Radical Jesus 101: Two very different ways of defining sin

I figured Ash Wednesday would be a good day to meditate upon the meaning of sin. One of the most important fault-lines in Christianity today falls between two very different ways of defining sin. It seems that most conservative Christians define sin “legalistically” as disobedience to God’s rules, while progressive Christians define sin “humanistically” as that which dehumanizes individuals and societies. This basic difference radically impacts how we understand our faith, scripture, and God’s nature. When we read the Bible looking for rules to obey, we see a very different text than when we read it looking for a perfect model of humanity to emulate.

A legalistic understanding of sin is the understandable product of a Christianity shaped primarily by the New Testament book of Romans where Paul talks heavily about “the law” and its relation to sin. Within this “Romans Road” Christianity that I was raised with, “legalism” is often a pejorative term for people who think they can earn their salvation by following the rules, which true Christians recognize to be impossible since we’re all sinners who have broken the rules at one point or another. But I would define “legalism” more broadly to say that a true legalist is anyone who thinks that the primary problem with sin is its disrespect for God’s rules. I don’t think any serious Christians are actually “legalists” in the sense that they think they have kept all of God’s rules and deserve to go to heaven on that basis. No serious Christian would claim not to be a sinner. That kind of “legalist” is a five century old straw man that the Protestant Reformation has never stopped defining itself against.

In a legalistic understanding of sin, the problem with sin is that a rule has been broken and a penalty must be paid for it. Whether or not anyone was hurt by the sin is irrelevant. Sins that don’t seem to hurt people are just as sinful as sins which obviously hurt people, because what matters is whether or not God’s law has been violated. According to the 11th century monk Anselm of Canterbury who decisively shaped Western Christianity’s understanding of sin, violating God’s law is an offense against God’s honor. The offense is infinite because God is infinite, so the punishment for the mildest violation of God’s law must be infinite. Anselm took this to explain why Jesus, as an infinite divine being, had to die on the cross as punishment for humanity’s sin. Modern evangelical Christians, following their predecessors in Puritan Christianity like Jonathan Edwards, have extrapolated from Anselm’s logic that the mildest of sinners deserve to be punished infinitely in hell forever unless they have officially appropriated Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins in a convincing enough way to put them in God’s “yes” column.

A legalistic understanding of sin dovetails with the nihilistic view of human nature in many conservative forms of Christianity known as the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity describes the belief that every aspect of our humanity is corrupt and untrustworthy due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Because we are totally depraved, we cannot reason what is right and wrong for ourselves. Our only hope is to read the Bible and do what it says. A legalistic Christian who believes in total depravity understands the Bible to be a set of clear rules that we are to obey and not question. If the Bible is unclear or allows for more than one interpretation in any of its teachings, then we are utterly lost and God is unspeakably cruel. People who claim to have a different way of interpreting scripture are presumed to be twisting up its clear and obvious truth because they just don’t want to obey it.

Christians who understand sin in humanistic terms are coming from a very different place. We don’t deny the corruption that sin has caused humanity, but we believe that God is proactively reaching out to us and teaching us through the Holy Spirit in ways that go beyond the static words of the Biblical text. When we read the Bible, we find some rules but mostly stories and poetry from which we have to extrapolate teaching that is applicable to our lives. Sometimes what the Holy Spirit reveals to us through a psalm or an enigmatic phrase of Jesus is not a meaning that could be in any way universalized though it is absolutely true to our spiritual journey at that moment in time. The possibility of this “relativistic” interpretation of the Biblical text is terrifying to Christians who believe that we are always trying to weasel our way out of obeying God, which is why they need for every Bible verse to have only have one established meaning. But I feel like flattening the Bible in that way puts a severe limit on the Holy Spirit’s ability to speak into each of our lives.

The assumption for Christians with a humanistic understanding of sin is that all of God’s teaching is for our benefit, which means there are no rules that God makes for the sole purpose of upholding his honor. Even God’s command to worship him is for our benefit, because worshiping God is the delightful fulfillment of our vocation as humans. To truly worship God is to lose ourselves in the perfection of his goodness, truth, and beauty. When instead of worshiping God, we worship power, sex, money, physical highs, our egos, or another idol, we lose our humanity in the process. Worshiping idols makes us anxious, greedy, jealous, spiteful, and a lot of other things the apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:29-31. The more that the idol or addiction consumes us, the uglier we become to the people around us. The more that a society abuses common idols, the more that society becomes unjust to its most vulnerable members.

