Pokies, Porn and Positano: It’s a sin, part 2.

It was a day for honesty. I was in a dark place. I was about to meet the SAP and, as I sat there waiting for him to arrive, I rehearsed what I was going to say.

“I need help. I’m having ongoing lustful thoughts about someone who is not my husband. I pledged money for the church offertory, I don’t even think we can afford it; actually, I know we can’t because I put it into the poker machine this morning in the hope of improving our cash-flow…” Oh boy. This was going to be a horrendous conversation.

Photo: Mick Tsikas: AAP
Photo: Mick Tsikas: AAP

In he walks. Chai is served. Small talk. Then: “So what did you want to talk to me about?” he asked.

Deep breathe. “SAP, I’m done.  I met this woman through work and I have tried for months to ignore it, but there’s something there that’s more than friendship. After a few too many wines I fancy the hell out of her. She wants to fly me to her villa in Positano next week and, I don’t care what you say, life is too short not to act on this sort of electricity. So I’m going.

“And, look, while I’m unburdening my soul, I may as well tell you she’s made her money making porn movies. I’m going to help market them, they really aren’t as bad as you think.”

Just kidding (I think the SAP may have reached for his defibrillator with those opening paragraphs. Or fish oil, given he doesn’t remember any such conversation). With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, I simply want to make a small point about sin. That it all has equal weight.

Yet I’m wondering if readers will admit to any paragraph in particular that caused stronger feelings?

Was it a) my mental adultery b) the poker machines c) my lesbian porn-star lover d) that I’d pledged to the church offertory with no intention of stumping up with the goods e) all of the above f) none of the above.

I hope you picked f). The SAP would have done if that conversation had ever taken place. Because sin isn’t something we do. It’s what we are. The ‘what we are’ bit is tricky, as people can get upset being called a sinner. But rather than thinking sin as a judgement call, just think of it as a descriptor. The description: our distance from God.

If I ever sit down in front of the SAP and blurt out something like the first four paragraphs of this blog, I’m sure he’d just ask: “But what about Jesus, Phil?”  With concern, kindness and compassion over my distance from God.

As I’ve written before, sin isn’t God (and, please Lord, Christians) wanting humans to feel bad about themselves. Sin is the gap between what we were created for and the reality of what we choose to do. It stems from the moment Adam failed to step in between Eve and that pesky serpent right up to when Jesus –  flawless, perfect and of God – closed the gap.

So what about Jesus? Does he want me to elope with a porn-star lesbian lover to play the pokies in Positano? No, he doesn’t. He’d prefer me to be other-focused, to offer compassion to the weak and the needy and the oppressed. To share his Good News that in relationship with him I close the gap with God. But Jesus understands me. He knows daily I fall short.

So even if my ‘self’ wants to run amok in Positano, Jesus’ grace guides me to something larger. You see, I don’t have a view on whether you want to elope with a porn-star lesbian lover to Positano. Or if you’re jamming the pokies full of your money. No judgement, because of all the times I f*&k it up myself.

But if I have decided that, yes, Jesus is the dude who laid down his life for me, closing the gap so I can have a grace-filled loving relationship with God, it has to count for something.

It has to count in my heart. So to be true to what Jesus did for me – rather than being true to my self, which often gets tugged off course – I have to honour his sacrifice of his self over mine and follow his lead of love and grace.

There’s a massive bit about Christianity that I think is missed when sin gets bandied around like a punish word. God didn’t have to sacrifice His son. He chose to. That’s the depth and breadth of His love for us.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Jeramiah 31:3 : I

Sinning, again. And again. And again.

One of the biggest issues I had with Christianity was the whole ‘confess your sins, and all is forgiven’ angle. After all, if all sin is forgiven, why bother not sinning? Why make any effort to live a life that is kind or good?

Problem is, that’s not what Jesus taught. Nowhere did he say, “You can murder, covet and steal, just come back to me each Sabbath (which is a day of rest, by the way, so please don’t murder, covet and steal that day, thanks) and ask for my forgiveness. Then you can start sinning all over again on Monday.”

That’s what has become twisted out of misunderstanding, poor communication and an unwillingness for people to let go of their belief systems about what they ‘think’ they know. It’s comforting to be able to slap at something you don’t truly understand – and worse, spend no time trying to. The danger is non-Christians (NCs) end up spouting ill-informed nonsense whilst feeling falsely superior to those ‘unthinking Christian masses’ in need of a bit of ‘crowd control’ (borrowing a few stereotypes here).

When I look at some of the bigotry NCs shovel (using the definition of bigot as someone who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion), I realise true Christians don’t need crowd control. They need a bloody medal. Turn the other cheek? Far out! The SAP amazes me with his generosity. I reckon I’d have punched a few people by now.

For the past five months I have had the privilege to sit with, question, observe and listen to an amazing cross-section of Christians on their journey. For them, this is a life choice not an event. You see, in The Bible, Christians are specifically commanded not to sin even though they have been saved by the death of Jesus and by his grace: Romans 6-v15: What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Not to sin? Whoa. That’s clearly very different to “keep sinning, over and over, and I’ll keep forgiving you.”

