21 January 2010

Hello, Out There #3: What is the Big Deal about Sin?

by Dan Phillips

[This takes up a was-going-to-be series started (and explained) in July of 2007 — then dropped after September of 2007. Always meant to come back to it. And now... I am!]

Stuffy old killjoys
Non-Christians are baffled by what seems to be the Christian obsession with "sin." To the non-Christian, "sin" often means "unauthorized fun," or "fun that breaks some dumb rule," or "fun that I don't want to have," or "fun that I really do want to have, but my religion says I shouldn't, so I don't want anyone else to have it, either!"

But it is the conviction of most of the non-religious that sin is not that big of a deal. In fact, sin isn't really bad. I mean, think of our language: if something better than just good, we say that it is sinfully good.

Sin is just some stupid rule. Stupid rules should never stand in the way of fun, of happiness, of joy, of self-fulfillment, of a life of freedom and self-realization. A hundred movies, a thousand TV episodes, tell tale after tale of some poor noble soul oppressed by joyless, loveless, graceless, dour, dessicated, usually hypocritical religionists.

A lot of the time, it has something to do with sex. Kids wanting to have sex with other kids, lonely wives wanting to have sex with better men than their horrid husbands. Lately, it's guys wanting to have sex with guys, women with women.

And why not? If that's what they really want in their heart, why shouldn't they? Isn't our heart our best guide? Aren't rules just stuffy conventions that each generation outgrows, varying from culture to culture? Isn't the Bible full of rules we don't keep anymore, anyway — like about slavery, skin disease, and shellfish?

The critical miscalculation
The problem with this line of thought is that it starts off with a wrong step, and never corrects course.

The way the world thinks about sin starts with the assumption that man is the measure of all things. Whether the talk is of "enlightened self-interest," or the heart's best impulses, or the "angels of our better nature," or what-have-you, the assumption is that man is both alpha and omega. Maybe an individual man, or maybe the human consensus of an enlightened society — but the assumption is that morality bubbles up from within. It can be divined by a poll, which often turns out to be a poll of one.

The problem with that is that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). You see, with its very first words, the Bible turns our thinking on its head. We don't define our universe. We don't create meaning. We come into a universe already created, already defined, with already-assigned values and borders and lines and definitions.

That reality is absolutely fundamental to all thought.  Undervalue it, and wisdom remains under lock and key.

Were that not true, then common thinking is correct: man is both alpha and omega. However, since it is not true, neither is man-centered thought true. Before the whirl of the first atom, God existed: self-sufficient, self-delighted, the font of all perfection. When He created, He created. All things are His things. All creatures are His creatures. He owns, possesses, has rights over all things.

Including you, whoever you are. 

The difference it makes
You may pound your chest and insist you're an atheist. God overrides your vote. God exists in defiance of your notions. God owns you. You will answer to Him one day, for every thought, action and word.

Or you may be a religionist, a relativist, a post-modernist, or a nothingist. No matter. Those are all labels applicable to you, and they are all irrelevant to reality.

In reality, God is the center of the universe. He is its source, its creator, its owner, and its definer.

And so I think you can see: if He says something is right, well then, it's right. If He says it's wrong, well then, it's wrong.

But think further. What is the worst of crimes? It can only be crimes against Him. These are acts of high treason, crimes of deepest dye. Remember, it doesn't matter that you don't feel them to be such, and it doesn't matter if the majority of society doesn't feel them to be such. God requires no one's permission to be God. He simply is.

And that is what sin is, at heart. Sin is my refusal to deal with reality — specifically, with the game-changing reality of God. Sin is my insistence on being self-defining (as if there were no God), self-ruling (as if there were no God), self-pleasing (as if there were no God). In fact, sin is living as if there were no God. It makes me the opposite of the real Jesus Christ; it makes me an anti-christ.

In fact, sin is the desire that there be no God. Sin sees God as the great obstacle. Sin wishes there to be no such obstacle. Therefore, sin wishes there to be no such God as the God of the Bible.

Therefore sin is, at heart, a desire to murder God; and all sin is attempted Deicide.

Feel, don't feel — but deal
Many will read all that and shrug. "I just don't feel that way about it," they may say.

And in so doing, prove themselves worthy of Hell.

"What?!" you say. "Did I miss a paragraph? How did you get from A to Z?"

