The Problem Of Sin (And It's Not The One You Think) Part 1: Definitions

Dirty Hands
I think we Christians definitely have a sin problem, but I’m not sure it’s the one so many of us believe we have, or have been taught we have.

The problem for us is, we really love sin… a lot.

That is; we love to talk about it, preach about it, confront people about theirs, and when we feel like a pastor/writer/blogger doesn’t talk enough about sin, well, we get really, really antsy; like they’re intentionally trying to hide something or mislead us.

People in the Church often see someone’s sin stance, as a litmus test of their proper love for Jesus, and as adequate evidence of their Christian credentials.

On Facebook today, I had a friend ask me to clarify my perspective on sin, in a post that is representative of many I’ve received; one that I think reflects the mindset of so many modern Christians, so I’ll begin by posting a portion of it here. He writes:

I’m interested to know, as you are the leader of a faith community, where does the concept of “sin” fit in the picture for you? If someone came into your community displaying behaviours that were clearly impacting others and clearly against the Word of God, at what point, if at all would you confront it? What qualifies as a “sin” for you?

I think my friend’s very question, points out the great hurdle we have to contend with before we ever begin a substantive conversation on sin; the very real and difficult problem of defining sin itself.

I know in asking the question, he’s hoping for a succinct opinion on the incredibly complex, vast, divisive subject of sin, and almost immediately he begins using behavior as a barometer; asking how I would respond if someone “displayed behaviors” negatively affecting others, or “clearly” against the Word of God.

The expectation, is that as a Christian leader, I have a duty to call out and eradicate sin, and should have a clear, hard-and-fast ministerial model for doing so.

(I’ve read the four gospels about a half a million times, and I have yet to see that from Jesus).

My first response to any Christian who brings up the subject of sin and asks me to comment, is to ask them a seemingly simple question, which I’ll ask of you as you read:

What is Sin to you?

Do you believe that it is primarily:
a) A behavior; something we do? (My friend’s question certainly seems to assume so, at least in part, because he brings up another’s visible actions).
b) A condition; something he have? (The idea that sin is a fatal moral impurity we’ve all inherited; one that keeps us estranged from God, and requires some decision/declaration regarding Jesus).

Most Christians really don’t carefully consider how much the answers to these questions affect their theology, their daily lives as believers, their picture of God, and their agendas with other people.

If we believe sin is primarily an action, (which is often the case when looking at the lives of other people), then we need to decide just which actions are both sinful and clearly sinful, to the point that they are deal-breakers to God.

How can we objectively determine and all agree upon what behaviors, thoughts, activities are morally damaging; which ones God sees as sinful?
(I wrote extensively on the subject of the Bible, and the danger of supposing absolute clarity in it, here, in Point 2).

If we focus on someone’s outward conduct as evidence of their sin, we’d all be on pretty shaky ground, and I have a really hard time doing this in my personal and pastoral lives.

If, on the other hand, we believe that sin is primarily a moral condition, then how specifically does someone properly change that condition? How do we determine whether or not someone has satisfactorily completed the necessary requirements to restore themselves to right-standing with God?

Is it a magic prayer that fixes their sin condition?
If so, does it matter if they prayed that prayer, and didn’t understand what they were praying?
How about if they meant it then, but proceeded to go on living as if they never prayed it, afterward?
How about if they one day come to believe that the prayer they once prayed, no longer speaks their hearts anymore? Is it still binding?

Is the magic prayer alone the golden ticket out of Hell?
(And if it is, does Jesus ever tell anyone to pray said prayer in the gospels? Did Jesus ever give altar calls? Did he ever ask anyone to “receive him as their personal Lord and Savior?”)

What did Jesus ask of those who followed him?

Is it praying the magic prayer, and not doing bad stuff?
If so, what stuff is OK to still do and what stuff isn’t after you’re “saved”, and how much of it is OK? Is there a tipping point when the bad stuff cancels out the prayer?
(Which brings us back to trying to objectively decide from a limitless menu of choices, what is and isn’t sin that adversely affects the salvation prayer that one’s already prayed).

Is it just about really loving Jesus?
If it is, how specifically is this life-saving love measured? Is it a pass-fail, or is Jesus judging on a curve?

Not a lot of answers here, (which is sort of the point), but it’s a great place to begin; to really wrestle with what we each believe sin is and isn’t, what it does or doesn’t do, and what we can or can’t say definitively about it.

I’m not talking about an isolated Scripture passage. We can use segments of The Bible to supposedly prove or disprove all kinds of perspectives. I’m talking about, boiling it down to an irreducible essence; just what is this sin thing and how do we deal with it on a person-to-person, rubber-meets-the-road level?

