Thursday, February 25, 2016

Defining Sin in Terms of Faith, Hope and Love

I was listening online this week to a Southern Baptist preacher and seminary professor preaching at a metropolitan First Baptist Church. He spoke on reasons believers ought to "abstain from sin." I often multi-task listening to online preachers, but it was the manner in which the preacher said "sin" that caused me to cease all other activities and listen intently. Some preachers, such as this one, have the habit of turning the single syllable word "sin" into multi-syllables such as "si-un" or "si-in." It seems the exaggeration of sin's pronunciation serves as their declaration of sin's abomination.

Hearing "sin" dramatically pronounced is when I began to listen closely. "How," I thought, "would this preacher describe sin for his congregation." I didn't have to wait long for an answer. Sin was described as 'viewing internet pornography, cursing someone who cut you off on the road, not obeying authority in your life,' and a "list" of other activities that gave the listener - at least me - the distinct impression that "sin" was something easily identified and measurable in other people. That's what lists do. Lists label to enable.

There's a big problem when it comes to "labeling" sin for the Christian. When I was a kid, sin was defined as "transgressing the Law of God." It was explained to me that "transgression" was to "cross the boundary," and that the Law of God was a boundary "not to be crossed." All well and good; except for the fact as a kid I was very confused with what God's Law was for me as a believer in Jesus Christ.

The Jews set down 613 Commandments in the Old Testament that were not to be crossed, and they call these Laws of God the Mitzvot. I knew better than to argue with people who can read the Old Testament in its original Hebrew. These Laws were real. The Sabbath Laws, the Festival Laws, the Dietary Laws, and all the Laws of God in the Old Covenant were to be kept. Blessings came for obedience and punishments came for disobedience.

However, as I grew in my faith in Jesus Christ, I came to understand that "all the Law and the Prophets" were beautiful shadows and pictures of the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27). I came to see that "Jesus fulfilled the Law - every jot and tittle of it" for me (Matthew 5:18). Through Christ's active obedience to the Law in His life and through Christ's passive obedience to the Law in His death (dying in my place), "I am justified" (i.e. "treated by God just-as-if-I-never-sinned and just-as-if-I-fully-obeyed") through my "faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). God takes my faith and "credits it to me as righteousness" (Romans 4:22).  When I look at the Law of God, I only see Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the Law and then "set it aside for a new agreement" (Hebrews 8:13). That New Covenant in His blood is a promise that those who "kiss the Son" through faith have the full pleasure of God. The Law and its observance became obsolete and abandoned through the destruction of the Temple  in AD 70. I rest in the fact that God's love for me is freely and forever mine through my faith in Jesus Christ.

Free from the Law—oh, happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission;
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.

So, with all that said, what is "sin" as a Christian? How do I "define it" or how do I "describe it." In my opinion, if we make lists as to what is sin is for other people, then we will always emphasize the things we don't do as sin, and keep off the list the things we do. For example, you rarely hear a message on the sin of "eating-too-much" or "speaking-too-much" or "thinking-too-much-of -yourself" because those are the things preachers do! Laughing. But it's sure easy to speak against "homosexuality" and "adultery" and "gambling" and "drinking" because those are things that preachers don't do!

The problem is the creation of a list. The Law of Israel is gone - fulfilled in Christ. But for some reason churches create new lists of 613 "Christian Commandments" like "tithing" and "not running in the house of God" and "obeying the words of the preacher/God's prophet" and  .... well, you get the idea. The lists change according to the denomination and the preacher-in-charge (like the one to whom I was listening), but the lists are there. That's the problem.

I propose that as a New Covenant believer in Jesus Christ, I may frame my understanding and description of "sin" around the things which "abide" or "continue on" in the New Covenant era (i.e. "this side of the cross.") Those three things which abide in this age are "faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13)


"Whatever is not of faith is sin," says the Apostle Paul (Romans 14:23b). If I think that by my activity I earn the favor and blessings of God (i.e. eating meat offered to idols/or not eating meat offered to idols), then I am "sinning" due to my lack of faith! Faith leads me to believe that God's favor rests on me because of my trust in "the righteousness of His Son" and not because of my obedience to "any Law" (Philippians 3:9). Whatever is not of faith that the blessings of God are secured for you through the obedience of Jesus Christ is sin. 


"We give thanks for the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel" (Colossians 1:5). The hope of these believers in Collosae  was everlasting happiness because of the inheritance reserved for them as co-heirs with Jesus Christ (see Titus 2:13 and Galatians 5:5). This is why they kept "their minds on things above, and not on the things of this earth" (Colossians 3:2).  This inheritance, which all believers receive by faith in Jesus Christ, is called "the object of our hope" because it is not yet possessed. Receiving the rewards Christ earned - as a co-heir with Him (Romans 8:17) - is future, Whatever in this life causes you to lose sight of this hope stored up for you in heaven is sin. 


"But the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). For "by this love will all know that you are My disciples" (John 13:35). The Royal Law of the New Covenant -- the greatest Commandment given by the New Lawgiver (Jesus Christ)-- is so clear it cannot be misunderstood. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Jesus loved me selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally. To whatever extent I don't love others as Jesus has loved me, then I sin. 


