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Sin is What Sinners Do: A Few Thoughts on the Christian Concept of Sin

gluttony is a sin

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

(I use the word “sin” in this post because I think Christians who read this blog will better understand what I am talking about. Please see Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior for a better explanation of my view on “sin.”)

Sin.

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law.

Let the debate begin:

Which law?

Old Testament?

New Testament?

Both?

Christianity teaches that sin separates us from God.

Sin is what sent Jesus to the cross.

We are all sinners.

Born that way.

We sin because we are sinners.

Sin will ultimately land us in Hell unless we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution.

Our hearts are black, but Jesus can make them white as snow through the blood he shed on the cross.

Without sin, I wonder: would Christianity exist?

For those of us who are not Christians, sin takes on a different meaning.

Since there is no God to offend and no God to give an account to, sin does not carry the force that it does with Christians.

The list of sins, according to the Bible, according to the pastor, and according to each Christian, is quite long.

Every person has his or her own sin list, and no two lists are the same.

As an unbeliever, my sin list is quite short.

And it gets shorter every day.

Since I reject the Bible as an objective standard of right and wrong, how do I determine my morals and ethics?

Do I need a God, religion, church, or pastor to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

Do I need a supposedly supernatural text, the Bible, to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

According to the Bible, the entirety of the law can be summed up in two commands:

  • Love God
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

My morals and ethics are based on the premise that I should love my neighbor as myself.

I should treat people like I would want to be treated.

I should not do things that would harm other people.

I should value my relationships with family and my fellow human beings to such a degree that I live in such a way that my actions cause them no harm.

God does not enter the picture. My only concern is the relationships I have with others. When I live in a selfish, unloving, unkind, unjust manner then I am “sinning” against my fellow human beings.

My sin does not bring the judgment of God, but it does hurt the relationships I have with others. My sin causes personal loss and pain.

If what I do does not hurt others, if it does not damage my relationships with others, then it is not “sin.”

This makes life much simpler for me.

I am still a “sinner,” but I am much less a “sinner” since I abandoned the Christian faith.

Losing God, the Bible, and the complex, never-ending sin list has allowed me to realize, for the first time in many, many years, that it is okay to be human.

After living a lifetime of denying who I am, I can now be free to be Bruce. I am still finding out who I really am.

So much of my life was labeled as sin. Every thought, every word, every deed, every day . . . sin.

I suspect I will always have a Christian sin hangover. A lifetime of being beaten over the head with an angry God, a dying Savior, and a divine rule book has left a lot of deep wounds and scars.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Carolyn Patrick

    I view sin as strictly a biblical term. Since I do not hold any credence in the bible, I likewise have no belief in the concept of sin. I seem to recall that there were (are?) missionaries, particularly in tropical lands, who in the process of converting natives to Christianity, made it a sin to go unclothed. This was biblical?? I guess sin is whatever you think it is. I think it is nothing, or less than nothing.

    I like the idea that, since abandoning the Christian faith, you are less of a sinner than when you were in it. I am fortunate – I only had a Methodist upbringing to overcome – not nearly as filled with guilt and sin as my IFB sisters and brothers.

  2. Avatar
    August Rode

    If all humans are sinners and if all sinners are human, then doesn’t that kind of mean that ‘sinner’ and ‘human’ are synonymous? And since when did anyone ever need forgiveness for being human? For being less than perfectly ethical, yes, but not for simply being human.

    Besides, I was informed by a practicing evangelical that Christians don’t in fact sin, that ‘Christians who sin’ aren’t True Christians and shouldn’t therefore be considered to be Christian at all. There really ought to be a clear rule book.

    • Avatar
      Michael Mock

      Huh. Clearly, then, I have never in my life met a Christian — and indeed, I may have misunderstood the term, in thinking that it could apply to human beings and not solely to the most rarified and ethereal of angelic beings.

  3. Avatar
    Zoe

    “Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution.

