What is a sin and what isn't a sin?

What is sin? Is this a sin? Is that a sin? Is it a sin if I do such-and-such?

In this thought-provoking episode of the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast, Wes and his guest, Jacob Rutledge, tackle the complex and often contentious topic of sin. They delve into the fundamental questions that many Christians grapple with: What truly constitutes sin? How do we define it in a way that aligns with biblical teachings? Is sin merely a matter of missing the mark, or does it go deeper, reflecting a rebellion against God’s authority? These questions are not merely academic exercises; they have profound implications for how we understand our relationship with God and our pursuit of holiness.

Drawing from the biblical wisdom found in 1 John and other key passages, Wes and Jacob explore the multifaceted nature of sin. They discuss how sin is not just a violation of God’s law but a rupture in our relationship with the Creator, a failure to live up to the glorious potential for which we were created. The conversation also touches on the collective and societal dimensions of sin, recognizing that our actions can have far-reaching consequences beyond our individual selves. Throughout the discussion, the emphasis is on understanding sin not merely as a set of rules to be followed but as a matter of the heart, a reflection of our willingness to submit to God’s will and embrace the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

Jacob Rutledge is the preaching minister at the Dripping Springs Church of Christ. With a deep passion for biblical teaching and a gift for engaging in thoughtful discussions, he brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to this podcast episode. Jacob’s commitment to exploring the nuances of sin and our relationship with God promises to shed light on this challenging topic.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

What is and what isn’t a sin? That can be a tricky question. On the one hand, sin might be a lot more broad and all‑encompassing than we sometimes think. But on the other hand, we have to be very careful when we accuse our brothers and sisters of sin, especially when they’re striving to live for the Lord. Today, I’m visiting with my friend, Jacob Rutledge, the preaching minister from the Dripping Springs Church of Christ, about this incredibly important topic of sin. 

But before we get to that conversation, I want to read from 1 John 3:4‑10. John says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the work of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

I hope that you’re encouraged by this conversation, and I pray that it helps all of us learn to love like Jesus.

WES: Jacob Rutledge, welcome back to the podcast, Brother.

JACOB: Good to be here, Wes. Good to be back here with you.

WES: In fact, welcome back a second time for the same day, because we were recording and you were saying some amazing stuff and then the internet cut out on us, so I know that you’ll be able to hit all those notes again. But this conversation that I want to have today is so, I think, incredibly important, but it’s one that I think people are always asking: What is sin? Particularly, you could leave a blank there, “Is this sin?” “Is that sin?” “Is blank sin?” So many things that, again, we could go down different rabbit trails and say, well, is this thing a sin or is that thing a sin, or how about this behavior; is that a sin? Especially things that the Bible doesn’t necessarily give us real clear, explicit guidelines on, and some people are worried, am I sinning if I do this or am I sinning if I do that? And we could probably talk about some of those things as examples, but just, real general, and starting off at least, let’s be real broad and just ‑‑ what is sin? Like how should we define it? Or maybe even like what images should come to our mind when we think about what sin is?

JACOB: Yeah, I think that’s a good question, and, also, this idea of ‑‑ you know, the Hebrews writer says, in Hebrews 12, that sin clings so closely to us, so it’s a very personal thing to us, and so that’s why, when we either get called out on our own sin or we’re reflecting on our sin, trying to be better, it seems so deeply personal and difficult, right? And we can maybe get into that, why it’s so personal to us, but at its most basic level, John says, in 1 John 3:4, that sin is lawlessness. So, in essence, sin is an unwillingness to submit to the law, and specifically within the context of scripture and for Christians and for John, in that context is the divine law, and it brings back with us the picture and the imagery of Eden, right, with Adam and Eve in the fall. God had given a prohibition when it came to eating of the fruit, and they partook of that and they passed that barrier. They went against his will and his desire for their life, and, at its essence, there’s this kind of self‑determination. That’s the temptation from the serpent, you know, “You will know what’s right and wrong.” And, ultimately, in some ways, sin is about this self‑determining aspect of us that wants to be the one that says, “No, this is right and this is wrong,” rather than trusting in what God has said is right and what God has said is wrong. 

There’s a multifaceted dimension to sin. I mean, we realize that sin isn’t just as basic as breaking God’s law. It’s more than that. I mean, we see that even within Eden itself. It’s about, you know, rupturing our relationship with God, barring entrance to eternal life, the generational consequences and relational consequences for Adam and Eve within their marriage and within their children. So there’s a whole dimension to sin, but at its most basic level, it’s kind of a rebellion of sorts, a resistance to submitting to a law which transcends me. And whenever I make myself the determining factor on how I’m going to live, apart from any transcendent law, there’s going to be immense consequences to that. And, you know, we see those consequences in our life, but, you know, we can’t go wrong when it comes to allowing scripture to define sin, and it says sin is lawlessness. And so, that’s what Jesus, of course, says to some on judgment day, unfortunately, is that they’ve done all of these wonderful works, but at the end of the day, he says, “Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,” Matthew 7:21. And so even the good things that we do can be done outside of God’s will, especially when it comes to when we’re trying to use them for self‑justification. You can try and justify yourself outside of what God has prescribed, so… 

WES: Yeah. Well, I love some of those terms that you’re using, “self‑determination,” “rebellion,” this “failure to submit,” and all of that ‑‑ I think “lawlessness,” that idea, it assumes ‑‑ it implies authority, that both as the creator and as the sovereign, the king, the ruler over humanity, God has a right to determine our steps, to tell us what is right and what is wrong, how to live, what to do, what not to do, and at the heart of sin is this idea that the created being, us, would look at our creator and say, “I don’t want to do what you want me to do. I want to determine my own steps. I want to go my own way.” 