This isn’t something true Christians put on each Sunday when seeking forgiveness. It’s a 24-hour, seven-day a week thing. Unknown-1

To live a life not sinning probably strikes you as nigh near impossible. It did to me. Which brings me round to Jesus again (he pops up a lot). My very basic grasp of it is:

If you accept the grace of Jesus, then not sinning gets easier and easier. Because by accepting that grace you become more Jesus-like. And by becoming more Jesus-like, you are then less likely to miss the mark.

Christians work at not sinning, not because they are ‘fearful of some unseen power’ (as suggested recently) but because of the sheer joy they receive. This has been the biggest stereotype-buster for me. The joy. I don’t think the term ‘happy clappy’ is actually an insult to a Christian. I think it means they’ve connected the dots:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Apostle Paul, Romans 8:38-39)

You don’t need to be Christian to choose to live a good life. You can be kind to others. Do the best that you can. It’s valid, it’s worthy, and, absolutely, far, far better than choosing to lie, kill, maim and steal.

Yet living that life doesn’t make you a Christian. Just like meditating every day, eating vegetarian, and not harming life doesn’t make you a Buddhist.  I slowly started to realise what the interviewer meant in that job interview about Christianity when he said, “But it’s the structure.” It takes some focus on the teachings of Jesus, prayer, a decent dig into The Bible, and getting out our own way.

We can be spectacularly bad at getting out of our own way. Change is often scary. But, mostly, I think too many of us are scared of the possibility of great joy. Which is what Christianity offers. Yet we are so trained for disappointment in this world, we shove it away. So it fascinated me, this joy. Because what I was observing was that Christian joy, unlike worldly happiness, flourished, even when the circumstances around it pointed to the contrary.

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a… it’s a sin

Disclaimer: This video was chosen ONLY because of the catchy tune and title for creative purposes. The use of this video and the subject of this blog should not be construed as any commentary on the sexual preferences of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Or monks in chains. So no-one get your knickers in a twist.

That I have to write the disclaimer above shows just how explosive this small, three letter word is. In a second disclaimer, I’m wandering around the reservation on my own here. Possibly going off-piste. This blog is what I’ve pieced together since this began. I didn’t ask the SAP to do a sense-edit before I published because I wanted it to be a bit raw and messy. And to be as close as possible to how I – as a newbie – have uncovered it. All the errors here are my own.


Straight away, all those notions of heinous wrong doings. I think this is why Christianity is so confronting because no-one likes to be told they are sinful, which is essentially what Jesus is recorded as saying in The Bible. I remember hearing it in church and immediately my back went up. “Here we go again,” I thought.

Fire and brimstone preaching and bible thumping has caused the church a serious image problem when it comes to sin. It either offends the non-Christians (NCs) (“I’m no rapist/murderer/thief” – insert your preferred style of sinner here) or causes Christians all sorts of comparison problems (“Well, I’m not as bad as her!”). It also contributes to why so many NCs think they are going to be judged by Christians and be found lacking.

I think most of us have got the idea of sin all wrong. 

Sin, as defined in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.

So, based on that, the ‘equation’ I came up with is:

I’m not God or Jesus. The only way to NOT miss the mark is to BE God or Jesus. I am patently neither. Then I have to conclude: I’m a sinner.

Say that line a few times. It gets easier. Imagine it’s like an AA meeting.

(Sorry, SAP, if you are now pulling out your remaining grey hairs. I’ll give you a blog post to set the record straight if required. A really small one. Like one of those ‘notices of retraction’ that no-one ever spots in the newspaper).

Now, get ready for the next twist.

No matter what we do, we’re still sinners. Whether you give to charity and go to church each Sunday, or whether you go out on a megalomanic serial killer spree. There is no difference.

Now all the NCs (and possibly Cs) are up in arms. “How dare you compare me to a serial killer?” you yell. Build a bridge and get over it with me. Because much as I hate it (ego, ego, ego), God doesn’t have a sin barometer. Sin just is. There’s no measurement of it. 

If this was a poker game, it’d be feeling like a pretty crap hand, wouldn’t it? Which is why I need to get to the Christian equivalent of a Royal Flush.

Jesus. The lightening rod. The uber-blog post. The central tenet of Christianity.

Distilled down, if you trust in Jesus then all your sin is taken away, all thanks to his crucifixion, resurrection and grace.

Mind-blowing. Rather than try to rationalise it (nigh on impossible) I had to surrender, run with it,  and see where it led. Because of that commitment I made at 3am to God, to step up to the plate and sort out my ‘baggage’ around Christianity. Otherwise I’d still be stuck unhelpfully stereotyping ‘religion’, ‘church’, and ‘sin’.

Rather than being a struggle, accepting the gift of forgiveness and grace is meant to be easy. But I had to put all that ‘Christianity’ baggage down first, so I could free my hands to grasp it.

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Timothy Keller.