When the notion of sin becomes relative

Posted: March 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

Random excerpts from the USA Today article “Has the ‘notion of sin’ been lost?”

“A lot of this is relative. We tend to view sin not as God views it, but how we view it,”



• Adultery: 81%

• Racism: 74%

• Using “hard” drugs, such as cocaine, LSD: 65%

• Not saying anything if a cashier gives you too much change: 63%

• Having an abortion: 56%

• Homosexual activity or sex: 52%

• Not reporting some income on your tax returns: 52%

• Reading or watching pornography: 50%

• Gossip: 47%

• Swearing: 46%

• Sex before marriage: 45%

• Homosexual thoughts: 44%

• Sexual thoughts about someone you are not married to: 43%

• Doing things as a consumer that harm the environment: 41%

• Smoking marijuana: 41%

• Getting drunk: 41%

• Gambling: 30%

• Not attending church or religious services regularly: 18%

• Drinking any alcohol: 14%

Source: Ellison Research, August 2007, based on 1,007 adults through a representative online panel ad adjusted to be demographically representative of the USA Margin of error: ±3.1 percentage points.

More from the article:

Popular evangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, never mentions sin in his TV sermons or best sellers such as Your Best Life Now.

“I never thought about (using the word ‘sinners’), but I probably don’t,” Osteen told Larry King in an interview. “Most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church, I want to tell them that you can change.”

The Rev. Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif., calls this “moral therapy.”

“It’s changing your lifestyle to receive God’s favor,” Horton says. “It’s not heaven in the hereafter but happiness here and now. But it is still up to you to make it happen.”

He finds sad truth in an old newspaper headline he once saw: ” ‘To hell with sin when being good is enough.’ That’s the drift of American preaching today in a lot of churches. People know what sin is; they just don’t believe in it anymore. We mix up happiness and holiness, and God is no longer the reference point.

In other words, he asks, if you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?

People have to see themselves as sinners — ultimately alienated from God and unable to save themselves — for Christ’s sacrifice to be essential, Horton says. “(The apostle) Paul didn’t see Easter as therapy.”


Even some people who say sin is real still steer by a compass of “moral pragmatics,” not a bright line of absolute truth, Mohler says. “People say, ‘I have high moral expectations of myself and others, but I know we are all human so I’m looking for a batting average.’

“We find a comfort zone of morality, a kind of middle-class middle level where we think we are doing well. We cut the grass. We don’t double-park. But we ignore the larger issues of sin.

“Instead of violating the law of the Creator, it becomes more a matter of etiquette. … We want our kids to play well in the sandbox and know their place in line. We want people to do things decently and in order. But it’s etiquette of morality without the ethics. The end result is that when we do things we wish people wouldn’t do, there’s no sense of guilt or shame.”


“What is unacceptable has changed,” Kosmin observes. “Racism and sexual harassment, which were not sins in the past, are now. Adultery and addiction are just bad or sad behavior. And commercial sex is a no, but breaking the bonds of marriage is not.

“Secularism is situational without fundamental, universal rules. Explanations are kosher. Mitigating circumstances, too. But if people are held guilty, the punishment, of course, has to be in this world, not the next. Secular people don’t burn in hell, they burn in the court of public opinion.” (more…)


If someone were to ask me to define sin, the short answer I would give them is “Anything that is contrary to God’s law as defined in the Bible.” The Bible, not the mere opinions of man on what he deems as good/evil provides us with the ultimate tool for measuring what God defines as sin.

Over the years, churches have incorporated their own set of “do’s and don’t’s” in addition to God’s word. For example, many years ago during my k-12 years (I must have been in the 5th grade at the time), my parents had just enrolled me into a private Christian school who had just discarded their policy against interracial dating. From what I understand, school officials were confronted by Black parents who made the case that such a policy was not in any way substantiated in scripture. Some other examples are when folks falsely abide by a rank-list of types of sin. Looking at the list above, you can see that there are folks out there who believe that committing a homosexual act is worse than sex outside of marriage. Others may feel that racism is worse than having sexual fantasies about someone who is not your spouse. As a country that professes to be over 80% Christian, we have made the whole issue of sin relative (as long as it does not offend anybody [or anybody that matters to us], God must be okay with it). There are no rankings of sin in the Bible, plan and simple.

Scott Ashley writes the following in the publication The Good News I think defines this whole issue of sin in a way many of us can understand:

God sets high standards for us in finding and overcoming the sins that affect us. Ultimately, these definitions tell us that sin is anything that is contrary to the will of God or doesn’t express the holy character of God. That is the standard He has set for us, as seen by these definitions.

Our efforts to identify and remove sin can be compared to the story of a sculptor chipping away at an enormous block of stone. Another man asks him what he’s sculpting, and the sculptor replies, “An elephant.” The other man then asks, “How do you sculpt an elephant?” The sculptor considers the question, then says: “It’s really very simple. You just chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”

We are doing the same thing when we start chipping away sins from our lives. Our goal is, with God’s help, to chip away everything that isn’t like God. We are removing sin—everything that is contrary to or doesn’t express the holy character of God—with the purpose of more fully and maturely reflecting God’s very mind and way of life. (more…)

In this example, the sculptor is guided by one thing: The image of the elephant. The very fact that someone calls himself/herself a “Christian” says that they are “like Christ” or at least striving to be like him. This is an impossible task if your definition of sin is based on anything but God’s word.

  1. Give it a rest! says:

    I think most folks have become cynical about the concept of sin because of the the following statement pulled right from what was posted:

    “What is unacceptable has changed,” Kosmin observes. “Racism and sexual harassment, which were not sins in the past, are now. Adultery and addiction are just bad or sad behavior. And commercial sex is a no, but breaking the bonds of marriage is not.

    Like it or not people are becoming a little bit smarter as we accummulate more and more human history. IT IS NOT PEOPLES FAITH IN GOD BUT THEIR LACK OF TRUST AND RESPECT IN RELIGION AND OUR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS.

    For the same “religious” jeck-offs that were not too long ago condoning all types of behavoir that they now condemn says it all. Today it is not GOD that is fighting for relevence in this world it is the CHURCH in which people have lost faith.

  2. Carl says:


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