In the course of my many travels over the religious landscape, I, like many others, came to understand what sin was, or so I thought. Did I think it peculiar that opinions varied? It was confusing. What some groups said was sin, others accepted as OK normal stuff. I was in the "no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no going to the movies and no running with those who do" crowd. While other "Christians" I knew did all those things, and more. I constantly vacillated between the false pride of thinking I was morally superior, because I didn’t do certain things, and the desire to be part of the other crowd, so I could do them. Well, I think I have a little better handle on it now.
If you’ve read the articles on this website, then you already know that I spend a fair amount of time talking about the differences between religion and reality, and morality and spirituality. Religion and morality have little or nothing to do with God and more to do with men’s opinions and standards; while reality and spirituality have to do with a real, experiential relationship with God where He’s personally involved and participating in your life to accomplish His purpose - to conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, I Corinthians 15:49, II Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:10).
And it is precisely this understanding of the difference between religion and reality that must define for us what sin really is. Sin is not what men say it is; religious institutions do not define sin; and sin is not based on the pious opinions of the self-righteous. Only God can define sin. It is what He says it is. The point can be made from the last part of Romans 3:19, which says (in the context of everyone being subject to the power and control of sin, starting in verse 9), "that all the world may become guilty before God". At least that’s what the KJV says. However, the word translated "guilty" is hupodikos (hupo, under, with dike, judgment) and could be translated something like "that all the world may be subject to the judgment of God". What’s my point? When we sin, we come under God’s judgment (that’s serious, it’s important); when we break men’s religious rules, we come under their judgment (big deal, what difference does that make).
Paul then tells us in Romans 3:20 that the purpose of the Law was to make men recognize their sin (and thus recognize their need for God). To disobey a direct command of God was sin. On the other hand, I can’t help but point out that the Jews then added their own rules to what God had given them and the result was a man-made religion called Judaism. And, as I’ve said several times before, Christianity is nothing more than an up-dated version of Judaism. In both Judaism and Christianity, men took it upon themselves to define what constituted sin; then came up with their own way to deal with it. Again, there is in man that deep-seated desire to handle the God, sin, and judgment thing in his own way. And so, sin came to be defined by what men thought, instead of what God says.
Let’s look at the two words translated "sin" in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament the word is chataah, from the root word chata, meaning, "to miss the right point". In the New Testament the word is hamartia, meaning, "to miss the goal". Now, if we know whose point and whose goal is being missed, we might be headed in the right direction. And, of course, we know the meaning of chataah and hamartia have to do with God’s point and His goal.
So, what should we conclude from this? The things we do that violate God’s point of view, His purpose, and His goal for us must define sin. Our religious training has taught us to identify what we have decided is sin in others and look at them with a disapproving eye. And, instead of leaving it up to God to conform us to the image of His Son, we’ve learned to take that responsibility upon ourselves and have decided to change one another by identifying what we don’t like in them, calling it sin, then pressuring them into conforming to our preferences and standards. It’s religious, wrong, and it doesn’t work.
And here I must point out the difference between God’s viewpoint of sin and man’s. For years I struggled with the seeming discrepancy between what I knew about David from my religious point of view and what God said about him. David’s seeming personal faults are well documented in Scripture. My religious, moral perspective told me he was a miserable failure as a leader, husband and father. Yet, in the midst of all this moral turpitude, God was very gracious and complimentary of Him (I Samuel 13:14, Psalms 89:19-37, Acts 13:22).
It was difficult for me to understand why God didn’t condemn David for the things I knew were wrong in his life and for what my morality told me was sin. Then reality slowly began to set in. It wasn’t up to me to decide what was right or wrong with David. He wasn’t accountable to me. I wasn’t his judge. Only the Sovereign God knew how to deal with David and what needed to be dealt with to accomplish his deliverance. It was the unchanging character of God and His eternal purpose that determined what was sin in David’s life and it was none of my business. Who am I to question what God does or doesn’t do in someone else’s life?
The fact is, God has never asked for my opinion about anyone or anything except me. When I’m alone with Him, He wants to know what I think about myself. He has me cornered. He knows it; I know it. There’s no sense in trying to deny who or what I am. I can’t run; there’s no place to hide. And when I experience times like this, David suddenly becomes my hero and an example to follow. And now that my old, judgmental, moralistic self is slowly dying (don’t misunderstand, it’s not dead yet) and my new self is being resurrected in the image of Christ; I see David in a different way. And, I appreciate his determination to allow God to examine his heart and test him (Psalms 26:2, 139:23-24). Faults and weaknesses aside (both his and mine), the way I see it, having a heart like David’s is foundational in my own personal pursuit of God.
Several years ago the Holy Spirit encouraged me to do my own translation of the Sermon on the Mount. Of course this required me to spend a great deal of time meditating on the various subjects presented in this passage by the Lord. Matthew 7:1-5 was life changing for me.
"It’s not up to you to decide what is right or wrong for others. Keep your nose out of their business, unless that’s how you want to be treated. If you do it to them, they’ll do it to you. Then it becomes a vicious cycle of everyone interfering in each other’s life, leading to hurt, disappointment, confusion and broken relationships. You may think you have a real talent for spotting other people’s problems. But the question is, how good are you at spotting your own? After all, it’s your own problems you need to be dealing with. You have to learn to be your own first priority. You can’t spend all your time trying to "help" others by identifying their problems, while you ignore your own. That kind of super-spiritual attitude is useless, both for you and for them! True righteousness comes when people learn to face their own faults and weaknesses with God in confession and repentance. And only then can they understand how to help others by encouraging them to do the same."
What we may decide is right or wrong in the lives of others will not help us; it will not change us. It will, in fact, only hurt us, and others. Religion has trained us to judge one another (in love and compassion, of course, and with a desire to "minister" to them what we have decided they need). But, for every child of God, there must come a time when we determine to make a concerted effort to learn how to mind our own business and understand that sin is not what we think it is in the lives of others, but what God says it is in our own.