What is sin? Is it only an action or deed that harms another person? Sin certainly includes hurting others, but is that all it is? If I can prove my actions don’t hurt anyone else, does that mean God approves?
Many people, even Christians, would say yes. Tony Jones, emergent church guru, once asked “An Honest Question about Gays in the Church,” the stipulation being that you could not answer the question with the Bible, but prove that it was sinful by proving that it somehow harmed others. A recent blog by John Shore about masturbation encourages his readers that since the impulse to masturbate is “natural” and “normal” and cannot be stopped, you should do it without feeling guilty. Why? Because when you are just using your imagination, “no one gets hurt.” (I couldn’t disagree more, and for anyone interested in reading why self-gratification is sinful and how to be freed from it’s bondage, you can read a four part series on my personal blog, HERE.)
If only these two guys, who many of you may not know (though they have a rather large readership), were saying such crazy things it might be a non-issue. But it’s everywhere. Everywhere one looks (even in the mirror!), there is this idea that so long as I am not hurting anybody else, or so long as what I do is in secret, it doesn’t matter to God. When we think of sin as something that only hurts others we deny what the Bible says about us – that we are born in it, and that sin is far more than just our actions – and we deny God His proper place in our lives, thus nullifying the power available to us to be free from sin.
So is sin only that which harms someone? We need to only look at the beginning of the story to realize how far off the mark such an idea is. Let’s look at it…
Eve’s response to the serpent’s question, “Did God really say?” captures perfectly every human heart’s decision-making process. She looked around her beautiful garden full of God’s good gifts and could not come up with a satisfying reason to not eat from the tree which God forbade. I think I can accurately trace the sequence of Eve’s thoughts which led her to take that first bite and then convince her husband to do the same. Imagine with me Eve’s thought process leading up to her fall from grace…
Everything in this garden is so beautiful! How could something God has created be bad for me? There is nothing intrinsically wrong about that particular tree. It looks just like all the other trees in the garden. And it is desirable, a real delight to my eyes! (Gen. 3:6). What harm could possibly come to me or to anyone else for eating such a delicious looking piece of fruit? Yes, God did say not to eat from that tree, but God’s commands are not without reason. Who can be hurt from taking just….one….bite…. ?
We know the rest of that story, don’t we? Adam and Eve’s sin was not because they harmed someone, but because they disobeyed the word of God. They transgressed His authority, thinking they knew better. This is pride. Pride will always convince us we know better, and because we are born in sin, we are easily convinced.
The sin Eve committed in the Garden is the same sin we commit every time we think that what we do in private is our business, that our thoughts are our thoughts alone, that God isn’t really watching. It begins when we decide there has to be a better reason than just because God said. God’s words are then no longer steering our ship but our reason, our desires, our pride, are. James reminds us to be watchful for the coming of the Lord, because the “Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). What is He seeing?
So what is sin? Is it just what we do? Is it right to reduce it to that which harms others? Or is it something much bigger?