The Question: How do I recognize sin or evil? There seems to be many grey areas. Some ‘Christian’ groups say essentially anything that makes you happy or feel good is ‘sin’, while others say anything/everything is okay… Where is the line?
This is an excellent question, and one that’s very relevant to our culture and society and it’s important to know where you yourself stand in regards to this issue/question as it directly affects your relationship with God and is extremely important in how you live your life.
I think it goes without saying that someone genuinely trying to serve and follow God will do their best to not ‘sin’ and avoid ‘evil’. There are plenty of Biblical directions that tell us to do exactly that: Romans 2:13, 1 Peter 2:13-17, 1 John 2:4, John 15:10, Proverbs 8:13, 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:22, and Ezekiel 36:27 just to name a few.
However, what actually is sin and evil, and how to we differentiate them, how do we recognize and identify them so we can avoid them? Sure there are the good old ’10 Commandments’ that give some laws of things we are not to do such as murder, adultery, etc… But are those things even actually ‘evil’ or are they just ‘sin’ in the sense that they are things God doesn’t want us to do?
So lets start with ‘sin’. Sin is a scary word that gets thrown around fairly often in condemnation and guilt-tripping and to excuse other’s actions, and is often associated by people with restrictive laws and old religious codes that severely limit the amount of ‘fun’ a person can have. Now, if we look at what the Bible actually says, sin is going against God’s direction and commands, so essentially, I would equate sin with disobedience. In the same way a child may disobey their parent, sin is disobeying God.
Okay, so is disobedience then also ‘evil’? Is evil different from sin? Well I would say sin is an act of some kind, some sort of interaction or thing that takes place, whereas evil is an adjective, used to describe something ‘profoundly immoral and malevolent’ according to the dictionary, however I’d go further to say it’s the opposite of ‘good’, and that ‘good’ is God. So evil is the opposite of God.
Now, with that said, there are obvious correlations between sin and evil, because if God is good and tells us to not to do something or to do something, then we have to realize that what He is directing us to do is also good (because if God is good, it’s impossible for Him to do anything but good, which includes giving instruction and direction that are not good). So if God says, “Don’t do this.” or “Do this.” or “Avoid that.” etc, then it should be fairly obvious those things will/can lead to evil or are evil in some way even if it may not be apparent.
So, we have some basic direction as Christians easily found and referenced in the Bible that give us an idea of what God directs us to do and some things He directs us not to do, but there are those ‘grey areas’ that don’t seem very clear and a lot of distortion of God’s word by various people and sources that can easily ‘make’ certain things and activities seem ‘okay’ or ‘acceptable’ according to Biblical standards. How then do we discern those grey areas or things that other people claim are alright with God but perhaps are not?
First I think the most important thing we can do is take it to God in prayer and ask for His wisdom. The Bible clearly says that the Holy Spirit which God imparted to us will guide us into all truth and lead us (John 16:13, Romans 8:14, etc), so that should be our first source. Secondly we can take it to the Bible. There are no shortage of instructions and direction available in God’s word, but more than that there is a sense and a picture of God’s character, and if all else fails we can fall back on love.
If we are not loving others we are not following God, plain and simple. Now, in our society people equate love with tolerance and ‘acceptance’. I don’t believe that is correct nor is there any Biblical grounds to support that theory. ‘Loving’ someone doesn’t mean I condone their actions or accept their choices as ‘okay’ or ‘alright’.
If someone practicing homosexuality claims they are also a Christian and following God, I am NOT by any means showing them love by ‘accepting’ their choice, in fact I would say the opposite. If I, knowing they are doing something in their life that goes against God do NOT make it clear to them as a fellow Christian that what they are doing is wrong according to God, then I am in fact NOT showing them love. The Bible gives clear instructions on this as well in Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20, Luke 17:3, 1 Corinthians 5:12 and James 4:17 for example. Now, that doesn’t mean I approach them in public and rant and yell and demand that they ‘repent’ or anything ridiculous like that of course. We are called to approach and correct our brothers and sisters in love and gentleness and humility.
If I myself am doing something against God, as someone who wants to follow God I want to be immediately told by one of my brothers or sisters so I am aware of my fault and can work to rectify it, and I would expect them to do so because of their love for God and their love for me as a fellow Christian.
Now, were getting a bit off track here, so let me try and bring us back to the topic at hand. Recognizing sin and evil isn’t always simple, and the devil is insidious and clever and works tirelessly against us in an attempt to snare us and introduce sin into our lives. Prayer, study of God’s word and exercising our faith on a regular basis are our best defenses against evil and in developing our relationship and knowledge of God and therefore of what is good and what is evil. When in doubt, take it to God in prayer and search His word for the answers (maybe enlist the help of Google too!), and weigh it against love for others and love for God if all else fails.
Talking to fellow Christian’s and mentors is a great resource as well, and there are fountains of information and wisdom to be found in the members of God’s church. As with everything though, ensure you corroborate people’s words and ideas and directions with that of God’s, as we are all human and all make mistakes and can misunderstand or misinterpret things.