This actually brings me to sort of my first reason I’ve been wrestling with this, I think, is because so many times when we try to define sin, someone will say it means to miss the mark, and from what I’ve studied in Hebrew, that seems to be very much what it is; it’s a missing the mark. But I think that picture ‑‑ and I’ve heard, you know, preachers sort of describe that in detail, you know, you’re trying really hard to shoot an arrow at a small, little target. There’s this little‑bitty bull’s eye and you try really hard, and your arrow, you know, hits just left of the mark or just right of the mark, and so you’ve sinned. And I see that and I understand what people are saying, but I wonder if, at the heart of that, we have in mind a very small bull’s eye. And I think that whether or not that illustration or definition for sin ‑‑ whether or not that’s helpful is determined by how big do you think the bull’s eye is? And I think sometimes we think that God has this minuscule, little bull’s eye for us, and he sets it out there and says, “Here, hit this; live this way,” and then, as hard as we try, we miss the mark. But that doesn’t seem to square with the idea of sin as rebellion, or failure to submit, or lawlessness. There’s a difference between being lawless and trying really hard and just being a little bit off of something that’s very difficult to hit anyway. So maybe how do we reconcile those ideas, or what do you think about that?

JACOB: Yeah, I get what you’re saying there. And the other issue I might have with that imagery ‑‑ although, like you said, I think there’s maybe some credence to that. I don’t want to shame preachers who have used that imagery. 

WES: Sure.

JACOB: But I do think that if we’re not careful in giving other metaphors to aid in complementing that metaphor, for example, it might make us think that one pet sin that we struggle with is the bull’s eye that we keep missing. And I was just talking to somebody about this yesterday, about how our view of sin is often ‑‑ when we’re viewing it personally, we often don’t necessarily think of ourselves as sinners as much as we do, “Well, I have a problem with this thing, this particular sin, and if I could just overcome this particular sin, then I would just be fine.” But, of course, the issue with that is that sin is far more expansive and far more influential on us than we even realize at times, and when we hyper‑focus on that one pet sin that we’re struggling with ‑‑ not to say that we shouldn’t be battling it ‑‑ but it can make us ‑‑ it creates a lack of self‑awareness of some of the other sins we’re probably struggling with and not spending as much time focusing on, and I think it can cause an immense amount of despair because if that’s the only sin you’re focusing on and you keep failing at it, you know, then you’re really going to fall into discouragement, whereas you might have actually been growing in sanctification in some other areas that you haven’t realized because you maybe haven’t been focused ‑‑ and I know they’re all tied together, that sin clings so closely. As we talked about earlier, it’s very personal to us. 

But I do think that maybe the falling‑short imagery can help when we think of it in the context of what Paul says in Romans 3:23, where he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What do we mean by “the glory of God”? What do we mean by that? Well, that’s a really expansive view of human nature in and of itself. Mankind was meant to be the image of God, the imago Dei, right? So that, of course, was part of the deception of sin, was that the serpent said, “Well, you will be like God.” Of course, the great irony is they’re already like God, and they’re meant to be more like God as time continues and as Earth continues, and so ‑‑ but they fell short of their potential, essentially. 

And so I think that if we view it from that perspective, what that makes us realize is like, from God’s perspective, sin is like a father looking at his son, his child, and knowing how much potential they have and what he has made them to be and what they could be, right? But he also sees what keeps us from getting there. And, you know, I was just reading Psalm 103 where he talks about, you know, that God is like a father who views his children with compassion and he knows our frame, you know, he knows that we are dust. And that doesn’t mean that God shrugs his shoulders at sin, but he sees the potential of humanity, and sin, to him, is a frustrating thing in the sense that it keeps humans from being who he made them to be, which is far greater than we often see ourselves.

And so maybe rather than only thinking of sin as missing the mark, maybe we should view sin more of ‑‑ this is something that is preventing me from being who I’m wanting to be and who God made me to be. And then, when you view it from that perspective, I think many Christians would think, well, I really do want to be that person and I’m really trying to be that person, and God, who’s a father, recognizes that struggle, you know, and he honors that struggle, and I think that glory aspect helps us maybe to complement that other image of missing the mark, if that makes sense.

WES: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s incredibly helpful. In fact, it reminds me of The Bible Project videos. I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but they had three Bible study ‑‑ word‑study videos on different words. They called it “Bad Words,” words relating to sin. One was “Sin,” one was “Iniquity,” and one was “Transgression.” And I thought they were really helpful at sort of fleshing those ideas out because we throw those words around as if they’re perfectly synonymous, but there’s some nuance and some difference there between “iniquity” and “transgression” and “sin.” And on the video on “sin,” they specifically said that sin is ‑‑ they talked about the missing‑the‑mark idea, but they also talked about the idea of failure, and I thought that was a really good way to kind of bridge those two ideas that you just talked about. It is a missing the mark, but it is a failure to miss the mark, and, particularly, it is a failure to live up to our created intention, what God created us to be. He created us to be his glory. He created us to be his images. He created us to rule and reign with him. He created us to be exalted creatures, and we’re sort of the pinnacle of the earthly creations, and we failed at that. And not only did Adam and Eve fail at that, but we have all continued to do likewise and fail in what we were supposed to be. 

And so, to me, that helps to frame it in a little bit more healthy way. In some ways, it makes a lot of things sin, that when I fail to be what I’m created to be in any area of my life, then that is sin. When I fail to be the kind of husband that I should be in Christ ‑‑ 

JACOB: Right.