A humanistic understanding of sin takes its definition from the two great commandments that Jesus relates in Matthew 22:36-40: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. People who are rightly oriented towards God through worship will also be rightly oriented to other people through justice because worshiping God satisfies all of our cravings which otherwise express themselves in selfishness that hurts other people. Thus, the two categories of sin are idolatry (violating love of God) and injustice (violating love of neighbor). It doesn’t matter whether the Bible talks explicitly about a particular idolatry or injustice or not. It’s sinful to worship something as god that isn’t God and it’s sinful to treat other people in any way that we wouldn’t want to be treated ourselves.

So when I read the Bible as a sinner, I’m looking for deeper insights into ways to purify myself of idolatry and injustice. The great saint Augustine wrote in his De Doctrina Christiana that if I can’t relate a Biblical teaching to love for God or love for my neighbor, then I haven’t understood it yet. This also means that I recognize some rules in the Bible were relevant to love for God or neighbor in a social framework from the past that is no longer in effect today. For example, it was very important at a particular point in Israel’s history for the Israelites to refrain from eating certain foods and intermarrying with other tribes of people, even though the Biblical commandments setting these boundaries are not applicable to all times and places.

My goal in avoiding sin as a Christian with a humanistic understanding of it is to gain the rich and perfect humanity of Jesus Christ. The more that I am empty of idols, the more I am able to gain synchronicity with God through the Holy Spirit. That’s what I take Jesus to mean when he says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). I believe that I was ultimately saved from a legalistic understanding of sin in which I’m supposed to be afraid that God will punish me for my mistakes. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear which has to do with punishment.” I want my motive for avoiding sin to be love rather than fear.

I believe that the real message of Romans 1 which has been misinterpreted by so many Christians is that sin reaps its own natural consequences. Insofar as God punishes sin, it happens organically and naturally even if some verses in the Bible use a judicial metaphor for this process. When people sin, they dehumanize themselves by being “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29-31). It is this corruption and dehumanization that makes sin evil, not God’s offended honor at the violation of one of his rules. What this also means is that people who plainly aren’t “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, and malice” by what they’re doing might actually not be sinning even if they seem to be breaking the rules as we’ve always understood them.

I realize that my bias as a more progressive Christian may have prevented me from doing justice to the “legalistic” understanding of sin, but I do think that however you parse out the details within this distinction between “legalism” and “humanism,” it does explain why so many Christians are completely talking past each other in conversations about sin.

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  • Jim Johnson

    Morgan, I think you’ve laid the two understandings out well. My question is Are they mutually exclusively or another of the kinds of paradoxes we try to hold together in the gospel. Law/grace, light/dark, freedom/holiness. The danger I find in many of our discussions among colleagues is an unwillingness to try to hold seemingly contradictory pieces of the faith journey together

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Not necessarily mutually exclusive, but I think that God’s honor and wrath and law and judgment are always for the sake of love. So it isn’t a 50/50 ying/yang. Love explains and supersedes the law. I suppose that those who are simple-minded need to be given a set of rules to obey rather than a person to emulate.

    • JoAnna Morse

      Using the term “legalist” seems unintentionally divisive, though I struggle to find an appropriate alternative descriptor or term. We should try though, lest we end up further factionalized by good intentions to articulate diverse understandings. I believe Morgan’s piece hints at the distinctive traits between modernist and post-modernist understanding, rather than right or wrong. When these mindsets exist together in community, there often can be a “culture-clash” of misunderstanding especially when all have a valid and Godly thirst for righteousness. There is a language barrier of sorts. I’m challenged with becoming “bilingual” and learning to proficiently “code switch.”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

        Yeah I just can’t think of a better term. I know it’s loaded but I figured I was compensating by using “humanist” as another potentially loaded term since I hate being called a humanist as a progressive.

