Part 1: Introduction
For most of my teenage and adult life, the term “sin” made me think about pulpit pounding preachers and snooty church ladies wearing fancy clothes.
Other than this vague connotation that I carried around in the back of my mind somewhere, I did not think about sin that much.
I was not always that way.
As a child, I loved the Lord. I talked to Him all the time. I tried to read the bible and understand. I especially loved the Sermon on the Mount, and I wanted my life to reflect those teachings. I wanted to be like the Jesus I saw on those old 70’s movies at my grandma’s house. I did not know the Lord that well, but the idea of Him was very dear to me and I wanted to serve Him.
By the time teenage years were in full swing, the Jesus I loved was placed on a shelf somewhere in the recesses of my heart and mind, only to be taken out on occasion.
I believed that I was saved, that everyone sinned, and that I was forgiven no matter what I did. I always had a nagging feeling. Some part of me knew that I was not living for the Lord, but I pushed that aside until the nagging feeling went away. Then came the darkest years of my life.
In my late 20’s, I found myself in a hopeless situation. The sins I had thoughtlessly allowed to run and ruin my live were so detrimental to my mental health that I wanted to die. I had tried everything to stop the emotional torment, but nothing helped. I tried drinking, drugs, medication, and various “spiritual” and “religious” practices that were not Christian. I still considered myself a Christian, but I was on the brink of giving up the faith.
I prayed to Jesus and a series of events caused my life to change. I began to see my sin clearly and I took it very seriously. So seriously, that I fell into another sort of depression. I had been recently taught that receiving the Holy Spirit would help me overcome sin. I spent about a year and a half asking for the Holy Spirit, and in late January of 2016 my prayer was answered.
I did find that some sins were taken away and I received things that I did not expect. The change was so drastic, that at first, I thought that I might be sinless. I soon found out that I was not, but I believed that I could and should be. I believed that unless I found my way out of all sin I would not be saved. I became hard on myself, and at times, hard on others.
I became much like those pulpit pounding preachers and snooty church ladies I once hated. How did that happen?
Jesus continued to work on my heart, and I believe to have a more balanced perspective on sin and Christian life in general. I’m still learning.
In this series, I want to take some time to think and write about sin. What is sin? How does sin affect our lives? How does the gospel relate to our sin? Can a Christian live a sinless life in this present world? How should Christians treat sinners?
Part 2: What is Sin?
What is sin? I think most of us have some idea of what sin means. We know that sin is something considered to be wicked or against the will of God.
I was taught that the word sin means to “miss the mark.” If we miss this mark, then we are behaving in a manner that is not pleasing to God. There is a response to every situation that is perfectly pleasing to God, and we can miss the mark in lesser and greater ways.
Every situation we encounter provides choices that we must make. We are constantly making judgments about how we should handle our lives, our personal relationships, and our relationship with God. If we are conscientious and want to do what is right, then we are constantly throwing darts at a proverbial dart board, hoping to aim as close to the bullseye as possible.
For example, when someone angers us, we have a variety of unrighteous choices we might make such as replying with an insult or ending their life through physical violence. Jesus teaches that name calling or simply hating someone in our heart is in the same sin category as murder. We might go astray a little or a lot, but in any case, we are still missing the mark of perfect righteousness.
What is perfect righteousness?
The perfectly right response will vary depending on the unique circumstances. For example, if someone angers us, it might be best to walk away and pray for them. It might be best to offer a kind word that is sympathetic. It might be best to let the person know that they are behaving badly. We must consider the circumstances carefully and lean on our God-given understanding and the teachings of Jesus to help us make the best choice possible.
Jesus Christ is the embodiment of perfect righteousness. Jesus is called the Light of the World. He is Life. If we were able to follow Jesus perfectly, then our actions would be those that bring life and not death. So, we could also say that sin is an action that brings death.
When we sin, we are destroying people. We are harming them emotionally, physically, and mentally. When we sin, we are destroying ourselves. We are killing our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. When we sin, we are destroying truth. We are attempting to manipulate the reality that God has ordained so that we might fulfill a self-centered or delusional agenda.
When we sin, we are damaging the relationship between man and God—the Creator and bringer of Life.