WES: ‑‑ then that is sin. But it’s not this sort of ‑‑ I think the way you were talking about it before is really helpful, that we have this tendency to focus on single, individual little behaviors and get this myopic view of sin on these little things, as if I fixed that one thing and I stopped doing that one behavior, then I would be all right, then I would be good. And it’s like, well, but then you would be dealing with pride, and that’s also a sin. So we struggle with that, I think, and just this overall picture of God intended us to be a certain thing, a certain way, a certain being, and then we failed at that mission. And then Jesus, through his teaching, through his example, through his sacrifice, and, I would say, predominantly through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, has come to help us get that intention back on track to become what God created us to be so that we are no longer sinners and we are at least beginning to live up to our potential because of Jesus.

JACOB: Yeah. And even think about, for example, like the two different types of sins ‑‑ categories of sins. Like we generally turn to, like, sins of the flesh and sins of the spirit, right? So you have these sins of the spirit, like malice and bitterness and wrath and contempt and division and all of these things. Well, why are those sinful? You know, well, more often than not, when those ‑‑ for example, think of wrath. When James talks about wrath, he says the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. So in that context, for James, it’s not just about, oh, well, you know, you have a temper problem, but it is conveying something about God and his image that isn’t true, you know, and so you are preventing yourself from being what God intended you to be in that moment. And the same thing with malice. That’s why forgiveness is such a big virtue within Christianity, and malice and bitterness are such serious vices, because whenever I give in to that, I am seriously hampering the image of God within my life. 

And going even to the sins of the flesh ‑‑ for example, you think of when Paul does his incredible discourse on sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6 and he talks about the body wasn’t made for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and that when you become a Christian, you become one spirit with the Lord, and if you give your body over to a prostitute, you’re giving the Lord’s body over to a prostitute. Well, what’s his whole point in there? It’s not just focusing on, well, sexual immorality is bad, so don’t do this, you know, or it’s ‑‑ because I think maybe if somebody asks a Christian, well, sexual morality is a sin, but why is it a sin, you know, that’s kind of hard to answer, you know, because it’s like, well, why is it a sin? It’s a natural act. Sexual intercourse is a natural thing. Well, why is that? Well, for one reason, it’s because the body wasn’t intended to be simply a sex instrument, and whenever you’re sleeping around like that, you are prohibiting the glory of God that he intended for your body. 

And think about drunkenness ‑‑ the sin of drunkenness. Well, what’s the major problem with someone being drunk and ‑‑ being slovenly drunk, you know? I don’t know how else to describe it. Paul says ‑‑ in Ephesians 5:18, he says to guard against drunkenness for in that is debauchery, you know, because he says you attack ‑‑ you diminish, rather, the dignity of your humanity when you give yourself up to intemperance, and the image of God is then shrouded under this indignity that you have placed upon it. 

And I don’t think that’s meant to make us feel like more guilty than maybe some are feeling that are listening to this podcast, but I do think it helps us to see this more expansive view of sin and help us to realize that, at its most basic level, yes, it’s lawlessness, but that lawlessness is based upon the fact that we’re made in the image of God and he has such high hopes for us and these grand desires for who he made us to be, and Satan doesn’t want that image to shine through. You know, Satan doesn’t want people to see the glory of God because if they see the glory of God, what’s going to happen? They’re going to be drawn to it, right? They’re going to want that. And so he’s got to do everything he can to hinder that from being seen in the world.

WES: Yeah. Well, I think that’s so helpful, and I think it goes back to that idea of self‑determination, that we struggle with this idea of sin ‑‑ we just struggle with the idea of sin, in general, because we ‑‑ especially today and especially in our culture, we tend to be so individualistic, so autonomous, so self‑determining. We say, “It’s my body; it’s my choice,” and we say that in lots of different areas. And we have this general thinking that says if I want to do something and I’m not hurting myself or someone else, as far as I can tell, or even if I am hurting myself, as long as I’m not hurting someone else, what difference does it make? So if it’s two consenting adults or if it’s me doing something, what difference does it make? Why should you care about it? Why should the church care about it? Why should God care about it? Doesn’t God want us to be happy and to

pursue our own happiness? And so much of that is embedded in our culture that we feel like as long as I’m following my heart, doing what I feel is satisfying or will be fulfilling to me, as long as I’m not impinging on someone else’s rights or as long as I’m not harming someone else, then shouldn’t it be okay? 

But I think, going back to this idea of what were we created for, what were we created to do, even the idea of freedom ‑‑ we tend to think about “freedom from,” and Jesus actually gives us “freedom for.” It’s all about “for.” What were you created for? What were you given freedom for? It is so that you can be something that you will not be if you pursue your own desires in a way that is contrary to the will of God. And so it is ‑‑ it is part of us to be rebellious this way and to just pursue whatever it is that we think will bring us happiness. 

But it’s interesting to me how so many times that even people outside of the context of religion or outside of the context of, quote‑unquote, “sin” are realizing that sort of that self‑indulgent pursuit is not ‑‑ it’s not helping them flourish as human beings. There’s a book ‑‑ I think it’s called Rethinking Sex by Christine Emba, and she is looking at sexuality in America, not from a religious standpoint, but from a secular standpoint, and saying ‑‑ 

JACOB: A psychological one.

WES: Right, absolutely.  ‑‑ this idea of setting the bar at consent is not leading to human flourishing, and so just because two adults are consenting doesn’t mean that what they’re doing with and to one another is leading to them being what they were created to be, and so I think it’s so helpful to reframe sin in this way.

JACOB: Well, and along with that, like that idea of consent is ‑‑ because there’s this assumed reality that, you know ‑‑ and I know we’re not going to get too specific on certain things, but it’s just this assumed reality that that is the only thing that matters, whereas if I’m using someone for my own sexual pleasure without any desire to commit myself to them, without any desire to covenant myself to them ‑‑ which a sexual act is a covenant act because it gives oneself completely to the other and it requires the other person to give themselves completely to you. And so, in that, when you use someone for your own sexual pleasure, that is an indignity to them because they are more than just simply an object of sexual pleasure. 

