…the idea of sin is preeminently a construction of Christian theology. (From Henry Fairlie’s book, “The Seven Deadly Sins Today.”)
It bugs some people that the Bible does not give us a comprehensive list of sins and end all the speculation, frustration, and false guilt.
I suspect we are victims of a rulebook mentality as a result of the endless controversies over interpretations of rules in NCAA football, NFL football, MLB baseball, and so forth. What complicates those discussions is that the authorities are forever tweaking the rules. Each year representatives of the NCAA get together to discuss requirements for athletes to play collegiate sports, rules governing the playing of those sports, and one thousand related issues.
The IRS constantly tweaks the rules for taxpayers, forcing CPAs to attend regular updating conferences.
Why don’t we do that in church, some wonder? How in the world could the Lord send us forth into this world to accomplish such grand missions without providing a list of all the no-no’s and taboos?
We are such legalists at heart. And for good reason.
When we have a list of rules to keep and prohibitions to avoid and do them perfectly, we have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. “Look what I did.” Ahhh. Such self-satisfaction.
And that’s why the Lord doesn’t do it. Self-satisfaction is the last thing He wants in His children. “Boasting in the flesh,” scripture calls it, and it is anathema to believers who would be used of God.
The Lord much prefers His children have an on-going sense of dependence on Him, that “I can’t do it without you, Lord,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Once we get the hang of that, we find ourselves saying what those who do not “get it” consider utterly stupid, such as “when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).
So where does the concept of sin figure in this? Answer: Prominently.
I’m in the process of producing a series of articles for this website on the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins.” The one on gluttony (called “My Favorite Sin”) was deposited here yesterday. Six to go. But first, it seemed good to back off and reflect on this concept of sin, what it is and what we mean by it.
Why doesn’t Scripture give us a listing of all sins?
Things would be so much easier if we could just point to a verse and say, “Nope. Can’t do it. Sorry.”
The religious authorities of the Old Testament period tried to do just that. They took the Law of Moses–not just the Ten Commandments but the rest of what he brought down from Sinai–and codified it into rules and regulations. Furthermore, they kept adding to the list over the centuries.
What a travesty that was!
The fourth commandment alone–“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”–resulted in thousands of rules and regulations to define what was permitted and what wasn’t. No woman could look in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she see a gray hair and want to pull it out, which would be a transgression.
Since you could walk no more than a mile unless it was an absolute necessity, legalists would send a servant on ahead with some item and say, “I have to go after it.” When he arrived, he sent the servant on ahead another mile, and so forth, until he reached his destination.
Silliness in the absurd. Insulting the Almighty.
So, God does not play that little game with us. He does something else far better….
He gives us the Scriptures. His written Word.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
That’s all we will be needing insofar as rulebooks are concerned. For reproof and correction, we use the Scriptures.
Some things God has spelled out–“thou shalt not!”–and in other areas, principles are there to guide us.
He gives us the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Word.
Left alone, we would make a royal mess of interpreting the Scriptures. Anticipating that, the Lord comes to dwell within us. As a result, we have the Word of God in front of us and the Author of that Word living within us.
Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and…He shall glorify me….” (John 16:13-14)
So, what is sinful in a given situation?
Which is to say, “What is off-limits, out of bounds, verboten for believers?”
Our answer: What does Scripture say and what does the Holy Spirit affirm? Simple enough, huh? One would think so.
The problem comes when we do not agree as to a) what the Bible is saying and/or b) how the Spirit is leading.
And that’s where love comes in. Can we agree to disagree in love? One would think the Christian answer to that is, “Sure.” But historically, we don’t seem to do that very well. Battles have been fought and denominations have formed and then split and then splintered because we don’t know how to disagree in love.
Since volumes have been written on the concept of sin and why it matters, it would be presumptuous to attempt to exhaust the subject here. Instead, let’s see if this helps….
10 Things to Be Said About Sin and Why It Matters.
1. In the New Testament, sin is not so much criminal as it is betrayal.
Most of the sins dealt with in the NT are found in the context of Christians, not the outside unsaved world. Sin insults the Lord, disobeys Him, violates our relationship, and brings sadness to the perpetrator and hardship to those who belong to him.
2. The New Testament gives numerous definitions of sin.
“Sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4).
“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
“To him who knows to do right and does it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
“All unrighteousness is sin” (I John 5:17).
These four definitive statements alone should convince us the subject is large and elusive.
3. We are not to focus on sin.
Believers who focus on sin become pitiful caricatures of Christians. They evolve into nit-pickers who find fault with everyone and everything, negative nay-sayers who are a pain to be around, and procrastinators waiting for the right time to act, which never comes.
