freedom by loving our neighbour.
Written by Louis of VITA Scribes.