It is no wonder that the punishment for sin is death. This is a fitting punishment, and one that none of us can escape without Jesus Christ.
There is no reason why anyone, least of all a Christian, should take sin lightly. Yet, many times we do. We are not fully aware of the destruction we cause, even with the smallest of sins. We are not always mindful of the presence of God who can see everything we do, think, and plot. We are not always mindful of the blood of Jesus that paid for our sins and all the suffering He endured on our behalf.
If we have taken sin lightly as no big deal or considered the righteous ways of God as outdated or inconvenient, then we should stop and think about our mindset. The ways of God are goodness and life. To go astray is no small thing, but there is hope found in Jesus Christ.
Part 3: The Effects of Sin
When we go against the will of God—when we sin—we are doing things that destroy ourselves and others. For a person to understand the effects of sin, we must come to terms with the reality of our sinful natures.
It seems that our culture is full of declarations of positive self-image. We tell ourselves that we are good people. We are kind-hearted. We deserve more. We are enough just as we are. And so on.
I understand the temptation to do this, and there could be many causes. Here are a few according to my own limited experience and view of the world:
In part, we have a backlash of positivity after a generation of Christians that shamed people for their sins in a mean-spirited manner (I get that too. It’s easy when our values are targeted by those who hate us. We are called to be better than that though). Many Christians also attempted to push righteousness through law instead of through compassion, understanding, and setting a good example (Jesus teaches us that law is not the way, but a change of heart).
Many Christians did not have faith that Jesus would handle things, so we took vengeance into our own hands. That did not work out so well.
Another reason for the self-affirming culture is shame inducing parenting that was typical of that generation along with high divorce rates and the destruction of healthy homes and traditional family values.
Pair all of this with strong media influences that constantly made people feel inadequate unless they had the best this or that, and you have a generation that was starving for someone to love them.
Since they had no one, they decided to love themselves.
This is understandable, but it is very dangerous.
This is dangerous because we begin to deny our natural sinful state.
Many do not like the word, “sin.” It’s taboo and carries the connotation of religious oppression. That is a sad and very unfortunate thing because when we sin we are doing things that bring death.
In denying sin, we begin to call sinful things good or we compare ourselves to others and think that sin is just a normal part of human nature that should be embraced.
However, if we think someone is sinning against us, then we feel fully justified in hating them.
We are a very blind, self-righteous and hypocritical generation because of this.
The generation before us needs to own up to what they did to cause this mess, and our generation needs to grow up and own up to our mistakes.
If we continue to view ourselves as victims, then we will not get to a place of healing and empowerment. We will not get to a place of self-accountability, and that is something that we so desperately need!
Sins have consequences—deadly consequences—that should not be ignored or considered good or something to be proud of.
When faced with the consequences of sin, it is important that we consider our wrongs and own up to it.
If we don’t, but instead have been blinded by our self-affirming and sin-praising culture, then we are at a great risk. Why?
Because we do not regret our sin and decide to do better for ourselves. Instead, we blame others. We curse others. We curse God. There is little to no hope for us then.
It is important for a person to find some understanding of the destructive nature of sin. It is important for a person to understand their natural tendency towards sin. It is important to know that the punishment for sin is death, and this is right because sin brings death. Death to our minds. Death to our bodies. Death to our relationships. Death to our culture. Death to our nation.
Sin is serious, and sin is killing our generation. We are neck deep in it, all the while praising it. We are dying because of our sin, yet we curse others and God. This is not good. We are inviting Destruction into our world. We are going to die because of our need to hold onto a positive self-image.
Once we begin to understand these things, what should we do next?
The most important thing is to seek Jesus and learn about what He stands for. We can talk to Jesus, even if it feels strange at first. We can begin the scary and saddening task of looking at ourselves honestly. We can try to remedy our behavior to the best of our ability and seek Jesus for the strength to overcome.
We can meet other Christians who are further along in the faith and form relationships. We can ask Jesus to send us the Holy Spirit so that we find better insight into sin and greater power to overcome sin.