        • JoAnna Morse

          I do get it. And I really liked your straightforward explanation of the progressive mindset. I find the phrase “politically correct” to be equally dismissive, though I do think it could be beneficial to confront the terminology, using maybe neither “legalist” nor “humanist.” Still, I’m not offended at the idea someone would call me a “humanist”, just by the idea that it connotes to them that I can’t also be a theist. I *can be both. I used “moralizers” the same way. Then I had to confront the reality that my use of the word betrayed judgment, too. Pluralism, co existence of modernism and post-modernism makes community challenging, though no less worthwhile.

        • Tom Christian

          Whatever terms are used to describe the two major divides that Morgan is speaking to will always have to be defined. Simply noting the apparent divide is acknowledgement of duality in our thinking–which is the nature of thought.

          Possible other terms; “forensic” / “incarnational.”

          Thanks for thinking and writing about this Morgan.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

            I like forensic and incarnational. The question is whether the law is an end into itself or if it exists to make us loving. I think God’s law is entirely other-regarding and for our benefit. That shapes my interpretative assumptions when things are unclear in the text. I don’t think God makes rules just for the sake of puffing out his chest. Augustine said that if you can’t understand a Bible passage in a way that increases your love, then you’re interpreting it wrong.

          • Tom Christian

            Totally agree Morgan.

  • http://big-diesel.blogspot.com/2009/06/lucifers-hammer.html Tim Hamner

    Not believing in your imaginary friend somehow “dehumanizes” people? *chuckle* What a bunch of utter nonsense.

    • http://www.podiobooks.com Mrs. Bookworm

      Seems to me that you do not have to worship or even believe in God to be free of idolatry. If you do, truly, worship God, you will strive to treat those made in his image well. There isn’t any reason, IMO, to say that you cannot treat others well because you do not worship God. Look at it as a logic problem. If A, then B does not always mean If not A, then not B.

      • http://big-diesel.blogspot.com/2009/06/lucifers-hammer.html Tim Hamner

        >you will strive to treat those made in his image well

        Jesus fell far short of that. He preached hate and fear.

        Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.

        John 12:25 anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life

        Matthew 10:28 Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

        Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

        Matthew 10:34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

        Consider me a friend of the world. And your enemy–if you believe the Bible.

        James 4:4 whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.


        • jastonas

          The 1st one is too complicated in my mind to answer. But the rest…

          John 12:25 anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life

          By hating your life, he means to put others first, which sounds good to me. It sounds like he is telling you, be a friend of the world, and not be an egoist.

          Matthew 10:28 Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

          Him: refers to Satan. I don’t know, but I guess he is not a fella to be liked.

          Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

          Him again is Satan.

          Matthew 10:34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

          Well… I’m sure he wasn’t taking about a sword to kill people, but a sword to divide probably. Don’t remember the exact context atm.

          • http://big-diesel.blogspot.com/2009/06/lucifers-hammer.html Tim Hamner

            By hating your life, he means to put others a make-believe afterlife first. fify

            The Bible is full of hating this life in this world, in favor of gaining better status in a make-believe afterlife. Such nonsense is the world’s oldest confidence trick, of which Christianity is just the latest brand name:

            […] they perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals, but whole cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices and amusements which fill a vacant hour, and are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us.

            Plato (4th century BCE) The Republic. Book II.

            And yes, salvation cults are a confidence trick. Bible admits so.

            • Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
            • Ephesians 3:12 confidence through faith
            • 1 Timothy 3:13 increased confidence in their faith

            The Bible even admits it’s a bunch of nonsense.

            1CO 1.18-21 For the message about the cross is nonsense…to save those who believe through the nonsense of our preaching.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

            Tim, it sounds like you got hurt by Christianity and I’m very sorry for that. The life that I hate in this world is my socialization as a white male under hetero-patriarchal capitalism. It’s not that I hate life. It’s that I want to *really* live without the crappy, oppressive socialization I’ve received. To be a disciple is to have the freedom to live outside of oppressive social norms. That’s my interpretation. You’re free to interpret differently. You’re not free to tell me how I have to interpret it.