Since I’m often asked to state what I believe about sin, I’ll start here in the murkiness of these many questions, and simply say that I believe building a ministry around sin or sin-policing is a very dangerous proposition, and one that’s somewhat irresponsible, given these issues I’ve raised thus far. Many pastors are fine doing this, but I think many are just being intellectually lazy.

I prefer instead, to build one around helping people know Jesus, and letting Him reveal what He chooses, to each person as they seek and follow.

I have to trust that God can do this better than I or anyone else can. That’s not heresy, it’s humility.

I think Christians want a nice, tidy sin theology that fits comfortably in a couple of bullet points, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, I’m not sure we can have that, even from the Bible.

I’m not trying to avoid answering my friend’s question with more questions. (Though Jesus loved that tactic).

My questions really are my best answer.

When we approach other people and want to talk about sin, I wonder what we really want to hear from them.

How about you?

What do you need to hear about sin from someone, to give you peace that they’re authentically Christian, or worth listening to or taking guidance from?

I’m OK saying that I just have a whole lot of messy questions. Maybe that makes me a crappy Christian and a lousy leader, but it’s the best I can do.

If you consider yourself a Christian, tell me what you believe about sin.

Maybe we can figure this thing out together.

(Note: I am fine with people responding on this topic with passages from Scripture, however as someone who has been a pastor for nearly twenty years, and who has studied the and taught the Bible extensively, I know the passages.

What I’d love to hear, is how you see those passages really translating to our everyday experience, to the way we teach theology, and to the way that you personally understand how to connect these words from the Bible to your life).


0 thoughts on “The Problem Of Sin (And It's Not The One You Think) Part 1: Definitions

  1. Great post! I define sin as disconnection from our true selves. I have struggled with addictions and anorexia and I look at those things as very disconnected ways of using and abusing my body. I don’t have solid answers to the other questions you asked, John, but that’s my two cents on the definition of sin.

  2. Sin is failing to be honest with yourself. Sin is failing to understand yourself. Sin is watching others when you should watch yourself. Sin is casting criticism before looking in your own mirror. Sin is every persons greatest flaw. Sin is pointing out another’s flaw without stating yours first. Sin is failing to love humanity.

  3. To me it isn’t a matter of sin but love. In John 14 Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my words”, that is 24/7 obedience of His commands. I think we all fall short of loving Him when we stumble over “do not judge”. In my 72 years that is the one thing I have had to come to Him and say I blew it again. Forgive me!

    • Thank you Mary! In this climate of judging others, I often say that withholding judgement and replacing it with compassion and love is one of the most difficult acts. Even though I am actively working on it, I find myself judging those who judge. On those times I get it right, I find myself more open to love, compassion and forgiveness. That can’t be an accident :-). I appreciate your comment, its a reminder to just keep trying.

  4. a) to me is venial sin. You mention it is a sin, tell the person how they are hurting others with that sin, and then you FORGIVE that sin.
    b) is mortal sin. That one isn’t as easy. It requires the willingness to forgive (unless, of course, it is the unforgivable sin of rejecting forgiveness), over and over, and help the person work on the sin.

    Can you tell that I think shunning is always wrong?

  5. Ok – I don’t generally put myself into these types of conversations… but having taught middle school Sunday school for thirteen years, and only using the Gospels for curriculum – I have a very strong and very unconventional opinion of what sin is. Selfishness. That’s it. Pure and simple. We are made to love God and love others in all we do, and anything that keeps us from that is sin. Anything that keeps us from loving God and loving others is going to be putting ourselves first. Selfishness. In other words, if it isn’t loving – the kind of loving talked about in I Corinthians – it’s selfish. If it’s selfish – it’s the opposite of what God wants us to do – so it’s sin. That’s all.

  6. I feel as if you have delved into my brain and pulled out my beliefs about this . Especially, about leading people to a relationship and letting God speak to their heart about sin since He is the only one qualified. I see problems with this especially when Christains minister to homosexuals. They feel the need to have them leave their homosexual ways in order to have Christ in their lives. Everyone worries about debating whether or not it is a sin. This in not our job. Our job is to be the love of God to others, period.

  7. Been waiting all day for this and this is BRILLIANT and I just love you and APPLAUD what you’re doing with your blog and ministry! Sin is a word so laced with heart damage factor, hurtful and negatively charged that I chose not to use it. If everyone understood it is an archery term that means “missed the mark” and was real about how we’re all in the same boat and kept a mirror in their pocket, it’d be different but that’s not the case. It is a horrible word that creates separation, derision and division. A follower of Christ transmits Christ’s love (or not) by how they live their life, not by what they say. That love is the game changer that will draw one into communion with God which is where folks are transformed, made new. Enough theory already, time to get it experientially.