Part 4: The Gospel
There is only one person who has walked this earth without sin: Jesus, the Son of God. We’ve probably heard this scripture before, but if not, then now is a good time to hear it:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Jesus was not born to condemn the world for its sins, but to save us from them. He does not have to condemn us because we are condemned already. We have sinned and we will face the judgment of God and the just punishment for our sin: death (I encourage reading the entire chapter of John 3).
God has given all judgment to the Son. Jesus walked this earth as a man, and although He was sinless, He understands our nature and He has much compassion for us.
If we put our faith in Jesus, we will pass from judgment to life.
21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
Jesus will save every person that He intends to save. He died on the cross for our sin. He took our punishment, and that might seem barbaric or foolish to some, but to those who receive His sacrifice it is the best news of all. It is life (1 Corinthians 1).
Jesus will raise us from the dead so that we can live with the Lord forever in His Kingdom. That is the good news—and there is more.
We do not have to wait for death to enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven. If we love Jesus and learn His ways—if we hear His voice—we begin to experience the things of heaven now in this present life. The ways of Jesus bring truth and life to those who live thereby.
However, our nature is very contrary to the ways of Jesus. So, we need to be forgiven. We need to regret our sin, pray for forgiveness, and seek Jesus for strength so that we can find freedom from the sins that we are easily entangled in. If we continue and seek Jesus in faith, He sends us the Holy Spirit (John 14). The Holy Spirit shows us the truth, and by the truth we are made free!
Overtime, the Holy Spirit will change our natures into that of Jesus Christ. There is none good like Him, but He is the mark Christians should aim for. The more we learn about Jesus and the closer we get to Him, the more we hit the mark, and the less we “miss the mark” which is to sin.
As we put on this new nature, we are “taking up our cross” also (Matthew 16). We must die to sin and that often means going through troubling and painful times. However, we are not alone in these times. Jesus is with us. So, we call out to Him. We pray often. We forge a relationship with the Lord so that we are made stronger in our faith and so that we can serve Him better.
When we are saved from death, we enter the service of Jesus. He will provide us with everything we need to perform that service, but we cannot expect to continue living as we once did. It is a process of many ups and downs, but Jesus is faithful and true. We struggle. We fight against sin. We fail and we overcome by His power.
We strive to serve Jesus by living a good Christian life that preaches the gospel to others—not just in word—but in action. Jesus shows us what this looks like. He lived it.
We are not bound to the destruction of this world. We can live for a greater kingdom through faith in Christ Jesus.
The gospel is more than an escape from God’s wrath. It is a gift that provides us with a great freedom that no kingdom of this world can provide.
We can find true love in a world of hate, happiness amidst hardship, peace in fearful times, patience and forgiveness towards those who hate us, self-control and power over sin the destroys us, and so much more.
The riches of the Kingdom of Heaven are innumerable and far more precious than any earthly treasure or the pleasures of sinful living. It is worth seeking, and as Jesus teaches, those who seek will find. “Blessed are those who seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Whether we are considering the gospel for the first time or for the hundredth time, today is the day of our salvation. Seek more of the Kingdom today and each day! Jesus is strong to save and He will.
For more about the Christian faith, check out this article series: Christian Faith (Complete Series).
Part 5: Do Christians Sin?
There are different beliefs about a Christian’s capacity for sin. From what I have seen, there is a spectrum that ranges from helplessness to holiness.
What I mean is on one end we find those who feel as if they are hopelessly sinful apart from the grace of God through the blood of Jesus. They believe that we are forgiven once we put our faith in Jesus, and we are saved no matter what we do from that point on. A sinless life is not attainable in the flesh.
The temptation then is to give up and accept sinfulness, or to focus on certain outward sins while we neglect hidden and more difficult matters of the heart. This leads to hypocrisy and an attitude of superiority over others.
Those who adopt this view are prone to legalistic ideas about salvation including baptism and recital of certain prayers—which can be works of faith—but can also be works of the flesh when performed in insincerity or if the faith is later abandoned. Yet, we assure salvation. This is potentially dangerous.
On the other end we find those who believe that a Christian who is born again of the Spirit will no longer sin. If a Christian does not cease from all sin in this life, then they will not be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They will not be saved.
