Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
“Well, I believe that ____ is a sin because I am a Christian, but I just don’t feel I have a right to force my beliefs on others…
…I mean, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone…“
It sounds straightforward enough, right? And in our culture, one of the the worst things you can be accused of doing is “forcing” your beliefs on someone. Unfortunately, the underlying premise of this sort of statement is that sin doesn’t always hurt.
But that’s simply not true.
Sin always hurts. Sin hurts God, first and foremost. But sin also hurts us, because we are created to live in communion with God, and sin damages our ability to come into relationship with our Creator. Choosing to sin stems from passions that are out of order which, when not corrected, lead us to choose things that might seem appealing, but in reality are not good for us.
This is true of all sin and for all people–whether they are Christians or not. Lying is bad for the believer and the unbeliever alike. Unchastity hurts both the Christian and the agnostic. Sin is not good for us, no matter who we are.
But wait, there’s more! Sin doesn’t just hurt God and the one sinning, sin hurts everyone, because no one sins in a vacuum. Our choices always have an effect on those around us, for better or for worse. Lying is an affront to the dignity of whomever you’re lying to, because you’re effectively saying they aren’t worthy of the truth.
Even the sins we call “private,” these still affect our neighbors, because we carry the effects of our sins around with us, to everyone we meet. When I habitually choose to do things that are damaging to my soul, it absolutely affects me as a person, and so it absolutely affects my ability to engage in the kinds of healthy and constructive relationships that I am supposed to have with other people. When this happens on a large enough scale, everybody loses, because it facilitates a culture in which virtually no one is capable of true, virtuous friendship. So sin—even so-called “private sin”— creates a culture of selfishness. Sound familiar?
But here’s the real crux for those of us who say we are Christians. If we can pretend that it is possible to commit sin “without hurting anyone,” what we’re really saying is that Jesus or no Jesus–it doesn’t really make a difference. We’re effectively saying that sin is just some arbitrary, made-up construct, and our Savior has nothing real to offer the world.
Is that what we believe? Because it is certainly not what Christianity teaches.
If Jesus is real, then sin always hurts. And if Jesus is real, then sin is what He says it is. Meaning: We don’t get to decide that just because something Jesus calls sin doesn’t look like it is hurting our neighbors, that it is somehow not a sin in that case. Even when we are not fully culpable for our sinful actions–due to poor formation or whatever–those sins can still cause damage in our lives.
That’s the truth of the matter. If we say we are Christians, then we cannot ever hold that sin is harmless. Because Jesus isn’t a liar.
So what does this mean for our day-to-day lives? I think it means that we start, if we haven’t already, to pray that the Holy Spirit would “inspire us with the horror of sin.” Because I think that if we are striving to live our lives according to the Spirit of God, we would be horrified by sin–all sin. And if we’re not horrified by sin, then it means something is off in how we relate to God and to our neighbor, and needs to be made right.
So let’s ask that Jesus would “break our hearts for what breaks His.” Let’s ask that He show us how we are to really love Him and how we are to really love our neighbor. Not by pretending that sin is harmless, but by giving us the conviction that our Savior who died for our sin invites us—all of us— to freedom from sin.