And it reminds me of the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, which has always been so interesting to me, where Paul says, starting in verse 3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” Notice he’s talking about the body there ‑‑ not the spirit, the body. And, obviously, the spirit’s involved, but he’s talking about the vessel of the body. And then he says, verse 6, “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things,” and so he views sexual immorality as a transgression against another human being, not just you. But even if they’re enjoying it, I am doing something against them, an injustice to them when I am committing a sexual act with them outside the context of a faithful, committed relationship within marriage. And so injustice could cover a whole host of sins. 

And also with that, you know, talking about sin, we begin to think ‑‑ when we view sin from the perspective of, well, I have fallen short of the glory of God ‑‑ of course sin is ‑‑ you’re talking about the individualized aspect of it. Sin in the Bible is more than that. It’s not just “I have fallen short of the glory of God,” it’s “All have fallen short of the glory of God,” “We have fallen short of the glory of God.” And so then you begin thinking about the cultural dynamics of sin and social sins and, you know, these aspects of, okay, what part have I participated in these aspects of sin? What responsibility do I have in relationship to these sins? And even you begin to look at your past and your ancestors and, you know, like, there’s a ‑‑ my family has a history of sexual sin in the men in my family. Well, I mean, I’m a part of them, you know? I mean, I am not them on one hand. I’m my own individual. I’m held responsible for my own actions, but I also can’t act as if that doesn’t play a part in my own struggles, that doesn’t play a part in who I am. I think it would be naive of us just to say, well, just because I wasn’t individually participating in that doesn’t mean that I’m not in some way responsible for what’s going to happen moving forward. 

And, you know, I don’t know how much we might want to get into that or not, but I’m just saying that whenever we begin to view sin as not individual, but as individual and communal, I think it helps us to see that this is a common struggle of humanity but it also makes me aware of when I look at my life and I realize that sin is something that is in my fallen nature and I realize ‑‑ it’s like what Paul talks about. I’m teaching through Romans, and when Paul says in Romans 7:18, “I have the desire to do what’s right but not the ability to carry it out,” man, I feel that, bro. Like, you know, I feel that. You know, you get up in the morning ‑‑ just as kind of a silly example, but it’s an example I use with the church. I’m like, you get up in the morning and you decide, I’m going to eat healthier today. I’m going to do better, and two hours later, you’re eating a 12‑pack of donuts, you know? You desire to do what’s right, but you struggle, right? You struggle to do it. 

And whenever I look at my life and I think about how many times I have woken up on Monday morning and thought, I’m gonna do better today, and then when I go to bed at night, I think, I did a terrible job at being who I wanted to be today. I wasn’t the father I wanted to be. I wasn’t the husband I wanted to be. But I know, at the beginning of that day ‑‑ I know, in my heart of hearts, I know I wanted to be a better man, you know? And what I’m saying is, when I really had the humility to realize that in myself, that really should make me, number one, recognize the limitations of my own intentions, the limitations of my own strength; and, number two, it should make me immensely more compassionate towards other sinners because, you know, I might see them in the late afternoon and they’re being kind of a jerk, but that person might have woken up that day and thought, I’m not going to be a jerk today. I’m going to hold my tongue. I know that I’ve had a problem with my tongue, but I’m going to hold my tongue, you know? And I’m not saying that we’re not going to have frustrations and disagreements with people. I’m just saying that you might be seeing them at the end of a journey where they’ve been struggling for hours trying to be a better person. But Paul says, in our flesh, until the resurrection, we still have a fallenness that’s working against us, and that’s the shared human struggle. That’s why we’re called to have mercy and patience with each other. And I think that if you see someone who doesn’t have mercy and patience towards another sinner, then they’re probably living a pretty miserable life because that probably means they have a lot of, in my opinion, self‑hatred, as well.

WES: Yeah. And I think that illustrates, too, why we didn’t just need a new set of rules. It really bothers me the way that sometimes we talk about the New Testament, as if this is ‑‑ it’s just a second set of rules. You know, you had the Old Testament for the Jewish people and now you have the New Testament, which is just a new set of rules for the New Covenant people, and I think that’s completely the wrong way, on multiple levels, to think of it because we needed more. Not that that’s all that the Old Testament was, because it was so much more than that, as well. It wasn’t just a set of rules. It was a God who would walk with them, a God who wanted to dwell in their presence, and a God who was continually forgiving their sins through this sacrificial system that was set up. 

And in the new covenant, God is walking with us. We need more than just a set of rules. This isn’t just here are the steps; follow these and you’ll save yourself. It is you need a God who will dwell in you, which is Paul’s answer in Romans 8, you know, to the conundrum that he lays out in chapter 7 ‑‑ it’s through the Spirit. And so we need the victory of Jesus and we need the Holy Spirit in order to even begin this process of stepping away from sin and becoming who God created us to be. So I think reframing sin as a failure to live out our created purpose and then understanding that the solution to sin is not just obedience. It is obedience, but as you said, there is something warped, twisted, broken in us and in humanity. 

And I’m so glad you pointed out the collective nature of sin because, I mean, we could go down so many rabbit holes with that. You could look back at, you know, what was happening in the 1800s and 1700s with slavery. You could look at what was happening in the 1950s and ’60s with Jim Crow rules and laws. You could look at what’s happening now with human trafficking and slavery around the world. And if I knew how much these electronics on my desk contributed to the human slavery that’s happening around the world, what is my culpability in that? Am I sinning by using these devices that were only manufactured to support this system of consumerism and capitalism at all costs and the debasing of humans and the injustice that’s going on around the world? And you could say, well, Wes, you don’t have anything to do with that. But do I? 