The temptation is to consider ourselves sinless when we are not, while we accuse other Christians as being false. Those who adopt this view are also prone to legalistic attempts at sinlessness regarding dress, praise preferences, and other matters of conscience. This leads to hypocrisy and an attitude of superiority over others.
Another issue is this: with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. If we say that a person cannot be saved if they continue to sin—yet we are blind to our own sin because of legalism or pride—then we are at risk.
Each view is understandable when we look at the scriptures, but both are problematic.
Many scriptures emphasize grace, the forgiveness of God, and the sinful nature that clings to us. Many scriptures emphasize righteous living, holiness, and places great weight on the severity of sin and those who use God’s grace and the blood of Jesus to excuse sinful living.
We don’t have to draw a dividing line down the middle and choose one side or the other.
One thing I have observed about mankind is our tendency to choose sides, then once we have chosen a side, we can become loyal to a fault. Our loyalty—or sometimes pride—blinds us to what the other side is saying.
Another thing I have observed, in Christian circles and elsewhere, is that the truth is often found when we consider all sides and find a balance between them. Of course, that does not always work. In this case, I think a balanced view is just what we need.
In general terms, I think it is dangerous to have a pessimistic view about sin that makes a person feel as if freedom from sin is impossible. I also think it is dangerous to claim to be sinless. Both views can lead to stagnancy and accusation of our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Both views also lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy keeps us from experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus came to testify to the truth, so we should hold truthfulness in high regard. If we are truthful with ourselves, then we will see our sinfulness. We can be blinded to sin, but if we want to see ourselves honestly then the Lord will help us according to His will and timing. When we see our sinfulness while considering the sacrifice of Jesus, repentance should be the natural result.
Yet, we are complicated creatures. As Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We can hate sin and love it at the same time. If we continue to fight against sin and seek Jesus, He will make a way for us to escape. However, there is always room to grow.
Another thing to think about is the purpose of creation. Christians are being raised up as adopted sons of God. If we are still alive, then that means that we are still being formed. We are not yet perfect. Jesus was without sin, but the author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus was not perfected until He suffered the cross. How much more is this true for us? The continuation of our existence in this earth is evidence enough of our need to further mature in the faith.
I also think part of the problem is our need to put things in neat packages, including our faith and the faith of others. We want to know what it means to be a real Christian. We want to know that our salvation is assured, or we want to be able to assure the salvation of others.
What really matters is the grace and election of God.
I know the concept of election is touchy, and as with most things we are dealing with a perspective issue. In any case, we can agree that God is in control of all things and He knows all things. We can agree that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We can agree that no one can pluck us out of His mighty hand, and nothing can separate us from His love. If we truly belong to Him, then He will not allow us to fail.
We need the blood of Jesus so that we can stand before God in perfection. If we are truly receiving the grace of God, then we will not count the blood of the Son as some simple thing or an excuse for sinful living. We will draw nearer to Jesus and we will want to know what He stands for. We will regret our sin sorrowfully, and if we seek the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, we will find power to overcome.
This is the lifelong pursuit of a Christian. We are pursuing a kingdom in which righteousness dwells. As the Spirit of Truth writes the laws of the Kingdom in our hearts, we participate in that kingdom even now in spirit. When the Kingdom of Heaven comes, we will know Jesus and we will be as He is. Until that day, we strive to enter in by the blood of Christ, the promise of His resurrection, and the power thereof through the Holy Spirit. So, let’s keep striving in faith, knowing that our salvation is in the hands of Jesus.
Let’s not focus on a to-the-letter interpretation of Christianity that leads to accusation, stagnant growth, and hypocrisy. Let’s use the scriptures to guide us towards a stronger relationship with Jesus, and in so doing we will learn to love as He loves. We will build each other up, and all that needs to fall will fall by default. Those who do not really love Jesus are taken by the deceit of this world. Let’s walk in the Truth—which makes us free. All that remains Jesus will take care of. He knows what is best, after-all.
It is hard to be patient. It is hard to have faith and trust the Lord to convict us so that each person can live according to his or her conscience in Christ. It is also hard to accept that if we separated ourselves from our loyalties and pride, much that we are used to and put our trust in would fail, including our Christian leaders that we hold in such high regard. These things will end one day. For now, the name of Jesus is preached, and that is good.
