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How Christians Are Getting "Sin" Wrong

You remember the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s one of the most memorable ten minutes of the film. Indiana Jones has to walk through a temple full of hidden dangers to retrieve a golden idol. After carefully avoiding the minefield of paneled floored booby traps, he sets off the temple’s pitfalls:

Deadly darts.

Spikes from walls.

Rolling boulder.

You remember.

This is how many non-Christians, and even some Christians, see the Christian life.

Some of us tiptoe through life, trying to refrain from doing the wrong things, fearful we may set off the snares (which are everywhere by the way), and so “shipwreck our faith.”

Are we supposed to fear sin?

There’s so much more to the Christian life than keeping one’s self from sinning just like there’s so much more to football than simply not fumbling the ball.

As a result, Christians see their lives as a minefield, walking in careful fear.

Rather than a minefield to be walked, or even a trail to be followed, the Christian life is a garden to be explored and enjoyed with our Heavenly Father.

Ironically, the more we focus on being sinless and avoiding the mines, the more we’re likely to fall into its grip. Instead of living the Christian life in fear, we are called to live in peace, knowing that the trial is already over.

Sin is nothing to shrug at. It destroys our relationships with one another and with God. But Jesus died for our sins. The punishment has fallen on our Savior Jesus Christ at the cross. As a result, we no longer need to worry. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

Christians hesitantly shake their heads at this notion, afraid to fully embrace their freedom. They are afraid of the “slippery slope.” The Christian may think, If I let my guard down; if I’m not careful, I can “fall away.” Or, more commonly, they’re afraid society is on that slippery slope of sin, and that we’re losing our culture or country.

But God calls us from a place of fear. Fear is a response to judgment, but we are no longer under judgment. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 1:18).

Counterintuitively, God’s love causes a purity that we can never achieve by fear or resolve. The irony is that the Christian who lives by trust and love will look much more like a Christian than one that is prompted by fear to do the right thing. In fact, the major theme of the New Testament book of Galatians deals with this issue. Paul, the author, encourages the religious people (Jews at that time) to not go back and rely on fulfilling the Mosaic law to please God, but to live in their freedom in Christ. Freedom to love and serve others.

What makes sin, sin?

As I’ve shared my Bible interpretation on LGBTQ issues, pastors holding the traditionalist side have told me, “I wish it were true…” For clarity, I will use the term “traditionalist” for those that believe same sex sexual “behavior” is wrong in every context. These few traditionalists have confided in me their wish that the Bible didn’t condemn gay people. They have a compassionate heart. They know gay people. They see the commandment as burdensome, but they feel they must follow their interpretation of scripture. They wish that people could marry who they want. They wish their interpretation didn’t only encourage a “one man and one woman” marriage. They wish this because they see how destructive and condemning the law is.

And then I wondered, What other “sins” or prohibitions do people wish weren't true?

In other words, are there other “sins” the Bible condemns that seem burdensome or unfair?

Murder? No.

Lying? No.

Greed? No.

Drunkenness? No.

We’re GLAD these are categorized as sin, because of their destruction to self and others. Go ahead. Think of any “sin” that comes to mind.

So how do we determine what is sinful and what is not? It can’t just be “anything goes.”

It’s just this: the way we determine what is right or lawful is to consider if it is loving.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

This isn’t hippie progressive Christianity propaganda. It’s firmly and foundationally Biblical.

Everything we consider sin falls under the royal law — to love God and love your neighbor. Romans 13 tells us that if you love your neighbor, you’ve FULFILLED the law.

Romans 13:8-10 is a stop-everything-you’re-doing-and-write-this-down type of passage. When I bring this universal passage up to traditionalists, they have no satisfying answer. And I’ve brought it up to a LOT of traditionalists.

It must be noted that the principle of “love = obedience” is ubiquitous. It shows up throughout Paul’s writings and in the teaching of John, James, Peter, and Jesus and the gospel writers.

To be clear, love is defined as wanting the best for someone else, even at the sacrifice of your own benefit. Paul doesn’t bother to explain any caveats or special rules to love, because it is universally recognized. Love is love.

Incidentally, this type of Christian living calls us to a higher bar than simply obeying rules.

Consider Jesus’s sermon: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22.

Although less complicated, it’s much more difficult to obey the command of love.

Little is called from me to observe a holy day or stop a behavior, but the calling of love is much more personal. I’m called to love everybody, even those I consider difficult or destructive.

I would even challenge the traditionalist that my view takes sin much more seriously than their view of arbitrary commands.

What are the purposes of God’s commands?

God’s commands are NOT arbitrary or without reason.

Ah, but you might say, “Isn’t it true that God can give us arbitrary laws if he chooses, because he’s God?“ Yes, certainly. God CAN do that. But he doesn’t. His seemingly arbitrary laws in the Old Testament either seemed arbitrary to us because we didn’t understand the culture, or they were meant as a tutor to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

Christians forget that we are no longer under the mosaic law. Some mistakenly believe the New Testament teaches a new set of laws, or that we’re still under the Ten Commandments. Not only was the law to point us to Christ, but when Jesus came, he encouraged us to look at the spirit of the law. We can infer God’s law through the law of love.

He also teaches that the law was for humanity’s benefit, not as a burden for us to carry. This is clear in Mark 2, when Jesus is challenged by Pharisees because his disciples are gathering grain for a snack on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that David, their ideal king by whom all kings are compared, ate consecrated bread meant only for priests to eat. Then Jesus tells them that man was not created for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man.

This is good news for two reasons:

1) We don’t have to worry about accidentally messing up or displeasing God. If we follow the law of love, we are fulfilling his commands.

2) God’s commands are not burdensome, depending on how you look at it. Although there aren’t 613 arbitrary commands to memorize, the act of loving another -- truly loving -- is profoundly difficult. It takes supernatural intervention. Which is yet another reason we need Jesus.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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