Understanding Sin

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Where does it say THAT (sin=putting something in God's place) in the Bible?

The idea that sin is ‘putting something in God’s place’ is all over the Bible and we hear it clearly from Jesus himself when he is wrangling with the Pharisees (the religious elite of his day).

Luke is telling the story and says: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:14-15

Jesus doesn’t just say that their love of money is a problem, but anything that people value highly is detestable to God. God hates anything that replaces him in our lives.

And you see it again when Jesus interacts with a ruler who approaches him.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.’”

 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Luke 18:18-23

This man searches Jesus out to ask him a question that’s clearly been bothering him. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds with ‘You know the commandments’ and he says ‘Yes and I’ve kept all the rules.’ In Jesus’ response we see the problem. He knows the rich man is allowing money to dictate his life. His money is what controls him, and Jesus tells him to give that up. Jesus can see the man has put money in God’s place. Money is what dictates his life. And so, Jesus asks him to relinquish that, and to replace it with following him.

It’s not replacing ‘doing good’ with ‘doing another good’ but with a relationship with Jesus.

But I’m a good person!

And that’s a great thing, but there are two problems with that.

Firstly, whose definition of ‘good’ are you using? Every culture defines ‘good’ behaviour in a different way and then we layer our personal definition on top. But, if we imagine that being ‘good’ pleases God, we should at least use his definition. Jesus says: “No one is good—except God alone.” Luke 18:19. So if we think we can be good enough to be acceptable to God we are deluding ourselves.

But there’s a second problem:  is your definition of yourself get in the way of serving God? For instance, if you’re doing all sorts of charity work because it makes you feel significant or pleased with yourself, then you’ve replaced God’s definition of yourself with an external one.

The way to check whether this is true is to ask what happens to you when your ‘doing good’ is curtailed? Do you get indignant or feel depressed? Or are you willing to lie to cover up a failing? Do you get angry when something stops you from ‘doing good’? All those things indicate that your value comes from what you’re doing rather than being in relationship with God. And, in fact, if you’re willing to lie or hurt someone else to maintain your image then that exposes your own sin. The object of your worship is yourself, and you’re willing to sin to maintain that.

How can doing good be sin?

Remember, the Bible definition of sin is ‘putting something else in God’s place’. Anything, good or bad, that replaces God in our lives is actually an ‘idol’, something we worship instead of God. And that’s the problem!

The other problem is that you’re still thinking in the wrong categories. Christianity is ‘being a follower of Christ’ not being ‘good or bad’.

To explain it in a different way: How do you get adopted into my family? You could clean my windows, do the vacuuming and all sorts of other ‘good things’ but that doesn’t get you adopted. The only way you get adopted is if I ask you ‘Would you be part of my family?’ and you accept! It’s always relational, not based on how good or bad you are.

When you become a Christian, you are saying ‘yes’ to the offer of adoption into God’s family. And it’s a good thing that adoption into God’s family is not based on good or bad because we all fail that test. If we had to rely on our good deeds then we’d never be secure, we’d always be terrified the next dubious thing we did would get us ‘kicked out’ of the family. But instead we rely on Jesus who said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.’ (John 14.6-7)

Why isn’t sin just doing bad things?

The reason sin is not just ‘doing bad things’ is because God wants a relationship with us. Therefore, Jesus dies in our place to enable that to happen. The ‘bad things’ are punished in Jesus’ death on the cross, and we are free to reconcile with God. But that means putting God in control of our lives, and so when we put anything else in control of our life then we are rejecting God.

Why does God get to judge me?

This is a question that exposes your picture of God. If, in your imagination, God is just a philosophical idea, or a myth or fairy tale, then yes that God doesn’t get to judge because ‘you created him!’. But if God is actually the creator of the universe and authority over everything then of course he gets to judge.

It’s like asking ‘why does the Vice Chancellor of the University get to judge whether I get a degree?’ or ‘why does the school principal get to suspend me?’. Both those people have the right to do that because they are the legitimate authorities, and God is the legitimate authority because he created and sustains the world!