Is it a sin or is it just stupid?

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Is it a sin or is it just stupid?

Post  Bible Bot on Wed 30 Apr 2008, 12:09 pm

Most Americans believe in sin.

Specifically, 87% of Americans believe there are certain actions that are "almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective." This is how sin was defined in a recent study by Ellison Research (a Christian research firm) of Phoenix Arizona, which sampled over a thousand American adults.

As we might expect, among those who regularly attend religious services, 94% believe in sin, yet among those who do not attend services, 80% still believe in sin. The difference is only slightly more pronounced depending on political persuasion. 94% of conservatives believe in sin, and 77% of liberals also believe in sin. Yes -- even the broad majority of liberals believe in the idea that some things are just morally wrong.

So, most of us believe in sin, to be sure. But many of us cannot agree on specific behaviors and activities that can be defined as sinful. The following table tells the story.

Using "hard" drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, meth, LSD, etc.65%
Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change back63%
Having an abortion56%
Homosexual activity or sex52%
Not reporting some income on your tax returns52%
Reading or watching pornography50%
Sex before marriage45%
Homosexual thoughts44%
Heterosexual thoughts about someone to whom you are not married43%
Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment41%
Smoking marijuana41%
Getting drunk41%
Not taking proper care of your body35%
Telling a \"little white lie\" to avoid hurting someone's feelings29%
Using tobacco23%
Not attending church or religious worship services on a regular basis18%
Playing the lottery18%
Watching an R-rated movie18%
Being significantly overweight17%
Not giving 10% of your income to a church or charity16%
Drinking any alcohol14%
Working on Sunday / the Sabbath 14%
Spanking your child when he/she misbehaves7%
Making a lot of money4%
If we were to rate these behaviors by various religious, ethnic and political groups, or by gender, we would see some wide disparities. For instance, 90% of Evangelical Christians believe getting drunk is sinful, whereas only 35% of other Americans believe it is sinful (the table gives the percentage for all Americans). 92% of Evangelicals believe sex before marriage is sin; all others, 39%. Half of Protestants think gambling is sin; only 15% of Catholics do. Failing to attend church? 39% of Catholics think it's a sin; but only 23% of Protestants.

From the table, we can also see that Americans define sin by degree. 81% believe adultery is sinful, but only 43% think it is sinful to have sexual thoughts about someone other than one's spouse. Compare similar differences between getting drunk and drinking, using hard drugs versus marijuana and gambling versus the lottery.

All of this causes us to wonder -- how do Americans decide what is and is not sin? Presumably, they draw on whatever moral or religious training they have had in life -- which usually has at its basis some sacred text or creed which defines sin. Those who do not subscribe to a faith usually draw on some moral or ethical code at which they have arrived through reason. Even those who claim not to believe in right and wrong have some kind of behavioral standards.

In the face of this, committed Christians proudly point to their Bibles and declare: "This is our definition of sin!" And well it should be -- but the problem here is twofold:

1) While Christians obsess over sin, they have never been able to agree entirely on what the Bible defines as sin. Some point to the Ten Commandments and other selected rules from the Old Testament -- others point out (and rightly so) that the old covenant, including the Big Ten, is obsolete. One needs only to look at the statistics in the above study, broken down by various denominations, to realize that there are huge disagreements among Christians on what constitutes sinful behavior. Further, Christians get downright nasty about it, resorting to badmouthing, shunning, beating, torturing and killing each other because they disagree over (among other things) what sin is. As the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. 330-395) observed, "No wild beasts are so cruel as the Christians in their dealings with each other." This kind of behavior, of course, is not really Christianity. It's religion.

2) The New Testament seems a bit fuzzy on defining sin the way we would like. There is no scriptural passage or destination you can go to that systematically lists everything you can and can't do -- all the behaviors that "annoy" God and all the behaviors that "keep him happy." If there were such a single biblical passage, we could carry it around as an easy reference guide -- or load it into our PDAs. It would be so convenient. Why didn't God give us such a standardized code? It's almost as if our behavior isn't the main priority with him -- and so we're left to figure it out. Just look at the list above -- Smoking? Gambling? Racism? Dancing? Marijuana? Environment abuse? Making lots of money? None of this is specifically defined as sin in the New Testament or anywhere in the Bible.

Maybe we need to look at sin and behavioral standards from a different perspective. The New Testament tells us that God wants to have a relationship with us, his children. He paves the way for that by taking care of our sin -- our bad behavior, past, present and future -- by Jesus' work on the cross. In Romans 3:23-24, the apostle Paul does not bother with niggling arguments over what sin is and is not. Rather, he gives sin the broadest possible definition -- anything short of God's glory: " . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are freely justified by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ." For those who accept this offer, sin is no longer an issue. Now, in light of our relationship with God, and that fact that he is living in us, how do we behave? The way he leads us to. He will produce right, moral behavior in us.

As Jesus leads us and transforms our consciences we're not so concerned about lists, definitions, arguments and measurements of what is or is not sinful. We are now concerned about whether a behavior is wise or foolish -- we are concerned about consequences and how our actions may impact other people for good or bad. We are concerned about love toward God, fellow human beings and God's creation in general, and we try to act accordingly. Paul further adds, ". . . everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). For our discussion, this raises two questions:

1) If an action is foolish or stupid, why would we do it? Why would we argue about whether it was actually listed somewhere as a "sin" or not? So that we can feel justified in our stupid behavior? So that we can persist in a self-destructive lifestyle?

2) If someone else wants to do something we consider stupid, why would we feel the need to categorize it as a "sin"? So that we can condemn the person spiritually and feel better about our own presumed superior standing with God by comparison? So that we can make sure that all sinners "get what's coming to them" in this life (after all, we can't be sure they'll be punished in the next life, with God being so forgiving and full of grace and everything)? So that we can control the behavior of everyone around us to produce a more comfortable environment for ourselves?

Here's a thought (for Christians): Stop worrying about and obsessing over sin -- whether it be your own or someone else's. It's all been taken care of. Just live life in Christ. Chill out with the religious stuff. Stop taking religion so seriously. Conversely, make sure that God's grace is your anchor and firm foundation.

In Christ
Monte Wolverton (
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