Awhile ago I codified some key tenets about a biblical view of “sin.” You can find that entire post here, and it’s pretty short, designed for a quick read. I recommend visiting it before reading on…..
It’s been on my mind for a while now to set down some more thoughts about defining sin biblically. Again, nothing I say here is new. This is orthodox, standard theology. But I need to hear it.
And I run into these misunderstandings repeatedly.
In short form:
1. As believers, we must recognize the primary authority of the Word in defining sin.
1a. Another way to say it: God gets to define what sin is. I don’t. Neither does my pastor, the Pope, or anyone else….though I would be foolish to think I can sort this out by myself.
Does the Bible, rightly and carefully interpreted, say any particular action or thought is WRONG?
If not, you don’t have the right to say it’s a sin.
2. The Spirit and the Word govern my conscience, a God-given early warning system. But the system has to be calibrated correctly to work right.
Rightly adjusted, my conscience can properly identify sin. But my conscience or my feelings or my traditions or expectations or experiences are not a substitute for a biblical definition of sin. And my conscience was warped by the Fall, just like everything else. When you start to do something, does your conscience say STOP? Then STOP. But go find out if your conscience was reacting biblically because…..
2b. The “weaker brother” gets no medals for being weak.
In fact, demanding a higher standard than God does is a sign of IM-maturity!
Paul talks a lot about this in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. He says, If I entice someone with a weak conscience to do something that person feels is wrong, I have overstepped the line.
But notice in both letters, Paul is taking time to ADJUST the weak consciences about the hot button issues of the day from a biblical standpoint. It’s not ok to leave people thinking they have got it all sorted out with their fancy system of rules. Replace “meat offered to idols” with drinking beer, listening to screaming metal music, celebrating Halloween, or smoking … you get the idea. Pastors and mentors are responsible for helping us adjust our consciences so they sound a warning at things that really are sin, not just stuff that bothers us.
3. We should acknowledge the wisdom of experienced Christians and submit ourselves to the elders who shepherd our churches when we choose how to act in the Body of Christ.
Nope, we’re not in this alone. I don’t get to make up my own Bible interpretations. The entirety of the Body is very important here in preventing people from just going off on their own personal interpretation-wagons and missing the real point. So my understanding of what God says about sin and righteousness is an exercise in interpretation-within-the-community-of-Faith.
4. If it’s a gray area, then it’s not sin… by definition.
Biblically, “Sin” means sin. As in…. Wrong. Evil. Twisted. Polluted. Dirty. DONT DO IT.
This should not be confused with “inappropriate,” “unwise,” “dancing too close to the line” or anything in a similar “gray area.
This, folks, is where it all hits home. As you follow the Spirit and the Word and walk in the fellowship of the Body, you WILL come into conflict with other believers’ ideas of sin and righteousness. Are you willing to set aside the condemnation that arises so naturally in each of us when we find people who disagree?
I don’t get to define sin for you, outside God’s commands….which are difficult enough,
Building a fence around the Law to keep yourself or others from breaking it? That’s Pharisaism. No way around it.
A King knows there’s a big lake in the middle of his kingdom which is so dangerous, people drown when they try to swim in it. So he makes a Law for the people: Do not swim in the lake. His overseer comes along and says, “Hey, if we build a fence here, no o e can swim in the lake, so no one will drown!” So he puts up a nice big fence, and labels it with large signs reading DO NOT APPROACH FENCE.
But that’s Pharisaism. And Jesus HATED it.
God says, “do not commit adultery.” Jesus unpacks this command in Matthew 5 and shows how the deep meaning of the command is “Don’t lust.”
What should you do?
What about setting a rule for myself that I won’t ever be in a car alone with the opposite sex?
You’re building fences.
It might be the right thing for you to do in this moment of your life. But recognize what you’re doing.