Simple. The thinking is, "I just don't feel that way, so I won't do anything about it. Because what I feel is ultimate to me. My feelings matter most. If I don't feel the need to change, I won't change, and I won't feel bad about not changing. And this sin thing? This God-thing? I don't feel it. It's not moving me. So I'm not moving."

All of which is simply to say: to me, I am God.

Which is a very, very old lie. Because, you see, the thing is: you aren't. God is.

And that's what makes sin a big deal.

What to do?

What a mess we're in. It's most natural for us, from birth, to have ourselves at the center of our universe. We've racked up a lifetime of crimes against God because of it. But we only do what we do, because we are what we are. So, if we're ever going to deal with the world of trouble we're in with God, and ever to have the least hope of knowing God, something will have to be done both about what we've done, and who we are.

Which is where the Gospel comes in.

But that wasn't what this post was about. It was about why you and I need the Gospel.

Because sin is such a big deal.

Dan Phillips's signature

Hello, Out There #3: What is the Big Deal about Sin?


Bobby Grow said...

That had a nice rhythmic meter to it.

So like Augustine then, you would say that sin is "self-love," in the abscense of God's love? Sin starts with self, and never ends until it either meets Jesus or ends up in hell, where it never ends.

Good post, DJP, simple, straightforward, and to the point. I think sin has lost its force and its usage in our society; we need to talk about it, so thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Keep them coming! God Bless Obed

JackW said...

"... all sin is attempted Deicide"

That's just down right ... quotable!

donsands said...

"Isn't the Bible full of rules we don't keep anymore, anyway — like about slavery, skin disease, and shellfish?"

Yep. I run into that. And the other one when I talk about sin is, The Bible says, you shall not judge others. God knows my heart. Etc.

Excellent post. Keep the teachings coming.

Mark B. Hanson said...

We have clearly lost the perspective of the Puritans, to whom sin was the "Evil of Evils". In his book of the same name, Jeremiah Burroughs says, "Sin is so opposite to God that, if it were possible that the least drop of it could get into God's nature,God would instantly cease to be God."

His thesis is "there is a greater evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction" - that is, we should be willing to bear any affliction - even death - rather than commit the least sin.

How much different from our age, where we routinely sin to avoid even slight inconvenience.

SolaMommy said...

Great post, Dan.

SandMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ezekiel said...

Ok, reading this, I am ever more determined to banish sin in my life and thereby establish my own righteousness or right standing before God. Just kidding...

All the rules and regulations and transgressions we are talking about, The Law, serves only to tell me and show me how bad I need a Savior right? Can I really get any more dead and condemned under the law than I was? Can I get any more burdened by the task you present here or any more enslaved to the law than what you seem to present here?

What are we to learn from Gal 4 or Romans 7-8?

I really get already how evil and corrupt that I am in the flesh. Surely I am not the only one that gets these little daily reminders. And it often sounds like you expect me to do something (stop sinning and obey the law) that Israel never managed to do but somehow I can (in the flesh).

When are you going to get around to the imputed righteousness of Christ? The Gospel? His sacrifice, His blood and His atonement?

Would it be ok, just for a minute or maybe even a whole day to just rest in a little Ephesians 2? Just a little bit, for a moment. At peace, reconciled to a Holy God?

Anonymous said...


Yes, absolutely we must rest in the finished word of Christ.

And yet, we are still commanded to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. We are still commanded to be holy.

We can legalistically avoid sin in order to be good people that God would surely love, or we can fastidiouisly avoid sin because we know how much is cost Jesus to pay for it, and we'd rather die than spit on that sacrifice.

So, yes, even as we rest, we should be determined to banish sin from our lives.

DJP said...


Never mind Daryl's comment.

Read the post, all of it, or please do not comment again. It answers you; it would have answered you, if you'd read all of it.

You don't have to read it if you don't want to. But you do have to read it if you want to comment on it.

David Rudd said...


This is a nice apologetic for the fallenness of humanity.

I get that it wasn't "about" the Gospel, but was about why we need the Gospel. But I kinda get Ezekiel's question (and think maybe he deserved a bit better of an answer). Why not take this post one step further and get to the Gospel?

Is a post ever too long to include the Gospel? Can our focus ever be to narrow as to not include the Gospel?

