5 Myths about Sin2
By Sam Storms
[This article was published at the Crossway blog on January 20, 2022]
The Nature of Sin
Sin is deceptive, both in its capacity to tempt us to follow its lead and in the way it confuses and clouds our thinking. It is the latter and sin’s many myths that I want to address in this article.
Myth #1: The sin of unbelief is not so serious as to warrant eternal condemnation.
What should we say when a person lives what appears to be a civil and faithful life but refuses to believe in Jesus? Many think that unbelief is an inconsequential sin, certainly not deserving of eternal judgment.
Yet Jesus himself says with unmistakable clarity: “unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Those who disregard unbelief as comparatively unimportant suffer from a profoundly warped sense of perspective. The question of why unbelief is so monumental is fueled, or undergirded, by what can only be described as a massively high view of human beings and an even more massively low view of God.
God is infinite in power, authority, goodness, glory, beauty, majesty, and honor. He is infinitely more worthy of praise and gratitude than all of humanity combined. He is immeasurably wonderful, splendid, and fabulous in every conceivable way and in countless ways that we can’t even begin to conceive. God is the supreme treasure in the universe. He is infinitely more worthy of our belief and trust and honor than anything and everything else that exists.
So, when someone says they don’t believe, they are saying, in effect: “God is of no value to me. God is useless. God is altogether of less worth than my car. God is less deserving of my praise than is my dog when he sits at my command.” Unbelief is a human being, a creature, saying that the Creator is tarnished and ugly and undeserving of my acknowledgement.
Unbelief is not some harmless state of mind. Unbelief is treasuring everything else in the universe more than the Creator of everything in the universe. Unbelief is the human being saying to the divine being, “You’re a liar. I don’t believe anything you say about yourself. I don’t think you are worthy of my devotion or worship. I don’t regard your immeasurable and limitless glory to be worth a moment of my time or energy. I regard my golf game on Sunday morning to be more enjoyable than spending time in church declaring your greatness. I prefer sex to you. I prefer coffee to you. I prefer money to you. I prefer vacations to you. I prefer my friends to you. I prefer the praise I receive from my peers to the praise that I might otherwise give you. You are nothing to me.”
Unbelief is the single most serious sin a person could ever possibly commit. It is more egregious, more offensive, more unrighteous, more wicked than all the adultery or theft or murder or abuse that one could ever commit (without in any way diminishing the sinfulness of these many acts). Unbelief is not simply a decision of your will on the same scale as which movie you will see this weekend or what sports team you will support or where you will spend your summer vacation. Unbelief is a human spitting in the face of the divine. It is a denial of who Christ is and what he came to do. It is a denunciation of the truth of what he says.
Don’t make light of unbelief. It is a God-belittling, soul-shrinking, self-exalting, hell-deserving rejection of the only one who is deserving of our unqualified acceptance.
Myth #2: Some sin is so grievous and heinous that I can never be delivered from the condemnation that I deserve.
This myth is what often keeps people paralyzed spiritually. They live in the daily fear that their sin is simply too severe, too frequent, too egregious that not even the God of grace and mercy can bring himself to forgive them. But Paul declares that for those who are “in Christ Jesus” there is now “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1).
To be condemned by God means that you are liable to endure and suffer the penal consequences of your sin. It means you are heading for hell unless you repent and turn to faith in Jesus. If to be justified is to stand boldly before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to be condemned is to stand guilty before God clothed in your own unrighteousness.
But if you are in Christ Jesus, there is no valid reason why you should ever again experience fear, apprehension, doubt, or suspicion about your relationship with God or your eternal destiny. That doesn't mean you won't experience such fear. It does mean there is no valid reason why you should. Will you at times find doubt and anxiety rising up in your heart that perhaps God is really against you rather than for you? Yes. But you shouldn’t! You don’t have to!
Myth #3: The most effective way of dissuading yourself and others from sinning is through fear and the threat of its horrible consequences.