    • Great, gr82breez, I also understand God’s word for man’s position as”missed the mark.” There are none righteous, no, not one. Jesus is the only perfect human. Once we admit we are sinners ,there’s that word again, we need to believe in our inner most being, down there,you know, where we really experience our selves, that Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is truth and it was just for me. I understand God’s word says we are to confess that faith to Him. That, God’s word says, is when Jesus blood covers our position of having missed the mark.

  8. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17::9. There you have it… a nutshell. We are all sinful, beyond help. That’s why Jesus died for us….’cause we are helpless without Him and God’s grace. I believe sin is any thing, thought, action, feeling, etc. that is not perfect in love. Only God is perfect and everything else isn’t which means it’s sin. Remember what Jesus said…..hating your brother is the same as murdering him. We really should be aware of how sinful we are regardless of what we’ve done compared to others. Being a Christian means we should be ‘aware’ of this and can be humbled by the grace of God. Therefore, we must be gracious with others and not judge. Please understand, we are also made in the image of God and am capable of great love and great deeds. That’s what we should be striving for, instead of putting the emphasis on the sinful side (which is so rampant in all of us). We’re hopeless wthout God’s love and grace. Understanding just how sinful we all are (even pastors) is important so we can concentrate on loving God and each other no matter what. Easier said than done….but isn’t that the whole point? Pastor John, my husband and I love your blog, keep it up. You’re refreshing.

  9. What an insightful post and amazing topic! I’ve thought very hard about what I believe sin to be, and I believe it is: *anything* that puts distance between me and God, or prevents me from fulfilling that which he has called me to do (that being, to love Him with all my heart and might, and to love others as myself). By that definition, sins can be mundane or profane, and are committed — even inadvertently — by everyone. The idea that we hold others’ sins over their heads is silly (but oh so true!), insofar as sins aren’t weighted; one person’s sins are no worse than anyone else’s…we’re all really in the same boat.

    So…I believe sins are actions that we perform, and that an “addiction” to ice cream can be as sinful as any of the more conventional sins (lust, murder) you can think of. That idea doesn’t seem to sit well with many people, but I believe it wholly.