JACOB: Well, think about the porn industry, right? Think about the porn industry and its connection to sex trafficking. That’s a great example of how many people think, well, I’m not hurting anyone. Like, I’m just doing my own thing; leave me alone. And it’s like human trafficking would hardly exist if it wasn’t for the porn industry at this point. I mean, there would still be some, but it is so interconnected and interwoven to where it’s not just you committing a sin, a sexual sin, but you’re committing ‑‑ you are contributing to an entire culture of the abuse of women, of the abuse of minors, and that’s where the far‑reaching consequences of sin are. 

You know, do you really think that Adam and Eve, when they partook of that fruit, that they were thinking, because of what I’m doing now, one of my sons will later kill another one of my sons? It’s really heartbreaking to me when I think about it because ‑‑ and this is why Jesus, on the cross, says, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do,” you know. And when I look at that, I’m like, what do you mean they don’t know what they’re doing? They know exactly what they’re doing. They know they’re killing an innocent man. They know that you’ve done miracles. You know, they know that all ‑‑ they know all these things, right? Yet he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And what is Jesus saying there? They don’t realize the consequences of their actions. They really don’t. 

And I wonder how often ‑‑ man, it’s just sad when, you know, maybe 20 years down the road we look back and think this is all due to that sin, you know? And God, as a Father and as our Creator, he’s like, I’m trying to ‑‑ you don’t see it right now. All you see me as is maybe like being oppressive and burdensome ‑‑ and that’s why I think John has to say, in 1 John 5, his commandments aren’t burdensome, right? Like because God’s saying, I’m not. I am trying to keep you from consequences that you can’t possibly comprehend. You cannot possibly know where this will lead, and it will absolutely break you if I let you keep going in this direction. 

And then, of course, the saddest judgment of all is like what Romans 1 says, is where God just finally does let them do it, right? That’s terrifying, that God is finally just like, okay, you know, if you want to keep going in that direction, I’ve got to respect your ‑‑ God respects our freedom more than we do, and we give ourselves into slavery. Sorry, I feel like I jumped in on you there, but…

WES: No, no, I appreciate all of those great thoughts. Let’s kind of shift to 1 John and let’s talk about just some of those ideas that he lays forth, but one of the verses that just came to my mind that I hadn’t even really been planning on talking about, but I think it goes along with what we’re saying, John says, in 1 John 2, he says, “I write these things to you so that you don’t sin.” “I write these things to you, little children, so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin,” if we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father.” 

So let’s talk about that for a second. It seems to me that, throughout the book of 1 John especially, he lays out this picture of sin as in this is something that God’s people don’t do. Like if you belong ‑‑ in fact, reading some of those passages in isolation will make you feel incredibly guilty and you’ll think, whoa, if you sin, you don’t have eternal life. If you sin, if you make a practice of sinning, then you are not a child of God. But then he says things like that, that says, listen, stop making a practice of sin, but if you do sin ‑‑ and I think that the implication is unintentionally, as you’re trying not to sin ‑‑ you have an advocate. So we are continually forgiven. We have this advocate with the Father. We have this continual ‑‑ as we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have this washing of our sins. 

So, I mean, let’s talk about that for a second. I don’t think that we will achieve this sort of moral perfection, but at the same time, I do think there is a way to live our lives where we can say “I am not a sinner. I am not making a practice of sin. I am living in holiness and righteousness,” but understanding that that doesn’t mean I am, individually or as a part of the collective I’m a part of ‑‑ that I am hitting on all cylinders and I’m hitting the mark every time, but it means that through the grace and mercy of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and through my intentional submission to the will of God, I am what I’m supposed to be by his grace. Does that make sense? Would you agree with that?

JACOB: Yeah, yeah, and I think that that ‑‑ like we never want to grow callous to our sin, right? We always want to have a tender receptivity to realizing the sin in our life. And I agree with you. I don’t think that ‑‑ I mean, that was an old, old heresy, this idea that you could kind of, you know, achieve perfection prior to the resurrection. But I think Paul’s whole point is, you know, this ‑‑ and he talks about this in Philippians 3, right, the striving towards maturity, and maybe that’s a good way to think of it, is a maturation of our spiritual growth, and that’s how the Bible talks a lot about it, as well, immaturity and maturity. We become more aware and, therefore, we become more culpable, more responsible, and we have to live accordingly. We can’t continue to act as if we’re new Christians who aren’t aware of these sins and aren’t aware of these deceptions. We have to respond to that. And then, at the end of the day, we do have to commit our spirit into the hands of God, right? I mean, that’s what Jesus does. He’s not ‑‑ of course he’s not a sinner, but I’m saying that in his obedience, in that moment of losing control, you know, he gives himself over to the Father, and I think that we give ourselves over to the grace of God. 

But the grace of God doesn’t make us ‑‑ if the Spirit of God is working in you ‑‑ and I think this is John’s whole point in 1 John ‑‑ you’re going to take sin seriously, you know? If you see someone who is just kind of rolling their eyes at sin and not treating holiness seriously and not treating their spiritual walk seriously, then the Spirit of God is obviously not working in that person, not actively so, and so they should, hopefully, be rebuked and brought to a fuller understanding of that because we love them and care for them. But if I’m ‑‑ you know, and I’ve thought about this before, like it’s funny to me because I read something once that said the more holy a person becomes, the more mindful they are of their sin, which is interesting. It almost would seem the opposite, right? Like the more holy you are, you know, the less mindful you are of your sin. But as you mature and grow, you become more and more progressively aware of, okay, well, I need to work in this area; this is another area. And honestly, the incredible thing is it might not even be an area that you were even aware of previously that you needed to work on. 