Rather than making "a list" of sin for other people, maybe we'd be better off by examining our own lives for sin, and defining and describing sin for us as "a lack of faith in Christ, a lack of hope in heaven, and a lack of love for others." 


Dave Panzera said...

Wade, this really spoke to me today.

I have grown to appreciate this more than you know Wade. The church I was saved in was absolutely doing its best to conform to the bible in every respect but did so in a very legalistic way. To paraphrase a church hymn it was "Joy unspeakable...BUT FULL OF DUTY!" I was constantly looking out for missteps of my own and pouncing on others for theirs. What I never would have even considered was the ramifications of that kind of approach or Christian-World-View that could well become the greatest stumbling block for non-believers to witness. It did inhibit my testimony and my walk and my joy and my growth.

Let’s fast forward to today and see just how this played out for me personally and then extrapolate that to that of a national ramification. In your blog you used the example of homosexuality as a sin that makes the list. The person living (and dying by the way) by these lists would always say that is a sin. I agree, practicing homosexuality is a sin, God’s Word is very clear; there is no deriving another conclusion. Here’s the problem, because I saw the world through these very defined terms those accused had no recourse except to immediately stop, confess sin and be forever labeled as someone who was a dirty homosexual, all I ever became was judgmental…of others…looking to catch them in their “greater sin” in reality to appear holier in my own state. The national ramification? Today I see that there is a bitter and visceral reaction by most gays to any and all things Christian. I can understand why as I was part of their reason. Instead of being accepted as a sinner and led to the arms of a Savior Who takes us as we are and cleans us His way I was of the crowd that demanded they be cleansed prior to and their resentment was a very high and thick wall over time. It’s so bad that in many instances were you to engage someone on the issue who is not a believer you’re summarily dismissed as an extremist hatemonger. It developed so insidiously over time in my opinion and now is a very effective stumbling block. The same can be said for many other “sins” too! However, I fully ascribe to the fact that God can overcome even this failure, even this development and all of its ramifications today. There is no secret to it as it is His way, as it has always been. Living in a close relationship with the Lord, abiding in Him (as in John 15) surrendering our will, our thoughts, our emotions, our need to be right and to be seen as right. He saves not me…He leads people to Himself, I may well be blessed to be a part of it. So, in the past when I went around thinking I must reach people for Christ I was simply acting in my on flawed and failed strength. Same can be said of how I argue in the public square today as I am constantly having to surrender my appetite for crushing those standing against God and replace it with His eyes and how They see the world and all in it, replace it with His heart and how He yearns for all to know Him.

Wade Burleson said...


That's powerful.

Rex Ray said...


The way you described the preacher pronouncing “SIN”, reminds me of this comedian describing an event when he was a little boy.

The preacher kept asking over and over, “What do we do with SIN?”
No one answered so the boy yelled, “Nip it, nip it, nip it!”

Sin has been described as ‘missing the mark’. I believe when we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit within us.

Garen Martens said...

I describe sin not as an action but as an overall condition. Specific sins contribute to the overall condition.
What is the sin I'm guilty of? All of them. I was born with sin.
How can I keep from sinning? I can't that's why Jesus died and rose again- for my forgiveness.

Aussie John said...


Thank you for this! Certainly a much needed message! Sadly this teaching unjustly gets the label of antinomianism.

I can highly recommend Paul Zahl's little book "Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life",on Kindle, in which he rightly says,
"The message of grace has also proven to be provocative, especially in relation to other Christians. Sometimes I have been accused of being "long on grace but short on law." In other words, some have feared that my emphasis on grace is tantamount to blessing sin. The traditional word for this accusation is "antinomianism," or a teaching that is contrary trary to the law. Christians who stress grace - unmerited acceptance - are often accused of being "antinomian." It is almost a sure sign that you are preaching grace when people call you an antinomian".

Christiane said...

the sad case of some Christian people is when they are offended by the sins of others and yet are either unwilling or unable to turn away from their own sins, which may be of a 'different' kind in their eyes, and therefore in some strange logic, more tolerable before God (?)

what happens next can range anywhere from doing nothing, but privately feeling superior to those whose sins they regard as 'worse', all the way to taking action against the sinners they despise and this can manifest either in protesting all the way to murder

I suppose the greatest models we can have in this world of sinners awakened to their own darkness can be found in teachings of Our Lord in the Holy Gospels
. . .

I think of the publican in the temple who, in his humility, prayed 'Lord have mercy on me, a sinner';
and then there is the was the 'prodigal' son, who having ruined his inheritance and fallen into poverty and suffering, and having been truly humbled, thought to return to his father in hopes that the father would allow him some to work among the laborers on the estate . . .
and we know that it was there as the son turned humbly toward his father, that we learn of the embrace of God to a repentant sinner who has come away from the dark place and begun the journey towards the light

both these examples begin with humility, and end with grace

there is something about 'humility' and its effect on a sinner . . . 'humility' is a word that comes from 'soil' or 'dust' . . . and we know that God gives grace to the humble,

” . . . for He knows our frailty,
He remembers we are only dust . . . ”

(from a reflection of Therese of Lisieux on Psalm 103)

Christiane said...

"Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only His child redeemed by Christ."
(Thomas Merton)

This is good advice for those of us who are flawed and weary and sad, and who greatly long to rest for a while in God's merciful keeping.