No Other Foundation
Book 1
Toward Repentance of Sin and Faith in God

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Chapter Two
Knowing What's Right,
Doing What's Wrong.

The Contents Of This Chapter

Knowing What’s Right, Doing What’s Wrong

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He filled the heavens with phenomenal solar systems, planets, moons, and stars. He covered the earth with magnificent seas and various kinds of dry land. He stocked the sea and the land with an unfathomable array of plant and animal life. Then He said, “We are going to make a man and a woman in our image, according to our likeness; and we will give them authority over all the forms of life in the water, in the air, and on the land.” 

So God created a male and a female in His own image. He blessed them. Then He instructed them on how they should live in the world He had made. Included in what He told them was one instruction about eating fruit from the trees in the Garden. Adam and Eve were free to eat from any tree in the garden with the exception of one tree in the middle of the garden. This was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now one of God’s creations was more clever and cunning than any of the other animals that lived on the earth. This cunning creature was the serpent. One day, the serpent came to the woman whom God had made and said, “Didn't God specifically tell you not to eat fruit from the trees in the garden?” “Oh no!” the woman replied. “We can eat fruit from every tree in the garden except from the tree that grows in the middle of the garden. God told us not to eat from that tree. We aren’t even to touch it, because if we do we will die.”

Then the serpent said, “About that tree in the middle of the garden – you won't really die if you eat some of its fruit. God just said that to keep you away from it. He knows the fruit of that tree is able to make you very wise. In fact, if you eat some, you will know as much about good and evil as He does.”

When the woman inspected the fruit, she found that it looked more appealing than all the other fruit in the Garden. Aroused by its looks and excited by the expectation that she could know what God knew about good and evil, she took a piece and ate it. Then, she took another piece, found her husband, and gave him some to eat. As promised by the serpent, both of their minds were filled with new insight and understanding. And with this new knowledge came the realization they were naked. So they made coverings for themselves from fig leaves. That evening they heard God walking in the garden. Knowing they had disobeyed Him by eating what He had forbidden, they hid from Him. (Note: Genesis 3:1-8)

This well-known story about Adam and Eve tells us about the entrance of sin into the human heart and the human race. And though this story is about a onetime occurrence, its essence has been replayed billions of times all around the world since that day. Subsequent sinners have concocted many variations of the original, but the basic pattern has remained unchanged. It begins with discontentment or disillusionment with what God has done, is doing, is allowing, or has commanded which feeds a distrust of God that promotes self-centered choices and behavior that enable us to do for ourselves what we think God cannot or will not do for us. 

          From this story we can discover six things about sin. First, we discover what sin is. Second, we learn what there is in us which makes sin so appealing to us. Third, we see that the power of sin to tempt us primarily comes from what it promises to do for us. Fourth, we are shown the grim truth about what sin actually does for us. Fifth, we discover that others are adversely affected by our sin. And finally, we come to understand the necessity of punishing those who sin.

What Is Sin?

  In its simplest form, sin is knowing the right thing to do yet not doing it. According to the most commonly used Greek word in the New Testament for sin (hamartia), sin is missing the mark – as if one were shooting an arrow at a target and missing the target. The “mark” most likely represents the will of God or the commands of God, and missing the “mark” speaks of doing something other than the will of God, or disobeying the commands of God. In its purest form, sin is any thought, attitude, choice, word, or deed, or any combination thereof, which results in unnecessary harm being done to anyone who is in any way adversely affected it.

 In an effort to enlarge and make this purest definition of sin clearer, consider the following three truths.

 First, we are created beings made in the image of God for the purpose of willfully and cheerfully participating in relationships of intimate communion and companionship – first with God, then with all who love as God loves, and finally with all who will join us in such a relationship. In other words, we have been created to live within a community – a community whose first and foremost member is God, whose unifying, stabilizing, protective agent is love, and whose goal is mutually shared loving relationships.

 For this reason, everything we do affects God in some way, whether we are drawing near to Him or moving away from Him, trusting Him or distrusting Him, loving Him or hating Him, submitting to Him or rebelling against Him, serving Him or serving ourselves, loving others as ourselves or mistreating them in some way. Everything we do has some effect on our relationship with God. And this is true whether we are a believer in God or an agnostic, a Christian or a non-Christian, Protestant or Catholic, Hindu or Muslim, animist or Satanist, New Age or someone who has never heard about God. None of us can do anything which does not in some way affect our relationship with God, and in so doing affect God, himself. Therefore, the “anyone who is in any way adversely affected,” inescapably and without exception includes God along with whomever else is affected.

 Second, sin is driven by a distrust of God which arouses our self-centeredness. It seems that from birth we are self-interested, and our self-interest is saturated with self-centeredness. Being born into a sinful world, we experience numerous disappointments, emotional hurts, and unloving people. It isn’t long before we realize our happiness and well-being are too often jeopardized by the people and circumstances we encounter each day. To make matters worse, our childhood heart-breaking hurts are either dealt us by those nearest and dearest (i.e., parents, siblings, friends, teachers), or are seemingly unexplainable (i.e., the death of a parent or favorite pet, crippling accidents, life-threatening disease). Under these circumstances our tendency is to hold responsible those we believe have the power to promote and protect our happiness and well-being. As young children, we see our parents as having the power and responsibility to provide for us and protect us. As we grow older, we add God to that list, placing him above our parents because we see Him as the most powerful being in the universe and as someone who should use his power for our good. From that point on, it seems we assume God should give us good things and keep bad things from happening to us. When we don’t have what we think we need or if bad things happen to us, we ultimately look at God as someone who could have done better, should have done better, but didn’t. Once we decide God has somehow failed us, we open the door to distrust of God.

Distrust of God opens the door to putting our trust in the next most powerful being who can and will look out for our well-being in a manner we desire. That next “most powerful being” is ourselves. Upon turning from trust in God to trust in self (be it in one area or many), we step into the place of God and do for ourselves what we think God is failing (because He is either unwilling to unable) to do for us. However, we cannot set God and His ways aside in favor of self and our ways without also setting the good of others aside in favor of our good. In other words, distrust of God’s ability or willingness to promote and protect our happiness and well-being in anything leads to a self-centered pursuit of self-interest in that thing or area of life. Therefore, our sin is driven by self-centeredness driven which is being driven by distrust of God.

Third, sin is sin because in some way or another it unnecessarily harms others. According to Romans 13:10, love fulfills the whole law because love works no evil or does no wrong to anyone affected in any way by what it does. This statement about love makes three important points. Number one, love never harms anyone unnecessarily (needlessly, unjustly, foolishly, carelessly). Two, living according to love is the same as living according to the commandments of God. Three, every commandment of God has as its goal the promotion and protection of the good of every individual within the community, be it a community made up of the family, neighborhood, workplace, city, state, nation, or world.

