Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What is sin? 1

I decided that the "Clean and Unclean" post was interesting, but probably distracting from a booklet.  I'll try to combine several things into one post called, "What is Sin?"  Below is where I'm thinking it would go, although I think this will take two posts.

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
What is sin?
Does God tempt? 1
Does God tempt? 2

Perhaps the most popular definition of sin amounts to anything short of perfection.  We say it is to "miss the mark" and the mark in question is often defined as any mistake or imperfection whatsoever.  The picture of God behind this definition is a God of justice who must and wants to punish the slightest infraction.  If we say we have no sin, 1 John 1:8 is quickly produced, we are deceiving ourselves.

There are immense problems with the preceding paragraph--and there would be troublesome implications for the problem of evil and suffering.  For one, while we do find the category of unintentional sin in Scripture, it certainly receives little attention in the New Testament.  To define sin as missing the mark is usually based on an atrocious word fallacy.  This is arguably a misinterpretation of 1 John 1:8 and the father who represents God in the Parable Son knows nothing of this understanding of God's attitudes.

Sin in its most meaningful sense involves intention.  We are defining evil as active intent against loving God or one's neighbor and the actions that follow.  So sin in its most meaningful sense is active intent or action that violates love of God or neighbor.  The two prove to be very closely related.  An evil intent is a sinful intent, and evil done is a sin done.

What then of unintentional sin?  To sin is to wrong another person or to do wrong defined as action or intent against God or one's neighbor.  You can of course wrong another person accidentally.  And you can do wrong out of ignorance.  We can certainly find places in the Bible where these things are called sin.

However, these categories apply much more to the Old Testament than the New.  It is the Levitical parts of the Old Testament that have the categories of clean and unclean.  One can become stained simply by touching the wrong thing.  In Numbers 15:22-31, clear instructions are given for a person who sins unintentionally, but there is no hope for the person who might sin defiantly and intentionally.  We know from the stories of the Old Testament that God often did forgive such individuals.  Our point here is that the function of sacrifice in Leviticus has to do with unintentional wrongs done and thus that the Bible does have a category relating to unintentional sins or wrongs done in ignorance.

But this is not the dominant category of the New Testament.  In fact, this category is only discussed in the past tense.  The Day of Atonement used to be about sins committed in ignorance (Heb. 9:7).  From Adam to Moses people died because of their wrongs done, even though those sins were not technically charged to their account (Rom. 5:14).  What is important for the New Testament is intentional wrong: "If someone knows the good to do and does not do it, it is sin" (Jas. 4:17).  In perhaps the most helpful statement about sin in the New Testament, Paul says that "Everything that is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).

This last statement is an excellent picture of what we are saying about sin and evil.  It has to do with one's attitude and intention.  Sin has do with why you do what you do and with what your intentions are toward God and others.  This sense of God's interests does not only come in the New Testament.  We find this same sense from 2 Samuel 16:7 where God tells Samuel not to focus on how the sons of Jesse look--God looks on the heart.  In Mark 7:15, Jesus similarly was not worried about what made a person clean or unclean externally, but about what was in their hearts.

It is also important for us to recognize the standard by which these intentions were measured.  The New Living Translation imposes later theological discussion on Romans 3:23 when it translated it to say that all have fallen short of "God's glorious standard," as if the problem is the fact that we cannot be perfect...


John Meunier said...

I am grateful for your discussion of this.

I often read criticism of Wesley's theology of sin, but they rarely explain why his conception of sin -- intentional violation of a law of God -- is wrong. They usually just take it as assumed and obvious.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our country's laws are the basics of "loving one's neighbor". That means that one is impartial in judgment. There is no bias because of previous relational bonds. No discrimination allowed.

But, then, how are we to make "sense" of "holy" and "sin", IF we don't discriminate? Aren't these terms defined by one's "authority", which is a denominational opinion.

Some denominations define "sin" by not taking communion, others by not confessing "sin", others by blaspheming the "holy spirit", ETC So, "sin" is defined within a specified community, while our nation defines "crime" (sin?) by universal standards (killing, stealing, etc.)

And even when our nation defines by our laws what is appropriate behavior, then America allows for "conscience", regarding such "grey areas" as military service, or vacinations, or other areas that one's religious conscience would define as "sin".

"Sin" is not universalized language whereas, "crime" is. "Sin" is defined by a supernatural authority, while "crime" is defined by human authority (governments). Religious people have the right to dissent, resist, or protest regarding areas that they find are against "conscience" concerning their government, if they believe that there is a "higher authority". In communist or atheistic countries, such resistance is not tolerated! This was considered tyranny by the Founders.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, just as communstic countries do not allow for religious conscience, neither do religious STATES! Such countries define their laws on religious texts, traditions and understandings. These are intolerant cultures, just as atheistic ones are

davey said...

Three points:

First point: unintentional 'missing the mark' I see as happening because the present world is imperfect, and so people can be injured unintentionally. I feel it takes consideration of these matters in a wrong direction to argue that the existence of the distresses of this imperfect world is not a moral evil - as though goodness would not be morally obligated to relieve distress. It is surely not an option that in the coming kingdom there will be no sin and yet distress.

Second point: surely there is another category of sin besides those of unintentional and defiant, and that is sin through weakness.

Third point: 'sins were not technically charged to their account (Rom. 5:14)' does not seem to me to be about unintentional sins through ignorance, but even intentional sins, which are being said to be not marked up as transgressions of Torah, though they were indeed sins.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Good points, davey.
I just read in the Washington Post where it was argued that Obama's vision of "redistribution" was moral issue that frames Christianity itself!!! That means that there is only ONE way to interpret scripture and that is a socialistic/communistic one! I think that religion is being used for/to make political policy and points! The Catholic Church doesn't mind as they've always wanted to impose their views on everyone!

The Catholic Church as an AUTHORITY over men's conscience do not "vote" for the "Protestant work ethic", but find it immoral to accumulate property. Why? Catholics believe that one should be focused on the poor! It s scriptural, etc etc

This is an agenda for world domination, n my opinion for uniformity/conformity, not individual conscience!

Such a global perspective doesn't leave room for individual rights, personal choice,interests or values, etc! This is against every value that Americans hold dear!

So, is "sin" to define the future where "MORAL POLICEMEN" oversee our every action, choice and opinion?!? I hope not!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Why do the Ten Commandments have "Thou Shalt Not Steal", or "Thou Shalt Not Covet" if one doesn't own anything?????

Private property is one of the first principles of living in a free society!

Mirche Tanchev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mirche Tanchev said...

@Angie Van De Merwe: Do the Ten Commandments have "Thou Shalt Not Steal", and "Thou Shalt Not Covet"? Or do the Ten Commandments have "Thou will not steal" and "Thou will not covet" too?

I think the 10 commandmands are expressing an instruction or a strong assertion or intention (i.e. a strong determination to do something) e.g. that God shell not tolerate stealing (therefore "Thou dost not steal") but in the same time there is a promise or a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that guarantees that a particular thing will happen (like in the 3. and 5. commandment) and it means in future tense that will be inconceivableness that you shell steal or covet).

@John Meunier: Thanks for your comment about J. Wesley too.

@Ken Schenck: "What is sin?" Thank you for this discussion about Rom. 14, 23 and the following words: »This last statement is an excellent picture of what we are saying about sin and evil. It has to do with one's attitude and intention. Sin has do with why you do what you do and with what your intentions are toward God and others.«

I would like to ask You also on 1. John 3, 4:»Every one who is doing the sin, the lawlessness also he doth do, and the sin is the lawlessness« How do You understand it according Rom. 14, 23? Thanks.