Sin Lists and Why We (Should) Love Them
Christianity, as we all know, is not about doing a bunch of good stuff, to get into heaven. That’s where Christianity is different from all the other religions in the world: we do not lean on our own righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ to save us from our sins, and give us the power to live holy lives.
But this should lead to an obvious question: if Jesus saves us from sins, and wants us to live holy lives, wouldn’t it be helpful to know what actions Jesus deems sinful, and what exactly He deems righteousness? It is precisely at this point where sin-lists are so very helpful: indeed, although they are not the core and center, they are the foundation or back-drop which makes Christianity possible.
One of the most quoted passages of the Bible nowadays is when Jesus showed mercy to a woman caught in adultery. To her accusers – who were anxious to stone her – Jesus said, « Let he who is without sin throw the first stone. » Ashamed, they all left, beginning with the oldest among them. Jesus then turned to the woman and said, « Neither do I condemn you…. » and that is where we all stop reading. But Jesus goes on. « …now go, and sin no more. » (John 8:11). Here he adds no warnings: to another person he does. After healing a paralytic man, Jesus cautions him, « »Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. » (John 5:14).
Needless to say, these verses will cause much confusion to the modern ears. Isn’t Jesus the kind, lovable, mothering shepherd-figure? Isn’t He fond of saying, « Judge not, lest you be judged, » (Luke 6:37)? How does commanding people not to sin enter into this persona?
The aspect of Jesus’ person which is usually lost, distorted or (in the case of Liberal scholarship/the Jesus Seminar) rejected outright is the fact that He saw/sees Himself as the coming Judge of all the world. Consider the following as only one example from many:
25« Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26« For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. 30« I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. » (John 5:25-30) Elsewhere, Jesus warns that people will be forced to give account even of their idle words (Matthew 12:36), and that it would be better to be drowned or grotesquely maimed than to face a negative judgment on that day (Matthew 16:8-9, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 17:2).
A good way to think of this is of a father, walking in on his children playing. Surely, this father does not like to hear the oldest daughter setting herself up as a petty-tyrant/judge, saying, « Okay, Johnny – I saw that! You stole the toy from Annie. She hit you and you bopped her for it. Now, Johnny, come over here and let me give you a spanking, and Annie, I want you to go to your room… » Unless the father has delegated responsibility to his daughter (for example, as a temporary baby-sitter), he will not approve of her « judging » her siblings. Even if she is doing a good job, it is not her job – it is his.
Likewise, Jesus does not declare a state of moral anarchy: rather, he forbids his disciples from judging: this role He reserves for Himself (Romans 12:19).
But, you may argue, « I have given my heart to Jesus! I do not need to fear judgment! I am leaning on His righteousness. »
Paul declares, « Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, « The Lord knows those who are His, » and, « Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness. » (2 Timothy 2:19) Elsewhere, he asks how it would be possible for a Christian to live in sin, since they have died to that way of life? (Romans 6). In a passage which is – not surprisingly – very much neglected, the writer of Hebrews writes:
26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. 28Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know Him who said, « VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY » And again, « THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE. » 31It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In Christ, God offered the human race an amazing offer: grace. God has set before us life and death, and earnestly desires that we choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). The call is to die to our old ways of living, and – in His power – to begin a new life. The call is grace. The leaving behind of sin is grace. The failing and faltering attempt to live a new life is grace. However, the Bible is very clear: those who are unrepentantly living in sin have made it clear in their actions that they have not even begun this journey, or have gotten off of the train.
At this point, Arminians and Calvinists usually roll up their sleeves and begin pummeling one another – but let us save that battle for another day. When a so-called Christian makes some sort of profession of faith, walks in Christianity, then – like the dog going back to their own vomit, or a pig to its muck (2 Peter 2:22) – they begin unrepentantly sinning in their old way of life, there is less to argue about than we think. The Arminian will say they have fallen from the faith. The Calvinist will say he never had it. Both agree that such a person is not saved.