Contrary to what many of us think, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness or a self-interest which makes the interests of self a priority regardless of the effects or cost to others. To make this point even clearer consider the following definition of love. Love is seeking the good of everyone who in any way is affected by our choices and behavior. Therefore, choosing some form of self-interest over the good of others is, in essence, seeking our good at the expense of others – be it a deliberate or negligent choice. Choosing some form of self-interest over the good of others is also a choice to willfully disobey God’s law to love others as ourselves. Therefore, when we choose some form of selfishness or self-interest over the good of others or to the harm of others, we are unnecessarily harming all who are in some way adversely affected by our self-seeking choices and behavior. This is sin.

Everything which God labels “sin” is either an attitude, thought, desire, word, or deed which in some way unnecessarily harms others. Yet many among us believe we can sin without harming anyone other than ourselves, and maybe not even ourselves. We support this false belief by looking at life from the perspective of the moment – looking only at the immediate or current set of circumstances making up the current situation. From this perspective it often appears as if we can commit certain sins without hurting anyone else. Yet when we look at life from the perspective of the eternal, or at least from a view which takes in the long-term effects of our current choices and behavior, the picture radically changes. The long-view brings into focus the reality that just as a stone creates an ever-expanding circle of ripples on a pond, so sin creates an ever-expanding circle of destruction. Whether done privately or publicly, as a solo act or one which includes others, all sin unnecessarily harms God first and foremost and then anyone else caught in the tentacles of its far-reaching effects. Without exception, once sin is sown its destructive consequences will be felt in some way by more than just the one committing the sin.

It is easy to see and even harder to deny the direct impact of sin on those who had nothing to do with committing the sin. Examples of this are murder, rape, robbery, divorce, dishonest business practices, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse of children, and physical abuse of spouses. These kinds of sins have a profound and often immediate effect on those directly harmed.

However, too many among us find it easy to deny or ignore the indirect, future, and sometimes subtle suffering caused by sin – especially when it is our sin that is causing the suffering. Yet consider the parents or spouse of someone who is murdered or raped. The sin was not deliberately and directly committed against them, but they suffer greatly just the same. Consider the children who are raised in alcoholic, drug addicted, or abusive homes. They grow up mimicking or over-compensating for their parents’ failures, and as a result harm their own spouse and children. Even though the sin of the alcoholic, drug addict, or abuser was not directed at their son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or grandchildren, these indirectly become suffering victims just the same. Consider the couple who get divorced. Their children suffer as a direct result of their deliberate choice, while the grandparents and other extended family members suffer as an indirect result of the divorce. Nevertheless, those who suffer indirectly, in the future, or in subtle ways are suffering unnecessarily. This is the heinous side of sin.

But not all sin is deliberate and direct in its effects. We negligently yet directly harm others when we are so engrossed in doing something for ourselves that we neglect to do for others what we could do and know needs to be done. The worker who is so engrossed in his work that he neglects to personally nurture his children is negligently yet directly sinning against them. The person who so focuses on establishing financial security or accumulating possessions that he overlooks the poor and needy in his own city is negligently yet directly sinning against them. Parents who spoil their children are negligently yet directly sinning against everyone harmed by their children’s self-absorbed behavior. The Christian who is so caught up in the affairs of everyday life that he neglects the work of evangelism is negligently yet directly sinning against all the unbelievers who could be affected by his witness but won’t be because of his neglect.  The Church which acts so much like the world that its light is dim and its salt lacks flavor is negligently yet directly sinning against the surrounding community which it could influence for God but doesn’t.

We may not premeditate these sins of neglect, yet the sin which results from neglect is just as much a failure to do what we know is right as when we knowingly and deliberately sin. We may not deliberately plan to harm others, but the suffering caused by neglect is just as painful as that caused by deliberate sin directed at someone. In addition, sins of neglect, carried on too long by those who know or should know better, eventually take on the look of calculated, premeditated, deliberate sin.

Finally, we can negligently and indirectly harm others with our sinfulness. Parents who do not teach their children to respect authority, or who don’t teach their children how to take responsibility for their choices and behavior are negligently and indirectly sinning against all whom their children will harm through their disrespectful, irresponsible behavior. The man who takes pleasure in pornography is negligently and indirectly sinning against females by developing an attitude which views women as objects to be used for one’s own pleasure. His “I-can-use-you” attitude will affect how he treats women in general, even though he may never mistreat them sexually. The father who teaches his sons that real men are macho men is negligently and indirectly sinning against any women his sons will harm through their subsequent macho behavior. The mother who keeps the home peaceful through passive acceptance of her husband’s wishes is negligently and indirectly sinning against the spouse of any of her children who follow her example. By example she will have taught her children a method of conflict resolution which does not work, for it not only leaves the conflict unresolved, it prohibits the growth of mutual love and trust between a husband and wife.

Though we are often far removed from the ones harmed, we are as responsible for our sin which negligently and indirectly harms others as we are for the sin which deliberately and directly does its damage. And if we want to be treated in just and fair ways, then we ought to be held responsible for unnecessarily, unjustly, selfishly harming others. Do we not feel wronged when someone unnecessarily, unjustly, self-centeredly harms us? Do we not want to be treated with love, respect, and fairness? We may not be offended by one’s first or second offense against us, but are we not deeply hurt when someone dear continues to mistreat us, even when it is a little thing. If we give ourselves the freedom to mistreat others for some personal gain, are we not holding a double-standard – one which condemns selfishness when we are the victims and one which applauds selfishness when we are the benefactors? Finally, if we have the right to live by a self-serving double standard, doesn’t everyone? And if everyone does, how will the unnecessary suffering ever end?

Directly connected to the harm done by sin is the damage done to relationships. The unnecessary suffering caused by sin has a damaging and sometimes a destructive effect on whatever level of relationship did exist or could have existed between the sinner and the ones harmed by the sin. In other words, sin damages or destroys relationships – dividing nations, ruining communities, alienating co-workers, splitting churches, disrupting friendships, breaking apart families, and ending marriages.

Do not let anyone deceive you about this. When you sin, you are damaging and/or destroying what should be or could be a meaningful relationship built on mutual love and trust with someone. This is a heinous evil, because meaningful relationships built on mutual love and trust are a primary reason God created us and they provide one of the primary ingredients which ensures the good of everyone in the community – be it a community of two or a community of millions.

And just in case you still do not see the truth of all this, consider that the damage done by your sin is not limited to its effect on others. You are affected too. The sadness, distress, discouragement, despair, hate, hostility, revenge, injury, disease, perversion, calamity, and physical death which we all experience in this life is the sole result of sin – your sin and my sin. The destructive forces set in motion by your sin turns on you and becomes a devouring force in your life. You suffer the consequences of your own sin just as certainly as others suffer because of your sin.  (Note: Galatians 6:7-8)

Once again, in its simplest form, sin is knowing the right thing to do yet not doing it. In its purest form, sin is any thought, attitude, choice, word, or deed, or any combination thereof, which results in unnecessary harm being done to anyone who is in any way adversely affected it.