          • http://big-diesel.blogspot.com/2009/06/lucifers-hammer.html Tim Hamner

            No, I didn’t get “hurt.” Why do Christians always have to go into “amateur psychologist” mode and purport that somebody was “hurt” because they don’t believe in your imaginary friend?

            You did nail why people are Christians; its an escape from problems, like alcohol (as Nietzsche noted) or opium (as Marx wrote.)

            “Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

            “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature…It is the opium of the people. ” ― Karl Marx

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

            I guess I tend to presume that when people are scornful it’s because they’ve been embittered by something. I have friends who are atheists and aren’t assholes about it. But you’re right that I shouldn’t play amateur psychologist. Maybe it’s somehow strangely therapeutic for you to troll Christian sites. Michel Foucault used to jab needles into the eyes of small rodents for his erotic pleasure. To each his own.

          • http://big-diesel.blogspot.com/2009/06/lucifers-hammer.html Tim Hamner

            The DRD4 7R gene made me do it.

          • charlesburchfield

            Wow! I did not know! I think you are right abt the troll. He needs his adrenalin hit.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

        Good point. I don’t think that non-theists are necessarily idolaters. If you can orient your life around honoring goodness, beauty, and truth, then I would say you have a “worship” foundation analogous to what I call “loving God.” It’s when we get fixated on possessing particular objects that we succumb to idolatry and then become rotten people as a result. Buddhism makes the same point without having a personal deity with whom you connect to avoid idols.

  • http://www.dianerheos.com/ Diane Rheos

    Thanks Morgan, that gives me clarity. I am going to try to keep a link to this so that I can remember your definitions. It makes it easier for me to understand someone who seems to think differently than I do and be able to offer compassion instead of judgement.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Glad to be helpful!

  • charlesburchfield

    Caution: troll alert! Please don’t feed ’em!

  • thunley1

    I appreciate where you are coming from Morgan. However, as an evangelical Christian…it’s not for me about offending God’s honor. It’s all about God’s holiness. Therefore, I choose to interpret scripture from the standpoint that it has final authority in my own life. I will continue to view sin from the standpoint that we have all fallen and all are guilty of sin and need a way back to God through the atoning sacrifice of the guiltless one…Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.

    • kent

      What does holiness mean to you?

  • Jim Farina

    Legalistic interpretation seems to suppose that salvation can be gained by adhering to strict moral conduct. The Humanistic definition of sin that Morgan describes seems to rely heavily on social conduct. Morgan focuses on these
    two in his article. While he hits on some elements of truth, I offer a third
    definition: Realistic. Nobody can measure up to the perfection that God
    requires. That’s why we must put our faith in the blood of Jesus, the only
    one who lived a sinless life. As long as we are in these earthly bodies, we are
    sinners and anybody who thinks otherwise is deceiving themselves.
    If you’ve ever been angry at someone, you will be judged as a murderer, without ever having committed the act of murder itself. The same with adultery – we
    don’t need to commit the act itself to be judged as an adulterer, according to Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount.

    The seeds of sin are always there, just not full blown. And the only way to appear sinless before a righteous God is by putting our faith in the One who took our sins upon himself, Jesus Christ.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      When you say “nobody can measure up to the perfection God requires,” you’re defining sin legalistically. A more humanistic definition of sin would say that God doesn’t require perfection for perfection’s sake but God wants us to be holy in order to better share his love with others. I just don’t think the law is an end into itself. Its purpose is to shape us into vessels of God’s love.

  • Yonatan

    An infinite punishment is no punishment at all and cosmic morality or rather justice does not match our sensibilities. Consider Job.

    “Build me a temple and I will dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8 But what kind of stones are these for the temple?.

    Actually Psalm 115:8 suggest idolatry as the annihilation of a relationship with the source of all being. One merges with the image attaining for the moment at least godhood. Hence no relationship as all distance is negated.

    Deuteronomy 6:5 suggests through interpretation something else in that the commandment is a pronouncement of divine love. In order to heed this imperative, the worshiper, then, is drawn to the divine call. The inner meaning of this verse is a call by the beloved.

    You have stated the following: “This also means that I recognize some rules in the Bible were relevant to love for God or neighbor in a social framework from the past that is no longer in effect today.”

