Churches talk a lot about sin. But what is sin? If you read your Bible you can see list of sins, but it may not really help you understand what makes something a sin. We may ask or have been asked by someone is it a sin to do ...? The US tax code is about 11,000 pages and the reason it is so long is it has to account for every possible situation. Could you imagine how long the Bible would need to be to list every possible sin? Dr. Scott McKnight in his book A Community Called Atonement defines sin as, anything that destroys relationships. He list four relationships that a person can destroy: my relationship with God, others, myself, and creation.
Sin is Anything that Destroys My Relationship With God.
In Genesis 1-3 God creates the world including humans. They shared a special relationship as humans were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). They were given three rules: take care of God's creation, multiply, and don't from the tree in the middle of the garden. In chapter three they eat from the tree in the middle of the garden and two things happens. They are ashamed and they feel guilt. When God comes to see them that evening they hide from God because they know their relationship with him has been damaged. We damage our relationship anytime we break one of his commands.
Think about the ten commandments in Exodus 20. The first four commands are about how to maintain a relationship with God. Many of the Levitical laws dealt with how to worship an awesome and holy God. When we break these we damage our relationship with God.
Sin is Anything that Destroys My Relationship With Others.
The ten commandments also include six commands with how to treat others. Do not steal, kill, cheat on your or with someone else's spouse, lie about someone, covet their possessions, but make sure to honor your parents. If you read Paul's letters he give a list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. These are primarily made up of actions that destroy personal relationships.
I was a youth minister for 15 years and the number one question I received was why is it wrong to use profanity. I would usually ask them why did they want to use it. More times than not it was to express an emotion or sentiment to someone. I would reply, "so you want to use certain language with the express purpose of hurting or abusing them? I think that is why it is wrong."
Anything that we do that erodes or damages our relationship with others is a sin.
Sin is Anything that Destroys My Relationship With Myself.
We are made in the image of God. God told man in the garden if they ate of the forbidden tree they would damage their own lives and death would be the result. When they sinned the destroyed themselves and physically died. When Paul tries to explain why sexual sins are wrong in 1 Corinthians 6 he tells them that it is a sin against your own body. His reason is that while some sins damage my relationship with others this sin damages my relationship with myself.
You have probably heard the line, I am not hurting anyone by doing this. We normally hear this when someone is trying to justify an action that others believe is bad. Paul would urge us not to engage in behavior that will destroy our mental, physical, and emotional well being.
Sin is Anything that Destroys My Relationship With God's Creation.
Man's first job was a take care of God's creation. Christians should be environmentalist. We should take care of the land and honor it as God's creation. If I drove by your house everyday and threw out trash into your yard or dumped chemicals into your pond, how would that set with you? God created the world and asked us to take care of it. We don't have to be a vegan, dress in hemp clothing, or tie ourselves to a tree. But we should honor creation.
There are also sins that are linked to creation. Murder, abortion, genocide are all sins were we are destroying God's creation. When Jesus was asked about divorce (Matthew 19) he goes back to creation and says that God's plan was for one man and one woman to be married forever. Paul says that homosexuality is a sin and his reason for it is that it is a sin against creation (Romans 1).
Sin Destroys but God Redeems
A Christian should never talk about sin without talking about redemption, grace, and forgiveness. The message of the Bible is sin destroys relationships but God repairs them. From Genesis 3 to Revelation the story is told of how God is working to save mankind. Too many times we talk about sin but forget to talk about grace and how God can help us overcome it and redeem it. When we do this we defile the gospel. One of my favorite passages is Romans 5:10-11 and I love how the NLT translates it: "For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God."