  10. Love the comments above and this thoughtful post. What is sin? If you had asked me as a child I would have replied that there were good things and bad things and good people who love God do good things and bad people who don’t love God do bad things. Of course, as we get older we discover that there are people who love God who sometimes do “bad” things and people who don’t love God who do many good deeds for others in this world. Jesus gave us so many examples of sin and redeeming Love. The Good Samaritan. The Prodigal Son. The Woman at the Well. I love those. I love to teach those to preschoolers. I love to see them Love in action. One of my favorites is The Call of Matthew. I never really understood why people didn’t like tax collectors as a child. Taxes were good. My parents were school teachers. Taxes paid their salaries and built nice schools. We built a tax collectors booth one year. I came up with the not so original idea to use those foil Hanukkah coins, a brass collection plate, a lovely big pillow for “Matthew” to sit upon, and to issue coins randomly to the children. I made some rich with lots of coins and some poor with two or three. There were Goldfish and animal crackers for the snack that day and I charged the children for their snacks. They could buy as much as they wanted. Then, “Matthew” went around from child to child and demanded they pay their taxes. We had a Libertarian or two who tried to refuse to pay their taxes because they wanted to hoard their chocolate coins. One little girl had spent all her money on snacks and burst into tears. (I really felt bad about that.) Immediately, my two Williams leaped up and ran to her and gave her all their coins they had left after paying their taxes. She stopped crying, of course, and I said they didn’t have to give them all to her. One of them replied, “It’s okay. I can make more money.” Grace, grace. Marvelous grace. Well, they learned about why the Jewish people didn’t like Jewish tax collectors cooperating with the Big Powerful Roman Government and charging too much and sometimes skimming off the top. So what is sin? I will turn it on its head and ask what is the Light of Christ? Love. Sin is the opposite of Love. If sin hides in darkness then Light exposes sin. Who makes us aware of our sin? Light. Who is the Light of the World? Jesus. I love what Kendra wrote about sin being selfishness. Isn’t it always? I know my neighbor’s wife is in the hospital. He’s an older man who doesn’t like religion and is a pretty cynical guy. I took over ham biscuits last week. I cooked chicken tonight to take tomorrow. I really hate to cook so this is Big Love. He’s moving after almost ten years. Why did it take me this long to engage him in neighborly conversations? Oh, I can list all the reasons over our conflicts over our dogs, him wanting quiet from 9 to 9, me wanting me dogs to be able to be dogs in the big backyard a couple of hours a day, and more. Yet, under that facade of the tough government guy is a man whose 15 year old daughter died a terrible death. A man who interviewed a Watergate burglar. A man who rescued wounded and took the dying off the USS Liberty after it was attacked by Israel shortly before the Six Day War. He brings me vegetables from his garden now. He’ll say, “You know I don’t believe in all that religious crap. I’m a cynical guy.” No wonder! Meanwhile, I was selfish. I was self centered. I lost a lot of years of showing this man and his wife LOVE. It wasn’t that I was judging as much as I just wasn’t willing to invest in getting to know them. Don’t you think as we grow in and with Christ, our eyes are continually being opened and our ears hear more and our hearts grow a little bit bigger and we get a little less lazy? “The ways of God are foolishness to the world.” I’m still lazy. I still want to be left alone to read and study and craft and be with my rescue dogs who are grateful and always glad to see me. Yet, it gets harder to enjoy the alone time when you can’t get certain people off your mind that only God could have put there. You know that just saying I’ll pray for you isn’t enough. Some people are just born full of energy and vim and just love to bake casseroles and show up to do yard work and help repair a car whenever a need is made known. They’re the Martha types. We need them. We need to be them sometimes. I would be a Mary forever. The clothes would be dirty. The food would have rotted uncooked. So what else is sin? Overlooking need when it is clear that YOU are the one called to help. Judging which is not the same as asking a challenging question on occasion and suggesting that maybe Jesus might be something they would like to consider since nothing else seems to be working. (I dunno about that. It’s just after listening to the litany from some people, I get impatient and it’s like. Look, Shug. You’ve tried everything else known to man and you’re still here griping ten years later. Isn’t it time to give God a chance?”) Teaching or leading others when I am not in obedience to Him is sin for me…if I am not studying His word seriously daily and not just reading the latest book on the Christian Best Seller List, spending quality time in prayer and not just little thought bullets throughout the day at the red light or check out line or when they cross my mind, taking time to encourage others whether writing, calling, or texting, and such. I’m in a place where it is easier for me as my children are grown than people who are being pulled in a thousand directions with full time jobs, children, caregiving, and high need relationships. Ah. Other thoughts about Sin. I remember being at a Bible Study Fellowship retreat and hearing a leader refer to herself as a worm which is rather Scriptural, I’ve discovered. Poor Presbyterian who didn’t open a Bible much at Sunday School. We ate a lot of donuts and listened to Jesus Christ Superstar on the record player and drank Coke out of glass bottles. Not coming from an “altar call” or kneeling denomination, that “worm” reference rather offended me being of prissy mind and full pageant style paint. A worm? Why is this accomplished woman calling herself a worm? Eww. Yuck. I’d been “saved” since I was 14. My earliest memories were in church singing Holy, Holy, Holy and Tell Me the Stories of Jesus at age three. I have memories at age 2 in Sunday School. A worm? I’m not a worm. I’m a good girl. Of course, I love Jesus. Except I didn’t really. I loved God. God was orderly. God was right. When we studied “The Acts of the Apostles” I was not a fan. I did not want to spend a year on Paul. I didn’t like Paul really. I never got over that poster of him as Saul standing by as Stephen was stoned when I was a child. I didn’t care that God made him blind on the road to Damascus. I didn’t care that his name was changed from Saul to Paul. I didn’t care about all the cool things he did afterwards. He was mean to Stephen and stood by while Stephen was martyred for Jesus which was kind of extreme to a prissy good girl. I don’t know. We were in Leaders Training and all these women were sharing on this question or that how much what Paul said meant or whatever. On a personal question I shared that I didn’t like Paul. I’m Presbyterian. (I didn’t share that. We don’t talk about denominations in BSF.) Anyway, it dawned on me. I was a Pharisee. Saul was a Pharisee. I was Saul. I was a rule keeper and don’t mess with MY church traditions person. Light was shining all over the place. No one said, “Cheryl, you are so stupid for not liking Paul. You’re a terrible sinner for that.” It was a God thing. Light was all over the place. The stuff in the dark corners couldn’t hide. Isn’t that the prayer? Show me the dark places of my heart? Help me to be generous. Help me WANT to obey You in Love. Studying God’s word is always the best start to figuring out what the sin is in our life. Praying is a good place. Talking about it. Thinking about it. But the idea that you have to fix ever
    ything before you approach God is pretty Old Testament when the Israelites had to be consecrated and only Aaron and his sons were allowed to the work of the priests and approach God. I guess it’s whether you are a dispensationalist full of GRACE not Law person with a Just As I Am persona or a traditionalist who thinks you still have to fix as much as possible before approaching Him and get as clean as possible or I don’t know. I’m tired and need to go to sleep. I just know that I’m not as judgmental as I used to be about different ministries. The more I love God, the more I see how each one serves a need in people. The more I love God, the less I care about whether someone is Catholic or Methodist or Anglican or Presbyterian or Baptist or a Seeker or agnostic and more about how I can help them or encourage them or show them the Jesus I know. How? Just like my precious William…it’s okay, there’s more than enough to share where that came from…more fruit of the Spirit to go around…Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control…more Jesus, our Living Water, Bread of Life, Cornerstone, Light of the World…more Almighty God, Healer, Provider, Banner, Sanctifier, Shalom, the Great I Am. Sin is anything that keeps me from Him.

