Rethinking Sin

The word Sin might as well contain four letters. It is often viewed as a “no no” word. Talking about sin means talking about condemnation and judgment, and living in a culture that is all about equality, acceptance, and encouragement means there is often little to no room for any discussion of sin (at least if you want to avoid being called a bigot). So is the Christian to keep quiet about sin? Should they stand by as people partake in sin? I don’t believe so, but I do believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to approach the subject. And because of this I want to share how my approach has changed, all based on one thing:

Understanding what sin means and what it doesn’t

When people think of sin they usually think “bad” or “evil.” And if we are talking about someone sinning that means that they are a “bad person.” At least this is how I heard and understood the term growing up. If you are telling someone engaging in premarital sex that they are sinning or are a sinner it is often perceived as saying that they are bad and can look forward to an eternity of getting pitchforked by the devil unless they stop what they are doing.

Call me crazy, but I think there is a healthier (and more accurate) way to approach the sin topic, and it comes from understanding just what sin means…and what it does not. Take, for example, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 18:15.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

That word we translate to sin is “hamartanó.” What does it mean? It means “miss the mark.” It means you’re off target. You have not hit the ideal. So what does this have to do with talking about sin with others? It means we can reframe the discussion of sin in a way that shows God’s love and care instead of judgment and condemnation.

Think about it. This is the sort of talk I would usually here (exaggerated for effect) “Look, you are (insert sin here) and God doesn’t like that. If you keep doing this and don’t pray this sinners prayer then God is going to justly judge you and send you to hell.”

Like I said, it’s a little exaggerated, but you get the idea. What’s driving this understanding of sin is judgment. But, as my good friend John reminds me,

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world. There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:16-18)

John seems to approach the topic of judgement from the vantage point of God’s love. And I think this is exactly what a fuller understanding of sin allows us to do. Think of how this applies when you hear a question like this:

“I just don’t understand why you think premarital sex is a sin. I’m not hurting anyone. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

Now your answer isn’t, “It’s a big deal because God says it is and if you keep doing it there will be judgment.” Instead you can explain to them that God is not out to kill their good time, but rather as a good Father wants what is best for those He loves. He made sex to be experienced in a covenant committment where you can give yourself fully to one another without ever being left or forsaken (which would explain God’s general desire to not see divorce take place). You can tell them how God wants them to experience life in full and He doesn’t want to settle for less than the best for His children. Sin isn’t just something bad. It’s missing out on God’s ideal. It’s experiencing life in a lesser degree than we should.

See the difference there? When sin is reframed to be understood in “missing the mark” on all that God wants and intends for us, it gives a new reason to avoid sin and to cooperate with God and change. We are not changing for fear of judgment but rather to experience the love of God in a more perfect way.

So Christians go ahead and talk about sin. Talk about it a lot. Tell everyone how a good God is working to make all things new, and wants to do so within them too. Speak to them about a God who is love and is on a mission to restore every person to the way they were meant to be. A God looking to begin that work in us if we say yes to Him. How beautiful a message this is. What good news. I pray more people will begin to rethink sin and embark to set others free to experience a fuller life with a beautiful God.

Photo by Holly Mindrup via Unsplash

Published by

Curtis Snell

I am first and foremost someone who is trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Iowa and I love writing, reading, and my dog Pepper.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Sin”

  1. “anything not of faith is sin”, as the scripture goes, and as the scripture go, “faith” is “pistis”, a draw to the good, conscience. and so it is that anything not leading us toward the good is sin, because what is good is god; god is goodness itself.

    the only reason we need a concept like sin is exactly to express that idea, because it is an entirely redundant term of morality or correctness anything and everything sin concerned. meaning, we can have a complete and productive moral conversation entirely without the use of or the idea of sin and only speaking to principles such as harm, reciprocity, etc., but you cannot talk about morality using only the idea of sin, because sin is defined by those principles.

    sin, then, is conversion about human well-being (how to be) but stated negatively. for the christian, christ is that same conversation, but in the affirmative.

    Liked by 1 person

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