How should the church view sin?2016 Nov 11
The very first sin was done by Adam and Eve. They chose to to follow what they valued instead of what God valued when they ate the fruit from the tree. God told them to leave the tree alone. Their act was a rebellion, and it was a choice of selfishness. (They did what they wanted to do.) They chose to pursue a value (system) that was not of God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. This now is the critical part: Every sin since then is more of the same thing even though there are so many ways to sin!
God does not sin, but this is not just because (as the ultimate authority) he gets to identify sin. God holds himself and us to the very same standard - which is sacrificial love. However, while avoiding sin is difficult for us, it is God's very nature.
This is a consequence of what motivates him; and God has complete integrity in this motivation. We see God best through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3 note), and the best image we have of Jesus’ values in practice is him loving others so very much that he died for them on the cross. It is from this that we clearly know that God's motivating value is sacrificial love for others.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV
If you were to be trained to detect counterfeit money I am told you are trained by learning what the genuine money is like. The trainers do not attempt to educate you by having you study counterfeits. The same idea is true for the spiritual realm. We will never be successful in overcoming sin by studying sin. We are only successful when we study God's value system - the value that motivates God. The way to recognize sin is understanding that the definition of sin is any choice made from a value that is not sacrificial love.
Note that it is incorrect to define sin as transgression of the law. Paul makes this point. He notes that people sinned before God gave any law. (Romans 5:12) If you thought that sin was just transgression of the law, you might imagine you could remain sinless even while you exploited a loophole in the law to do some horrible thing. Clearly such thinking is wrong. Lawbreaking may be sin, but sin is not simply lawbreaking.
However, not all lawbreaking is sin! Jesus failed to obey some of the religious rules observed by leaders of his day (Luke 13:14), yet the Bible teaches that Jesus was without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15, II Corinthians 5:21) The law really cannot define sin.
Note now that the law is on the negative side of this topic. Paul teaches us that the purpose of law is to make sin increase! (Romans 5:20) This is because the purpose of God’s law was never to make us holy. It was to show us that we are sinners. The law shows us that we are powerless in ourselves to be otherwise. It was to bring us to the realization that we must trust in a merciful God for any fix for sin. (Psalm 51, Romans 7:21-25)
The Fix for Sin
God did prepare a positive fix for our problem. Jesus taught us that all the law depends on us loving God and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). Accordingly, Jesus gave us one primary command: We are to love each other as he loved us. (John 15:9-17) If we do this, we will then fulfill all the law. (Romans 13:8-10) Notice that Paul doesn't teach that love is obedience to the law. He said something much better - that love is fulfillment of the law. So, we need love, but we no longer have need of that (law) which has become fulfilled by love.
In contrast to us, God is completely motivated by love. Because of this, sin is not in him. Instead, God is righteous. This is because righteousness is living and doing God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. We also become righteous as we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to natively live and do God's value system of love.
So, the church should not view sin with the lens of law, but with the lens of love. It should not think that sin is disobeying the law, but it should know that sin is lack of sacrificial love. Sinful acts come out of these selfish (sinful) values. This is why the law is powerless to prevent sin: law (only) prohibits sinful acts that have derived already from sinfulness.
Learning and Living
However, all learning must start with simple rules of thumb and then progress to the principles from which the rules were derived. We start with the concrete and progress to the abstract. And then we also realize after a time that the rigid concrete laws are defective because they are insufficient. We become mature when we live by the principle from which the rule is derived instead of living simplistically by the rule. This progression is how toddlers begin their path toward adult thinking. And it is how Christians can begin their progress toward maturity.
So in the church, we do need to teach the moral law that God historically gave. As people begin practicing behaviors that avoid breaking the the law, we also then need to help them realize that the law is insufficient. (Obedience to law isn't why God is righteousness!) And then we need to teach them God's value system that fulfills this law.
Even as adults, we remember and follow many of the useful rules we learned as children. "Don't touch hot things. Don't hit each other. Say nice words." Likewise, the moral laws that God gave us do have usefulness for practical living even though they are not sufficient and don't enable us to avoid sin.
However since we also understand God's value system, we know those (moral) laws are insufficient (defectively so). This is because we also know the principle out of which God derived these rules. Therefore, we also have the knowledge to apply the principle to new situations to figure out what a loving course of action would be. This is the goal of Christian maturity. (John 13:35) As such, in the church we should primarily be teaching about this value system. As we learn to live by love, we overcome sin and we please God.
So, we can understand sin better when we have a good definition of sin that in particular guides us away from sin. Adopting and living the first principle of love (by God's help) gives us the ability to overcome sin. Our actions can then change from sinful acts to acts of righteousness that are pleasing to God.
See also Principles vs Good Rules
The value system concepts and perspective on the gospel that are on this page are based on ideas from the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.