    Our hearts are black, but Jesus can make them white as snow through the blood he shed on the cross.

    Unless you are part of a legalistically spiritually abusive literalist fundamentalist church and though “white as snow” still treated like you have a black heart.

  4. Avatar
    Kenneth

    Being humble is one thing, but it shouldn’t damage your self-esteem, which is how I felt when I was once a believer in this nonsensense. The freedom one feels after deconversion just goes to show how damaging Evangelism can be to your health. After all, we are all human and we should always see it that way. No one is perfect and we shouldn’t have to feel the need to be.

  5. Avatar
    Kate Bartlett

    I have never understood what “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” means. It is stated as though it means something and everyone nods their heads in agreement. But it seems to me a meaningless statement. What? His death was a sacrifice to God. What kind of God wants people to be tortured on a cross for him. It’s all gobbledygook.

    • Avatar
      Kenneth

      It relates to the old testament, where they had to sacrifice lambs and other animals for God in order to be “freed” from sin. Once Jesus died on the cross, supposedly that was the ultimate sacrifice. In other words, we no longer have to slaughter animals for God because of Jesus. If you really think about it, it is kind of sick God would require us to kill other animals for him, and that he would then have to come as himself and die as himself to us but not really be dead so we no longer have to kill innocent lambs.

  6. Avatar
    Kenneth

    Just wanted to add that the above comic really puts in perspective those who work in a governmental position refusing to issue marriage licenses to gays because it is against their religion. Shouldn’t fast food workers then be required to refuse food to everyone because it is a sin to eat there? Then again, why work there to begin with? Nah, let’s just cherrypick sins, it is much easier to do that….

  7. Avatar
    Sage

    The best way to be free of sin is to be free of the church. I can now live as I was meant to live. I do not need a group of people or holy book to show me the way.

    I live as I should have always lived, openly accepting the person I am. I strive to accept others as they are and support others where I am able. No more guilt – unless I do something really stupid.

  8. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Re “Without sin, I wonder: would Christianity exist?” Nope, it would not. They invent both the disease and the cure, quite a feat!

    If there is no sin, there is no original sin, no inherited sin, and no need for a savior because we could save ourselves. What confounded the Hebrews was the drive for monotheism. Without it, none of this would have happened. Judaism is incredibly small, for a “major” religion, and would have remained small and inconsequential were it not for the drive for monotheism. Christianity tied itself into knots preserving the ridiculous notion of there is only one god, only one impossible being. If you just believe in the one, then we can make you believe all sorts of other nonsense … just one wafer-thing god … it is all they ask.

  9. Avatar
    BJW

    Yeah. The idea of sin hinders people. When I was religious I was focused on all the stupid little things to avoid, and some big things. Turns out that without being directed by a religion, I can be kind to my fellow man and live a more positive life instead of a negative one.

  10. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Raised Catholic here. I remember, as a young child (say, 5 or 6), going to Confession and not knowing what to tell the priest. I was a shy, quiet, well-behaved little girl, at least in part because I suffered from depression and very low self-esteem, and being scolded was horribly painful for me. So I behaved myself. Some weeks, I honestly couldn’t think of any sins to confess. But of course, since we are all sinners, I figured there must have been some, and so I made some up (took cookies from the cookie jar, thought unkind things, etc.) I remember hoping that God would consider us having made up, even if I couldn’t remember what I did wrong. I prayed a lot of apologetic prayers, even when I didn’t know what I was apologizing for.

    As a 61-year-old adult, I want to do seriously uncivilized things to the people who are teaching that to children today.

  11. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I remember the term ‘ sin ‘being explained as missing God’s mark, as in his perfection standards. Then there’s the matter of extra hang-ups and fears and guilts. More than anything, it’s been the sheer abusive craziness of most Christians that drives the person right out of church, never to return. But for looting and sacking a church for food and other useful things for survival, I refuse to enter one again.

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