When is Sin Sin?
Have you ever said, “Well, I’m not perfect, but at least I never did that!”?
Many of us have a high opinion of our general “niceness.” We’re good people, aren’t we? Not like that person who did that! And the “that” could be: murdering someone, being unfaithful to your spouse, or any number of actions we would all agree are sin.
But hold on, before we pat ourselves on the back so vigorously we’ll need physical therapy, let’s think about what the Bible calls “sin” and ask, at what point does an action become sin? And for that matter, maybe we should also ask, where does sin come from?
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Or consider how He also said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
Jesus apparently defines sin as something more pervasive than actions that are committed. But that brings up the second question: where does sin come from? Jesus answered this one, too: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19)
Spurgeon said, “’Murders’ begin not with the dagger, but with the malice of the soul. ‘Adulteries and fornications’ are first gloated over in the heart before they are enacted by the body. The heart is the cage from whence these unclean birds fly north.”
So sin is birthed in our hearts and then is fleshed out in our actions.
But what about the complaint that the anger or lust in your hearts doesn’t actually hurt anyone. The person you’re angry with doesn’t end up dead. And while lust in your heart is nothing to be proud of, you haven’t actually committed adultery, right?
But Jesus is looking at the corrupting influence sin has on the individual sinner. He has a far stricter view of our sin than we do. The fleshly impulses that don’t become murder or adultery still sully the one who has them. With enough time and opportunity, any of us is capable of atrocities we are proud not to have committed, as if we are so much better than that.
So sin is sin long before we see it exposed in the divorce court or grand jury. We have no room to be proud. The truth is that our Jesus died for our heart-sins just as much as He did the ones that made headlines.