Languaging.....Sin....The Compellingness Of

Armand Kruger, MA

Overview: The deceptiveness of sin; solidifying the “turning away from God” through language; similarities between sin and excuses; sin as a war of frames.

Sin is easy, natural and rewarding. How we language it, makes it easy, natural and rewarding. What qualifies me as a psychologist to write about sin? Because I am an expert at it and I rehearse sin daily.

There is language...

Through language we create the realities to which it refers. Language is a way of expressing how we punctuate what is possible in our experience.  What we say about the experience frames it, i.e. both puts a border around it as well as determines what and how we pay attention to the content within the existing experience. 

This “paying attention” is a selective attention. It is possible to make many more distinctions in or about the experience than we actually do. Some of the distinctions we make is what we pay attention to as if it is foreground, and what goes into the background of our awareness. This seems to be one of the many ways we “code” importance: The more prominent it is in our minds, the more important it is and the more it takes up the foreground in the span of our attention. And here, I think, lies one way of understanding the “how” of sin. With all the great and merciful promises from God, and the joy of it’s fulfillment, why do the high risk thing of sinning? Notice I did not say “painful” or “damaging” or any of the other words we associate with sin. Why? Because at the time that is not how I think about my sin. Guilt is afterwards. I wish I could feel it first as a reminder and a stopper. Why don’t I?

And there is Sin...

The deceptiveness of sin lies in how we push the recognition of it into the background, and/or how we language it in a way that our “turning away from God” becomes a legitimate act for us. The warning and description of this is clear in 

Hebrews 3:12-15 (NIV):

“12  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

 13  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

 14  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

15  As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion."

Paul Tripp1, in an exquisite book on Christian use of language, says 

“This passage acknowledges the harsh realities of life in God's kingdom. The battle is not over; the work is not done. We are all citizens who need help and are called to give it. We have been rescued, but we are still prone to wander away from our Rescuer. Even though we are citizens in the Son's kingdom, our wandering days are not over.” 

And (p. l44) “Four words are used in this passage to describe this wandering away of the believer: sinful, unbelieving, turning away, and hardened heart. The writer is describing something more fundamental than the committing of specific sins. He is warning us against a subtle turn of the heart from God, which results in a change in the way we see God and ourselves.“

And the difficulty to meta-NO! it.....

The importance or compellingness of sin becomes the foreground and our relationship with Jesus Christ gets reframed in a variety of ways which moves it to the background of our awareness, if not totally out into “forgetfulness”. When we listen to people justifying their sin, one hears how the languaging reflects this backgrounding of our Christianity. Here are some of the frames of (ways of languaging about) sin which contributes to it’s human attractiveness/compellingness:

  Sin, like excuses...

          There is an uncanny similarity between an excuse and the reasoning that goes with justifying a sin. Hall (2000)[2] says about excuses

"An excuse is a frame about the proposed experience that induces us to feel put off or bothered in some way. We don't feel up to it. We don't see the value of it. So we attempt to excuse ourselves from the engagement by making up some "reason" that seems to allow us or another person to grant us excuse. For this reason, excuses generally operate as a form of persuasion. We essentially say (to ourselves or another),  

"Please have me excused from X activity because of this or that reason..."

But then, we don’t "make excuses," we only ask to be excused from a task or obligation if we have a legitimate reason. Ah, the beauty and music of that word-- "reason”. Hall says, “Our need for structure, order, an intelligent world-- meaning and meaningful structures moves us to become very skilled at finding, inventing, and creating explanations, understandings, reasons, etc. And from this drive, we create models of the world, theories, postulates, etc.” And, in the context of Christianity, we create a god that is like ourselves that we can understand as it should understand us. Or by over-esteeming our reasons for doing or not doing (Proverbs 21:4: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!”) we “excuse God”.

Sin is War...

Sin, like the structure of an excuse, outframes our relationship with Jesus Christ and justifies doing/not doing what God expects of us in glorifying Him by obedience. Our sin “misses the mark” because in our minds there is an ongoing war of frames. We most probably (should) ask the following question hundreds of times a day: “What is more important to me at any one moment: My relationship with Christ, or doing what would suit me?” If our highest frame-of-reference is not glorifying God, we are in trouble! When we do go with a frame that is higher than the significance of God in our lives, and if we do remember the “should” or “want to” of the frame about God, then we start to run the justifications/excuses described above. In the war of frames, when Christians sin, we have selected to go with the wrong frame-of-reference.

Does this say something about our sinful nature? Sin is easy, natural and rewarding, because our ability to language and create meaning contributes to making it so. Does the tongue which James talk about include our very adroit internal dialogue?  

[1]Tripp, Paul David (2000): War of Words. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing. p.143

[2]Hall, Michael L (2000): “

Contact information for Armand Kruger:

South Africa's Institute of Neuro - Semantics
Armand Kruger
PO Box 494
South Africa, 1960
Fax: 2716-362-1559

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