sin and its categories

When I considered teaching at a Christian school, I considered the possibilities I would have to teach the truth of Scripture. Many of the ways and times I thought I would have to teach, I have found to be naive thoughts. On the other hand, I have been able to speak to many about important things from the Bible in ways I did not expect.

Earlier this week, a student and I were talking about sin. He was talking to me about doing right, as opposed to doing wrong. After a little bit of a discussion it became apparent that he viewed sin as wrong actions consciously taken as opposed to the right actions.

I had to stop him to try to explain that sin is not defined thus. Sin is not just the actions we take that are wrong, but it is actions that are not right, moral. Sin is the attitude behind the actions, whether the action is moral or not. Sin is more than just a conscience decision to do wrong.

This student continued by saying how hard it was to make the right decision, and I responded by how this is really the easy part. Then I started thinking.

Consider dividing sin into two categories: those conscious decisions to do right or wrong, and those unconscious reactions/attitudes/responses that we do not have time to consider/think before doing.

While the first group may certainly be hard to master, it is the easier of the two. It is easier to train yourself to behave morally. Unsaved do it often. It is easier to behave acceptably, and even sacrificially. It is easier to refuse to allow yourself indulgence, or purposeful sin. Not to say it is easy, but it is easier.

How many struggle with this! When confronted with the option of sinning or doing right, how often do we take the wrong option? When confronted with the peer pressure to do wrong, do we yield? When do we purposefully perform an action that we know to not be the right one? Far too often for our tastes.

But that is just the beginning. My student was talking about “being perfect” and meaning no purposeful wrong act. That is far from perfect. We need to be so in tune with Christ and walking with Him that when something happens our response without thought is just and right and glorifying to Him. God does not excuse ignorant sins, nor does He excuse those sins we committed when caught by surprise.

These are the things we can’t predict or plan against. I don’t know when I’m going to have a car cut me off. If my attitude is right, I will be patient to get where I’m going, I will esteem others better than myself, and I will not get angry. But, that is something that happens in the moment, and is not a purposeful decision at that time to do.

To make the right decision in each and every case is only accomplished through the power of God. Many say that you must plan ahead of time to not get upset in such a situation. They instruct to understand it will happen, and to prepare ahead of time for such so that when it happens you will recall your plan and not respond incorrectly. That plan will aide your actions, but will not prevent your attitude, because you cannot plan for everything.

The only full way to plan is to change who you are, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We are to die to ourselves and live for Christ. We are to die to sin, that we may live righteously in God. There is no way to prevent sin besides the way provided by Christ. The only preparation is to consistently, and diligently walk with God, that is, prayer and Bible study. This is the part you can’t conquer in the moment. It must be defeated prior.

Attitude and heart are required by God, not just actions. Praise the Lord, He gives us the grace to overcome as we walk with Him.


One thought on “sin and its categories

  1. I think you eluded to this, but I thought I would draw it out a little further. You can sin by being “good.” Sin, when broken down, is simply anything that does not reveal a motivational structure that is based on glorifying Christ.

    If I tithe, but do it merely because I think it is what a good Christian should do, or so that people will see me doing it, or anything other than out of the joy that comes from recognizing that Christ, though he was rich, became poor on our behalf so that we could become rich (this is, of course, the motivation by which Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to give generously in 2 Corinthians 8:1-9) – tithing has become a source of sin in my life.

    This same principle applies to any “good” thing that we may do for the wrong reasons. The story of the prodigal son is very apropos here. It is easy to see that the younger brother seeks to serve himself by being very bad. But what does the elder brother do? He seeks to serve himself by being very good. Both brothers were sinning.

    Martin Luther said (and I paraphrase) that the default mode of mankind (Christians and non-Christians alike) is to base our justification on our sanctification (or, our “goodness and right-standing” on “the good things we do”), rather than how it actually is, which is the other way around. I think that is exactly right. It is the reason we turn things that should be good and God glorifying into sins.

    Great post – it is something that we all should be praying about!

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