I'm not suggesting that every post ever needs to include the Gospel, but perhaps a post that delves so deeply into the anatomy of sin should be the one that does?

not that this was a bad post, on the contrary, it was very good. but maybe it could have been even better. just wondering.

DJP said...

Nope, it said just what I meant to say. And it did include the Gospel. If you missed it, look closer.

lawrence said...

Great, great post. Jonathan Edwards would be proud, no?

Loved it.

ezekiel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
donsands said...

"What is the Big Deal about Sin?"

"The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are 'words and names' which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is tro send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner. The material creation in Genesis began with 'light', and so also does the spiritual creation. God 'shines into our hearts' by work of the Holy Ghost and then spiritual life begins (2 Cor. 4:6). Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most errors, heresies and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul's disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief wants of the church in the nineteenth [and twentieth] century has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin." Bishop JC Ryle, From 'Holiness'.

BTW, guys, did you go to Dan's link about the Gospel?

It is excellente. I skimmed it. I actually have read through it before when Dan had left a link to it.

DJP said...

Good heavens, Ezekiel — I still have to tell you I'm not kidding?

DJP said...

Hey, Don! Thanks for actually reading my post! It makes me glad I wrote all those words!

John said...

Wow, that was really uncommon these days. Excellent. But, I have to say, I find the sentiments of Ezekiel all over the Christoshpere these days. You know, the law just shows I'm sinful, we don't have to try and be good anymore, because we can't anyway, etc. Of course, I usually respond to this sort of thing beginning with Romans 8:13 and Col 3:5 - which are results of the gospel, btw. But, maybe you could do a post on this, as it seems to be somewhat infecting this meta?

mike said...

The awesome results of so many years of teaching decisional salvation and irrevocable assurance, we can now in complete sincerity reject any call to righteousness and holiness as at best unnecessary, and at worst works righteousness.
2 Cor. 13: 5 – 11 is gone from memory.
We have so many calls to holiness, commands to righteousness, throughout the scriptures, but all we want to remember is that nobody else is perfect either.
If a call to holiness or righteousness infuriates you, what might that say?

DJP said...

All that is true, Mike and John.

But what about an author simply saying "Here is why I'm writing this series, here's what this article is about," and then doing exactly what he announced?

mike said...

Shoot Dan, you are always so ambiguous and indirect, I think maybe they were trying to figure out what you really meant behind the smokescreen.
Maybe if you just say what you mean… o yeah, you are the guy who does that.

David Rudd said...

hey fellas (not you dan, i thought your last response was appropriate),

sometimes there can be reasonable discussion with disagreement and no insidious motivations... really.

some people just prefer to follow up talks about sin with talks about grace. that's not unbiblical!

no one accused dan of doing something wrong. people just said, "i would have liked it if you had..."

sometimes its just "conversation".

David Rudd said...

so, yeah...

really just speaking for myself on that one, i guess.

DJP said...

Ah, so this is what that "Why do I waste my time on this?" feeling feels like.

Quiz questions:

1. Where in the article do I point to the purpose of this series?

2. What is the STATED purpose of this series?

3. If your host says, "Dessert is chocolate cake," and he serves you chocolate cake FOR FREE, and you eat it, and then you say, "I really would have preferred banana cake"....
a. Is he a bad host? OR
b. Are you an insufferably rude guest?

4. If your host says, "Dessert is chocolate cake," and he serves you chocolate cake FOR FREE, and you glance at it and then complain loudly (without eating it) that it really wasn't much of a MAIN COURSE....
a. Is he a bad host? OR
b. Are you an insufferably rude guest?

DJP said...

(PS - I deleted another comment before writing my last, so I think a comment would have come between David's and mine, or before David's, or... somewhere in there)

mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I enjoyed looking over your blog
God bless you

Robert said...


Do you not think that we do have work to do in the act of progressive sanctification? Should we as Christians not feel convicted by our sin? Look at the progression that Paul makes over his life from least of the apostles to chief of sinners. Was Paul assured of his salvation? I'd say yes. Was Paul aware of his sinfulness and broken over it? Again I would say yes. We don't just get to flip the switch at salvation and say the work is done.


I love the work you guys do here. Excellent post and keep it up!.

David Rudd said...


I really didn't mean to come off as rude. I apologize. I tried to express my appreciation for the post as well as my agreement with it.