  11. There is such a thing as a biblical category of – the living dead. And if we don’t have Jesus, it’s a reality in which we live every day. Our being dead spiritually is not owing to our inability to talk or to think or to walk. So then, why are we dead? Apostle Paul gives us the answer to this in Ephesians chapter 2:1-3. He brings to us two reasons that we are dead without Jesus.

    1. He tells the Ephesian Christians “and you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,”

    Paul says we were dead because of our sin. We lived in sin and trespasses, we walked in sins and trespasses. We do sin, therefore we are dead. The one reason everyone is dead apart from Christ is, we sin. But our deadness goes much deeper than that. Here is the second reason.

    2. “…among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”

    Here are the two reasons we are dead. We are dead because we do sin, and because we, desire it! We love it. It feels so good. And so this is our condition apart from Jesus. We are dead because we do sin, and we are enslaved to sin because that’s what we desire with our heart. We want and love to do it, and we are dead because of it. This is the terrible news for all of humanity.

    We do sin, and we love it at least in the moment. I can’t give you much worse news than that. It’s so crippling. Not only do I do sin, I look forward to the loving of it! But this is where bad news turns into excellent news through the Gospel.

    Click for the full lesson:


  12. As a dyed-in-the-wool, leftier-than most theological liberal who wholeheartedly believes that sin is a condition, let me offer an extra perspective here.

    I grew up with a parent who had borderline personality disorder – definitely a condition – who abused me and my siblings daily. Physically and certainly emotionally. Everyone played this down and told me and my siblings not to be so dramatic. I would have loved for someone to say that may parent’s constant punishing of us for his/her own unhappiness was wrong action.

    We all understand that our parent was deeply unhappy. But s/he also behaved wrongly toward us. We would have loved for someone to tell us that s/he was the one who was behaving badly, instead of feeling that we were responsible for all of his/her feelings, as the rest of the family conspired to tell us.

  13. I so enjoyed reading your post. For me, “sin” is a declaration of independence. I, as a human being, have no need of the wisdom, guidance, correction, love, discipline of, or relationship with my Creator. That means that what encourages, promotes, or fosters independence (or as one earlier comment says, “selfishness”) in me is likely to be completely different for someone else. So who am I to judge, criticise, condemn or otherwise meddle in the business of others? I’m called to be salt and light in this world – I ought to be able to do that without trampling all over anyone else’s life. I’m pretty sure Jesus does say, “What is that you? Follow thou me.” 😉

  14. Our “sin rankings” have always bothered me, which this is tangentially addressing. For some, homosexuality is the end-all be-all sin. For others it’s abortion. Generally speaking, those same people run around gossiping all the time. Just get on with YOUR walk, people! I do think there is a need for some church discipline, however – Paul is pretty clear on it, although I agree that Jesus doesn’t address it. Our sister church’s leadership recently told a couple that they “couldn’t find in the Bible where living with someone is wrong” – although the woman has, herself, gone around telling people, “I know it’s unbiblical” and “I know it’s sinful” to be sleeping with this guy. I have to say that I do have a problem with the leadership here, not so much for this particular couple in particular as for the unbiblical stance they (leadership) are taking. Leaders, while certainly not perfect, should, as Paul says, be, well, leading. They put themselves in that position, and there is a responsibility to at least teach truth from it.

  15. Heard a good sermon on sin yesterday. Read Romans 7 where Paul says I do what I don’t want to do but the good I want to do I don’t (paraphrased). Then read Romans 8 (one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible) because it tells us as believers we are free from sin because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! I’d say that’s good news!

