Wednesday, July 26, 2006
What is sin?
Have you ever noticed that when Christians have discussions about ethics and morality (i.e. about what's right and wrong) they tend to ask questions like "Is it a sin or not?" or "Does the Bible say it's a sin?"

For a while now I've been increasingly uncomfortable with talking about moral issues in those ways, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I mean, as Christians we're supposed to be concerned about sin, right? And we're supposed to care what the Bible says about morality, right?

But then, just yesterday, I was reading this book on Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and the author was talking about how our goal for our children ought to be for them to do the right thing just because it's right and not because we've told them to or because they'll be punished if they don't. He says:

We want them to ask "How will doing x make that other kid feel?" - not "Am I allowed to do x?" or "Will I get in trouble for doing x?"

After reading this, it hit me: that's what's wrong with many of our disussions about sin and moral behavior - we're not asking the questions like "How will my actions affect others?" or "Does this choice demonstrate love for others and love for God or the opposite?" By merely asking "Is it a sin?" we are basically only asking "Is it allowed?" or "Will God punish me for doing it?" But how rarely do we ever go deeper. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, are we really concerned with increasing love or are we mostly concerned with following the rules and avoiding punishment?

What if sin and goodness isn't about rules? What if the point is not all about what is "allowed" by God? (What if the rules we find in the Bible are in fact simply examples that God has given us to get us started on figuring out what it looks like to really love?) What if the point isn't to worry about God punishing us if we don't toe the line? (Isn't part of the the point of the Cross that we don't have to worry about punishment anymore?) What if the point is simply figuring out which actions increase love and which do not? What if right and wrong is not about rules but about relationships?

Of course, this is scary. It's scary because it's messy. It's messy because while there's usually only one right answer to the question "Is it a sin?" there are potentially dozens of answers to the question "How can we best love others?" Sometimes what is loving in one context is not loving in another. Sometimes loving others will require us to break some of the "rules" (when those rules actually get in the way of our ability to love). Sometimes there is no perfectly loving thing to do, just a choice that is less unloving than the alternative... like I said, it gets messy.

But here's my challenge, to myself, and to anyone else reading. Let's try going 30 days (Morgan Spurlock style) without asking the question "Is it a sin?" Instead, everytime we're tempted to ask that, let's instead ask ourselves the question "Is it loving?" Perhaps we can go even deeper by asking some further questions like "Does it increase or decrease love? Does it respect and build up my relationships with the other people involved, or does it tear them down? Is there anything else I could do that would be even more loving or less unloving?"



posted by Mike Clawson at 10:20 PM | Permalink |


At 7/27/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger dan

Great insight, Mike. Do you mind if I steal this and share it with my people? I think this hits the nail right on the head for so many. We make such a big deal about sin, but for all the wrong reasons. Yeah, this really explains it well. Thanks.


At 7/27/2006 12:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Great post Mike. I once heard a Christian speaker say that sin is not necessarily about breaking the rules or worrying about being punished, but that it refers to missing the mark in the sense that when we sin we are not living in the loving, grace-filled way that God intends. Therefore, avoiding sin is not about checking off what we've done wrong or right, but it is about truly embodying the character of Christ in our daily lives. So I definitely think you are right on about asking "Is this loving?" rather than "Is this a sin?" Great post and thanks again for the book recommendations. I'm in the middle of "A Generous Orthodoxy" and am really enjoying it. Take care and God bless:) ~Nick Price


At 7/27/2006 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Dan,

Feel free to borrow whatever you like.


At 11/24/2006 04:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

isnt sin horrible because it seperates us from God? I want to view sin how God views sin. I believe that it is missing the mark, but i think it's bigger than we think and we dont make enough of a deal about it. I mean Jesus gave his life because it was bad. He didnt just come and live a good life and then fly away. Because of my sin an innocent man had to die.


At 12/07/2006 12:00:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Yes Nony Mouse, sin is bad because it separates us from God. That is part of what I mean when I say that sin is not about rules but relationships. Sin is bad because it causes a break in our relationship with God (i.e. it separates us). It decreases our love for God and for others.


At 4/15/2008 12:01:00 PM, Blogger alo 89

Proverbs 24:11-12
11 Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?

Is it loving to ignore the question of sin if those "staggering toward slaughter" need to know why they are headed the wrong way?