A few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post on Defeating the Dragons, in which I mentioned how as a teenager, “sin” had become synonymous with “sex”. Both three letter words beginning with “s”, but I wasn’t just getting my spelling confused. To quote myself…
“my relationships with boys were the one area of my life that I was constantly confessing, repenting of, and feeling suitably guilty about… It was such a running theme for so long that even now, whenever I hear of sin, repentance, or “parts of our lives that we’re holding back from God,” I can’t think of anything but my sex life.”
You might have gathered, from previous posts, that I think evangelicalism hasn’t quite got our thinking straight on sex, especially when it comes to virginity and purity. There are all kinds of issues that can arise from idolising this understanding of sexual purity, like unhealthy shame complexes, guilt complexes, hatred of our bodies and fear of natural attraction.
That aside for another day, I’ve noticed that for myself, there’s another set of issues that come from it too. When sex is synonymous with sin in one way of thinking, changing how I think about sex has unsettled my understanding of sin. Because the two became so connected, such a change could be as simple as “sexual sin = sin. If sexual sin doesn’t exist, the whole concept of sin doesn’t exist.” I wouldn’t want to say that – I’m sure that sexual sin still exists as a thing. But I know that the more I’ve begun to think differently about sexual purity, the more I’ve begun to react against any concept of sin at all. Sermons, articles, or bits of the Bible that mention sin have become particularly grating, and I find myself dismissing or actively disagreeing with them.
My brain knows that this is a problem. I do think right and wrong exist. I do think that “Christ died for sins” is a true statement, one of the very truest I know, along with “God is love”. So before I can work out what the right relationship between sex and sin is, I need to disconnect the two.
I need to understand sin without reference to sexual purity rules.
So, where should I start? What would be a healthy, ‘Biblical’ way of thinking about sin? I don’t want to go down the route of the ethical theories we studied in A level philosophy and ethics (I think utilitarianism is the only sort I can remember anyway), because I want to start with something that gets to the heart of a distinctively Christian understanding of sin…
What about Jesus’ summary of the law and the prophets as love God and love neighbour? Perhaps sin is when I don’t do those things? When I’m selfish, when I don’t give to others, when I don’t fight for justice for the oppressed, when I don’t feed the hungry, when I put others down to elevate myself, when I use other people, when I treat them with less respect than they deserve, I’m not loving my neighbour. That’s straight forward enough to feel my way through. I know, somewhere in my gut, when I’m not loving my neighbour. But what about loving God? How do I know what is not loving God? My mind jumps straight back to John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commands” says Jesus. What are his commands? As I said before, “I can’t think of anything but my sex life.”
So I’m still struggling to think of sin outside of sex, especially when it comes to sin that doesn’t seem to hurt other people but is about obedience or disobedience to God. How else can we go about thinking about that kind of sin? Is it to do with intentions, to do with wanting to put God first, or not trying? Or is it actually about rules after all, sex rules included? Is it just that I need to be clear on how to interpret those rules, and then stick to my best understanding of them?
All ideas welcome… where do we start with a healthy understanding of sin that isn’t based primarily on sexual guilt?