Characterizing Sin

One of the issues with discussing sin is that people have many different ideas about what it is, and what its significance is.  You can detect these differences by how people talk about sin in their lives.  Consider how we discuss lies: there are “white lies”, “small lies”, “big lies”, etc.  Contrast this with the ninth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.

Clearly, there is a tendency to view sin in terms of “degrees”, rather than absolutes.  This is not the only difference that can exist: we also tend to view acts as “bad”, “good”, and “neutral”.  The thought is that most actions are neutral, but some are exceptional in one direction or another.  Contrast this with the only command in Genesis given to Adam and Eve: eat of any fruit in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Here is the reality: There are no neutral acts.  All acts are either in or out of God’s law.  There is no special reward for doing what you are supposed to do, but there is a penalty for doing what you are not to do.  Consider traffic laws.  If you perform a “rolling stop”, where you slow down for a stop sign but do not come to a complete stop, you can be pulled over and given a ticket.  However, if you are extra conscientious about using your turn signals for lane changes, you will never get pulled over and be given a “reverse-ticket” where the police officer hands you $50.  The same is true of sin: complying with the law is doing what you are supposed to do.  Not complying is sin, and punishable.

Obviously, this suggests that all sins might be of equal severity.  Look at the punishment that Adam and Eve suffered: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, pain in childbirth, land that required sweat and toil, and death.  The very nature of reality was altered by their acts.  All this for a few bites of fruit.  Sin has one punishment, separation from God.  Sins are not big or small, and there are no good works to make up for it.  God doesn’t have “community service”, it’s already included in the “to-do list” in the law.

Sin is a terrible thing.  Our tendency to commit sin on a daily, or even hourly, basis has largely desensitized us to it.  Try this experiment: when your spouse asks you what you’re thinking about, tell the absolute truth.  My wife doesn’t always like hearing that I was thinking about how to solve a programming problem while staring soulfully into her eyes, but it seems to make her feel even more flattered when I tell her that I was thinking about how the colors in her eyes are laid out and how pretty her hair is.  I realize it’s somewhat weird (OK, it’s very weird), but it also gives her more insight into what goes on in my head and who I am.

The world went from being “very good” to being covered in water in just a few short chapters in Genesis.  Sin is destructive in ways we cannot understand.  When you start to embrace this idea, the need for Christ to die for you will grow.  Understand, too, that Christ knew what he would suffer so you could be a child of God again.


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