Of all places, I never thought I'd get excoriated here for asking for "more Gospel please"?

I do think it was a superb post, and I jotted several notes to myself to use in future sermons.

DJP said...

Last three paragraphs in article, unedited:

Which is where the Gospel comes in.

But that wasn't what this post was about. It was about why you and I need the Gospel.

Because sin is such a big deal.

See title. See series purpose statement.

Engineer Gal said...

Thought Provoking....

Thanks for making the issue clearer.

TAR said...

Excellent Phil..thank you

DJP said...

Phil is a great writer. I'm a huge fan.

NewManNoggs said...

Well this seems the perfect place to say that you (Dan) and Frank (I'll assume he reads your comments) just knocked the ball out of the park this week. Edifying, convicting, and with a fresh style and excellent organization in your thoughts. Really great posts. Keep up the momentum. No pressure...

BTW, I am not a former elementary school teacher of either gentleman.

DJP said...

...and Frank (I'll assume he reads your comments)

Just the "Post a comment" part.

Solameanie said...

Dan, it's the goatee. Of course, red and dark brown are two different shades, but hey....

Stuart Brogden said...

You mean those "pastors" who use Rick Warren's Celebrate Recovery to help people get over their "hang-ups, hurts, and habits" are missing the mark? SHOCKING! /sarc

CR said...

With all this trouble you're having Dan with some of these comments, I'm wondering if people could, would they have interrupted the apostle Paul as he was penning Romans 1:18-3:20 and said, "Can you just get to v.21 and talk about the righteousness of God, already?"

But anyway, you've hit the nail on the head, we have to start with our relationship with God, that is the sin. To withhold from God He made us, anything from ourselves is to sin against him.

DJP said...

Everything doesn't have to be everything. I think some bloggers would do well to wage the battle I wage with myself: don't try to say everything every time. Both because of the eyes-glazing-over factor, and because of the greater impact of a most focused volley. Sometimes less is more.

But even beyond that... Ebert faulted the LOTR: FOTR because it didn't do a very good job of telling the tale of how, when all those races joined forces, they were able to defeat Sauron. True, it didn't. Because that isn't what the story was about. IOW, he faulted Jackson for not telling the story Jackson wasn't trying to tell, and shouldn't have tried to tell.

NewManNoggs said...

Exactly Dan! It's the focus that you guys have that gives clarity and allows brevity, which IMHO should be the sole of blogging.

You mean Isildur didn't cut the ring off of Sauron's finger?

trogdor said...

Excellent post, even if navigating the comments must've been something like this for you. Sadly, this lesson needs to be proclaimed within the church just about as much as to those it was intended for.

Tom Chantry said...

Everything doesn't have to be everything.

I've waited to weigh in on this one because I truly don't want to get into an argument, but I sympathize with you on this one, Dan. There are those who think that what Paul meant in I Corinthians 2:2 was that nothing may ever be said from behind a pulpit except that Jesus died for sinners. So a preacher can come into the pulpit week after week, year after year, and proclaim Jesus Christ as the only hope for lost sinners, and he can plead with the lost in his congregation to put their trust in the accomplished work of Christ, but let him just one time preach an accurate and exegetically sound sermon on - say - the need to flee youthful lusts, and someone will pop out of the woodwork and say, "You aren't preaching the gospel."

My congregation has never done this to me, but I've seen it done to a few of my pastors, and it is never productive.

The keynote of a symphony is the hinge on which everything turns and the necessary point to which everything must return, but a symphony of one note is of no value.

DJP said...

Thanks, Tom, I appreciate it.

I'm pretty sure that you'd agree with me that Jesus' exchange with the rich young ruler is not a model of what every evangelistic encounter must be. But it is a model of what an evangelistic encounter could be, and of what some evangelistic encounter should be.

Ecclesiastes takes a long, long time finally to get to 12:13, doesn't it?

donsands said...

"..and someone will pop out of the woodwork and say, "You aren't preaching the gospel.""

Yeah, I heard that, and also, "Where is the altar call? Why don't you give unbelievers a chance to get saved?"

Have a terrific Lord's Day!

Tom Chantry said...

You know, I think I heard that somewhere. Or read it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome sermonette Brother! I owe you another Monte Cristo for this one!

In the Lamb,


DJP said...

Monte Cristo = WIN