Are All Sins Primarily Sins against God?
Some believers think all sins are primarily sins against God. A good example is a Stephen Witmer article that begins with that very statement:
All sin is primarily sin against God. Where sin is understood as merely a moral concept rather than mainly a religious one, where it is seen primarily as a person-to-person problem rather than as primarily ‘theocentric,’ motivation for fighting sin is decreased and confusion about the character of God is increased.
While I agree with some aspects of his article, I cannot agree with his primary assumption that ‘All sin is PRIMARILY sin against God.’ Nor can I agree that understanding sin as a person-to-person problem decreases motivation for fighting sin or increases confusion about the character of God.
Offenses against others and ourselves are offenses against the Father in this sense: the Father does not wish us to experience this pain and alienation; he does not want people to be hurt. But he cares equally for the offended and the offenders. And, absent offenses against others, all offense against the Father disappear.
What about the Character of God?
Those who connect the character of God to the problem of sin are on to something, but I am afraid they are the ones who have created confusion regarding his character.
A very common observation is that sin is an affront to the Father’s holiness. It is said that the smallest sin is an offense against God’s infinite holiness and has infinite significance. This is why eternal punishment in a burning hell is necessary—sin against God’s infinite holiness requires infinite punishment.
But this is not what Jesus tells us about the Father who instead demonstrates infinite love and seeks to resolve our suffering.
Some imagine the Father is easily offended and intolerant of disrespect or slights against his dignity, so that we have to be careful not to anger him. We know people with these overly sensitive characteristics and try to avoid them. They are petty, full of themselves, and can never be pleased.
It is difficult for me to see the Father in this way. He is not thin-skinned, insecure, or jealous; he is not egotistical. He understands our confusions and difficulties and seeks our personal dignity.
Have you ever known someone who must have their own way down to the last detail? Some see the Father as the dictator of a host of commands for us to obey, some of which seem quite arbitrary. We think disobedience against his rules drive God into a positive rage against us, but the Father is not malicious like this.
The Old Testament does have abundant rules, but these rules were for Israel. To whatever extent such rules were from the Father at all, most were about separating the Israelites from other nations and creating a theocratic society. They are not rules for general behavior.
We learn from the gospels that there are no arbitrary commands; there is only one rule and that is to love others as we love ourselves. We are told to love God as well, but our love for God is demonstrated primarily in how we treat ourselves and others.
What Does God Think of Sin?
The real connection of the Father’s character to our offenses is in his overwhelming love for us. The Father wants us to avoid offense against others for their good and for us to avoid offense against ourselves for our own good. If we coöperate with his love, the Father helps us achieve these two goals.
What Then is Our Motivation to Live Right?
Many ask the question: If there is no punishment in hell, then what is the motivation to not sin? Why not do whatever we want?
We can ask a similar question: If there is no sin against God, why not do whatever we want?
The Father’s work in us is not to reduce slights against him but to reduce suffering and alienation in us. We need to promote this healing, but the way to do it is not by railing against ‘sin’ but by growing as loving followers of Jesus. We will talk about this growing next time.