What is sin? As a child in Sunday School, I learned that sin is breaking any of God’s commandments – doing something that God says not to do or not doing something that He commands us to do. As I was growing up, however, I began to dear a distortion of this elementary truth, and it is poisoning Christians today, and it goes something like this:
God forbids and commands things for our own good.
It has not yet congealed into a catchy phrase that people cling to, like the “once saved, always saved” belief. But I fear it will soon be there. The thought process is that God loves us, He wants the best for us, and based on His knowledge of how we will be the happiest He wrote the moral law. Foundation: It is all about me and my pleasure. An example: God knows that having multiple sexual partners will hurt someone because when you are intimate with someone you give away a part of yourself, you are bonded to that person, and you can never have it back. Therefore God declares that we should only have sex with our spouse. Another example: God knows that people who live together outside of marriage will have less fundamental commitment to one another, have a higher chance of breaking up, and will value marriage less. Therefore, because God knows that statistic, He forbids living together outside of marriage.
Are these things true? Statistically we have come to see that people who live with their partner before marriage get divorced at a higher rate. Is their cohabitation the only reason for their heightened likelihood of divorce? Doubtful. But we do statistically see that reality. Counselors also know that promiscuous people, and even those who have had a single sexual encounter before marriage struggle with complete vulnerability, trust and connecting with their spouse sexually in marriage. Yes, even the secular world is coming to statistically understand these truths.
But now we have to ask the question: which is the cause and which is the effect? Did God forbid certain things for our own good? Or did God forbid things, and the consequences for breaking His law and heart are bad for us?
We need to start by asking the question on a broader level. What is the primary problem and need of humanity? The Bible says that our primary problem is the fact that we are sinful and God hates sin, and His wrath abides on everyone who lives in sin.
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
– John 3.36
The wrath of God is that power which sends people to Hell. God judges and condemns sinners who have not repented of their sins.
The Bible does not say that “He who does not obey the son will not be happy”, it says that “He who does not obey the Son will not see life” and worse yet, “the wrath of God abides on him.” God is angry at sin. And even though sin has temporal consequences, like the ones noted above, it has a worse fate: damnation.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 6.23
Sin, at it’s core, is not knowing God. When we know God, we understand Him as the ultimate treasure (Mat 13.44-45). We find our joy, happiness and satisfaction in Him. And trusting Him means finding Him and His ways to be true and right. When we decide to sin, we are deciding to find joy and pleasure somewhere other than in God, and John tells us that that is the proof that we do not know Him.
The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
– 1 John 2.4-6
God is primarily concerned about His glory.
“I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.”
– Is 42.8
And He wrote the Law as He chose, for His glory. When we break His Law – when we sin – we defame Him. We do not glory in Him. We do not honor Him. We disobey Him. This is the primary problem. And it is for this that we will be judged. Our physical an temporal consequences are simply a small facet of that equation.
If we hold to this false teaching, we leave no room for the reality that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people: the problem of evil. There are some people whose consciences are so seared or corrupt that having multiple sexual partners has no impact on them. There are some people who choose to live together, never get married, and have what the world would consider to be a very healthy and happy relationship! There are some people who steal and embezzle money their entire lives and never get caught, living a life of luxury. There are some people who get away with murder, and their conscience does not condemn them. The Bible puts it this way:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
– Matt 5.44-45
God causes the sun to set on the just and the unjust. And many writers of the Old Testament witnessed and lamented over this very fact:
Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You;
Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered?
Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?
– Jer 12.1
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
– Ps 73.3-5
“Why do the wicked still live,
Continue on, also become very powerful?
Their descendants are established with them in their sight,
And their offspring before their eyes,
Their houses are safe from fear,
And the rod of God is not on them.”
– Job 21.7-9
And we also see that sometimes the Lord allows the wicked to prosper over His people as their punishment:
Her adversaries have become her masters,
Her enemies prosper;
For the LORD has caused her grief
Because of the multitude of her transgressions;
Her little ones have gone away
As captives before the adversary.
– Lam 1.5
There is no necessary cause and effect with sin, on Earth. While we are promised that our sins will find us out eternally, our judgment will be according to God’s Law (damnation or salvation through Christ’s atonement), not everyone who sins on Earth will suffer unhappiness (Num 32.23).
So God’s primary concern is not our momentary happiness. Yes, obeying God’s Law will often times result in our happiness, but not always. There will be times that following God is the unpopular or hated choice. But when we obey, we glorify Him and prove ourselves to be of Him and thus, eternally secure. So let us live our lives to glorify and honor God, and receiving as a blessing our happiness. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, not ourselves.