May we hate sin and all of its accompanying evils just as God hates sin. May we pray for, ponder, and pursue the kind of sight and insight that sees through the deceptions of the devil, the allurements of the world, and the desires of the flesh so that we recognize the evil of sin and the goodness, health, joy, peace with God, and inward peace of righteousness.

When Do We Sin?

God’s definition of when we sin is very simple. We sin when we know the right thing to do yet do otherwise. This definition applies whether our sin is premeditated and deliberate, negligent and careless, or the result of living in denial and being self-deceived. It also applies when we choose some form of non-involvement so as to do nothing when we ought to do something.

When we know what is right, there are only two explanations for not doing it. We either have intentionally chosen or carelessly neglected to do what we know is right. In either case, we have chosen to do something other than what we know is right. Therefore, we sin when we know what is right yet choose to do something other than what we know is right. (Note: James 4:17)

In Adam and Eve’s case, they knew the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden was forbidden. God had told them not to eat it, and warned that if they ate from that tree they would die. Adam and Eve knew the right thing to do. Yet they chose to do something other than what they knew was right, and in their choosing they sinned. Therefore, when we know what is right yet choose to do something other than what we know is right, God rightly holds us accountable for having sinned.

Though this definition of when we sin is straight forward and simple, it raises an important question. Who decides what is right and what is wrong?

 God decides, and as the supreme being and the one who created us, it is His right to decide. However, He is not just the supreme being who created us, He is completely selfless – the only one who perfectly and faithfully seeks and secures the good of everyone who is in any way affected by anything and everything He says or does. He is profoundly wise – having wisdom and discernment based on knowing the end from beginning, the eternal from the temporal, and the truth even when obscured by convincing lies. He is absolutely impartial – holding everyone to the same standard of right and wrong. And added to all this, He is the perfect, loving father – gentle, patient, merciful, and sympathetic toward weaknesses while continuing to show us the way of righteousness. Without a doubt, He is the only one worthy of the responsibility to decide right from wrong.

Yet not everyone sees God this way. Many see God as good but not completely good, as wise but not perfectly wise, as loving but not always worthy of our trust, and as faithful but not always dependable. Some see a darker side to God. To them, He is an all-powerful being who often uses His power to punish us, to take good things away from us, or to keep good things from us or from happening to us.

In spite of what some people think, God does not act on impulse or capriciously. He is not cavalier, or cruel. He is not an egotist, narcissistic, or vain. He is not a tyrant or a power-hungry dictator. He does not act arbitrarily, irrationally, or selfishly. He hasn’t even a smidgen of angry impatience, arrogance, or spite. And He finds no joy in punishing wrongdoers. Why? Because God is love.

When God decides right from wrong or when God tells us what to do, it is always for our good – to make life better for us personally and for everyone effected by our choices and behavior. God sincerely cares about our good as much as He cares about His own good. He is devoted to promoting and protecting our good as if our good were His own good. Indeed, He seeks the good of each one of us within the context of seeking the good of the larger community – be it our family of origin, our family by marriage, our extended family, our co-workers, our neighborhood, city, state, nation, continent, or our world. This means I can trust God to promote and protect your interests, but never at my expense. In the same way, you can trust God to seek my good, but never at your expense. We are, individually and as a group, perfectly safe and wholly secure in God’s decisions concerning right and wrong. (Note: Romans 13:10; I Corinthians 13:4-8)

And beyond this, God yearns for a relationship of reciprocal love and trust with each of us. Such is the character of God – desiring and seeking shared, meaningful, even intimate relationships built on mutual love and trust. Truly, God wants to be the loving father of a huge family. He wants to gather together a never-ending community of like-minded people drawn together by love and held together by loving relationships of intimate communion and fellowship. We see the truth of this in the fact that He has done everything possible and reasonable to show us how much He loves us and to invite us into a meaningfully intimate relationship with Himself. Therefore, when God decides what is right, He makes that decision according to love – love which promotes and protects everyone’s good on an individual, household, community, worldwide and eternal basis.

At best, we are mixed-motived, or as the Bible says, double-minded. In other words, we can be acting out of the noble motive of love while making sure that the despicable motive of selfishness is lurking in the shadows in case we want it to take over should the way of love begin to cost us more than we are willing to pay. We can know the truth about love and all the joy it will bring to our lives and the lives of those we claim to love, yet still cherish selfishness in one or more areas of life. We can know what is right, yet for self-serving reasons choose to do what is wrong in certain situations. Truly, none of us is free enough from self-centeredness to hold the position of “the final decider” of right and wrong. We need a guiding light that is not tainted by selfishness. We need someone who is virtuous, just, unbiased, and morally incorruptible, to tell us right from wrong. We need is God.

A young mother came and asked for help. She wanted to work on her emotional and mental health so she could divorce her husband with the minimal amount of personal suffering. He was an emotionally and verbally cruel man who had hurt her deeply and frequently over the years. By the time she came to me she had a detailed description of his problems. She knew every possible reason why he was never going to change. She had what she believed to be bullet proof arguments why life would be much better for her and the children if she divorced him. She was convinced there was no other way to solve this problem.

I asked some questions. As I listened it became clear that she was part of the problem. Her husband was not just a cruel ogre. He had feelings and wants, and was hurting just like she was. True, he was an angry, mean man who had hurt her deeply – but partially (though inexcusably) in response to the way she treated him.

I pointed this out. After some moments of silence she admitted it was true. But that was not what she came for.

I pointed out that divorce hurts everyone, especially the children. I showed her the many ways her children would suffer as innocent victims, carrying their hurt into their adult life. She said she was sure she could help her children overcome those hurts and live emotionally healthy lives. I pointed out that God was against divorce because it cheapened relationships and caused unnecessary problems and pain for everyone affected. Although she did not consider herself a Christian, she did believe divorce was wrong. Yet that was not what she came for.

She wanted relief from her pain. She wanted out of the marriage. She knew divorce would hurt the children and the grandparents. But she was determined to do what she knew was wrong to get the relief she wanted.

I suggested alternatives that would protect her and the children and possibly save her marriage. One of my suggestions included the idea that she stop doing the things she knew were wrong and offensive to her husband and start doing some of the reasonable things she knew he wanted her to do. True, all the suggestions I offered required change on her part. They required hard work. None of them could guarantee they would produce all the results she hoped for. None would bring immediate relief. Yet each of the suggestions were sin-free, that is, none of them would lead her into choosing a solution she knew was wrong.

