I have a college student who works part time for me and last week he came into the office sounding like he swallowed a frog and with his nose dripping like a public restroom faucet. He told me that some sort of cold bug had swept his dorm floor and they were all sick. In that living situation there’s nothing do be done. Close quarters mean shared germs no matter what. They couldn’t have avoided each other if they had wanted to. Many Christians, though, act as if this is the proper way to avoid sin, to avoid people who “have” it. But sin isn’t a bug to catch.
So many Christians live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences. They avoid “bad” people and even places. They talk about those people and places like they are disease carriers – “We can’t have them around” or “We couldn’t go there.” They act like someone can sneeze sin onto them, that they will catch the bad decisions and guilt of another through physical proximity. What does his shunning communicate to those we have labeled “unclean”? Exactly that, Christians think they are unclean. Not the ideal way to draw people to Jesus. But sin is not an infectious disease.
We don’t “catch” sin. It’s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It’s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others, not to infect them but to influence them. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin. It is a decision, one that we often have a very hard time making, but a decision nonetheless. Sin is a theology too. It is a belief, or lack thereof, in the goodness and work of Jesus. It is this theology, this belief that informs our decision and drives us.
So, when we are around obvious sin, those people and places, we can’t catch their sin. We can choose their sin, but that is a matter of decision, of belief, of theology. If we hold fast to Jesus there is no risk of that sin invisibly taking hold of us like a flu bug might. How freeing! We no longer have to keep our distance or live in cultural quarantine. We can engage those people with grace and freedom without fear. Because we are near Jesus we can be near to anyone without fear that they will make us more like them than like Him.