Bettie and I traveled to the Knoxville area recently for my niece’s <a href="http://marksephemera.blogspot
.com/2012/04/better-than-cards.html” target=”_blank”>8th birthday. Fun trip. I was declared to share the same birthday as Caroline. That works for me – twice the presents (at least potentially).
On Sunday morning, we attended church with the family. The minister spoke about the problem of evil, and within that he spoke about sin. He defined sin as “any thought or action that goes against God”. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, and attended a Nazarene college, and I can still whip out the definition of sin easily: Sin is the willful transgression of the known law of God. That may have been delivered from John Wesley, or Arminius himself – either way, I verified this past weekend that it’s still the current Nazarene definition of sin.
And I never want to go back to that definition. Here’s why.
There are at least two problems with the Nazarene definition. First, it puts the sinner at the center of the universe. Everything revolves around him, not around God. Both “willful transgression” and “known law of God” are focused on the individual. The individual is involved with the sin – they are the one doing it. But the sin is being committed against God.
After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and she got pregnant, and David killed her husband Uriah, he got called out by the prophet Nathan. David repented, and confessed in Psalm 51. Talking to God, David said “Against You, You only, have I sinned”. Now Bathsheba may have a claim to being sinned against, and I’m pretty sure that Uriah falls into that category, and the whole nation of Israel at least needed an apology for David’s actions. Yet David claims to have sinned against God only.
It’s because God owns us first. God is hurt most by sin. Even though Uriah was murdered, God was first and foremost the injured party. David isn’t saying that poor, dead Uriah wasn’t sinned against. It’s just that in relation to the offense, Uriah doesn’t make the chart. God comes first.
That is what I like about the first definition of sin: the focus is on God, the one aggrieved by sin.
The second problem I have with the Nazarene definition of sin is that it turns us into legalistic judges. We have to decide if the transgression was willful. We need to determine if the law of God was known. If either of those tests fails, then whatever happened wasn’t a sin. It might have angered God, but I decided it wasn’t a sin. Riiiiiiight . . .
Jeremiah 17:9 says
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
So this deceitful, desperately wicked person (that would be you and me, if you’re keeping score) gets to decide if their own actions are sinful? I would rather have someone who is just, fair, and wise. Someone like God. What – you think that the aggrieved person can’t be just? God set up the rules. He knows – far better than we – what is sinful.
The legalism involved with the Nazarene definition of sin produces three categories of action: sinful, not sinful, and “mistakes”. That last is something that you shouldn’t have done, and need to ask forgiveness for, but it still wasn’t a sin. Oh, what makes it not a sin? Perhaps the law of God wasn’t known in that area.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
(Jesus, in Matt 23:23-24)
The focus in the life of a Christian should be on pleasing God, enjoying a relationship with Jesus, instead of self-monitoring to see if you what you are doing is against the known law of God, or whether you did something willfully.
The point of your life shouldn’t be deciding whether or not something is a sin – it should be not sinning, staying on the Christ-like side of the line. If you cross it – and the Holy Spirit will let you know – confess your sin, make amends if appropriate, and re-enter that wonderful relationship with Jesus.