Q&A: Can it be a sin if the Bible does not say it is?

cloud-question-mark-original-370x229Yes...No? Something about either answer feels awkward. But it's a critical, if at times complicated, question with great significance for how one lives and engages the Bible for life. For example, a person can point out how the Bible does not address a particular topic specifically with the unstated conclusion being that because it was not explicitly stated, it is fine. Could that be?

How we interpret and apply the Bible is key. On one side, we can under apply...others we can over apply. Here are a few ideas to help realize the greatness of God's Word and engaging it well.

Living with the Bible as only a book of rules is different than as a book of life. When Peter came to a moment he asked "“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." The Bible is meant to be a place we learn about who God is and what life in His kingdom looks like. The theme of "life" is key as we know the Bible, in its entirety, points ultimately to Jesus Christ who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) As a book of life, not a list of "do's", it means that an absence of stating something, is not a permission to do something.

The Bible is sufficient but that does not mean exhaustive.  A key characteristic in systematic theology on the topic of Scripture is that it is "sufficient." It addresses all that we need for salvation and living a life of faith. A powerful description comes from 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." We find a clear sense of its authority and also how it has life implications. This represents the core of the "yes/no" tension described earlier. We want to say "yes" to the question under the sense of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture but the "no" comes in when we realize it is not to be read as a "list-of-everything" resource, such as a dictionary. For example, in the Jewish tradition, they tried to do this with the Mishnah, where they listed out, on just the commandment "Remember the Sabbath Day," 39 categories of forbidden labor...with numerous subdivisions under each category. The Bible is not written this way. So just because it is not listed, does not mean the Bible does not speak to the topic or offer direction on it.

Looking for the negative...forgetting the positive.  Oftentimes, when someone seeks to rationalize their sin, the Bible becomes a "listing" tool...which is not the dynamic, Spirit-empowered experience it is meant to have on impacting our life (Heb. 4:12). And, it's important to note, we all can fall into this approach. Yes, God has granted explicit notes on sin but often you are reading the application to specific people, in a specific time, dealing with specific issues. So does that mean those do not apply to us in our time? No, this reminds us there are specific applications for our times and lives. What it means is that those particular lists are not all there is. Truth does not change but the applications do as new issues come up. For example, one could argue the Bible does not speak to internet pornography but, when we only look for what it does not say, we miss the positive/virtue teaching on being holy (1 Peter 2:9) or having the marriage bed pure (Heb. 13:4).

Focusing on behavior only...rather than the heart. When our focus is to rationalize sin, we often move to a very behavioral approach, rather than grounded in heart. Jesus reminded that our outward sin is just an expression of our hearts. So, rather than just an adjustment to outward behavior, the Scriptures teach us to be transformed in heart by remaining/abiding in Christ (John 15:5) and the result is that we will live differently (Luke 6:45). That's tough. But whether it is thought or outward action, there is a pause to say "Is what I am doing/thinking, whatever it is, adding to the glory of God and looking like how His kingdom will look? Or is it moving away from that?" (1 Cor. 10:31).

Taking the part...and forgetting the whole.  This is where we lose the forest for the trees when in fact, we need both. As earlier noted, "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) so all of its counsel is important. The notes on sin and the notes on virtue. The verses (trees) but also the passages, chapters, and books of the Bible (forest). Being regularly in the Bible, the whole Bible, is key to our applying any one part well or knowing what it does or does not say to a topic.

Living for the minimum...not the maximum. When we live for what not to do, we miss the picture. It's like engaging the death without the resurrection and new life. It is not living as if Jesus came that "they may have life, life to the full." (John 10:10). The hard part is that our thoughts on having life to the full are not always God's. So it is essential that we approach the Scriptures with hearts seeking God...not trying to just see what we can or can't do.

Thankfully, in our sin, there is hope. The story of the Bible reminds that there is sin, brokenness, and fallenness that impacts all of us (Rom. 3:23). But that would be a sad story if that was all there is. It is a story that points to God's grace, His unearned favor toward us. And this grace is expressed in Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. Sent from heaven by a loving Father to die for your sins and mine, that we may find salvation and renewed life. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). That is good news! Remember that when temptation is high or sin captures you. When we fall, when we sin, there is opportunity to experience grace and a restoring with God through Jesus Christ: "If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

May your reading, study, and listening of the Bible, inspire you with the great hope we have in the gospel and in Jesus Christ in the midst of whatever your pain, sin, and trials!

4 Responses

  1. The verse this brings to my mind says something to the tune of 'if you know to do good and don't do it, that is a sin to you' so I guess I'd have to vote in the "yes" column.
    • Pastor Brian
      Great to hear from you Lana. As we think about such topics, it's a blessing how the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (John 14), bringing to mind other verses. Thanks for sharing this one.
  2. Very good post! The Bible is the book of life but not a how to book about life.
    • Pastor Brian
      That's a useful reflection, Nick. Christ is our life (John 14:6) and the Bible helps us find salvation in him. As I think you are sharing, just doing the behaviors of the Bible, like it's a manual, does not necessarily mean we are living under the grace of God in Christ.

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