Many people in the professing Christian world try to motivate and encourage others to turn from sin and to live a godly life by using fear tactics. They describe in vivid and often gory detail the horrid consequences of sin and immorality and idolatry. They threaten you with images of hell fire. They try to induce shame and self-loathing in your heart. Sometimes they will even hold forgiveness and salvation in front of you like the proverbial carrot on a stick, to be yours only if you avoid certain sins and perform deeds of kindness.
But that is not the strategy of the biblical authors. When Moses was tempted with the sensuality and riches of Egypt, he chose instead “to be mistreated with the people of God” rather than “enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). He did it by regarding “the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:26).
It was because of the superior pleasure and the transcendent wealth and the soul-satisfying joy of the reward that awaited those who followed Christ that Moses found strength to say no to the passing pleasures of sin. He conquered the allure of one pleasure with faith in the promise of a superior one. Sin is defeated when we trust in the immeasurably greater pleasure that comes from knowing and being known by God and resting satisfied in all that he is for us in Christ.
Myth #4: Speaking much of the grace of God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus will only encourage people to sin all the more.
Many think that Paul’s declaration in Romans 8:1 that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus will encourage people to sin. If we strongly emphasize that forgiveness is available, what keeps those who are in Christ from turning to immorality and licentiousness and sinful self-indulgence? Some may well use this truth as an excuse to defect to the other side or to rationalize sin. For others it creates such joy in our souls that our only thoughts are of how we can enjoy this God who has made salvation possible.
Living under condemnation actually strengthens and solidifies sin in your life. The pressure of condemnation, the feeling of shame, the fear of judgment, all eventually become unbearable. We despair of ever being free or feeling good about ourselves. Sinning then becomes even more attractive: an outlet, an appealing escape, a way of easing the pressure on our souls. We often sin because it anesthetizes the pain of depression and despair. The person who uses the truth of “no condemnation” to justify their sin should carefully examine whether or not they are truly in Christ Jesus.
There is little hope that you will make any progress in your battle with sin until such time as you know that in spite of your sin there is no condemnation for you. Someone once said that the only sin that can be defeated is the sin that has been forgiven. You and I will find the power and incentive to pursue obedience and a life of holiness only when we come to fully grasp what it means to say, No condemnation!
Myth #5: Anyone can be forgiven of their sin, regardless of their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many in our world have embraced this myth, to the eternal jeopardy of their souls. When Paul assures us that there is now no condemnation, he just as clearly restricts this to those who are “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
No condemnation is not a universal blessing; it is reserved for those who are in Christ through faith. We must be careful to resist the temptation of false sentimentality that beckons us to give false assurance to a non-Christian simply because they are “sincere,” “nice,” “religious,” or because they “believe in God.”
Clearly, Paul was not a universalist. He did not believe that everyone, regardless of what they think of Christ or regardless of their relationship with or response to Christ, is saved. The promise and assurance of “no condemnation” is only for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” And it is for all who are “in Christ Jesus.”
And when is this true? Now! Not when we get older or more mature. Not when we overcome all sinful habits. Not when we get past being hurt by others. Not when all our bills are paid. Not when we get a new job. Not when we learn more of the Bible. Not when people start treating us nicely and with respect. Not when we get the praise and public adulation we think we deserve. Not when our enemies stop persecuting us. Not when the wrongs against us have been put right. Not when we’ve been vindicated. Not when we stop making fools of ourselves in public. Now!
If you are in Christ Jesus by faith, God’s attitude toward you, his thoughts of you, and all his intentions toward you are driven by love, not anger or disappointment or frustration or wrath. When Paul says that there is no condemnation, he means for you to hear the positive side of that truth, namely, that instead of “condemnation” there is only commitment and compassion and forgiveness and heartfelt affection and mercy. It doesn’t matter if you are suffering through a bad or disastrous day, or a wonderfully successful and joyful day. God’s attitude is always and ever one in which there is “no condemnation”!
How would your daily existence be different if you truly understood and believed this? How would your marriage and your approach to your job and your co-workers be different? How would your battle with the temptation to sin be impacted if you truly understood and believed that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? How would your worship on a Sunday or on any day be affected by this truth? It’s a question worthy of an answer!