Latest in a series for secular parents that offers age-appropriate explanations for complex (even frightening) religious concepts.
“Sin” is not a word most of us like or use, even colloquially. We certainly don’t relish the thought of explaining it to our kids. But, when you think about it, sin is a hugely important religious concept. It’s the reason so many people liken religion with morality, and it lies at the center of Christianity. Take the ubiquitous statement, “Jesus died to atone for our sins.” You gotta get a handle on sin before that even begins to make sense. (And even then, it doesn’t make much sense.)
Anyway, here’s your explainer on sin, divided into three age groups. Also, as a bonus, I’ve listed all the Biblical sins at the end of this post. Spoiler alert: Everything fun is on there.
Ages 3-5: ‘Sin’ is a word some people use to mean something that people shouldn’t do — like stealing or lying or hurting someone. A sin is a bad thing.
Ages 5-8: ‘Sin’ is a word used by some religious people to refer to bad behavior or thoughts that go against their religion. Most “sins” are things that most everyone would think are bad — like killing a person or refusing to share food with people who are the hungry. But many sins don’t seem like that big of a deal to most people — like saying ‘Oh my God!’ or gossiping or fighting with your siblings. Those aren’t wonderful things, but they aren’t terrible, either.
Ages 8 and up: ‘Sin’ is a religious word that refers to behaviors and thoughts that are bad or evil. There are more than 100 sins listed in the Bible, and they range from things like murder and robbery to things like saying “Oh my God!” or being jealous of someone else. Some sins are things that most everyone would agree are very bad; some are things that most everyone would agree are not that bad. And some are things that some people believe are bad and other people believe are not bad at all. For example, one sin listed in the Bible is that men should not fall in love with other men and women should not fall in love with other women. Another sin listed in the Bible is that people should not touch themselves on their private parts. But we know from science that all those those things are very healthy and normal.
If appropriate, you might add: Some religious people believe that if you commit a sin, you won’t get into heaven. Other people believe that you must confess your sins to God — and be forgiven — in order to get into heaven. Christians sometimes say “Jesus died for our sins.” What they mean is that, because it is impossible for any human being to live a life completely without sin, Jesus chose to die on purpose to pay the penalty to God for the sins of all people. They believe that, because of Jesus, all Christians can now join God in heaven after they die — rather than just, you know, die.”
Bonus Content!Thanks to a 2014 on Christian Crier here at Patheos, I’m listing a whole bunch of Biblical sins below, as well as the “commandment” they most relate to. (Note, these are taken straight from Christian Crier, and I can’t vouch for their absolute accuracy. Super interesting, though!)
First Commandment: Idolatry, greed, covetousness, love of money, gluttony, complaining, not loving God, tempting God, high-mindedness, disobedience, witchcraft, lover of self, putting family, friends, job, or anything else above God.
Second Commandment: Love of money, greed, disobedience, covetousness, love of money, lover of self, putting family, friends, job, or anything else above God, irreverent use of God’s Word, attachment to riches or material goods.
Third Commandment: Cursing, swearing, blaspheming, breaking oath taken in God’s name, irreverent use of God’s name in humor, speaking evil of the church, taking communion or the Lord’s Supper in a careless manner or unworthily, anger at God, careless use of God’s name, euphemisms like “geez, gosh, oh my God” etc.
Fourth Commandment: Sloth, laziness, neglecting to assemble with the saints, profaning worship service, fighting or speaking evil of Christian brothers or sisters.
Fifth Commandment: Cursing father or mother, dishonoring parents, striking or fighting with parents, disobeying parents, making fun of parents, filthy talk, speaking evil or badly of parents, and grandparents included in the aforementioned things.
Sixth Commandment: Murder, anger, hate, enmity, rage, brawling, rioting, striker, unforgiving heart, wrath, unmerciful, dissensions, contentions, clamor, despitefulness, debate, arguing, fighting, abortion, divisions, strife, rivalries.
Seventh Commandment: Adultery, fornication, sexual immorality, filthy talk, crude joking, whoremongers, defiling the body, homosexuality, sensuality, impurity, tempting others sexually, inordinate passion, corrupt language, effeminate, pornography, vulgar or crude jokes.
Eight Commandment: Stealing, bribery, extortion, sloth or laziness at work, defrauding, dishonesty, cheating, gambling.
Ninth Commandment: Lying, gossiping, slandering, backbiting, spreading rumors, deceit, extortion, railing, slander, defrauding, breaking promises, craftiness, hypocrisy, dishonesty, whisperers, idle words, withhold all of the truth, double-tongued, bragging, boasting, flattery, exaggerating the truth, whining, speaking evil of others.
Tenth Commandment: Coveting, envy, lust, jealousy, drunkenness, sorcery (Greek means drug abuse), materialism, wantonness, sensuality, gambling, reveling, attachment to riches or material goods, lawsuits against Christians, emulations, extortion, desire for money, desire for power, desire for sex (relating to sexual immorality), anger at other’s good fortunes, desiring things of others, flirting or playing with temptation.