As I filled my car with gas, I noticed a small sign on the pump: “Smoking while fueling is illegal and dangerous.” For some reason the distinction between “illegal” and “dangerous” struck me as a bit…redundant. Isn’t it enough to say that smoking near flowing gasoline is dangerous? Like, you’re-gonna-blow-up dangerous? The legality of the matter seems trivial when you picture a person engulfed in flames after lighting up at the pump. The two things are actually one thing—smoking while fueling is illegal because it is so dangerous.
A similar separation has happened in our ideas about sin. Somehow we’ve come to believe that there are things (activities/behaviors/patterns) that are sinful, and there are also things that are harmful. I can hear religious authorities informing, “You don’t want to do that, it’s sinful and hazardous.”
But the truth is, the two are one. If something is sinful then it’s not good for you. No exceptions. Likewise, if something is harmful to you, it is sinful.
In my experience with working with high school kids I’ve become aware of an evident religious haze surrounding the concept of sin. “Mr. Russ, is ____________ a sin? Well how about ____________? What I mean to say is, will God be mad at me if I _____________?” Our confusion about sin has everything to do with a misunderstanding of God’s character. Believe it or not, God is not arbitrarily calling stuff sin. That’s not how God operates because that’s not who God is. There is no sin you can commit that will bring you more joy, more satisfaction, more life. In fact, the very reason God warns of certain behaviors is precisely because God is for us. God is totally, completely, passionately, sacrificially committed to our flourishing—even more than we are committed to our own flourishing! The very reason He hates sin is because He is for His people.
Sadly, this is a paradigm shift for many. We have imagined a God who makes the rules without consideration for His children, and we had better get on board or else! But He is so much better. It’s time to let Jesus be our guide, the one who lived with such a profound and overwhelming sense of his Father’s goodness. While many Pharisees were actually “sinning” in their study of God’s Word (imagine that!) because of their motivation to be seen as spiritually superior (Matt. 23), Jesus perfectly navigated the confusing waters of Sabbath observance (“Is it lawful to heal a person on Sabbath?”), food regulations (“Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?”), and Torah prioritization (“Which command is the greatest?”) with incessant focus on God’s character.
May we grow to be like him in our understanding of sin and righteousness as we too abide in the Father’s heart.