The Economy of Sin (Romans 6:12-23)

John Maynard Keynes

It is not uncommon to discuss the failures of capitalism in moral terms.  In a globalized economy, driven by the mass production of disposable goods, the unlimited use of fossil fuels, and the presence of expendable human capital; decisions are rarely made on the basis of what’s right or wrong for the individuals living within the complex webs consumption created by modern society.  Where recent Supreme Court decisions (in terms of First Amendment speech protection) have said the corporations can be treated as “persons”, these faceless organizations (an amalgam of thousands of persons) do not represent any single individual.  Their accountability, if it rests with anyone, is to their shareholders not their employees.  Corporations are in business to remain profitable.  Corporate decisions made in the best interest of the bottom line rarely weigh the virtues of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when investing millions of dollars in new communities or foreign factories.  It’s not the way business is done.

Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate in Economics

When businesses fail and economies collapse, we see a breakdown of theories, policies, and morality.  In the wake of the 2008 housing crisis as many moral questions were asked as economic questions.  The most common question was, in some form or another, this: how could big banks lend to small banks who then lent money to people who were unable to pay them back?  This was both a moral and financial question.  The moral concerns over how we make and spend our money as a society, sadly, are usually asked on the back end, when civilization is in ruin.

We work and are paid.  None of us are slaves.  Yet, in the transaction between ourselves and an employer, our existence depends on being bound to money.  We live with an illusion of freedom.  As long as we are chained to the culture through a salary and a wage; our ability to live on our own terms is never questioned.  What happens when you break that chain?  Your options began to narrow.  Life becomes more complicated.  We realize our humanity is defined by financial relationships which possess us.

The money we receive for the work we do carries an additional dimension.  Each financial transaction we make, whether the result of work or a purchase, relates a moral narrative.  Our wages, the income we earn, and the money we spend arrives in our accounts with a story to be told.  This money was earned by someone else and spent in some other place before it became “ours”.  Our story is now part of the journey.  We are linked to those who worked, earned, lived, and died with these same financial resources.  Eventually, our story will be passed on in the choices we make, as to what how we earn, spend, and consume.

Saint Paul, Theologian and Economist

Let go of sin and live.  Hold to sin and die.  Like the sewing machine you’ve used once, you’ve carried it around long enough.  Let your sin go.  You don’t need it.  It’s doing you no good at all to hold on to something that’s harming you, costing you time, money, and effort.  Let it go.

It’s hard to let go, especially of something we’ve worked for an earned.  Like the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes on our back, or the money in our bank; Paul says sin has some kind of intrinsic value.  Remember, value can be a positive or negative quality.  How do we get the car, house, wage, or money in the bank?  We earn them by working.  Paul says we earn sin, just as we earn money by working.

Sin is the second job we don’t know we’ve got.  “The wages sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sin possesses an economic value like a wage, cash money, dollars, pounds, Euros, and Yen.  Then Paul reminds his Roman readers, it’s like working for nothing.  The  sin 401k is worthless.  You receive no benefits.  The only dividends are isolation from friends, family, and God.  That’s all you receive.

Can we live without that income?  Are our lives worth more than working for nothing?  I do not want to end up morally bankrupt, isolated from friends, family, and God.  If I’m going to be bound to anything, I’m going to be in relationship with God instead of being chained to intangible forces I can’t control.  God gives us grace for free.  Did you catch that distinction? Everyone’s out to make a buck except for God.  In a world that attaches value to everything, God doesn’t demand you earn God’s love, a relationship, or a place in heaven.    On the other hand, we have to work hard to be the sinners we’ve become.  Sin only pays after we’ve worked hard to receive nothing at all.  God gives us the greatest gift of all for free.

This should be the easiest decision in the world.  Despite my complex economic analysis, it should be a no brainer.  Work hard and get nothing, or take God’s free gift of life in Christ Jesus.  Why is it so hard? Sin thrives on complexity.  It can’t be that easy, we say.  Christian ministry demands flowcharts, power points, videos, and lots of money.  Jesus flourishes in simplicity.   Come, clear a place, sit a while with Jesus, and share a cup of cold water.  Be Jesus’ friend, be rewarded, for time (not money), well spent.  Enjoy the freedom God has given you to be a disciple, not John Wesley’s vision of discipleship, your grandma’s kind, but your kind of disciple that only you can be today.