What’s the best way to justify a behavior most Christians would deem unacceptable? Redefine sin.
Recently, I’ve noticed how the definition of sin has evolved to mean an act that harms another. When the definition of sin is limited to this, then there are countless of behaviors we could be allowed to do. Such as sex reassignment, homosexual practice, lust, gossip, jealousy, overeating, suicide, drug abuse, polluting, and many more. And I know some would say, “Well, some of these can hurt people. That’s why it’s sinful.” Really? With this line of reasoning, sharing a non-gluten-free meal would be considered sinful because it just might harm someone. So, sin can’t be reduced to harming another.
This light view of sin serves the basis for this kind of response: “It’s not like it’s hurting anybody”. If you don’t know what sin is, then you’d likely concede, “You’re right!” And these so-called Christians go around judging behaviors based on this perverted definition of sin. Unintentionally, they’ve made themselves into gods. Sin is whatever they feel is wrong. They’ve gathered a bunch of smart people, discussed how hurtful a behavior might have to be for it to qualify as sin, and agreed which behaviors should remain sinful and which should be liberated from Jewish cultic oppressive beliefs.
Here’s what sin is. Sin is the act of violating God’s will. It is an act of rebellion of what is good and holy. It’s to miss the mark. Essentially, it’s anti-God. You see, God wrote a book, and a lot of it is regarding how people should conduct themselves. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s called the Bible. And in it he defines a lot of things. And this includes the meaning of sin. And it doesn’t matter whether we agree with it or not. God has the final word. It’s not something we get to vote on. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, it’s a monarchy.
R.C. Sproul, theologian, author, and pastor, wrote, “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”
And sin is more than what you might think. There are generally two kinds of sin; sin of commission, and sin of omission. The sin of commission is doing what you ought not to do. The sin of omission is not doing what you ought to do (you might want to re-read the last two sentences). An example of a sin of commission is stealing from someone. And an example of a sin of omission is walking pass a person who is drowning in a pool. So it’s not just what you do, but also what you choose not to do.
Remember when Jesus was asked to summarize the law? He didn’t just say “love your neighbor”. He said “love the Lord your God”. Say this again, “love the Lord your God”. Don’t get too emotionally romantic about it. But, understand this, loving God means loving his laws and obeying his words. It means honoring him with your understanding, your words, your deeds, and your thoughts. It’s abstaining from acts that God said not to do. Loving God is loving what he loves and hating what he hates.
Many Christians talk about God loving them, and how they want to be part of a church where they’re accepted, and a place where there’s just a lot of love and mocha’s and group hugs. But is this what it’s all about? About us? About you? Or is this about God? We need to change our language from me-centered to God-centered. Rather than wonder how we can continue to be loved by God while justifying our sin, we should ask, “What must we do to honor God with our lives?”
Here’s what happens when you don’t have a grasp on the definition of sin. You dethrone God and set yourself up as king. You become the center of your created universe. You’re the judge and the false giver of life. You permit certain behaviors, and you condemn those who don’t agree with you. Sin has deceived you. And you can’t see it because you’ve been lied to. And now you’re deceiving others into believing that the church and church fathers were wrong in their interpretation of scripture. That what was once considered a sin actually wasn’t, or that it was just for a specific time for a specific people in history. And then it snowballs into a so-called Christian movement believing in the same thing. Sin is deceptive.
Sin seeks to destroy you, relationships, families, the foundation of society, and the environment. It perverts the interpretation of scripture. It is the cause of pride, abuses of power, racism, cults, the great disparity between rich and poor, global warming or cooling or whatever it is that’s devastating the ecosystem, unnatural sexual practices, genocide and gendercide, school shootings and wars. Sin is deadly. If it’s not causing a hellish experience for you now here on earth, it will somewhere later.
Sin isn’t just the acts you do. Those rebellious acts are the effects, the manifestations of something deeper. Look, you are sinful. Your ego is tainted. It wants to elevate you as a superior being, so that God and others become your servants. Without knowing your proper role and responsibility, the understanding of scripture and sin, and the realization that God reigns supreme and can empower you, you will remain in your self-justified sins. It is important that you, me, we become aware that our actions reveal the struggle within.
From the beginning of creation, sin sought to kill. Before there was “the fall’, in a good, beautiful, perfect world, there was a deceiver who led Eve away. He was the hunter, humans were the prey. After she sinned against God, she led her husband Adam into sin. What this tells me is that when given the opportunity to rebel, humans are compelled to do so. “Well, they were ignorant” some might say. Or, “they weren’t fully matured yet”. Look, that doesn’t matter. They sinned. God gave them very specific instructions on what not to do. And he even warned them that if they rebel, they would die. So, even upon receiving this specific instruction from the Creator of the universe himself, when given the chance to obey or disobey, they did the latter.
Sin is death. It wants to kill you! It ultimately wants you to be distant from God, in this life and the life to come. And it will do whatever it takes to keep you from God. However, sin is not the originator of your death sentence. It begins with you. In the book of James, he shows that desire begets sin. And sin begets death. Desire – > sin – > death. It’s your uncontrolled desires that leads to death. Letting your desires reign free is essentially committing suicide. When we sin we spiritually die. When you remain in your sins, you remain dead in the eyes of God. Unless you are reawakened by the grace of God, in that state you will remain for all eternity.
Jesus spoke about hell more than any other person in the bible. If you want to explain hell away, you’ll have to turn your eyes and ears away from the words of Jesus. Hell is the place reserved for a large number of people who decide to live against God. Their acts of injustice to the Creator and to his creations, no matter how small the violation might seem, is enough for eternal banishment. As Jonathan Edwards stated in his most famous sermon, In the Hands of an Angry God, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” Your theological view cannot justify you, only God can.
