What is sin?
If you’ve been to any childhood sunday school class you’ve heard that sin is anything that displeases God. While this is true, it leaves a lot open to interpretation. As a result it’s been misused to present a standard of sin universally across the board that is not defined specifically in scripture.
The Bible defines sin as worldliness, appearance of evil, and unrighteousness (I Thessalonians 5:22; I John 2:15-17, 5:17). Ultimately, it is falling short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:23), but that still leaves things open to interpretation.
There are very specific lists of sin recorded in the Bible. We can say without consequence that pride is a sin as well as homosexuality. However, what we end up doing is separating to two and teaching that one is more severe than the other. While there might be different effects of these two sins, the simple fact is that they are equal. It’s easy to look at certain perverse sins and think that they are sectioned off for the extremely evil. But when we look at Romans 1:29-31 we see them side by side.
Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.
Based on this, we can conclude that God is very specific about sin.
God sees sin as black and white, but He deals with it differently. We see sin differently but we deal with it as though it’s black and white.
As we attempt to prepare the next generation with biblical truth on the doctrine of sin (hamartiology), we need to be careful that we don’t allow our philosophical limitations to permeate what is Biblically abstract.
First, let’s get this out of the way, sin is anything that displeases God. That means that there is a black and white when it comes to evil and good. God has an absolute benchmark for what is right and wrong. Whether we see it or not, God has a perfect standard for holiness.
Secondly, there are singularly specific sins that relate to individuals that are not universal. It’s possible for an individual to sin in an area that is not a sin for someone else. In my post last week about the conscience, I pointed out that acting against the conscience is a sin. Romans 14:14 states, “But to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”
Here is the problem. There are two sides to this coin and both arguments only fit half of the bill. Both of these arguments are a result of a presupposed philosophical position.
The modernist view attempts to categorize sin in a scientific method. They acknowledged that God is absolute and that He is the ultimate good. Anything that is contradictory to His holiness is evil. In their attempts to please God, they seek to avoid any form of evil and purify themselves and others from what is considered sin. The problem comes when they try to define the abstract terms like, ‘worldliness,’ ‘appearance of evil,’ and ‘unrighteousness.’ Using the scientific method they test areas in their own lives and prove them to be sin. Because they have proved them to be sin, they must be universally true. They have a hard time, based on their philosophical presuppositions, seeing anything they know to be certain as sin in their own lives as being anything but in the lives of others.
The post-modernist view attempts to generalize everything as a singularly specific sin. They may not see the areas of their life as sin, therefore they justify their actions as being righteous. What their conscience doesn’t speak to specifically must be okay, even if that contradicts what the Bible says specifically.
Both positions fail to see the whole truth and therefore are fully wrong. As we attempt to teach this accurately, we need to be careful not to approach it from our presupposed philosophical positions. Ultimately, we need to acknowledge that sin is a very serious issue, and though the Bible isn’t always specific about these areas of sin, God has provided everyone a personally specific conscience to help them live a life pleasing to God. It is therefore the individuals responsibility to earnestly search the Scriptures to be renewed and transformed in order to discern the will of the LORD.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17