What Are Sins Against God?

Much of what we call sin is really offenses against other people. But what about sins or offenses against God? What are those all about? Are they similar to offenses against people?

Sins against God

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.

Infinite Holiness

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.

Easily Insulted

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.

Authoritarian

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.

Image via The Quote Factory
Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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25 Responses to What Are Sins Against God?

  1. Pingback: Original Sin or Something Else? | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. Rocío Velarde says:

    Great post. It makes a point on God not being ofended easily and comprehensive with our human nature. Instead of condemning us to Hell and makes us “behave” to avoid it, it encourages people to follow God’s law to make our eathly life the best it could be.

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  3. I do not believe that we can do anything to God to injure him, except for be separate from Him and His Will… he yearns for us to join Him in Spirit. Sin is when we choose our way over His. Sin is when we try to subsitute something (or someone) in place of Him. I believe Tim you are right that the reason to not choose sin is because sin is suffering and separation from God. Perhaps we may be intoxicated by sin’s affect in the short term, however in time when the buzz wears off (and it always will) we will experience the consequences of our actions. It may not seem fair, but God will quickly forgive us (and others) if we but sincerly turn to Him… the pain our sins created punishment enough.

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  4. michaeleeast says:

    “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Jonah 4:2 (NRSV)
    This reflects Exodus 34:6,7 – God reveals himself to Moses (without the punishment).
    This is the nature of God.
    You are right that He wishes our suffering to end.
    All His efforts are directed to this end.
    Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

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  5. sheila0405 says:

    So, just how do we reconcile the often angry God of the OT with the person of Jesus, who is the exact image of God? It’s almost as if there are two different Gods in the Bible.

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  6. You raise a very good question Sheila.

    I believe the Old Testament writers wrote about God the way they understood him, but their understanding was far from complete, and they were sometimes way off-base. They interpreted the calamities that fell on them or their neighboring countries as acts of God (literally). They also saw God as their military champion against their enemies. I think they were mistaken in both cases.

    I do not think the picture of an angry, violent God is correct. Jesus is the one who shows us what God is like, and the ancient OT writers did not have access to the things Jesus knew and shared with us about the Father.

    You might be interested in a post I wrote on this very subject:

    https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/angry-violent-old-testament-god/

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  7. If we define sins in human terms as the wounding or offending of someone then it can be hard to see how we could sin against God since one could argue that He cannot be injured by anything we do. However, John defined sin as lawlessness. It is as those in Jesus’ parable who said of the owner of the Vineyard, “We will not have this man rule over us.” When we use this definition of sin then we sin against God when we choose our own way as apposed to God’s way. We sin when we are “like sheep, each going after his own way.” However, when we choose God’s way then we will not sin against God or man. The key is yielding to the way of God and embracing the nature of God in our lives. You are correct in this, that the key to stopping sin is not an effort to stop sin but a commitment to doing what is right. The law focuses us on our sins while Jesus focuses on our freedom and our new life in Him, a life that is created in holiness and righteousness. If we make it our aim to live His way then sin will become a byword in our lives.

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    • Sorry I forgot to click to be notified of a response by e-mail. David

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    • David, you said so many good things here!

      I think you are right about our refusing the Father and going our own way. This IS an offense–an offense against our self in that it is self-destructive. Rebellion against the Father is NOT good for us.

      I do believe, though, that we will have opportunity in our life, or afterward, to re-evaluate our attitude in light of a more clear understanding and a healthy mind. If we continue to reject the Father, he will honor our wishes and allow us to separate from him–and probably to cease existence.

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  8. I have a problem with your insinuation that there is no hell. That may fly in this day & age.
    with the unchurched & flower children.. but it is not biblical.. & bible scholars dismiss this at once.
    Christ said He did not come to abolish the law but to FULLFILL IT !
    There are 10 commandments… they are not dead.

    We have all fallen short of the Glory of God .. Everyday we must repent of our sins.
    We are to abhor sin & Certainly call out other ‘Christians’ that are teaching so as to lead others from the truth of Christ. ( when He returns again He will not be all joy & sunshine HE will come in judgment of all..))

    we are wrong to not call out other Christians in their sin.. we are to go to them with Love & a kind heart to help them.. not to hate the by IGNORING their sin…… by ignoring it we are condemning them to HELL…… which in my book is NOT LOVE !
    you need to re-read the scriptures & not put your wants in as truth.

    thanks Lisa

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