I reminded her again that God forbids divorce under her circumstances, not because He wanted her to suffer but because divorce would compound her problems and unnecessarily cause deep-seated, long-lasting problems for her children, her extended family, and the community. Then I acknowledged that sinful solutions to life’s problems most always bring some form of immediate relief, but they also cause more and greater problems for all involved.

She got mad. Even if she had wrong attitudes and self-defeating beliefs, even if she made selfish choices and did hurtful things, the wrongs she wanted to right were her husband’s wrongs, not hers. And even if she wanted to change something in herself, she did not want to wait any longer to get free of this one person who was making her life miserable. It did not matter that it meant doing what she knew was wrong. Her driving, compelling concern was her own happiness, and she had no intention of letting her husband continue to get in the way.

When you know the right thing to do, it is your responsibility to do it. To decide to do something other than what you know is right is to voluntarily, knowingly, and deliberately do what is wrong. When you voluntarily, knowingly, and deliberately do what is wrong, you have sinned.

But what about those times when you don’t know better? What about doing wrong unknowingly and therefore unintentionally? Is that sin, too? Yes, it is. Even though you are not knowingly and deliberately doing what is wrong, it is sin. It is sin because the effect on others is just as harmful, just as unjust, and just as unnecessary as deliberate sin.

Remember, whether done knowingly and deliberately or committed in ignorance, sin is anything which unnecessarily and/or unjustly harms another person. We unnecessarily harm others when we:

         1.  directly mistreat, injure, or offend them (do to them what we would not want them to do to us – treat them in ways we do not want to be treated)

       2.  refuse to help when it is obvious to us they need help (refuse to give them whatever it is they need to whatever extent we can give it so they can get on with life when we would want help from someone if we were in their situation)

       3.  become so focused on our own interests that we overlook and neglect the needs and interests of those around us (so self-focused that we hardly, if ever, think about the needs and interests of those around us - including those closest to us who depend on us for love, affirmation, emotional support, financial support, and a sharing of the work-load)  

Therefore, all sin is heinous whether done knowingly or ignorantly. It causes unwanted problems and unnecessary suffering for all who are ill-affected in any way by the sinner’s sin. It needlessly makes life more difficult and painful for those the sinner sins against, be they family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community, nation, or world. Sin also boomerangs on the sinner, adding to his troubles and making his life more difficult.

However, God does not hold us responsible for sins committed in ignorance in the same way He holds us responsible for sins committed knowingly and intentionally. God made this clear in the Old Testament when He said to Moses: 

If someone sins unintentionally and subsequently becomes aware of his sin, he is to offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. And the priest will make atonement before the Lord for this person who has sinned unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. But the person who is defiant and sins intentionally, that person is desecrating the Lord. Such a person shows that he despises the Word of God by willfully breaking His commandments. This person must fully bear his guilt by being completely cut off from the people. (Note: Numbers 15:22-31)

         God, through the apostle John, made this same point in the New Testament.  In John's first letter we read:

      If we admit that we willfully sinned, that we are without excuse, and that we intend to do what is right hereafter, we can depend on God to faithfully and justly forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (Note: I John 1:9)

It is self-evident that we can only admit to having willfully sinned if we know we have willfully sinned. We cannot confess to doing something we have no knowledge of, and God doesn't expect us to. What He expects is for us to take responsibility for the wrong we knowingly have done. When we do, He forgives all our sin – known and unknown. (Note: Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 10:26-29)

Now consider this matter of known sin as it relates to unbelievers. When an unbeliever responds to the Gospel, he may only be aware of participating in a few sinful practices. Yet if he takes appropriate action in dealing with the sin he is aware of, he is doing all God asks him to do about his sin at that time. This principle is shown in the story of Zaccheus.

Zaccheus, a Jewish tax collector working for the Roman occupation government, collected taxes from his own people. Somehow he heard of Jesus’ teachings and responded by trying to see who this Jesus was. Being too short to see over the crowd, he climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. As Jesus passed under the tree, he looked up and asked Zaccheus to come down and take him to his house. On their way to Zaccheus’ home, Zaccheus acknowledged and repented of two known areas of sin in his life. The first area of sin was his desire to acquire and accumulate wealth. The second was his unscrupulous business practices. He told Jesus he would give half his possessions to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone in his tax collections he would repay them four times as much.

Now it is reasonable to assume Zaccheus had many other sins to deal with, but that was not the important issue at the moment. The important thing was that he seriously and aggressively dealt with the sin he was aware of. In response, Jesus proclaimed salvation had come to him that very day.  (Note: Luke 19:1-10)

The message is clear. When Zaccheus, an unbeliever, dealt seriously with the sin he was aware of, Jesus counted him among those who believe in God unto salvation. When we admit and repent of the sin we have knowingly and deliberately committed, God forgives us and cleans us up so it is as if we are sinless – in spite of sins committed in ignorance.

          Therefore, the fact of sin – the sin God asks us to take responsibility for, the sin God holds us accountable for – is determined by what we know about right and wrong. When we do other than what we know is right – even if we are living in denial or finding some way to justify it – we are deliberately and willfully choosing to do what we know is wrong. When we do what we know is wrong, we sin.

How Do We Know How Much We Know?

Most of us know more about right and wrong than we easily or even willingly admit. Yet in spite of our self-imposed and supposed ignorance or denials we expose how much we know when we criticize, judge, and condemn others for the wrong we see in them.

          A pastor and an elder had been close friends for four years. They worked together for the good of their church. They and their families socialized together. They helped each other in times of need. They publicly proclaimed their love for each other. Then a conflict arose between them – driving them far apart. Where once they saw each other as dear friends they began seeing each other as enemies. After two years of living in this state of hostility and alienation they asked for outside help from Christian Conciliation Services in resolving their differences and reconciling their relationship.

Being one of the designated “third party conciliators” I was part of the process of reconciliation. Our first meeting consisted of sitting with each of them separately and hearing their side of the story. Each was free to say anything he wanted. The elder was the first to meet with us. He presented about eight pages of information. His presentation was about how the pastor had mistreated and wronged him, the character flaws which predisposed the pastor to this kind of sinful behavior, and the evil motives or intentions which were behind the pastor’s past and current behavior. Near the end of his presentation he said he had weaknesses of his own and possibly had hurt the pastor somehow. When he was done, I asked him to name one sin he had committed against the pastor over the past six years. He could think of nothing. He could see eight pages worth of weaknesses, flaws, evil motives, and sin in the pastor, yet he saw nothing like that in himself.

I wish I could say the pastor was different, but I can’t. He did almost the same thing. The one difference was that he had seen in the week before our meeting that his gifting and the elder’s gifting were very different. He then surmised that this difference in gifting may have caused some conflict. He felt he had tried to make the elder operate according to his (the pastor’s) gifting. When he was finished with his presentation I asked him to name one sin he had committed against the elder over the past six years. He could think of nothing. I then directed his attention to his admission of expecting the elder to operate according to his (the pastor’s) gifting and his relationship destructive response when the elder failed to live up to the pastor’s expectations.

