If all God’s commands can be distilled into two; to love God, and to love others, then sin is surely a failure to do this. This is not love in the romantic or emotional sense, but in a practical sense. As Jesus taught, a person always loves something or someone at the sacrifice of love for other things or people (Mat ). So, I suggest that sin ultimately due to loving things other than God or people. The Bible lists many of the ways in which people do this, such as disobedience, greed, coveting, and failure to help or be fair, and the list goes on. However, it seems failure to love God and people is due to two main causes – loving things (idolatry), and loving one’s self rather than God or others (selfishness).
Oddly, many seem to treat sin as something God has a real problem with – in and of itself. “God is Holy,” they say, “and so cannot tolerating being in the presence of sin.” Yet, Jesus spent much of his time with sinners. Indeed, the ideas of God not wanting to be around sin is almost the opposite of what we see in Jesus, and far more reflected in the current attitudes of so-called Christians. These ideas stem from a false conception of the nature of sin, for sin is not something God has a problem with – but something we have a problem with. Sin is harmful to us and others, and it is because of this that God hates it. He does not hate it simply because He is some spotlessly pure being who cannot tolerate the thought that sinners may dirty His clothes, He hates it because it hurts the people He loves. The hurt of sin is not only physical pain, but damage to relationships, and relationships are arguably the most important things in life. Relationships are the framework in which Jesus summed up God’s instructions – love God, and love others – love is essential to good relationships.
Some current ideas suggest that somehow, through some action of Jesus, God can now accept us AND our sin – as if sin is some kind of baggage that we carry in large suitcases. I think such ideas miss the point, because we are still hurt by the sin we do, and God wants us to be free of the sin. The importance of our sin is not the guilt, it is the consequence. We must realise that God wants us to be free from sin, not merely to leave us being hurt by it.
The damage of sin is subtle, but dramatic. Perhaps the reason we no longer understand God’s perspective on sin well is because we try to interpret in from an individualistic mindset, rather than a relational one. When life is about me, my sin hardly matters for I can do what I want – my life is all about me; but when life is about others, my sin matters a great deal. Too often, we view sin as the objectionable baggage that God must graciously overlook because we are thinking of ourselves. “Sin is something that stops God from liking ME.” “God please forgive my sin,” (so that I don’t have to renounce it). No, we should not be viewing sin as something that is stopping God from loving us – it is because of His love for us that He wants us to stop sinning! God has a relational mindset, where sin is something that damages relationships – the most priceless things God has blessed us with. Sin damages our relationship with God not because God cannot love us as much, but because selfishness causes us to not love God as much. Likewise, idolatry causes us to love Him less. Sin is not loving others as we should – and therefore it is bad for our relationships with others.
At its core, sin is about putting us first – about caring more about ourselves at the sacrifice of our love for God and others. So, how can we view sin as something that we need to be pardoned so that we can be loved and accepted more? Such a view is childish, for it is still focussed on self-interest! Rather, sin is something that we need to forsake so that we can love and accept others more – because sin comes from selfishness and righteousness from selflessness. The focus should be on giving love, and not on merely getting what we want. God has already given us an amazing example in Christ of sin-less, self-less character, for He loved people not for His benefit, but for theirs.
Idolatry is similar in effect to selfishness, in that it hinders our love for God and others. Instead of loving who we should be, we love things. God never told us to love things, He told us to love relational beings – Himself and people. Thus, idolatry is similarly in contrast to the righteous love that God commands. One may think, “Idolatry is hardly common in the Western culture, but it is surely more in the East where they have small statues that they pray to.” What a narrow view of idolatry! A thing does not need to be carved in wood or stone to be an idol. In Western culture, we love all manner of things, like fashion, looks, money, fame, power or business. These things are not bad in themselves – some can even be good – but they become sin when they detract from our love for God and others. Certainly, we are an idolatrous society because we too often focus far more on things than we do on God and other people. Such things are not sinful, it is our neglect of what is important and what is right that is sinful. For we only have a certain number of hours in the day, and a certain amount of resources and if we commit them to things we forfeit giving them for God and others.
I believe that the ideas about sin I have tried to present here have helped me understand the Scriptures and God’s heart more, and I hope they do the same for you. More posts related to this topic will follow.