Part 6: Treatment of Sinners
How should a Christian behave towards someone who is found in sin? Jesus says that we should treat others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7). That sounds straight-forward enough, but things can become complicated by circumstance.
I know what approach works for me. I appreciate a direct approach. I do not like having to read between the lines or attempting to guess what someone is really trying to say. I appreciate honesty. I also appreciate gentleness. It does not feel good to face fault. It can feel shameful and embarrassing.
I do not like condescension and insults. I do not like being yelled at. I do not like accusation or false assumptions about my motives. I do not like when a person scolds me for doing something that they do, especially when I am being accused falsely and the person is projecting their own faults onto me. I do not like passive-aggressive attacks. I do not like silent treatments. I do not like when a person has a problem with me, but instead of coming to me they talk to others and then that other person approaches me. I do not like when fault is assumed without hearing my side of things. I do not like when I do not receive compassion or understanding for the circumstances that led to my sinful behavior.
When a person treats me in these ways, I become angry. This is pride. How dare they treat me this way? I do not want to hear what they are trying to say, and instead I want to hurt them because they hurt me. This is not good, and it can be hard to respond in a righteous manner when you are feeling attacked. I should never place that burden on another person. If that burden is placed on me, then I should seek Jesus for the proper response that will help the situation, not make matters worse.
When we are dealing with sin among the brethren, we are told that it is love to rebuke them. However, we are to treat each other with respect. We treat elders as fathers and mothers and the younger as sisters and brothers (1 Timothy 5). Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see ourselves clearly. Sometimes we become hardened to sin and we need a reality check. Sometimes we just need to hear from someone who has been through the same struggle so that we can find encouragement and the boost we need to overcome.
We are told to rebuke one another in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 6). We are told to go to a person directly. If they do not hear us, then we take one or two more with us. If they do not hear us and the witnesses we bring, then we take it to the church. If they still do not hear us, then we consider them to be unbelievers (Matthew 18). We should not label the liberties of our brethren in Christ as sinful, but we also should not use our liberties as an excuse for sin (Galatians 5).
There is a time to remove ourselves from people. There is even a time to deliver a person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so they might be saved in spirit (1 Corinthians 5). However, we also know that with what judgement we judge, we will be judged.
When dealing with unbelievers, we should be a good example first and foremost. Let them see how Christians love one another and the hope of our salvation that lies in us (1 Peter 3). We can stand up for what is true, but we cannot forget mercy. We should learn where a person is coming from and use our experiences with sin to provide us with perspective that reaches to the heart of their struggle. It is not a good idea to poke around in things we know nothing about. This leads to a holier-than-thou attitude and can make matters worse in many ways.
Jesus also teaches us not to cast our pearls before swine lest they turn again and rend us. Rebuking a person who does not want to hear or cannot hear often leads to conflict. Let the blind lead the blind so that they may all fall into the ditch. We can pray for them and hold hope for them. We should do good to them if they are in need. Then, there are times when we should rebuke even though we know they will not hear us. There are times to say what is right even if it means losing our lives.
There is no one way or easy answer when dealing with the sins of others, but some things I know.
I know how I want to be treated and how I do not want to be treated. I know that Jesus provides the answer for every situation if I am listening to Him. I also know that focusing on the sins of others can be damaging in many ways. I know that it is better to focus on my own sin and seek Jesus for healing, and I should show mercy because I have received mercy. I know that the sins I have struggled with are the sins I am best equipped to help others come out of. I know that I should have faith in the wisdom of God including His patience and perfect timing. I know that I should trust in His mercy and sense of justice. I know that vengeance is His alone.
I know these things, but do I live it? It is hard. Dealing with the sins of others righteously is one of the most difficult struggles mankind must face. In-fact, I think most of our sinfulness has to do with the way we treat other “sinners.” Jesus will help us learn not to be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12).
The sacrifice of Jesus is the ultimate example of overcoming evil with good. Through faith in Jesus, we can overcome sin and death. We will learn what sin is. We will learn what righteousness looks like. We will strive against sin and Jesus will help us overcome throughout the course of our lives. As we overcome, we can help others do the same according to the will and timing of God.
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