But I also think about, like, as a Christian, you know, why am I concerned about delighting God? Why am I concerned about submitting to God? Why am I concerned about ‑‑ I really do want to grow closer to God. I really do want to be a better man. I want to be a better Christian. You know, I wanted ‑‑ you know, there’s millions of people that wake up every day and they don’t care anything about that, you know? And so why do I care about that? Well, I can’t help but think that that’s because the Spirit of God’s working in me, you know? He’s wanting to produce that fruit in me, and he pushes me like a trainer, like a spiritual trainer, you know, even when I’m lazy and not wanting to get going. Now, I don’t think that he forces me to do that. I think it’s a participation, it’s a partnership where I have to submit to that. But at the end of the day, you know, I think the very ‑‑ I know this is going to sound odd, and you can feel free to disagree with me on this, but I think the very idea that you are concerned about your sin should be a comfort, if that makes any sense. I don’t know if that makes sense, but, to me, if you are concerned about your sin, God’s doing something there. Like he’s waking you up, you know? He’s opening your eyes. He’s pushing you. He’s prodding you. Something’s going on there, otherwise you really wouldn’t care that much, you know? You’d just live your life in the passion of sin like all the rest of Gentiles do. 

But that kind of brings up that passage in 1 John 4 where he talks about that seed, you know, being placed into the child of God, and he says he does not keep on sinning because God protects him and the evil one doesn’t touch him. Well, you know, there’s a lot there that we probably don’t know all that he’s talking about, but at the end of the day, I think what he is saying is that you’re going to continue to see ‑‑ when the seed of the Word is truly implanted in somebody’s heart, you’re going to see a change and they’re going to keep going and God’s going to watch over them. He’s going to keep them. He’s going to protect them. Man, that’s an immense comfort to me. So I guess if we could maybe offer some comfort, like if you’re sitting here and you’re worried and you’re even listening to this podcast, you know, obviously, you’re concerned about something, otherwise you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast, and so maybe that can be an insight to you. You know, God loves you and he’s trying to wake you up. He’s obviously pricking your conscience and wanting you to follow him and continue in that. You know, keep fighting. You know, don’t give up the fight when it comes to sin. I think that’s the Hebrews writer’s point, but ‑‑ sorry, I feel like I’m rambling now, but…

WES: No, no, no. I think this is good stuff. And you mentioned 1 John 4. I also think about what he says there about ‑‑ that we obey not out of a sense of fear, because perfect love has cast out fear. Fear has to do with judgment, and for those of us that are born again by the water and the spirit, for those of us that belong to him, that are his children, that are walking in love and walking in the light, we don’t have to fear the judgment of God. And I think that goes back to what you said earlier about why should I care about my sin? Well, it’s because I want to do better. I want to please him, but it’s not because I’m afraid of his judgment anymore. I’ve grown beyond that. You know, now that I am in Christ ‑‑ and I think that this also plays into Paul’s idea of the core of the gospel, this justification by faith, that when we put our faith in Jesus ‑‑ and by faith, it’s so much more than just believing in him. It is this allegiance to him, this loyalty to him, this becoming his follower, his disciple, that when we are a loyal follower of Jesus, God counts that as righteousness. God counts even our imperfect loyalty to him as righteousness, the same as he did with Abraham. He counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness. And so here was a man who was imperfect, who failed at being human, but God considered him righteous based on his faith. 

And Paul uses that idea to say, in Christ, everyone who puts their faith in Jesus and becomes his loyal disciple dies to their sinful self, is buried in baptism, raised to this new life. Yes, we will continue to be imperfect, but we are, in Christ, righteous, and that should be incredibly exciting to us. Not that we don’t care about making mistakes because, as you said, the more sanctified we are, the holier we are, the more we are concerned when we’re not living out and living up to the gospel standard. But there’s also a reassurance that whatever we do out of loyalty to King Jesus and in submission to his will, God looks at us and sees us. I don’t like when we say God sees Jesus when he looks at us. I think God sees us, but he sees a righteous us because of his grace and mercy and because of what Jesus did for us. So he looks at Jacob and sees righteous Jacob and righteous Wes, not because of our own ‑‑ not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done, and this is the justification by faith and the righteousness that comes by faith, I believe, that is so integral to Paul’s argument that it’s not based on works of the law and it’s not even based on my own goodness, but on his, and that can give us an incredible assurance, that as we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of his son continues to cleanse us from all sin.

JACOB: Yeah. And I think that both of those elements of the fear of God and the love of God, they work in varying aspects depending upon where we are within our Christian walk, you know, because you have passages where Paul talks about perfecting holiness and the fear of God, you know, 2 Corinthians 7:2. And I think that the scripture reminds us of that because it’s so concerned ‑‑ I think the Hebrews writer is the one I keep thinking of ‑‑ with this kind of drifting, kind of casualness of taking ‑‑ and he’s like, again, if you don’t take this seriously, you’re going to fall back into it, and there’s consequences for that, right? And sometimes, you know, if we’ve drifted back into that, of not taking our soul seriously and not taking our salvation seriously, sometimes the only thing that wakes us up is the severity of God, you know, the Romans 11:22. So there’s that part of it. 