    If one understands that the Lord is integrally whole as in Deuteronomy 6:4 then how would that which he binds us be overturned through the vagaries of time?
    Here we part company as I do not walk in your faith. I remain outside looking at the parishioners through the stained glass window raising many questions as these here.

    Why oppose fear to love? Is there not sufficient room for both? Then the question is what sort of fear is the fear or awe of Heaven? Please keep in mind that I am an outsider to all of this breaking bread with you as a guest at your table.

    The only judgment of which I am aware of is that of mortality which demands of us an accounting at this very moment as the hour glass runs out. And I, a sinner, possess no answer. Then to whom do I turn? That is my understanding of the complementarity between love and fear.

    You stated towards the end the following:”[n]ot God’s offended honor. . .”
    Then there is Isaiah 6:3. Could honor be different from glory?

    Thank you for your insightful blog. It has given me food for thought.

    • Elizabeth 44

      You mention the “fear of God”. I am not a Biblical language scholar. But, my experience would suggest that the “fear of God” is not what we think of as fear these days. I am not afraid of God. God is loving. Jesus said that in many ways. I am in absolute awe of God. My mind can’t even begin to grasp the enormity of God, and for that matter, the creation. I am speechless, wondering, dumbfounded… there just aren’t words. That is what I think the Bible means by “fear of God”. Being afraid leads to hate. “Fear of God” leads to incredible awe and love.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

        I totally agree with you. The fear of God is not being afraid of something that threatens to hurt us but being afraid of hurting something very beautiful and delicate. God is invisible. It is very easy to live as though he doesn’t exist. The only thing I’m afraid of is betraying someone who isn’t standing over me with a lightning bolt but receiving every betrayal like another nail in his flesh.

      • Yonatan


  • Jerry Lynch

    Excellent piece and I feel I know what you mean. To me, it all seems to center on this: “… if I can’t relate a Biblical teaching to love for God or love for my neighbor, then I haven’t understood it yet.” But what I would like to focus on is that comment by Joann Moore: “Using the term “legalist” seems unintentionally divisive, though I
    struggle to find an appropriate alternative descriptor or term.” I cannot tell you how many times in my lengthy life as a Christian that I have been accused of divisiveness for attempting to explain this and other differences of views. “Sowing seeds of discourse amongst the parishioners” is the usually way it is framed.

    I was a cradle Catholic with 12 years of parochial schooling, some of that under Jesuits. To question and be perpetually open to discovering greater depths of God’s love and wisdom was to be a life of true faith. I am not threatened by ideas or beliefs dissimilar to mine; my training was to listen as openly as possible. As you say in the beginning that “…a meaning that could be in any way universalized though it is absolutely true to our spiritual journey at that moment in time.” That is how I look at what I believe at any given point in time. I am to be as a little child who still has much to learn, the grade level I am in today will be filled out or broadened by what comes at the next grade level, perpetually. This attitude is not common among most Christians I have met. The defensiveness I have encountered appears to fall into that legalistic category, though it could just the human tendency for the safety of certainty being threatened.

    The above was a far too lengthy lead in to my question: is there a way to present such differences without the appearance of divisiveness or accusations of “always thinking you have the truth” everyone else seems to have missed? My notion is that as Christians we must be taught that how we believe, such as humanistically or legally, is at least as important as what we believe.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Good thoughts!

      • Jerry Lynch

        Very generous, ty.

    • charlesburchfield

      How & what are important so long as the why is based on constant contact, in otherwords, a living relationship w the holy spirit thus being able to hearing & obeying every second a fresh word, being comforted, having agency for self & others & always miraculous interventions, healings & confidence in a loving presence of a loving god. Much! (i think).

  • Stuart Blessman

    This is such a good piece. I want to understand it so much more and deeply.

    Love God, and love others.

    Why can’t it be this simple.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton


    • Elizabeth 44

      It is that simple. However, following that simplicity isn’t easy. It probably took me the first 40-50 years to realize it really was that simple. Now, in my 70s, I continue learning how to live that simplicity.

      • charlesburchfield

        yikes! I’m in my 60’s & thinking ‘why am I still so backwards!?’ It takes whatever time it takes I guess.