  16. I feel that my job as a Christian is this here in this quote I love from Thomas Merton: Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
    I think this points out that it is not our job to quantify another’s sin. We may talk to them about modifying behaviors to be healthy and more pleasing, but I don’t think we should approach it as our sin is better than their’s, because we all sin.
    I don’t remember exactly where I first heard this one, but it has become the motto for my business: To live as Christ is not to demand it of others, but to find it in yourself, so that others may see.

  17. I believe as Christians we are called to share the love of Jesus, not to judge others…ever! Even Bill Graham says he will leave that to God. Not one of us can claim to be sinless, not one, and therefore, we desperately need the atoning grace of the gift of salvation. That being said, even the “best” Christians will continue to sin after they have been “saved,” and so, will continuously need forgiveness. On the other hand, I don’t believe we should ever condone sin, whether that sin is homosexuality or adultery or lying. I’m not saying that gives us the right to judge. I’m just saying we should never fall into the trap of saying, that it’s okay that you do “xyz” because you’re human and we all sin. If my children come to me to disclose any sin, I won’t love them any less, I won’t disown them, but I also won’t tell them it’s okay.

  18. Matthew 22:36-40New International Version (NIV)
    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Why did Jesus deem these two commandments as weightier than all the others? I believe it is because in loving the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves, we will refrain from breaking all the others. The commandments are relational (either human to God or human to human). So what I conclude in this is that sin is a failure to love. Love is not tangible, yet it can be felt, shared, received, and given. In a broken world, we can even sense the absence of it. So, if this is true, sin is any thing or action, which prohibits the reflection of love. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus does not address, nor nit pick on whether we have failed to be perfect. He does, however, address how we have treated those on the fringes. In other words, have we loved our fellow human beings and cared for them? If we love others, we love Christ.

  19. I like where you’re going with this. The Church should be must more concerned with building vibrant relationships with Christ rather than behavior modification. Kinda like the tail wagging the dog.

  20. Hey, John. Great post! It’s nice to see others wrestling with the topics that the church has taken for granted and largely ignored for years. I wrote about this same topic myself a while back. You can read my thoughts here if you like:

    Keep up the great writing! I look forward to your next post.

  21. I talk about sin in quite a few different ways. Here are a few of them:

    1. Sometimes I emphasize that sin is failing to love God or your neighbor as you should.
    2. Sometimes I show how sin is idolatry.
    3. Sometimes I describe sin as slavery.
    4. One of the most effective ways of talking about sin is to show how sin is essentially self-righteousness or trying to save yourself.
    5. Sometimes I describe sin as “falling short of the glory of God.”

    I try to focus on the motives of the heart rather than mere outward actions. In the end, my goal is to show them their need for Christ and His righteousness! I have noticed that preaching hard on sin and the depths of it really weeds out the proud because it angers them. But the broken, hurting, sick, and humble flock to Jesus because they see what he has done for them!

  22. Honestly, I think the question your friend raises (which is fair) is more about him tying to gauge whether or not you are trustworthy as a representative of Christianity. There’s a deal breaker so many are looking for in people who raise more questions than they’d like to hear. And that deal breaker goes something like this:

    “This person won’t call sin sin…this person has no foundation or has allowed their foundation to erode…this person is wishy washy and takes no stance on anything…this person is too emotional and not nearly pragmatic enough.”

    The tough part about doing what you’re doing, John, is that you could spend scads of good time defending yourself, answering questions and pleading your case. But I hope you won’t. Your blogs are ones people (the type I think you’re after) need…and consider…and open themselves BACK up to God because of.

    “He’s like me.” That’s what they feel, and because of that common ground they are experiencing in your blogs, they are feel okay, once again, to seek God out…to speak TO God…to consider life with God…again.

    You’re doing good work. I hope you have someone in your life that is helping to keep you on this beautiful path of discovery that you seem to be on…rather than the harsh and insecure path of defense that many of your readers might try snare you onto.

    Peace and love, John. Love what you’re doing.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Matt. I’m after any readers who resonate with the writing, even those who disagree with in and want to have open conversation.

      My friend’s actually a more Conservative guy, who really is trying to navigate things that he’s beginning to look at differently. A topic like sin is a great one for people of faith to wrestle with; hopefully not just with like-minded people. The only thing mandatory is a respect for the opinions of others.

      I think the question he posed was worth answering, and hopefully it can be a table-setter for people.

      There are certainly people like you mention above, but there are so many others who fall all along the theological spectrum, and who are open to having meaningful dialogue.

      I’ll never avoid or shy away from people who disagree with me, even if their motives are less than pure.

      Appreciate the encouragement.