In the words of James, « But someone may well say, « You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. » You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.. » (James 2:18-20, 26)
So we are saved by faith, and we do not earn our salvation either before or after by our works: but if we unrepentantly sin, we are not saved.
Clear as mud? Probably.
Fortunately, God has given us a metaphor to draw this together, which is marriage.
Love, as we all know, is pure gift. You cannot buy love – if you attempt it, your gift will be utterly despised (Song of Solomon 8:7). A husband marries an imperfect woman, and she an imperfect man when both deserve better – and that is grace. In marriage, both fail each other and hurt each other dearly. However, in a good marriage there is continual repentance, which is always greeted with love and forgiveness. In such a marriage, it is true that « love covers over a multitude of sins, » (1 Peter 4:8) and « perfect love casts out fear, » (1 John 4:18): however, what of the marriage where one heart wanders?
Many people think that God is going soft when He turns to metaphors of marriage and love to describe His relationship to us: these people have not read the Bible very closely. For, « love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the LORD. » (Song of Solomon 8:6). And Solomon also writes, « Men do not despise a thief if he steals To satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house. The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out. For jealousy enrages a man, And he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not accept any ransom, Nor will he be satisfied though you give many gifts, » (Proverbs 6:30-35). It is true that God invokes marriage metaphors to describe the beauty and intimacy of the relationship which Jesus has with His « Bride, » the church. But love is a sword which cuts both ways, and the Bible is by no means silent on the other aspect of love:
« So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. » (Deuteronomy 4:23-24) » 5« You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, » (Exodus 20:5). »
23« So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. 24« For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. » (Deuteronomy 4:23-24) « 2A jealous and avenging God is the LORD;
The LORD is avenging and wrathful
The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies. » (Nahum 1:2)
And as James says, « 4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: « He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us »? » (James 4:4-5).
Does God love us? Absolutely. Completely. Does that mean that we can flirt around with sin, placing other idols into our lives, « commit adultery » on Jesus with the Devil, and expect God to shrug it all off? Absolutely not. God is a jealous God, a consuming fire.
There is a passage which draws the « faith-and-works » question together beautifully. In my darkest moments, this verse is always my shining light:
11It is a trustworthy statement:
For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
12If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
13If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
Do we stumble, do we sin, do we fail over and over, are we constantly plagued with doubts and afflictions? We need not fear – God remains faithful, even when we are faithless. After 70×7 failures in one day, God is still ready to forgive us – so long as we are really trying, and we are really ready to repent. It is not so much how far we are moving, but which direction our hearts are pointing which matters. Only we must be sure not to deny Him, not to turn aside to some other love: for the passion of His love is as strong as His jealousy. Let us not deny Him, so that He will not deny us.
And yes – let us remember that it is our actions which will betray our true allegiance.
A young teen who dresses like a rebel, but has a heart of gold recently went to the front of our church during our sharing time and read the following verse:
9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
She explained that this verse was very special to her because it provided some firm guidelines and rules, and it helped her know how to make sense of life. This event really stuck out to me as something strange – what indie-rocker kid likes a list of rules? However, as I reflected, I realized that she understood a very deep truth about the Gospel of Christianity.
It’s not about the rules. But it needs the rules. Without the rules, Christianity makes no sense.
And that is why we like sin-lists. We like sin-lists because they tell us we are sinners, and we need to repent. Repent from what? From the sins on the sin-lists! Repent to what? Repent towards the holiness and away from the sins mentioned on the sin-list. This is possible and, by God’s grace, we may walk in increasing holiness.
Those who wish to say that Christianity has no room at all for sin lists have pushed grace too far, to where it is no longer grace but lawlessness.
(Some other sin-lists are:)
19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
8« But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. »
25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
2 Corinthians 12:20
20For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
1 Timothy 1:8-11
8But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,9realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. 16« I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. »
4Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. 5Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, « I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU, »
18« But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19« For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20« These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. »
Revelation 21:10, 27
10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 27and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.