I think it’s a ‑‑ the fear of God’s kind of a ‑‑ if I can put it this way, kind of a guardrail to be like, you know, there’s some dangerous stuff on this side. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But as we ‑‑ going back to what you were saying, as we mature ‑‑ and that’s why I think he says “perfect” love, right? I think that’s how he puts it, “Perfect love casts out fear.” That doesn’t mean that our love of God is perfect. You know, God’s love of us is perfect, but our love of God, of course, is imperfect. But rather, as love is being perfected in us, I do ‑‑ you know, I think all of us who have been Christians for a while and have really striven for holiness, you do find yourself just adoring God and loving God, and, man, that’s a whole new area of sanctification. When you get into that area of, I genuinely don’t want to do this because I have just ‑‑ you know, I have felt so close to God lately, I don’t want to lose that feeling, you know? I know faith is more than feelings, but what I’m just saying is that you do have moments where that ‑‑ you know, God seems more perceptible, you know, tangible, you know? That’s what I think James means, personally, when he says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” God will allow his presence to become more real to you, more perceptive to you as you grow in holiness. That’s the reward of holiness, that the eyes of your heart are enlightened and you begin to see him throughout areas of your life, and it’s exciting. 

And once you have a taste of that ‑‑ you know, like Peter says, if you’ve truly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, you know, 1 Peter 2:3, you don’t want sin to come in and mess with that, you know? It’s like whenever maybe you’ve had some struggles in your marriage, and then all of a sudden things are going really well with you and your wife ‑‑ I mean, you’re communicating well, your intimacy is good, you know, and then maybe one day you’re kind of tired and you’re tempted to go back into those old habits, but what keeps you from doing that isn’t, well, I’m afraid my wife’s going to leave me, but things are so good, I don’t want to do anything to mess that up and I’m going to sacrifice myself. I’m going to give myself up because yes, it’s going to cost me something to bite my tongue right now and not give in to that back‑and‑forth, but the reward is far greater. And so scripture uses marriage often as a way of helping us to see our covenant relationship with God, and sometimes when we’re talking about sin and obedience and sanctification, it’s helpful to look back to marriage, as well, I think.

WES: Yeah. And I think that’s such a helpful way to put it, because not only is it found throughout scripture, but we also understand that there are things that a person could do in their marriage that could absolutely end the marriage, but a mature relationship is not based on a fear that our spouse is going to leave us. It’s based on a fear ‑‑ if you want to use that word ‑‑ a fear of disappointment, a fear of harming the relationship, a fear of not being as close as you could be, a fear of it not being as great as it could be. So I think you’re exactly right, that mature faithfulness ‑‑ it maintains a right and mature fear of God, for sure, but not a fear of judgment. And so I’m not afraid that God is going to kick me out of his family. I’m not afraid that God is going to condemn me as long as I’m walking in trust and obedience and love for him and faithfulness to him. 

I think when we start asking questions like, well, am I going to be lost if I do this? Am I going to hell if I do that? Well, man, that’s just not a healthy relationship any more than it would be with a marriage. If you said, well, will you divorce me if I do this? Well, if you won’t divorce me for doing this, then it’s not a big deal, it’s not a, quote‑unquote, “divorce issue” or, quote‑unquote, “salvation issue.” If it’s not a salvation issue, who cares? Well, wait. That’s not how we determine what is or isn’t good or righteous or healthy behavior just based on whether or not this is going to end the relationship.

JACOB: Yeah. And ironically ‑‑ and I know we’re coming up on our time boundary here, but ironically, Paul says that part of ‑‑ or John says that part of walking in the light is a willingness to confess and a willingness to be open with the fact that you are a sinner. That’s what always struck me whenever people were talking about walking in the light. And I’m like, yes, but he says in 1 John 1:8, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So the very people who act as if they don’t sin, the very people who act as if they are above sin, that they’ve got it all together, they’re probably not walking in the light because John says that part of walking in the light is this transparency that recognizes sinfulness, and so this openness and this willingness to recognize my faults and to depend upon the grace of God. And it’s just one of those things where that is the greatest cost of sin, of course, is our relationship with God. 

And, you know, if you’ve ever had sin come into a personal relationship, you know how much it can rupture and disfigure that relationship, and it takes work to draw closer sometimes, even though you’re still ‑‑ you know, you and your wife get in a huge fight. I know you and Hollie don’t ever get in fights, but, you know, you and your wife get in a fight and, you know, that’s ruptured the relationship for a while, but you’re still in covenant together, right? But it’s going to take some work to grow closer, you know, and of course that’s where repentance and change ‑‑ and so maybe if we think of it this way, you know, sin is a rebellion, but in order to overcome ‑‑ you were talking about it earlier, it’s not just about commands that help us to overcome sin, right? So if sin is a rebellion, what we really need is regeneration. And that’s what Paul says happens in Titus 3:5, this washing and renewal and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and so we’re given a new nature in Christ. We’re new creatures by the power of the Spirit, and God’s working in us and with us and through us to bring about this sanctification to where we become more and more like him and we reach that glory once again, which will ultimately be culminated within the resurrection, the redemption of our bodies. You know I had to bring it back around to the resurrection.

WES: Yeah. Yeah, no doubt, Brother, no doubt. And I think ‑‑ until then, I think we’re given really clear guidelines about what is and what isn’t sin. I think ‑‑ you know, go read Galatians 5 on the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says it’s pretty obvious what behaviors belong to the works of the flesh and what behaviors belong to the fruit of the Spirit, and so you can look at your decisions and look at your life and say, Is this loving? Is it joyful? Is it peaceful? Is it patient? Is it kind? And we say, well, you know, there’s some ambiguity there and there’s some openness there, like what Jacob thinks this might be the most loving thing to do and what Wes thinks this might be the most loving thing to do. Is there going to be some disagreement? Sure. That’s going to happen, and I think Paul talks about that in Romans 14, and he says, you know, Jacob, you’ve got to live and act by faith, and, Wes, you’ve got to live and act by faith, and he says whatever is not of faith, whatever is not borne out of your loyalty to King Jesus, then it’s sin. And it may be a sin for you and not necessarily for Jacob because Jacob is acting in faith. He’s walking in faith, but you’re doing this out of selfish motivation, Wes. You’re doing this for your own glory. You’re doing this for ‑‑ you know, to save face. You’re doing this to be self‑determining and, therefore, it’s not by faith, and if it’s not by faith, it’s sin. And so we’re given these, I think, broad categories at times to examine our behavior and to know, is this really the best thing to do, the right thing to do?  

