What is Sin?

To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

This scripture presents a problem for carnal minded people. The natural, carnal mindset is the perspective of most people on planet earth. People with this view are more aware of the natural realm than the spiritual realm, more aware of people than of God.

Carnal minded people cannot understand James 4:17 because it is not what they want to hear. It does not fit their agenda. It makes no sense to them because it leaves way too much gray area and they don’t like that. They much prefer to make sin black and white with no gray. This helps to tidy things up and bring about justice more swiftly, or at least the appearance of justice. Black and white sin keeps things simple. Black and white sin says this is always wrong and that is always right, and it must be applied the same for everyone in every situation, every time. This helps to remove all the ambiguity and uncertainty. Bam, you did this, you get that. Over and out. Simple, right?

While this approach is by far the most common, it is not right. It is living by the letter of the law, which is legalism. After many centuries of practice, Christians have perfected it. Stab the offenders and kill the wounded, all in the name of God of course. On the surface it seems to work so well. After all, the scripture said don’t do this and they did it. Clearly they are wrong and must be stopped! Now that we have that squared away, we can move on, staying in command of our perfect world.

Legalism has many great benefits. It makes it easier to control any given situation. It makes us feel good knowing the word of God has been applied and sin has been confronted. Legalism totally avoids the need for spiritual growth so we can reach the top of the heap much faster and easier. In fact, it requires no spiritual life at all because it comes from our carnal, sinful nature. So to sum it up, it is sinful people condemning sin in other people. Is there a problem here? Hmmm…

Although legalism parades under the banner of Christianity, it is not Christianity. In fact, is anti-Christian with the added insult of devilish hypocrisy. It wages war against the truth and against anyone who is led by the spirit of God. Legalism is the reason why millions of Christians think they are fighting in God’s army while in fact they are fighting in Satan’s army, waging vicious attacks against the people of God.

Legalistic, carnal thinking offers temporary satisfaction but has devastating long term effects. It causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. It leads to self-righteousness and wrong judgements. It leads people on a path away from the truth, away from wisdom, away from the spirit of God. And it comes with a high price as there are many casualties and wounded soldiers along the way.

James 4:17 is very gray because it says “to him who knows, to him it is sin,” which means the same action performed or omitted by one person is sin but for another person is not sin. The only way to make it black and white is to ignore what it says. That means the flip side must also be true, to him who does not know, to him it is not sin. So much gray!

Here is the really bad news. Sorting out the gray areas without the legalistic approach requires much work on our part. For one thing, we have to grow up spiritually. We have to study the word so we can renew our carnal mind and grow in the mind of Christ. We must develop spiritual discernment, which requires much practice until we get good at it. This means making some mistakes along the way. So messy! Growing up can be painful and can take a long time. Can justice wait that long?

A wise person will mind their own business and have nothing bad to say about anyone. A wise person will not only control their tongue but even their thoughts. They will let it go because they humbly recognize they really don’t know all the facts. They will assume the best and then leave it in the hands of God.

Even if it appears so obvious that someone has committed sin, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? There is usually more to the story than what you know. Besides that, who appointed you to be judge over them? Are they your servant or God’s servant? They already have a judge and he is capable of judging rightly without your help.

So we must resist the rush to judgment because things are not always what they appear to be. In the same measure you judge it will be measured back to you. You think you are right and someone else is wrong, but it might be you who is wrong and guilty of the greater sin.

Judging correctly would be a lot easier if sin was always the same for everyone, but that is not the case. While it is easy to see the act committed, it is not so easy to see the motives hidden in the heart of the accused or the light available to them at the time. Judging rightly requires seeing things that cannot be seen with our natural eyes, the hidden things of the heart. As the scripture says, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

It is somewhat troubling to deal with sin when it is not black and white. The gray area makes us uncomfortable because it is beyond our control. But we can rest assured that

God judges our deeds in the context of the light that we have. To whom much is given, much will be required. To him who knows to do right but does not do it, to him it is sin. Sin is a violation of light. We commit sin when we have the light of God revealed to us so we know the right thing to do, but we don’t do it.

The natural mind cannot comprehend this because these words are spirit and must be spiritually discerned. So in the process of trying to understand, rest assured justice remains safe in the hands of God. We might not see it executed as swiftly as we want, but that is okay too. No one will get away with anything. Even the smallest sins will be exposed to the light for all to see.

What about people who have no light? Aren’t they lost in sin? According to scripture, all men are without excuse because the creation itself declares the glory of God. The evidence or light is abundant everywhere around us. The problem is not a shortage of light but an unwillingness to walk in the light. Light has come into the world, but men love the darkness rather than the light.

So relax. Trust God with the gray areas. Justice will ultimately be done, even without your help.

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