The pastor remembered having realized this failing on his part. I then asked if he had gone to the elder, confessed his sin, and asked for forgiveness. He said no. I asked why. He said the elder had not opened the door for such an encounter. I asked what he meant by that. He said the elder had not made it safe for him to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness. When I pressed further as to what this meant, it turned out that the pastor had avoided seeking forgiveness for known sin because he felt the elder would see this as a weakness on the pastor’s part and use this against him. In other words, the pastor felt the elder was so evil that his own sin could be overlooked.

Two church leaders – each presenting scathing reports about the other. Yet each was blind to his own sin in the matter. Yet before God, each was guilty of self-deception in that each one had failed to apply the same standard of judgment to himself as he had to the other. They knew how to identify sin. The problem was that they were not willing to identify sin in themselves.

The way we expect to be treated reveals how much we know about how to treat others. Every time we criticize someone for doing something wrong we reveal the extent of our knowledge about right and wrong. When we judge others as having knowingly and deliberately done what is wrong and hold them accountable for what they have done, we reveal how much we know about right and wrong and the level to which we should be held accountable for our behavior. When we condemn those who both wrong us and refuse to take responsibility for their behavior, we set the standard of accountability to which we must live. Truly, the extent of our knowledge of right and wrong is clearly shown through our criticism, judgment, and condemnation of others. Yet there is more.

Who hasn’t used the behavior of others people as justification for his own wrong behavior? Such blaming usually follows one of two formats. The first format places the blame on another person as if his behavior is the direct cause of our behavior. For example, Jimmy justified hitting his sister when he said, “But she hit me first!” The second format points to the behavior of the majority as vindication for personal behavior that is equally wrong. Jane did this when a co-worker confronted her over her extended lunch breaks. She defended herself by saying, “But everyone does it.”

Most, if not all of us have blamed our circumstances as the cause of our wrong behavior. Christine blamed her circumstances when her husband accused her of being a nag. She said, “Don’t act so uppity and judgmental with me. If you had the day I had you would be acting far worse!” Mike blamed his circumstances when he explained to his Bible study group why he separated his business life from his Christian life. He said, “I tried doing business according to the teachings of the Bible, but I learned you cannot succeed when you do business that way.”

And when we run out of people or circumstances to blame, we tend to make our feelings the justification for saying or doing something that offends or hurts another person. It usually goes something like this: “What am I supposed to do, pretend everything is okay?  I’m really angry, and I’m just telling you how I feel.  I’m sorry, but that's the way it is!”

All of us at one time or another have pointed to the behavior of others, to our circumstances, and to our feelings as the driver or justification for our behavior. We act as if these things justify, and even vindicate our bad, sinful behavior. Yet who among us, after being wronged, has not felt doubly wronged when the one who wronged us excuses his behavior by placing the blame on us, others, his circumstances, or the way he feels?

When someone hurts us or mistreats us and then justifies his wrong treatment of us by putting the blame somewhere else, we don’t like it. In fact we see right through such blaming and call it what it is – a self-justifying excuse. The double-standard here is that we are often quick to excuse our own wrong behavior yet we want those who wrong us to take responsibility for theirs. We want them to admit they knew better and should have done better. We want them to ask for forgiveness and put an end to their mistreatment of us.

We are guilty of a double standard when we excuse our behavior on the basis of other people’s behavior, circumstances, or our feelings while expecting those who wrong us to take responsibility for what they have done. And when we do this, we are holding others to a higher standard of right and wrong than we hold ourselves. When we know enough about right and wrong to hold others to such a standard it means we know enough to hold ourselves to the same standard. And when we do not live up to what we know, it means we are deliberately doing things we know are wrong.

Therefore, the extent to which we criticize, judge, and condemn others reveals a lot about how much we know about right and wrong. This makes the ‘criticism of others factor’ a universally fair basis for determining a person’s understanding of right and wrong. And when we say it is unfair or become angry when others do not hold themselves to the same standard of right and wrong that they require of us, we show our agreement with this principle. However, in relation to sin and what we know about right and wrong, the problem is not what we expect of others or what others expect of us, the problem is what we expect of ourselves.

As the scripture says, “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Therefore, God expects us to live up to what we know, and what we know about right and wrong is undeniably revealed in our judgement of others. God affirms this when He says He will judge us according to the severity with which we judge others. (Note: James 4:17; Romans 2:1-4; Matthew 7:1-5, 7:21-23, 13:40-43; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Ezekiel 18:30-32; II Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8; Revelation 20:12-15)

Beyond the criticism of others factor there is a second criterion for determining what we are rightly held accountable for in relation to what we know. This criterion is ‘age’. We find this in the story of Israel’s first encounter with the Promised Land.

After fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites were to follow God’s leading into the Promised Land. As they approached the Promised Land, God directed Moses to send twelve spies into the land to help them prepare for the unknown. After spying out the land for forty days the spies returned saying the land was just as good as God had promised. But ten of the spies went on to say the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to move into the land. These spies said the land was filled with giants and huge fortified cities. Upon hearing this report the Israelites cursed God and Moses for leading them out of Egypt only to be destroyed in a foreign land. Their fear of the giants and what appeared to be certain death and enslavement for the women and children prompted them to begin looking for a new leader to lead them back to Egypt. Two of the twelve spies tried to reason with the people, but the people became so angry with Moses and these two spies that they picked up stones to stone them. At this point, God intervened.

In response to the Israelites’ distrust of His ability to bring them safely into the Promised Land (as shown by their fear of being destroyed and anger over having been put in such a dreadful situation), God brought judgment on them. He said that everyone, twenty years old and upward who believed the bad report and distrusted God, would experience the very thing they feared. They would die in the desert. To fulfill this judgment in a natural way God made the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years, one year for every day the spies spied out the Land. (Note: Numbers 13 & 14; take special note of Numbers 14:29)

Why didn’t God hold everyone old enough to express an opinion responsible for the decision to replace Moses and return to Egypt? Why didn’t He condemn everyone who was old enough to turn their backs on Him, take matters into their own hands, and go their own way? It is reasonable to assume that older children and teens, at least among themselves if not with the adults, discussed and debated the gravity of the situation and the best possible solution. It is likely that many teenagers, especially those sixteen and above, believed they had a good understanding of the problem and knew the right solution. It is reasonable to assume that most of them, like the adults, feared God had failed them. It is probable that many of them felt anger at God for putting them in such a hopeless situation. Yet God did not hold anyone nineteen and under responsible for siding with the majority against Him. God only held those who were twenty years old and up responsible for their unbelief and sinful actions. Why?

