Lately we’ve heard a lot about sin. With the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and the leaking of videos that seem to show employees of Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue to the highest bidder and the Pope turning the Catholic church on it’s head sin is all over the news; you just can’t seem to get away from it.
But what is sin, exactly?
Sin, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is an offense against religious or moral law. Sin as defined by the Bible is a transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4). Most Christians look to the Bible to know what is sin and what is not and there is no shortage of sinful things in the pages of the Bible. Within those 66 books, you can find a multitude of things that God himself, Jesus or the disciples speaking for God considered a sin. Here are examples of just a few:
- Adultery (Exodus 20:14)
- Divorce (Matthew 19:9)
- Disobeying Man’s Law (Romans 13:1-5)
- Working on Sunday (Exodus 20:8-9)
- Getting Tattoos (Leviticus 19:28)
- Harvesting the edge of your field (Leviticus 23:22)
These are, of course, just a small picking of the things the Bible considers sinful. Several of these, including divorce, adultery, and working on Sunday are considered bad enough that the perpetrator can be put to death. Yet in today’s world, many of these things are common-place, even widely accepted. Let’s take divorce for instance. In the United States 73% of the population identifies as Christian(1) while in that country there is a 53% divorce rate(2). In Romania, 99% of the country identifies as Christian(1) and the divorce rate is 28%(2). And in Iceland, 95% of the population identifies as Christian(1) and there is a 37% divorce rate(2). But surely if the Christians in these countries were interested in living a sin-free life as outlined in the Bible, the divorce rates would be much lower, right? Apparently not since we don’t see many good Christians picketing outside of courthouses here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. demanding that divorce be made illegal.
Another thing that we, as Christians, have just learned to accept is working on Sundays. Many of us work in a field where you can request that you don’t work on Sundays but there is little to no chance that that request is going to be honored. And tattoos? Again, I don’t see any picketers outside tattoo parlors demanding that they be shut down because they’re not biblical. And in an economy like the United States where farming and food manufacturing make up 14% of all manufacturing employees and 10% of all US employment(3) it makes no economic sense to only plant or harvest the centers of fields so we’ve let that one slide as well.
Here in the United States the sin of the hour, despite all these other things that we should seemingly be worrying about, seems to be homosexuality. Does the Bible talk about homosexuality? There would seem to be a couple of verses in the Old Testament that speak to it, namely Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 18:22. Yet why does this particular sin deserve more hate, ridicule and judgement than the others I’ve listed above and the approximately 600 other sins that the Bible lists in it’s pages? Especially when same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states and should therefore be covered under #3 on the list above? Why have we latched onto this one sin when we’ve chosen to let so many others slide?
Perhaps it’s because we feel that this is still one that we have some control over. We can’t really tell our employers that we refuse to work on Sundays or we risk losing our jobs. We can’t only plant parts of our fields or risk taking a financial loss so we feel that dictating the lives of others is an acceptable way to cover our Biblical bases. Or perhaps it’s because we wish to show others that we do still care about the sins in the Bible by choosing one that we feel God felt very strongly about and speaking out about that one. After all, homosexuality is mentioned 6 times in the Bible (divorce is mentioned 22 times but who’s counting?).
So it would seem that today’s Christians have a problem of Biblical proportions. To sin or not to sin, that is the question. Christians today cannot live a completely Biblical life, following all the mandates set forth by the writers of the Bible for what is moral and what is not, because many of those mandates just don’t fit in with our modern world. We no longer have the option of not working on Sundays or killing our kids when they’re bad (not that I’d want to). We don’t expect a man to kill his new bride on their wedding night if he finds out she’s not a virgin. In fact, if he did he’d probably be facing the death penalty himself.
So how do we, as modern Christians, decide which sins we need to worry about and which we don’t? To answer that question I believe we need to turn to the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke many times about loving our neighbor, about not passing judgement on others and about taking a good long look at our own sins before judging the sins of others. One of the most famous examples of this can be found in John 8:2-3 and John 8:4-11. A woman who has been convicted of adultery is brought before Jesus. Adultery is a crime punishable by death and the authorities want to see if Jesus will condemn her for her crimes and carry out the punishment (crimes and punishments that are very specifically outlined several times in the Old Testament) or if he’ll forgive her. Jesus said to the crowd gathered “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (the punishment for adultery was death by stoning). Nobody picked up a stone and the crowd dispersed. Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more.
So is Jesus specifically telling us to just let people continue sinning here? Maybe. Or maybe he’s telling us that forgiveness is more important than pointing out and punishing other people’s sins. Maybe he was showing this woman a grace that no other would have shown her and, by showing her that light, he brought her closer to God. And maybe that’s what we, in this modern age, need to be doing more of. We need to be doing more forgiving, showing more grace, and focusing less on the sins of the people we come in contact with. Because it’s through that grace, not through our condemnation of their sins, that we’re going to bring people closer to God. And isn’t that the whole point of Christianity in the first place?