JACOB: Yeah. And faith in like Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, you know, that means something a little bit different than, like, saving faith. It really has to do with personal conscience in relationship to God, and conscience does play a part. Something can not technically be a sin but become a sin for the person who emboldens someone to do something they shouldn’t be doing and for the person who gives in to that and they feel guilty. Like he talks about, don’t abuse your conscience, you know? There might not be any scripture that says this is not sin, but it can become a sin for you. Why is that? Why is that? Because God has made you to be a discerning moral agent, and if you are going against your conscience, you’re going against one of the most fundamental laws that God has put into human society. And so, you know, I think that that’s important to just recognize. 

I do think, in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, some people go, well, if it’s not of faith, it’s sin, and therefore, if it’s not in the Word of God ‑‑ you know, but he’s not really talking about that. He’s talking about the conscience, right, in relationship to the Word of God, in relationship to Christ, in relationship to the Spirit. But how your conscience relates to ‑‑ there is some subjectivity in those things that aren’t as clear, aren’t as laid out, aren’t as specified. We’ve got to be patient with each other. The ultimate purpose that Paul says in those moments is ‑‑ the whole point of that argument is Romans 15:7, learn to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you. 

WES: Yeah, and that’s the beauty of it, that when you’re doing that, when we’re doing all the things we’re talking about, when you’re walking in humility, when you’re walking in faith, when you’re walking in the light, when you’re loving your neighbor, when you’re bearing one another’s burdens, Paul would say, if you bear one another’s burdens, you have fulfilled the law of Christ. And so that’s the beauty of it, that we know ‑‑ we know what behavior, for the most part, is good, just, righteous behavior, and so we can live life in a way that is obedient to God, but there is going to be matters of opinion. And you do have to listen to what you believe ‑‑ your conscience, what you believe is the most loyal, faithful thing to do in this situation, being faithful to Jesus and to the gospel to which you’ve been called, and be gracious with one another and understand that we won’t always see that eye to eye perfectly, but if we’re all striving toward this kind of a goal, then there’s going to be so much harmony and healthy flourishing as human beings within the church, and this is, I think, what it looks like to walk by the Spirit.

JACOB: Yes, and honoring those convictions. I think that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past, where even if someone feels like something maybe that I’m doing in my liberty is wrong, there’s a part of me that kind of feels kind of justified in condemning them and acting as if they’re ignorant and, you know, kind of putting them down and acting as if, well, they’re not as knowledgeable as me about this. You know, that’s the very thing Paul’s condemning in 1 Corinthians 8, right? I need to have enough respect for that person’s dignity to ‑‑ you know what? They’re just operating from their conscience and they might not feel comfortable doing that. They might not even feel comfortable being around me, you know, because they feel maybe that’s a violation, and I have to respect that. I have to honor that because, you know, they’re not answering to Jacob on judgment day; they’re answering to the Lord. 

And so I think that we have to respect people’s convictions and love them even when it hurts, you know, even when it creates separation that we wish wasn’t there. And to the best of our ability, we’re telling them, listen, I’m just operating out of my principles and my convictions, but I also respect the fact that you might feel differently. And that mutual respect in those situations, I think, plants the seeds for further hope of unity in the future, and that’s a whole ‘nother subject, maybe, when sin begins to impact our fellowship and when it begins to impact our communion together. But that goes back to how the consequences of sin and how we view sin can be greater than we even anticipate, unfortunately.

WES: Yeah. There’s so many rabbit trails I want to go down with you because that ‑‑ I mean, it just brings up so many other things. I mean, even the 1 Corinthians idea, it was reminding me about ‑‑ earlier we were talking about the collective, societal, cultural impacts of sin and trying to live lives that are faithful to Jesus in the midst of those, and you think about how difficult it would have been in the first‑century world, particularly in a place like Corinth or a place like Rome, to live out your convictions, live out your allegiance to Jesus, live out your faith in the midst of a society where you can’t go to the, quote‑unquote, “grocery store,” the marketplace, and buy meat without the chance that maybe this was offered to an idol, and what about these coins that have the emperor’s image on them, and all of these questions. And Paul recognizes that you’re going to come to different conclusions about a lot of these kinds of things, the Jewish laws, and which holidays do we keep celebrating, or do we not celebrate any of those, and what if I go to this meal, and what if I eat that? And you’re going to have different conclusions about some of those things, and that continues to be true. 

Your neighbor ‑‑ or your brother and sister, more particularly ‑‑ your brother and sister in Christ is going to be working a job that you’re thinking, how can you do that job if you’re a Jesus follower? Or how can you wear those clothes if you’re a Jesus follower? How can you do this if you’re a Jesus follower? And they’re looking at you saying, no, how can you do that if you’re a Jesus follower? And all of this makes it very difficult, but Paul, over and over again, comes back to these fundamental things about love and unity and respecting one another’s differences of opinion and welcoming one another and be gracious to one another, and then, all the while, all of us striving to live lives of holiness and righteousness.

JACOB: Yes. Yeah, amen.

WES: Well, Jacob, thank you for this conversation. This has been really rich. I think we could have done another two or three hours on this, but thank you.

JACOB: Well, hey, I appreciate the opportunity to come on. And I thought it was funny, I think, at one point, either the first recording or the second recording, you said, well, this is going to be a fun discussion. I was like, it’s always fun to talk about sin. But it’s always a pleasure.

WES: Well, thank you, Brother. I appreciate it. I hope you have a great day.

JACOB: All right. You too. God bless.

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