Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is It Sin?

In recent political campaigns when the subject of income tax was discussed, politicians (lawmakers) from one or both sides inevitably referred to “loopholes” in the tax code and then referred to those who use them as wrongfully “getting away” with paying less income taxes. Actually, a loophole in the tax code is most often a tax break that was deliberately designed by lawmakers to promote taxpayers into stimulating certain industries. Once taxpayers respond by using a loophole, they can’t be blamed for doing so. The taxpayer is only doing what they were allowed and often promoted to do. And, almost every taxpayer of every type is taking advantage of at least one loophole. After all, who really wants to pay more income tax?

It is one thing to approach the tax code as frugally as possible. However, it is sad when Christians approach the Bible like we do the tax code. So many Christians today treat the Bible as a set of rules (law) with loopholes provided so that we may behave unwisely. I have lost track of how many times I have been asked the question, “Is it sin?” Or, “The Bible doesn’t say it is a sin to _______.” I have even had pastors tell me regarding some gray area of behavior, “Well, the Bible does not say ‘Thou shalt not.’” But, should Christians be taking any of these postures? The answer is no. In light of grace, the correct and more practical question for Christians to answer for such issues is, “Is it wise?” Allow me to explain.

We all agree that sin is wrong. And, we should all agree that we are free from the law as the Bible clearly outlines. But, has the cross changed God’s attitude towards sin? Should the cross change our attitude towards sin? Sin is not something to advance towards. It is something to flee from. The cross has not changed that. When Christians approach the Bible as a set of rules about what is and what is not sin, then they begin to draw a mental line. On one side of “the line” are those things that are clearly referred to as sin in the Bible. And everything else is on the other side of “the line.” Then they proceed to live their lives without concern about getting close to “the line” as long as they stay on the non-sin side of it. In fact, our flesh seeks to see how far we can advance rather than how far we can flee. But, what kind of attitude towards sin does such thinking display? What would "Holiness" look like? While God and His awesome Gospel of grace frees us from the law, He did not intend for His image-bearers to respond by cozying up to sin using God’s word as their stated guide for doing so. Freedom from the law should inspire us to race in the opposite direction of bondage, not back into it (Romans 6, Hebrews 12:1). In our daily walk we should bear in the direction towards repentance not towards temptation.

Do you know how sin is borne? Sin is birthed by a series of unwise decisions. For example, if you are married, is it a sin to have lunch alone with someone else of the opposite sex? Is it a sin to be with that person in a car alone? Is it a sin to have that person over to the house for lunch when your spouse is out of town? Is it a sin for that person to be in your bedroom with you even for innocent reasons? The answer to all of these questions is no. None of these things are technically sin. But, they are foolishly unwise. Behaving this way will birth sin of some form probably ten times out of ten.

It is not mere coincidence that one of God’s names is Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24). Given that, and given that we are His following children, should a Christian glorify unwise decisions? God would never support an unwise decision. This is not an attempt to set up a whole new set of rules and form of legalism. God gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us. He guides us wisely and into all wisdom and righteousness. We are called to follow His Spirit. And, His Spirit will not guide us to do something unwise or foolish by God’s standards.

The Biblical approach to sin is to flee or run from it (Romans 13:14, 2 Timothy 2:22). A great example is the wisdom Joseph displayed when he literally ran from Potiphar’s wife. What if instead, Joseph snuggled up to “the line” without crossing it? That not only would have been foolish but terribly unwise!  But, how often do we do that today? When we do, are we being led by the Spirit or led by the flesh? Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Could it be simpler than that?

Being led by the flesh is also very similar to being led by the law. Jesus spoke of this in His first recorded sermon, The Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now, Jesus was ultimately referring to how He fulfills the law and all righteousness and credits His own perfect righteousness to us (which is awesome, by the way). But, notice His approach to the “righteousness” of the Pharisees. The Pharisees had drawn “the line” and were led by the written law. But, they were foolish, unwise and unloving. Jesus then went on to give examples of what He meant. In the first example He shared, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” In other words, stop being led by the written law. Instead, be led by the Holy Spirit who wrote the law. When seeking guidance on a given issue, lean towards the wisdom of God’s Spirit.

In conclusion, as you face “gray areas” in your life and you are looking for the answer of what to do, avoid the question, “Is it sin?” Don’t treat the Bible like the tax code searching for an excuse for “getting away” with something. From now on ask “Is it wise?” Or, said another way, since Jesus is Wisdom, “What would Wisdom do?”