Wise believers get it right by focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ. “For me, to live is Christ,” is how the Apostle put it (Philippians 1:21). Hard to improve on that. “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).
4. Sin is against God, first and foremost, and only secondarily against others.
“Against thee and thee only is my sin,” David confessed in Psalm 51:4. We might argue with that. After all, didn’t David betray his country, his family, Bathsheba herself and particularly, her husband, the outstanding man of integrity, Uriah? He did. But mostly, he betrayed God.
When we fail or betray one another, we sin against God. Samuel told Israel, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (I Samuel 12:23).
5. One evidence of the sinful heart is that we love to hear stories of people sinning.
The church member who insists that his pastor “preach on sin more!” is succumbing to the National Enquirer mentality of the human heart. The lower nature loves its stories of failures and bankruptcies, of seductions and betrayals. Television producers have figured this out, and regularly turn out programs filled with stories of the most horrendous murders, child kidnappings, family disintegrations, and the like. One reason people enjoy courtroom programs is this scavenger nature of ours that feeds on the dead. So long as none of the programs (or sermons) deal with our particular situation, they leave us feeling slightly superior.
The evidence of Romans 3:23 (that we are all sinners) abounds.
6. A second evidence of our sinful nature is our judgmentalism toward sinners.
How bizarre is that! We are all sinners and yet we condemn people who sin?
The answer is that, “Yes, we do. But their sins are worse and more numerous than mine.” Ahhh. The classic hypocrite.
Jesus nailed us with this word: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
7. The Christian life is not about sin.
It’s about “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It’s about serving God, loving God, obeying Him. It is about being the “new creation” He has made us (II Corinthians 5:17) and doing His will.
Sin is the aberration, the going against His will. As the title of Cornelius Plantinga’s wonderfu and award-winning book has it, “Not the Way It Should Be.”
Two people meet, fall in love, and marry. Their existence from then on is not about displeasing each other and not even about doing all they can to avoid displeasing the other. They are about loving, nurturing and cultivating that love, and protecting it.
8. Sin is in our nature.
We were born in sin and born sinners.
Anyone doubting that should study the toddler whose every cry is about himself. He wants to be fed, changed, picked up, and coddled. Not once does he call out to mother on behalf of a sibling who needs attention.
The odd thing is how some over the centuries have thrown out the concept of original sin and taught man is basically good and born with that goodness which only needs to be encouraged. The Bible has no good word to say about this foolishness which flies in the face of reality.
9. We can’t blame it all on the devil either.
The philosophy that “the devil made me do it” doesn’t wash. Man’s sinful, warped and selfish nature accounts for most of the devastation he wreaks in this life.
In order to create havoc on the highway, it is not necessary to put maniacs behind the wheel of each car. So long as the steering mechanisms have been tampered with, well-intentioned drivers will find it impossible to do their jobs.
Your steering mechanism has been tampered with. Therefore, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
10. There is one Savior from sin and only one, Jesus Christ.
The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross….” (I Peter 2:24).
“You know that He appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin” (I John 3:5).
“Morality, like art,” said the wonderful G. K. Chesterton, “consists of drawing a line somewhere.”
Thank God for drawing the line and then for extending it into a circle, one which envelopes us His children.
“The unbeliever leaps into sin and loves it. Believers lapse into sin and loathe it.” Adrian Rogers said that in my church on one occasion. I don’t want to push it too far–sometimes believers love sin, too, to our everlasting shame–but there’s a lot of truth in it.
It is allot simpler to take Jesus by His word. It is allot simpler to admit that we are sinners rather to justifying our action reasoning that we are human after all. Admitting our sins is admitting that we need God’s grace and mercy. The Israelite had 613 commandments. The Cross replace 603 commandments, leaving us with ten. It is 9 more then Adam had, which is not to eat of the fruit knowledge of good and evil. Secular society does not want to be remind of them so are most Christians. As for the Sabbath rest it is perpetual rest that Jesus invite us into not just a day of the week. Take the time to read Romans 7 “Law Cannot Save from Sin”
Great article Bro. Joe! I remind myself of Jeremiah 17:9 when I unfairly expect the world to adhere to Christian standards. I also use Paul’s words in Romans 7:15-25 when I become overly critical, and try to cripple myself. Our P.O.V. is everything. Do we see through the lenses of Christ and God’s Word, or do we look through the flesh which has been there so long? Another wonderful, Christian gut-check. Thanks brother!
I think that you need to write more on this subject Joe McKeever: Why Sin Matters. It won’t be a taboo topic however generally people are not sufficient to speak on such topics.