C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” There’s this saying I hear quite often, “God doesn’t send people to hell, people do.” Partly true. But I think this is an attempt to make God seem passive and non-threatening and non-judgmental. “But don’t people send themselves to hell?” Yes, but think of it like this. When you commit a crime, and you go to court. Who has the authority to pass a sentence or grant freedom? The judge does. Your sin is what initiates you to meet Judge Jesus, yet Jesus will decide the outcome. God doesn’t initially send people to hell, but Jesus finally will.
Yes, Jesus was and is a compassionate person. But, he is king and he decides the fate of every person regarding who gets to enter his restorative and holy kingdom. He will either grant the inheritance of the kingdom saying “Come, My beloved”, or deliver those scary words “depart from me”. The scarier part of that declaration of demise is that those words will be heard by so-called leaders who had served in the church. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you continue to live un-repentantly, your death certificate has been made ready.
You’re going to meet people who will want to be part of your faith community and wonder if they’ll be accepted. The quick answer is “of course! Why not?” And then they’ll tell you in more indirect, implicit, softer ways, “I don’t want your theology of God preventing me from loving my sin”. And that’s fine if it’s coming from a non-Christian/non-churchgoer. They’re spiritually lost. But, I’m not referring to these. I’m talking about people who claim to be Christian, and they’re searching for a community that will accept their sinful behavior. “Will I be accepted?” is another way of saying “Will my sin be accepted?”
Here’s the stance that we should take: welcoming but not approving. And I truly believe this is the stance Jesus would’ve taken. We welcome sinners into the community of other (redeemed) sinners. We affirm that their sins are no different from the ones many of us still fall into. But sins they are nonetheless. Just because it’s difficult, or culturally acceptable, we cannot lower the bar or give a free pass to certain individuals. Welcome the greatest sinners into your faith community, but let them know from the beginning what sin is, and several examples of which behaviors are. Otherwise, being silent and just believing that they’ll eventually get it will actually do more harm, it offers a false hope, and it just might lead them to destruction. And if so, their blood might be on your hands because you would have committed a sin of omission. You could have prevented a person from remaining in their sins, but instead you allowed it.
Teach doctrine. In the early church, that was one of their foundations. It wasn’t merely just a good idea for people to learn whenever it was most convenient. Instead, it was part of the gathering. They studied scripture rigorously. One of the subjects that cannot be overlooked or taken lightly is the doctrine of sin. And this subject should be evident in the preaching, in small groups, in discipleship, in the communion.
It can be quite challenging to talk about Jesus without talking about sin. Some churches have resorted to talking about the humanness of Jesus, the happiness of Jesus, and good works and a Jesus who supports your decision to live whatever way you desire. You remove sin, you remove the atonement. You remove the atonement, you remove hell. You remove hell, you get heaven everywhere with lots of gum-drops. The reality is that without the teaching of the doctrine of sin, many people will continue to live in their sins, churches will become cults while singing kumbaya, and many people will go to hell.
So while we welcome everyone to the faith community, let them know that they’re welcome to journey along. Church isn’t a static community. It’s a movement. It’s not a pit-stop. It’s a freeway. I think this is the kind of language we should adopt when it comes to church. Rather than welcome people to join an event with awesome music, cool ambiance, a café with hipster baristas, and a fun and safe children’s ministry, we should invite people to travel along on a sanctifying path towards Christlikeness and holiness. “You’re definitely welcome to join us as we venture on the pathways of Jesus”. This can be more helpful and sets the expectation for spiritual maturity. It prevents deceptive “Christians” from acting as leeches, sucking the life, the resources, emotions, and energy from the church.
- Come to Jesus. By the grace of God, Jesus will mercifully redeem you. In one of his sermons, Charles Spurgeon said, “No sin, whatever it is, shall ruin any man if he shall come to Christ for mercy. Though you are black as hell’s midnight through iniquity, yet if you will come to Christ, He is ready to cleans you.”
- Repent! Repent! Repent! The first words out of Jesus when he began his ministry was “repent!” From this Martin Luther concluded, “Jesus willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”. Tell God how much you hate your sins. And that you want to hate it as much as he does. With holy sorrow, ask God to forgive you. And live that new life God has granted you.
- Realize you cannot escape temptation. And don’t try to run from it. Meet it head on. Fight it. Wage war against it! Don’t turn your eyes for a moment. While at Gethsemane, Jesus told his tired disciples to “keep watch”. This is not a game. This is real life.
- Following “keep watch” Jesus continued, “and pray”. When you fall into temptation, how often is it that you fell while you were praying? Exactly. Pray. Jesus said, “so that you will not fall into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Ask God to empower you, and be with you. You cannot fight by yourself. Let God fight your battles.
- Don’t justify your sin. Don’t make excuses. Don’t seek spiritual guidance from non-Christians, or Christians who don’t talk about sin and repentance, or just weird, questionable Christians. You’re not the only one who has weaknesses. We all do. They’re just different for every one of us. We all have our own battles to fight.
- Hold yourself accountable to someone who is willing to. You can’t do it alone. Don’t think you can. Once you do, you’re on your way to losing many more battles, and possibly getting killed. Don’t look for a peer who might justify your actions or won’t call you out. Find someone who knows the bible, and believes in it, and is devoted to your spiritual well-being.
- Tell others about sin and holiness. Like the pattern of Jesus, call people to re-think their destructive ways. The kingdom of heaven is near. It is at hand! What this means is that the kingdom is ever-present, within hands reach. However, sin will prevent them from grasping it, from grabbing hold of life. Warn them about the punishment at hand if they continue to live in destructive ways.