  23. I believe that sin flows forth from a state of the heart of man, that effects our relationship with God. It is sometimes visble through our actions/words but most of times it is invisible, in our thoughts, what we perceive, what we feel. In that inner place that only God has knowledge about. We know when sin is sin through the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit that convince us of that sin. No man can do the work of the Holy Spirit. We should live through example, be reflections of God’s love, aiming to please God in all and that should be our highest calling. Too many christians through “sin” theology has labelled people and caused people to live in condemnation, turning them away from God believing that they will never be good enough to earn His love and grace.

  24. Spot on, John! I studied the evangelistic messages in the book of Acts and found that sin was only mentioned in 1 out of every 3 messages. Jesus was mentioned in each one (an average of 9 references to his person….but there are some long messages), his death on the cross was mentioned each time, and his resurrection on average once each time (although not in each message). So the emphasis on SIN with the modern evangelicals does not seem to be in the book of Acts. Jesus, of course, makes this even more confusing as he is condemning the righteous and letting “sinners” off the hook!

  25. I agree with you. The word ‘sin’ carries so much cultural baggage. To many people, avoiding sin seems more like following a bunch of arbitrary and irrelevant rules. But Jesus didn’t talk about simply avoiding sin. Consider the story of the rich young ruler who was already following all the rules. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and do good. In Matthew 25 Jesus said we have a fulfilling life by feeding the poor and visiting the prisoners. If we get so caught up in defining what’s sin, it’s easy to fall into a self-righteous attitude. But we’re probably doing much worse when we fail to give, do good for one another, practice good conflict management, etc.

  26. Sin? Anything that gets in the way of a person’s personal loving relationship with God. I think the answer is different for every single person. I think we’re all broken in some way. God is working with each one of us in different ways, moving from one thing to the next as appropriate for that person. SO thankful for freedom, grace and a Savior.

    Your question, “What do you need to hear about sin from someone, to give you peace that they’re authentically Christian, or worth listening to or taking guidance from?” got me really thinking and searching… Is it wrong that I don’t think that’s the question? What I’ve started looking for and asking is, ‘what fruit of the spirit do I see in this person’… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It seems like if these things are consistently, genuinely, present in a believer then they most likely belong to God. If we truly love God with everything we have, Everything, working to stay close to Him and then we turn around and really love others it seems like we wouldn’t want to do things that hurt others or ourselves; that our choices would be aimed at living in community and better harmony; and that we would feel more encouraged to help each other. We’d live asking and seeking for ways that Jesus treated others and what He thought was important. We’d trust He took care of sin once and for all and be free to keep trying to love God and each other better. Still leaves a lot of questions….

  27. I want to be obedient to God’s Word, and there He tells me to show His unconditional love to others and share the Gospel – which is the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection – which was for them. When the Holy Spirit lives within a person, He will talk to them about sin.

  28. Sin to me would be breaking of the 10 commandments. If we steal………we know it’s wrong. I don’t believe there is an unforgivable sin………unless it could be refusing to believe in Jesus/God.

  29. Christ did not come to make bad people good but dead people live. Our job is His followers is to follow Him and point others to him. It matters not where others have come from or what burden they bear as long as Christ is their destination and at the foot of the cross burdens will be laid down. Sin is a lostness, from all we were created to be and only Christ can take us to where and what and all we could be.

  30. Sin is disobedience, the refusal to obey. The prideful belief that what I want, what I desire is better than what God commands or desires. It is the exercise of our own free will outside of the will of God. We are born into the sin condition but that does not excuse our behavior. The exercise of free will outside of God’s will is an exercise of selfishness as opposed to selflessness. It is rooted in the belief that our idea of better is better than God’s idea of better. That we know better, when in fact we should know better. Sin is the love of self above the love of God and others. The place where God’s will is done all the time – heaven or heaven on earth. It is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. His will be done. Sin is both an action/attitude and a behavior/condition but we are called to be greater, and in order to live life to the full we must but we cannot do it on our own. God told Cain that sin desired to have him but that he must master it. In other words, like Paul eluded to, we are slaves to sin but through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit we become slaves to righteousness or right relationship with God and others. For our relationship to be right with others we first must be right with God which can only be achieved by and through and in the blood of Christ. The only atonement for our sinful nature and our sinful acts. Then and only the. Can we truly selflessly love our neighbor and overcome as Christ overcame the world. It is through his power and in Him we find true life and can live it to the full.

  31. I’d like to echo what other people have already said here about selfishness, self-righteousness, and pride. Sin is a doctrine of goodness without God. It is the belief that we can live a good life on the basis of our own efforts, without Jesus. It is the belief that we are pretty good compared to other people. It is the belief that we earn our place is heaven. It is the belief that we are saved by our own merits or deeds, and not Jesus’.

