Is That A Sin?
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Rom 3:23)
Growing up in the church it seemed like every week they would come in and tell us about something else that was a sin. There got to be so many of these sins that I would lose track of them. So I decided to simplify things a bit and just call everything a sin. That way I don't have to remember what's a sin and what's not. Since you're not supposed to sin I guess you are not supposed to do anything. Except, that would be sloth and that's a sin too. I'll admit that it is a bit of a problem, but it's less of a problem that trying to remember what's a sin and what's not.
Now when someone asks me if such-and-such is a sin, I can just say, "Why yes I believe that is a sin." I figured that way I won't have to get into any arguments about it. Of course that doesn't work. As soon as you say yep, that's a sin, then the arguing starts. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Etc. Everyone's got their Bible out and is doing word studies and funky exegesis to prove what's a sin and what's not.
I need a change of tactics. Instead of just saying, yep that's a sin, I've decided I'll just ask, "Why do you want to know?" It seems there are several reasons why someone is asking if such-and-such is a sin, so I need to find out why they are asking first.
Sometimes you get unbelievers who are really just trying to justify their rebellion and hatred of God and give themselves an excuse for not believing in Jesus. They WANT you to say it's a sin so they can then turn around and call you a judgmental jerk and then inform you that they can't believe in something that is full of judgmental jerks like you. If that's the situation I would just ask them, "Since you don't believe in God and Jesus, why do you care if it's a sin or not?" They are just being argumentative and it's a waste of time arguing with them. They are not ready to hear the Gospel because they don't think they need salvation. Until they are convicted in the heart that they have a problem that only God can solve no amount of talk about what's a sin and what's not is going to work. You can try and explain the failings of human nature, but sometimes even that won't get their attention.
Next there are the self-appointed judges of your doctrinal understanding. These are people who are obsessed with making sure you are in their theological camp. They aren't really asking you in order to get your understanding. They are putting you on trial to see if your understanding conforms to their way of thinking. I can't stand that. An obsessive need to get others to believe as you do seems to me to be either an arrogant pride or hidden insecurity of some kind. Mainly they just don't understand the nature of sin and how it gets removed. They are still thinking that righteousness is right behavior according to some moral code.
At the opposite extreme, we have the professed Christian who thinks that it doesn't really matter that much what they do. They just want to argue also, but for a different reason. They want Jesus to be their buddy and approve of whatever it is they want to do. After all, Jesus loves us! So, they think, it's not important and all those laws in the Old Testament were done away with and so it's just love everybody and don't too much worry about anything else since Jesus will cover your sins. That's another misunderstanding. If God didn't care about what we do there never would be such a thing as sin anyway. But, the real problem is they will only accept Jesus if they can just go on doing what they want to do. They don't want to die to self, in other words.
Finally there are the searchers and the guilt-ridden Christians. These are the ones that are so worried about their salvation and so filled with guilt over sin that they obsess over their behavior. They are honest enough to look at their life and know there are problems. They want to be better and to please God. So they constantly try to figure out if their behavior is up to God's standard. That is also a misunderstanding, but it is a subtle misunderstanding and difficult to see at first where it is wrong.
Obsessing over sinful behavior is as wrong as denying sinful behavior. The whole point about being "born again" is that a new spirit enters in and changes us. That change takes place by a power greater than us, not by our own power. If we could make the change by our knowledge and will power there is no need for Jesus in the first place. The truth that man cannot solve his own nature is self-evident in human history. If there is not a power greater than man that can change man's nature, we are pretty much stuck right where we always have been. Although slightly simplistic, it is accurate to say that what God is looking for is a people who will put aside their own self-willed effort and let Him be in charge. We can and should be aware of sin, should feel a sense of guilt, and should want to change. What we should absolutely avoid is the attitude that I can and will change myself into someone God will approve of. God will make the change in us, and get the glory for doing so, when we learn to trust Him completely.
What goes along with this, and is so often overlooked, is that you must be willing to accept the changes that will come. If we have truly laid down our life to follow Jesus, and we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, we must, must, must be willing to accept the changes that come. The moment you rebel against the change in desire that is coming into your heart, you have put your own knowledge and self-will in place of the power of God. That rebellion turns off the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to live by faith and why we are justified by faith alone. It is our faith in the power of God to change us, and the willingness to let Him make that change that ultimately will lead to the elimination of sinful behavior.
There is only one real answer to the question, "Is this a sin?" Go ask Jesus. But, don't ask Jesus if such-and-such is a sin. Go ask Jesus to remove any desires that tempt you into sin. Don't try to change it yourself because you will fail more often than you will succeed. Don't resist the change when it comes or you will reject the power to change. And, don't assume that what you perceive as sin is what is the only problem. There may be something else in the way that has to be dealt with first. The sinful behavior may remain for some time, but if you keep going by faith, in time the desires of the heart that lead to sin will be changed. Then you will have the answer you seek, the joy of being rid of your burden, and the peace that comes from His spirit living in you.
"But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal 2:17-21)