Is There Sin?

In Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the apostle John quotes the Roman governor, “What is truth?”  Though uttered nearly two thousand years ago Pilate’s question resonates in contemporary Western culture.   Previous generations considered truth absolute:  “true for all people in all places for all times.”[1]  Absolute truth is objective which means it stands apart from individual opinion or experience.  However, contemporary culture believes truth is relative or subjective.  The individual is empowered to define right and wrong as they see fit without any external influences such as the Bible.  A culture that embraces relative truth leaves its participants asking, “What is truth?” Though dismissing absolute truth is enticing it is not easily done.  Regardless of one’s theological or philosophical persuasion most people agree that there is one universal principle:  do to others as you would have them do to you.  A careful survey of civilization from its earliest moments to the present day finds this thread woven throughout the fabric of human history.  No matter the person, place, society, culture, religion, or irreligion, humans have generally agreed that if I want to be treated well, I should treat others well.  To believers of the Bible this is the golden rule.[2]  Atheists call it altruism.  Since it occurs in numerous and varied moral or religious systems one must acknowledge that not all truth is relative.

If there is an accepted standard which measures all people in all places for all times then there must be right and wrong.  Consider the case of a sane man gunning down innocent department store shoppers with an automatic weapon.  For the sake of intellectual honesty a person who wholeheartedly embraces relative truth would be driven to conclude, “Well, that was right for him, but it would not be right for me.”  Is that a reasonable conclusion?  The gunman’s actions clearly violate “do to others as you would have them do to you,” a principle considered true by people of various moral persuasions.  We know intuitively that the gunman was wrong to massacre innocent bystanders.

The Bible agrees that the golden rule is an absolute standard which guides a genuine believer in God.[3]  Jesus taught, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”[4]  The Lord goes on to say, “for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”[5]  In other words the Old Testament can be summarized by or reduced to the golden rule.  However, Jesus taught that there is one command greater than the love of one’s neighbor, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Like the golden rule, loving God first is an absolute truth, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [6]  Divine law flows from the love of God and the love of one’s fellow man.

The hypothetical gunman reminds us that when we agree on an absolute standard there is a definite right and wrong.  Like the love for one’s fellow man, one’s love for God establishes a benchmark for our conduct.   Jesus demonstrated His complete love for God by obeying His Father’s will: “that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.”[7]   Jesus expects the same of us, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”[8]  To love God means to unreservedly submit ourselves to His will.  God’s will for humanity is based on His nature.  God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.[9]  He is separated from evil, free from darkness, He is righteous or holy.  Because God is holy He expects man to pursue holiness.[10]  To aid man’s pursuit God has identified certain kinds of thoughts or conduct that are incongruent with His righteousness.  The Bible calls these things sin.  Since God cannot be associated with sin He commands humanity to practice righteousness.[11]  We demonstrate our love for Him when we do so.

Like Pilate, today’s world confronts Jesus with the same question, “You say You are ‘the truth’ but what is truth?”  Truth is absolute, objective.  It stands apart from our personal opinions or experiences.  Truth is ultimately found in loving God and loving one’s fellow man.  When these two truths are acknowledged and embraced they define right and wrong.

[1] Phil Sanders, Adrift, p. 57

[2] Matthew 7:12

[3] John 13:35, 1984 NIV

[4] Ibid, NASB

[5] Ibid, 1984 NIV

[6] Matthew 22:37-38, 1984 NIV

[7] John 14:31, NASB

[8] John 14:15, NASB

[9] 1 John 1:5

[10] 1 Peter 1:16

[11] Isaiah 59:2, Acts 17:30

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