  • R Vogel

    Where have you been, Morgan? Looking forward to your next piece.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Been off for Lent

      • R Vogel

        Ahh, good for you.

  • Guest

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve recently been becoming more serious about my faith, and as a result, have been realizing that there are a lot of assumptions I have that are left over from Sunday School that I’ve just accepted blindly. Though I was raised with a “legalistic” view of sin, I’ve recently been reading various books and blogs that have a “humanistic” view, without really realizing that they have a different starting point than I do. After reading this post, a lot of what they were trying to say has come into focus. It also helped clarify where some of the problems I’ve been sort of vaguely starting to see with the legalistic approach are. It is tremendously helpful to realize that there are different ways to define sin within Christian thought.

  • HM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve recently been becoming more serious about my faith, and as a result, have been realizing that there are a lot of assumptions I have that are left over from Sunday School that I’ve just accepted blindly. Though I was raised with a “legalistic” view of sin, I’ve recently been reading various books and blogs that have a “humanistic” view, without really realizing that they have a different starting point than I do. After reading this post, a lot of what they were trying to say has come into focus. It also helped clarify where some of the problems I’ve been sort of vaguely starting to see with the legalistic approach are. It is tremendously helpful to realize that there are different ways to define sin within Christian thought

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Great to hear about your learning process!

  • Tank McNamara

    Great piece Morgan – I couldn’t agree more.

  • Bill Cordts

    Can’t it be both?

  • Brandon Roberts

    awesome article :)

  • http://aldaily.com/ Justin Conder

    Nice post, Morgan. If people believe God is most interested in God’s own glorification. . . and leave out mentioning God’s passion for humanity. . . inevitably, their conception of Love will be anemic. So when I hear people say that God saves sinners for his own glory (with no mention of Love), a warning bell goes off. Sin is a useless concept without the relational aspect. Conservatives have the unfortunate tendency to see an action as inherently sinful or inherently good. But sin is a relational failure, and therefore situational. You cannot sin against a rock. But while Moses interacting with a rock one day might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing on another day. Not due to some arbitrary rule on how one treats rocks on different days of the week – rather, it’s all about how our spirit aligns with God’s, everyday.

  • Dan Clausen

    1Joh 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law.” No need to try and make your own definition, or debate it. Jesus told us. The fact that sin dehumanizes us is not a definition but a consequence.

    • Alan Christensen

      Looking at that verse in context it seems to me that John defines “lawlessness” as failure to obey the supreme law of love:

      10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

      Not so much the violation of a laundry list of (arbitrary?) rules.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Anslem’s idea is is based on a completely upside-down morality, derived from the corrupt system of the word and not based on the message of Christ.

    In far too many human societies the powerful have enforced rules that mandate harder punishment for offenses against those who are more powerful and less against the weak, but such a hierarchy is deeply sinful. Christ says we will be judged by how we treat the least of these. Those who are first will be last and the last will be first. The nations rage and the rulers of the gentiles fight to dominate over others, but it must not be so among Christians. Those who would be the greatest must serve the least.

    In a system of morality that is not totally depraved, the seriousness of an offense is not proportional to the dignity of the offended party, but rather inversely proportional. Assaulting an innocent child is far worse than assaulting a powerful king. An offense against a God of infinite dignity is not infinite, but infinitesimal. Anselm multiplies where he should have divided.

    (I am not a fan of the doctrine of Divine Impassibility like to many ancient and medieval theologians were, but if it were true then it would align with my view and not the legalistic one. An impassible deity would be immune to any offense, so no retribution would be at all warranted.)

    God does not punish vindictively to avenge an insult to his honor, but does chasten those he loves. This is done for the good of the one chastened, to bring him closer to a state of moral perfection in which he might like at one with God and his neighbors.

    The proper side of the Euthyphro dilemma is definitely that God commands that which is morally good, not that actions are morally good only because he commands it.

    A loving God could not damn anyone to eternal torment. Chastening could only continue so long as their is a chance of it succeeding in the goal of restoring the sinner to grace. I do not believe that this is inevitable for everyone though, that God would force himself on those whose will is perpetually against Him. While it may be noble to hope for Universal Reconciliation, Conditional Immortality is the more scriptural position.