God’s design of the family provides an answer to this question. The family is designed so parents, the adults in the home, have children and raise the children. God did not design the family so that children would be responsible to raise themselves, or other children, or their parents. Therefore, parents are held accountable for what goes on in their home.

Children are to obey their parents. Obedience to parents involves a lower level of responsibility compared to the level of responsibility required of parents – the ones in authority. God does not expect young children to think for themselves and make wise decisions. They are to do as they are told. God expects teenagers to learn how to think for themselves by submitting to and learning from those who are older and wiser. They are to begin making important decisions while living in a protected environment, free from the complexity and demands of adult responsibilities and situations. All this is preparation for adulthood, the responsibilities that go with adulthood, and accountability for how those responsibilities are handled.

Parents, because they are equipped to do so, are responsible for such complex and demanding things as discerning right from wrong for themselves and their children, education and preparation of the children for adulthood, employment, the provision of food and shelter and clothing, location of the family home, future needs of the family, and how to balance the pursuit of individual happiness with the good of the family. Therefore, God held the Israelite adults responsible while over-looking the response of the children and young people. (Note: Deuteronomy 6:4-11; Proverbs 3:12; 22:6,15; 29:15; II Corinthians 12:14; Ephesians 6:1-4; I Timothy 5:8)

This same principle of age and responsibility is revealed in the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Zacharias was a priest in the House of God at Jerusalem. He was married to Elizabeth, and they had no children because she was infertile. While fulfilling his priestly service an angel appeared to him and told him his wife would bear a son. This son was special, for he was God's chosen servant to prepare the way for Jesus. They were to name him, John (he became John the Baptist). After the angel told Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would experience a miracle and have a baby, Zacharias questioned the angel’s words by asking, “How can I be sure that what you are saying will really happen? I am an old man and my wife is old, too.” The angel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the day the child was born because he had not believed the angel’s word. (Note: Luke 1:5-25)

About six months later this same angel appeared to Mary, a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph. The angel told Mary that she would become pregnant and bear a son. His name was to be Jesus. Upon hearing what the angel said, the essence of what Mary said to the angel was, “How can I become pregnant when I have no husband and I am not sexually involved with any man?” The angel told Mary that this would be a miracle baby. She would become pregnant through a miracle work of the Holy Spirit, not through intercourse with a man. The angel went on to say that Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, was experiencing a miracle baby of her own – though under different conditions. And after a few more words, the angel departed.

Notice any similarities in these two situations? Both Zacharias and Mary questioned the probability of the angel’s words in light of their individual circumstances. And what were their circumstances?  Zacharias and his wife were too old to have children. Mary was a virgin and intended to stay that way until she was married. From the human perspective the probability of either of them having a child was zero. Yet Zacharias was punished for unbelief and Mary was given an explanation to help her believe. Why? Did they not both question the veracity of what the angel said? I believe so. Then, what made the difference?

I believe the age difference between Zacharias and Mary made the difference in accountability. Age made the difference between how much each one knew about God’s past dealings with Israel. Age made the difference between the extent of each one’s personal experience with God’s faithfulness. It was Zacharias’s job to know the Old Testament scriptures, including the history of Israel. He was aware of God’s miracle baby, Isaac, and how Abraham and Sarah had Isaac in their old age. He knew old age was not a problem for God when God wanted a special child brought into the world for special service. Zacharias was aware of the many other recorded miracles God had performed in securing provision and protection for the nation of Israel and individual Israelites over the years. And Zacharias had personally experienced a life time of God’s promised provision and protection. He was in a position to teach others who came to the temple and needed instruction or encouragement in this matter of trusting God. Yet he himself doubted. At his age with his knowledge and his experience he had no excuse for doubting. God held him accountable and disciplined him with the loss of his voice until the birth of his son, John.

Mary was much younger. She was not educated in the scriptures like Zacharias. She was not a teacher of the scriptures. She was a simple, godly girl living in Nazareth, engaged to be married to a carpenter. At her age with her limited knowledge and her experience, God justly looked past her skepticism. He answered her question, without judgment, to aid her in believing. (Note: Luke 1:26-38)

When the disciples asked who was greatest in God’s kingdom, Jesus reinforced the differences in accountability due to age. He called a child to come stand in their midst. Then he referred to the child to make several points. One of the points he made was that it would be better for an adult to die prematurely than to entice a child to sin. In this statement we see God’s concern for the vulnerability of children who are not yet adequately prepared to understand the ramifications of choosing wrong over right. We also see the accountability of adults who entice others to do what they know is wrong. (Note: Matthew 18:6-10)

In taking the age factor further, a study of Jesus’ ministry reveals he directed his message to adults. He talked about kingdom living in a way that only adults could understand in practical and applicable ways. The Sermon on the Mount, one of Christ’s first teachings, is a clear example of this. Neither children nor young teens can comprehend the true implication of Jesus’ words as they relate to one’s family, social, economic, occupational, and political settings. This message was directed at adults. They have the understanding necessary to be held accountable for what they heard. If you need another example, consider these words from Christ:

         He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. If anyone wishes to come after me he must first deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it. No one builds a skyscraper without first calculating the cost to see if he has enough to finish it. No one sets out to war without first comparing the quantity and quality of his troops against those of his enemy lest he set himself up for certain defeat. So therefore, no one can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

These are powerful words, life giving words, words which set us free from the bondage of self, words which take us to the core of the Christian motive for living. Yet these words require an adult mind to comprehend their profound, far-reaching implications. So why would Christ speak to adults when his message is life-giving and essential for everyone? The age factor. Part of growing up is gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to be held accountable for what we know. Therefore, God does not hold young people accountable like He holds adults accountable. (Note: Matthew 5:3-7:27; Luke 14:25-33; Matthew 10:37-39; 16:24-26) 

If the criticism factor were the sole basis of judgment, children should be held as accountable as adults, for without a doubt they can criticize others with passion and accuracy. Yet children are not equipped intellectually, emotionally, or experientially to be held accountable (in the same way we hold adults accountable) for the way they deal with the temptations, challenges, freedoms, privileges, and responsibilities of life. By God's design, children are to become increasingly equipped to handle such things as they approach adulthood. But in the interim, children are not held responsible for their choices and behavior in the same way adults are held responsible.

God's Provision for Helping Us Learn Right from Wrong

God has provided various means to teach us everything we need to know about right and wrong. He teaches us through creation, our conscience, our intellect, self-love, our parents, older people with experience and wisdom, history, government, the Bible, and the Church.

