Many Christians in
America prefer to avoid any talk about sin. Many pastors avoid teaching about sin in an effort to avoid losing members. As a result, many people don’t know what sin is, what
it means, or what to do about it.
First, what is sin? Sin is anything that is against or contrary to God and His Word, the Bible. A fairly exact definition of sin based on Biblical data would be that sin is the transgression of the law of God (1 Joh 3:4). It literally means "a missing of the mark," that is the mark of holiness that God intends for us. “But like the Holy One Who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior because it is written “You shall be holy for I am holy.”” 1 Peter 1:15-16 (NASB).
How do you know if what you do is sin? Some sins are listed clearly in scripture: see the Ten Commandments, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21 for brief but certainly not exhaustible examples. But there are some sins that are less clear. They are more a matter of personal conviction. I read a list in Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins that simplifies this dilemma to some extent, parentheses are my addition:
- Is it harmful? 1 Corinthians 6:12a “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable”. (NASB) (some translations render profitable as beneficial)
- Is it master over me? 1 Corinthians 6:12b “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”(NASB)
- Does it hurt others? 1 Corinthians 8:13 “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (NASB) (This applies to everything not just food. Whatever would cause another person to stumble/sin is sin for you to do even if the Bible does not call that particular thing sin.)
- Does it glorify God? 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (NASB) (Our sole goal, purpose and motivation is supposed to be the glory of God. Therefore anything that is self motivated is sin. Philippians 2:3a “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.”)
Use this list to analyze every deed and motive, you will gain a grasp of what you should and should not do.
What do you do about your sin once you find it? Sin must be dealt with in order to maintain a right relationship with God. Left untended and it will decay your life, slowly, from the inside out. Like cancer, it will eventually attack and permeate every aspect of your life if you do not deal with it. So how do you do that? First you must realize that when Jesus died on the cross He defeated sin for all time. If you believe in Him, you have access to His power and ability to resist sin. Note that to believe implies more than the modern understanding of the word to simply acknowledge a being's existence. To believe as used in the Bible often means to obey. This does not mean that you earn your salvation in any way, but that your obedience is proof of your salvation. To say that you believe in Jesus means that you believe in His Lordship. You cannot believe in His Lordship if you do not obey Him; your disobedience shows that you have no allegiance to Him. And He cannot be your Savior if He is not also your Lord. You have to apply all of His character, not just part of it. Philippians 2:12-13 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (NASB) You show allegiance to whomever you obey. Sin is basically spiritual treason because you are obeying Satan instead of God. Romans 6:16-18 “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (NASB) This does not mean that you will never sin, but that your goal is to obey God and not sin.
So you believe and obey God, how do you deal with your sin? Another list taken from Respectable Sins is also helpful:
- Apply the Gospel. (This is the good news that Jesus has died to set us free from sin.)
- Depend on the Holy Spirit. (You cannot do it with your own strength, you need God to show you your sin and to give you the power to resist it.)
- Recognize your responsibility. (This includes self control. Trust God for His strength and power, but use it too, don’t wait for God to do everything.)
- Identify specific sins.
- Memorize and apply scripture. (This could include anything from general verses about God’s help and power to ones that deal specifically with what you are addressing.)
- Cultivate the practice of prayer. (Prayer is your communication line with God. It is the single most powerful tool you have. The more you pray the more your focus will be on God and the easier it will be to resist temptation.)
- Involve one or a few with you. (Again you cannot do it by yourself, you need God but it also helps to have the help of others, to pray with you and to keep you accountable; people that you can call at the moment you are struggling with temptation to help talk you through it.)
Of course, life does not work perfectly with formulas and steps, but these can be used as guidelines or starting points to get you on the right track. If you only do one or a few, the most important are by far prayer and reading the Bible. Those are the biggest, most valuable sources for God and His power. The more you are in prayer and the Word, the less influence Satan will have in your life.
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus… For sin shall not be master over you.” Romans 6:11,14a