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Calling Sin by its Right Name

by Inge Anderson 1999, 2009


Conservative Adventists frequently issue reminders that we are "to call sin by its right name."

First of all, it seems to me, we need to define sin. We all recognize the classic definition that "sin is the transgression of the law." We need to consider which law is here meant, as only "the law" is mentioned. If we read further we discover that the beloved Apostle ties law-keeping to love, saying that "we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." He goes on to say that "this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ, and love one another" This is in keeping with Apostle Paul's conclusion "love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10)

For me, the best definition of the Law of God that has been from eternity is the one given by a godly little woman in these words: "In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven." (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 20)

Therefore I conclude that anything out of harmony with the principle of self-sacrificing love as demonstrated by Christ is sin.

Therefore it is sin to . . .

  • enjoy the bounties of life afforded by a well-paying profession while we neglect to relieve the sufferings of a poorer neighbor
  • view with disdain those not as educated or well-dressed as ourselves
  • cheat on our taxes, obligating others carry more of the burden that we were meant to carry
  • "pass by on the other side" while others are suffering from the 20th-Century equivalent of the leprosy of Bible times, more commonly known as AIDS
  •  profess to be a Christian while proclaiming in self-righteous indignation, "You are a sinner and must give up your sins before we will love you or accept you!" when someone is fighting a losing battle with sin and yearning for love and acceptance
  • give more careful attention to the well-paying patients than to the welfare patients who create a lot of headache in paper work
  • neglect to love the unlovely
  • pray long-winded prayers in order to be considered righteous
  • give large offerings in order to be seen by others as being benevolent
  • pretend love while in one's heart despising the other
  • overeat, as it harms the body temple and shortens the time one may of service to one's neighbor
  • overwork to earn more money to spend on self
  • destroy the good reputation of another
  • pay our employees as little as we can get away with
  • do as little work as we can get away with and still be paid
  • rejoice at the bad fortune of our enemy
  • be impatient with our children or our spouses
  • speak unkindly of another
  • brag about our superior abilities/possessions, etc.
  • be easily provoked
  • be arrogant
  • be discourteous
  • seek our own benefit at the expense of another
  • keep track of wrongs done to ourselves
  • complain (or even think) that our burdens are too heavy
  • doubt the sincerity of another's profession of faith

. . . and one could go on and on and on . . . (compare 1 Corinthians 13 with the list above)

"But," you may say, "you haven't yet mentioned the really bad sins!" And I would assume that you mean sexual sins -- though I'm not at all sure that God considers them worse than any of the sins listed above.

In order to call sexual sins by their right name, we must consider if we can understand what God's original intention for the gift of sex was. Since I don't have the space or inclination to write a book on the subject, let me say that it is my conviction that God invented sex for the purpose of providing an especially pleasurable bond between a man and a woman pledged to each other in life-long union with the intention of forming a family. Any sexual activity outside the parameters of demonstrating love to one's marriage partner is, by this definition, sin. And Jesus made clear that God considers the thoughts of the heart as important as the acts of body.

Therefore it is sin to . . .

  • lust after a woman not one's wife
  • fantasize about another woman while making love to one's wife
  • force sex upon one's spouse
  • tell sexually explicit jokes that denigrate God's design of sex
  • engage in the second-hand fantasies of illicit sex on screen
  • view porn in any form
  • read "romance" novels (which are second-hand fantasies)
  • demand any kind of sexual act that makes one's marriage partner uncomfortable
  • engage in sex in marriage without love
  • engage in any kind of sex outside the bonds of marriage as defined above

. . . and there's much more, I'm sure . . .

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. . .

And even when we are righteously ready to begin casting rocks, let us consider Paul's admonition, "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." (Romans 2:1) Paul here validates the psychological truth that we most harshly judge in another the very sins of which we are guilty ourselves -- though they may be in a different form. James's admonitions give further pause: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4:17) Have we insight into another's heart to judge what s/he knows? James further warns that "there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:12) Instead of judging our fellow travelers on life's journey, let us witness to them of the One "altogether lovely," the Lord of our life, so that they may be drawn to Him in whom only lies salvation. We can trust Him to lead them safely and deal patiently with their souls, giving them power to discard the sins that would keep them bound.

To close, I would like to quote from Sanctified Life, by Ellen White, p. 55:

     "There may be marked defects in the character of an individual, yet when he becomes a true disciple of Jesus, the power of divine grace makes him a new creature. Christ's love transforms, sanctifies him.
     "But when persons profess to be Christians, and their religion does not make them better men and better women in all the relations of life — living representatives of Christ in disposition and character — they are none of His."


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