If we are sensible and realistic in using these means we will grow in our understanding of right and wrong. The more we understand, the more we can apply what we understand to our choices and behavior. The more we apply, the more we will understand why right is truly right and the path of life and love, and why wrong is actually wrong and the path of corruption, destruction, and death. The more we understand why right is right and wrong is wrong, the more we understand the mind, the whys, and the ways of God. The more we understand the mind, whys, and ways of God, the more we live to love and please God. The more we live to love and please God, the more we experience a personal and intimate relationship with God and the more we will love others as we ought.  The more we love others as we ought, the more good we will do in promoting and protecting the well-being of everyone affected by our choices and behavior.

Therefore, God’s provisions for our growth in the knowledge of right and wrong are vital to our own growth in godliness, our love of God and intimacy with Him, and our love and treatment of others.

From the first moment God created it, the universe has revealed His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature. By thoughtfully observing the heavens and the earth and all the life therein, we can discover the existence of God and gain insight into His wisdom, His love, His faithfulness, and how He wants us to live. Because God reveals His presence, His character, and His purpose for creating us through what He has made, everyone has the opportunity to discover His existence and gain at least a minimal knowledge of what He wants them to know. Everyone has the opportunity to ask those who are older and wiser to teach them what they have learned about God from observing creation. Therefore, if we do not make a reasonable effort to discover what God has revealed about Himself in creation or ask those wiser for help, we are without excuse for not knowing what we could know about right and wrong had we made the effort.  (Note: Romans 1:20)

God gifted us with a conscience and an intellect. Our conscience notifies us when we are going off the path of doing what we know is right. Our intellect gives us the ability to think, reason, conceptualize and remember.  When properly used, our conscience and intellect together enable us to learn more about right and wrong and improve the use of what we know. In fact, God’s intent is that we grow from babes and children to become like Jesus in how we think, speak, and live.

There are some who argue that to expect Christ-likeness in this matter of choices and behavior is to expect perfection, and perfection is impossible for humans. But such an argument is an effort to cover up laziness in regard to righteousness and the desire to participate in known sin. God does not demand flawlessness of us any more than good parents demand flawlessness from their children. What God requires is exactly what we require of others: to do what we know is right, and when we choose (willfully, voluntarily, intentionally) to do otherwise, to take responsibility for doing what we know is wrong. Taking responsibility means confessing we knew better but did what was wrong anyway. It includes making things right with those we have sinned against, getting back on the path of doing what we know is right, and taking steps to strengthen our resolve to say ‘no’ to sin. This is as close to perfection as any human can get. But it is also as close to perfection as we ought to be, because we have the ability to get there.

 Therefore, we are without excuse if we do not use our conscience and intellect to get this close to perfection. We are without excuse if we do not make a sincere effort to do what we know is right, and when we don’t to take full responsibility for doing what we know is wrong. We are without excuse if we do not do what we can to approach Christ-likeness in our understanding and application of right and wrong. (Note: Romans 2:11-16, Ephesians 4:11-13)

Self-love is a very personal, practical, and proficient means of learning right from wrong. Its ability to instruct comes from its primary characteristic – knowing in the most fundamental and practical sense what is best for self. This is as it should be, for it is not self-love that is sinful but self-centeredness. Using our love of self as an instructor and primary influence on how to love others builds within us an ever improving understanding and practical application of right and wrong. The reason self-love is a good instructor is because it tells us how we want to be treated, and then we can use this knowledge in determining how to treat others.

Self-love is a powerful influence because its primary focus is our good, and we can re-direct this focus outward to determine what we must do to promote and protect the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior. And because everyone has self-love, everyone knows the difference between right and wrong based on their beliefs about how they should be treated. Therefore, if we do not thoughtfully examine how we want to be treated and then apply what we learn to how we promote and protect the good of others, we have no excuse for not doing what we know is right according to our expectations of how we want others to love us. (Note: Mark 12:31)

Our conscience, intellect, and self-love are internal resources for learning about right and wrong. God has provided external resources as well. 

Children are brought into this world through parents. Sadly, some parents are irresponsible and are such a bad influence on their children that their children learn more about wrong than right from them. However, most parents have enough good in them to teach their children many worthwhile things about right and wrong. If we had such parents, they were a vital resource for teaching us some of what we need to know about right and wrong.

Everyone lives in a country, and every country has some form of government. Here again, not all governments are good and responsible. Yet when a government is responsible it becomes a source for learning right from wrong. If we ignore our parents or the government so as not to take to heart the good things they have or are teaching us, we are responsible for what we could know if we listened. (Note: Ephesians 6:1-3; Romans 13:1-7)

God has given us the sacred writings of Scripture for the purpose of teaching, admonishing, correcting, and training us in the knowledge and practical application of what is right. The intended result of studying God's Word is that we enlarge our understanding and strengthen our commitment to choose and do what is right and good. And of course, the more we study the more opportunity we have to enlarge our understanding and strengthen our commitment. But if the Bible is to teach us about right and wrong, we must read it, study it, ask God to give us insight and understanding into what we are studying, ponder and meditate on what it says so as to gain the most comprehensive understanding possible, consider how to apply what we are reading to the way we live, and then we are to put what we are learning into practice.

Of course, this cannot be done where there is no access to a Bible. But when we (people with a conscience and an intellect) have access to a Bible, we are without excuse for not knowing and applying – according to our age and maturity – what the Bible has to teach us about right and wrong. (Note: II Timothy 3:16-17)

Along with parents, government, and the Bible, God uses the Church to teach us about right and wrong. Sadly, just as some parents and governments are irresponsible, so some church leaders and teachers are irresponsible. It is wise to be cautious, but never to the extreme of thinking that all church teachers and leaders are untrustworthy. If you want to avoid being led astray, persistently ask God to protect you and your church from falsehood. Ask God to work through your leaders and teachers to accomplish His purposes in you and your church. And do not neglect your own study of the Scriptures to see if what you are being taught agrees with what God says.

Those who teach God's Word from a pure heart can teach us powerful, life-changing truths. They can teach us how to apply God's truth in realistic and practical ways. They can answer many of our questions and show us how to do what is right in situations where it seems there is no right or easy answer as to what we should do. Therefore, it is our responsibility to learn what they can teach us about right and wrong. If we neglect to learn what we can from those God has given to teach us, we are without excuse for not knowing what we would know if we paid attention. Ignorance resulting from negligence is no excuse for doing wrong. (Note: Ephesians 4:11-13; Hebrews 13:17)

God has provided creation, a conscience, an intellect, self-love, parents, government, the Holy Scriptures, and the Church as reasonable and accessible sources to teach us right from wrong. Having done His part we now bear the responsibility to do ours. We are responsible for growing in the knowledge of right and wrong so that we can do what we know is right.

