“Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” Genesis 20:6
I will leave it up to you to read and fill in context, but something stands out to me in the verse above that I have identified as a slippery slope for many American Christians. God tells Abimelech that He kept Abimelech from sinning against Himself!
Now in context, the sin being referred to would’ve been Abimelech sleeping with Abraham’s wife! And that seems to me to be fundamentally a sin against Abraham. Yet God in this text clearly says that the sin would’ve been against Him.
I believe that our culture has shifted significantly without much warning on the meaning of the word ‘sin’ and this has had dramatic, unspoken implication WITHIN the church. Many now, primarily think of sins in terms of offenses toward people! Sin is defined by how many people were harmed. The fewer harmed, the lesser the sin. And what falls to the bottom on this slippery slope are the sins that our culture says, ‘don’t hurt anybody.’
If we define sin without including ‘offense against God’ in the definition, then we will end up making sin merely a word about human relationships. And if sin is merely a problem with people, then we can solve the problem. But if God is a part of the definition, then the primary question shifts from, “Will this action hurt anyone?” to, “What does God think of this action?” And further, if sin is primarily an offense against God, then he is then required to be a part of the reconciliation. And that little tweak to this definition has the power to significantly impact the church and our culture for the glory of God.
God is certainly interested in human flourishing, community life, and social justice. But all of those ends, will not be realized without a righteousness that is defined by God, lived out by God (in Christ), and given to those of faith by God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ!
So there are the commandments regarding God and those regarding men (and women). Then we consider them against oneself – Thou shall not kill becomes No suicide. Later Jesus added the golden rule.
What often seems to get left out (except by Jesus) is that Love is the way and whatever is not Love is the sin. When we feel lust or wish to covet something, the thought is moving away from Love and therefore is sinful. The first part of self control is not to do the action and the more difficult is to not think it (or limit it and not dwell in the thought).
Do you think it is false to say that we also sin against people? As a lesser crime? To say something like, “I sinned against my friend, but more importantly, I sinned against God.” Do you think that is false? Just earlier this week I confessed to a friend that I was complaining about them to someone else. I felt revealing that was very healthy for our relationship (I hope!). Was it an improper use of vocabulary to say I sinned against them? Is sin a word that only applies to our relationship with God?
I would add to this that, “Most all harm toward another human is sin against God. But not all sin against God harms another human being!” (I say “most”, because there seems to be evidence in scripture for capital punishment, physical defense of the weak, etc.). I reject the notion, however, that love in some nebulous sense defines the difference between good and boad behavior. I am suggesting that GOD defines the difference between good and bad behavior. I have heard the word love used to justify everything from murdering a “lover’s” husband, to divorce, to an elderly couple living together outside of marriage. Many sins have been committed in the name of love! Jesus calls us to OBEY God (action) and to let love be the cause of that (motivation). So that the WAY we express true love has two fences around it . . . God’s instruction for good living . . . And love that motivates us to that good living. And we know love because He first loved us!!