Why we don’t sin

So I want to spend some time talking about why as Christians we choose not to sin. This is partly an expansion of something I mentioned in my review of a church called White Couch and partly a response to a comment I received on that post. The pastor made a remark in church to this effect: “We shouldn’t sin because sin makes Jesus sad.” In that post I said:
“The way Jesus feels about us should be the last reason not to sin. The first reason should be the other person we are hurting and the second reason should be the damage we are doing to ourselves.”

I was (intentionally) implying it is silly to decide not to sin based on how it makes Jesus feel. Jesus and God, and even the Holy Ghost being almighty, can handle themselves, I reasoned. They don’t actually need me to protect their feelings. I got a reply to this post disagreeing with my statement and asserting that we do not sin primarily because sins are against God and therefore the pastor was correct.

Still I find I have to disagree with this line of thinking. I happen to believe we are not following what God says simply because he said it. I believe God is a God of love. I believe he cares about us and wants us happy, contented, and well-taken care of. This being the case, I think God established a set of rules for us NOT because he likes arbitrary rules, but because those rules actually help us all to be happy, contented and well-taken care of. I think sin is not ultimately about disobedience. In my understanding of it, sin is about causing harm to ourselves, another human, or another piece of God’s creation. I think we have the ability to see that it is better for us not to sin, and I honestly think God prefers us to think about why we are doing a thing vs. just doing it OR ELSE.

Another way of looking at this might be to consider what it would look like it we did assume all God’s rules were arbitrary and to be followed without question just because God said so. I read a news story about a man who was drenched by water after being swept away in flooding during Superstorm Sandy. He took refuge in a nearby (evacuated) house. To gain entry he broke in. Once inside he left a note explaining that he took only blankets, was suffering hypothermia, and feared death. In the strictest sense, this man destroyed property and stole. Would this be considered a sin? If obedience to the rules is our means of determining rightness vs sinfulness, I think we have to say yes, this man did sin. I am not comfortable with that and I don’t think I’m alone in my assessment. I contend that when we excuse this behavior we are using our understanding of the reasons not to sin rather than simply seeing sin in terms of obedience to God’s instructions. I’m really on-board with the idea that God gave us brains so we could think, and I’m a fan of doing that. In the end, I just don’t think we avoid sin to please God. I think we avoid sin because it makes things more awesome for everyone and that just makes sense.

Reasons not to sin

So if you remember, one of the things I complained about White Couch was the idea that sin makes Jesus sad. I’m seeing a really interesting parallel point in the recent Christianity Today debacle. So, to give a long story a brief treatment, Christianity Today ran a story last week about a youth pastor who sexually abused a youth under his leadership. Many people complained (rightly) that the article was incredibly problematic, riddled with language that seemed to remove the abuser from responsibility and make the focus all about how terrible the sin had made his life. After much uproar the article was (again rightly) taken down.

I think there is something really interesting going on here and it has to do with how different Christians and Christian groups view sin. I generally equate ‘sin’ with ‘wrong’. I see sin as the harmful things humans do. I’ve really been wondering lately if that’s backwards from the rest of Christianity. There have been more than a few sermons and books and blog posts that suggest sin is more like breaking a contract you made with God. This would mean the only problem with sinning is that it violates the promise you made. In my view of sin, I’m concerned with who or what is being hurt. In this alternate view of sin there is no need to be concerned with anything outside the sinner and God. I think that’s a problem. And I think that exact problem is why Christianity Today could run an article and not be aware of its offensiveness.

The way I see it, sin as “hurtful to God” or “makes Jesus sad” -is incomplete. If Christians stop there, it misses the impact sin has on others and the world. As Christians we need to not be missing that. I’m not even sure how asking God to forgive our sins can ever be complete if we ignore the harm our sins do outside of ourselves. Sin should never be just about God’s disappointment with us. For me Christianity has always been about paying attention to others. The impact we have on others needs to be a part of the conversation when we discuss sin. Period.