    I think your question, John, about what does sin mean to us, is crucial. When we meet the real Jesus, we should be shocked/disturbed. No one is good. No one puts Gods first in every part of their life. He requires a lot more of us than we ever thought, but he also offers a lot more than we ever imagined.

    I think it is from this position that we can assess other people’s sin, as a beggar leading another beggar to water. It is out of a spirit of judgmentalism and hypocrisy when we are more enraged at someone else’s sin than embarassed of our own, when we fail to forgive to other sinners, or when we write someone off as hopeless.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about three stages of spiritual maturity in the church: 1. When we are disgusted at everyone else’s sin. Bunch of hypocrites we say. We are spiritual infants. 2. When we become more disgusted at our own sin than everybody else’s. More aware of our own hypocrisy. Like Paul, we are the chief of sinners. (1Tim 1:15) 3. We we reenter the church not as Pharisees but as Christians who have received amazing grace and are ready to give it.

  32. Sin…trying to get your needs met from any source other than Jesus. Stealing-God isn’t providing=I can’t trust him to. Lying-I need something (love, acceptance, worth, security) that I might not get if I tell the truth=Jesus love is not enough. Anger- you are making me feel bad and I need to feel good=Jesus is letting me down.

    Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, just a sample of how we discount the awesomeness of a mighty, loving God that lives in us and is always for us. Our circumstances and works do not define us…He does.

  33. I don’t need to hear anything in particular about sin to deem someone a worthy or authentic Christian. I guess I’m more like you in that I’d rather live with the mess and I’m the one often considered by others to have failed the test.

    I believe that none of us can live sin-free lives and it’s not our job to be running around pointing out others’ sins and passing judgment on them. I know there are Scripture passages that tell us we should (lovingly) point out fellow Christians’ sins, but I don’t know how to do it in a way that’s not damaging so I typically don’t. I let love be my guiding priniciple and trust that, while I still probably won’t get it all right, I’ll be much closer than I would have if I had picked any other decision-making criteria.

    I remain so very happy that I found your blog. When you hold a minority perspective in your church and your community, it’s comforting to be reminded that there are others out there that see the world more similarly to you. And when those people can still push you to challenge your own assumptions and flaws, all the better.

  34. Here’s my definition of sin, similar to some already posted here:

    Sin is any condition or action that causes us to be separated from the love of God.

    This says to me that the result of my sin is that I cannot fully receive God’s love, and I am unable to love as God loves. When you mention the concept of a “dealbreaker”, it looks as if sin means to break a law that will cause God to punish us, either now or later (as in being banished to hell).

    I don’t believe that God looks at us in that way. He looks with some sadness at how misguided we are (as someone mentioned) looking for love in all kinds of places except in Him. He hopes for us not to become “good, authentic” Christians, or members of any religion for that matter, but rather to become loving human beings.

    Another reason why I like this definition is that it tells us that there are some sins that are conditions largely beyond our control (hence the need for Jesus), and others that we simply do (the need to study the word and follow our conscience). Where the balance lies is something to ponder in our life of faith, seeking God’s presence, and striving to be a good person with personal effort.

    I have struggled a lot recently with a perspective on homosexuality that is both truthful and compassionate. We don’t know the cause for this human condition, either spiritual, psychological or biological. Does it separate someone from God’s love? Probably yes, in some ways, maybe not in others. It certainly is a barrier to creating a family, one of the “places” in which we are schooled in love and unselfishness. There’s a lot more to wrestle with about this, and I’m grateful to you for creating a forum where these issues can be discussed openly and without judgment.

  35. I recently discovered this blog, and am so grateful for the thoughtful discussion. My view on sin is this: it’s the thing that causes brokenness in all people, and it’s the thing that Jesus died for. Love has conquered sin. So when I look at a person, I don’t see a sinner, I see someone who is deeply Loved, and the sin problem has been taken care of for them. The gospel is just simply helping them become aware of that reality. And, I am so grateful to my God, who loves me so much.

  36. Fo me sin is trying to be God. That may sound simple, but so many things fall under this. If we’re God then we are above others. We can judge them, criticize them, even kill them if we deem it ok. We know what best for others, and should be listened to. So many terrible things come from thinking we’re better or greater than others, gossip, slander, mistreatment of others. Rules don’t apply to us cause we make the rules. When you let God be God, and realize we are beneath him and all in the same boat, no one better than the next, we come to realize, we don’t know everything, so we need to communicate with one another to learn. We each have some wisdom from the spirit, so if we work and learn together, we can all come to understand more of who God is and what He wants from us, to love him, and those around us and ourselves. We realize we’re all still children with a lot to learn.

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