If you keep seeking for more truth, you will find it. If you keep knocking on the doors of those who are wiser, asking questions and listening to what they say, you will learn far more than you already know. If you persist in asking God to teach you as much as it is humanely possible to know about right and wrong, He will. (Note: Matthew 7:7-8)

Are you choosing to make reasonable use of your God provided resources for growing in the knowledge of right and wrong? Are you applying what you know to what you do so that when you know to do right you do it? Are you making the same effort to learn about right and wrong as you expect from those whose choices and behavior affect you? Are you applying what you know to what you do with the same diligence you expect of others? When you do what you know is right as you expect others to do what they know is right, you fulfill your responsibility to live up to what you know

We Pay a High Price for Not Doing What We Know or Should Know

No one who has repented, trusted in the saving work of Jesus Christ, been reconciled to God, and puts his faith in God for daily living (become a Christian) repeatedly does what he knows is wrong. Rather, out of the fear of God, love for God, and wanting to please God, he resists the devil, flees youthful lusts, abhors what is evil, clings to what is good, and pursues righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. And as for the practice of known sin, he runs from it as if it were a hungry lion looking for dinner. He knows that the only goal of sin is to maim, destroy, and ultimately kill whereas the way of God is the path of life – life that is abundant. Besides, he cannot practice any known sin because God is in him. (Note: James 4:7-10 ; John 10:10; Romans 8:12-13, 12:9; 2 Timothy 2:21; 1 John 3:9; 5:18; Galatians 5:24)

The scripture tells us that everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. We know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins. No one who abides in Jesus continues in the practice of any known sin. No one who continues in the practice of sin has seen Jesus or knows Him. Therefore, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil – for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Therefore, no one who is born of God practices sin, because God’s seed (God’s life, God’s son) abides in him. In other words, he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. This is the high price of continuing to do what we know is wrong. (Note: 1 John 3:4-10)

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Christians to knowingly, deliberately, and voluntarily sin. What it means is that Christians, having repented of sin, ought no longer to be of the mind to want to sin. They no longer look at sin as beneficial, helpful, or wise because they now see how vile, ravaging, self-destroying, and relationship damaging it is – no matter how much pleasure, profit, power, or fame is gained from sinning. Therefore, they purpose in their heart to no longer allow sin to be an established practice or defended habit. They rely on the provision and presence of God to enable them to do the will of God. If they sin, they respond in a responsible way as soon as they come to their senses. This means confessing their sin to God, making any wrongs right with whomever they have hurt, reaffirming their commitment to live a righteous and loving life, and taking whatever steps necessary to get back on the track of promoting and protecting the good of everyone affected in any way by their choices and behavior.

Though sin is entirely selfish, it is also rebellion against God and the good God wills for all mankind. Since Christians no longer have to sin (Note: Romans 6), when they so sin they are willfully rebelling against God and unnecessarily harming others. Therefore, the only reasonable, rational punishment for an ongoing life of self-centeredness is eternal banishment from God and all who love as God loves. Because doing what we know is right promotes and protects the good of everyone affected by it, including us, the reward of love is to live forever with God and all who love as God loves. Self-centeredness brings death. Love which seeks the good of everyone brings life. Therefore, if we use the resources God makes available to us and depend on the work of His Spirit within us to put to death our selfishness, we will live. (Note: Romans 8:6-8,13)

Do not be lulled into thinking you can get away with willfully doing what you know is wrong. To go your own way in deliberate disregard of what you know is right is like laughing in God’s face. It is the ultimate show of disrespect for God and His love for all mankind. For the sake of everyone whose well-being is jeopardized by your selfish choices and sinful behavior, God cannot allow you to continue unchallenged doing what you know is wrong. To discourage selfishness and sin, and encourage godliness and love, God has so designed life that whatever you sow you reap. If you know what is right yet continue to willfully do what is wrong, you will reap corruption (the slow process of self-destruction). It may take many years for the sown seeds to yield their crop, but just as rust destroys metal so sin destroys sinners. In the end, nothing of worth is left. This is the high price of continuing to do what you know is wrong. However, if you make it your practice to do what is right, you will reap eternal life. (Note: Galatians 6:7-8)

Not everyone who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ or considers themselves to be a born-again Christian will live forever with God. Only those who faithfully do what they know is right will live with Him forever.


        Many will say to Jesus on the judgment day, “Lord, how can you turn us away?  Check your notes! You will see that we prophesied in your name, we cast out demons in your name, we did miracles in your name, we taught Sunday School in your name, we witnessed to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers in your name, and we served as Deacons and Elders in your name.” Then Jesus will say to them, “I know you did wonderful things in my name, but at no time did I recognize you as belonging to me. You never repented of sin. You never took seriously your responsibility to become like Me in the knowledge and practical application of right and wrong. You have always acted as if sin was a good choice in spite knowing it was the wrong choice. You thought you knew more about what was best for you than I did. You only obeyed Me when you thought that what you got out of it was more than what you had to put into it. Therefore, I must banish you from God’s presence because all those years when you told yourself you were following me, you were really following your own selfish inclinations and fleshly desires. True, you turned away from certain sins, especially those you deemed heinous. But generally, you only forsook sin when it was convenient, or when it wasn’t too costly, or when it served some selfish purpose. In all your years you never turned away from selfishness. You never treated me as your Lord. You never stopped deliberately and repeatedly doing what you knew was wrong. The reality is, you never loved Me supremely or your neighbor as yourself.” This is the high price of continuing to do what you know is wrong. (Note: Matthew 7:21-23)

In Summary

Sin is any thought, attitude, choice, word, or deed, or any combination thereof, which results in unnecessary harm being done to anyone who is in any way adversely affected it. The opposite of sin is love, for love does no wrong to anyone. Therefore, love fulfills all the requirements of God. (Note: Romans 13:10)

Sin is an offense to God, not because He arbitrarily decided to hate sin, or because He likes to play the dictator whose followers must obey His every command – be it a capricious or necessary command. Sin is an offense to God because it needlessly and unjustly harms other people – people He loves. It is an offense because it damages and destroys mutual relationships of communion and companionship – the purpose for which God created us. Therefore, God says that if you know the right thing to do yet do what is wrong, you have sinned.

You are accountable to God for what you know to be right just as you hold others accountable to do what they know is right – especially when their wrong behavior adversely affects you.

The extent to which you criticize others reveals the extent to which you know right from wrong. Therefore, your criticism of others further clarifies the extent to which you are rightly held accountable to do what you know is right.

God has provided sufficient means for you to gain an accurate understanding of right and wrong. You bear the responsibility to make good use of these means so you can continue to improve and mature in your love for others.

Are you living according to the knowledge you have? Are you purposefully seeking to increase your knowledge of right and wrong so you can grow in godliness? Is there something you are doing that you know is wrong? Is there something you are not doing that you know you should be doing? Are you promoting and protecting mutual relationships of communion and companionship? Do you love God enough to say no to everything which harms Him and harms even one of those whom He loves?

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