What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?

[Alert: graphic photo below]

We all feel the effects of sin; but the character of sin is not what many believers think it is. People DO sin, but not in the way many believers suppose. Sin has dire consequences, but not the ones many believers imagine.

Much of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament Pharisees, understood sin as infraction against God’s commands. Millions of believers today assume the same thing. But Jesus’ teaching and example contradict this perspective of sin. When we read about Jesus in the gospels we find that sin has to do with relationships.

My Lai massacre

My Lai Massacre, Viet Nam by Ronald L. Haeberle [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Sin is Pain and Alienation

Do you experience pain and alienation? Of course you do; all of us do. It begins when we are young and continues throughout our life. Some pain afflicts us through natural forces, like sickness or weather catastrophes, but our greatest pain is inflicted by people: relatives, bullies, thieves, haters, oppressors, abusers. Physical and emotional wounds are slow to heal, and ugly scars remain.

Unfortunately, Christians too often seem to foster these sinful results.

In addition to pain, alienation also impacts our lives. We are hurt and alienated when people treat us cruelly or unjustly. It can create physical and mental suffering, defensiveness, aloneness, insecurity, low self-esteem, desperation, and fear.

This is the essence of sin—people hurting other people.

Identity groups promote sin on a larger scale. As we collect ourselves into groups that oppose other groups we create massive sin in forms of hate, enmity, dehumanization, exclusion, and domination. This is a potent source of pain and alienation. Racism, discrimination, hate, hostility, and oppression produce magnified sin against other people. Sometimes the horror of our action against other people is beyond belief.

This is pain and alienation. This is sin.

Sin is offense against other people; sin is NOT infraction against God’s rules. Sin is an orientation, an attitude, a perspective toward others. While some pain and alienation is unintentional, much of it IS intentional as people are driven by such inner forces as power, greed, domination, fear, and selfishness.

Not all of us feel alienated from others to the same degree, but for some the pain and alienation is unbearable. But even worse is the feeling of alienation from God.

Alienation from God

When we feel alienated from God, as well as from other people, we can find ourselves in deep despair. And many people feel this alienation strongly; we even learn from Christian teachers that God is angry, demanding, and vindictive and that we can never measure up to his standards and expectations. We are told that God cannot even look at us because of our sin. We are even taught that he will punish us in hell-fire forever because we don’t measure up.

Of course this makes us feel helplessly alienated from God.

This view seems confirmed as we read parts of the Old Testament where God is said to issue commandments—strict commandments. Lots of commandments. And he is harsh with those who do not keep them.

But a significant part of the good news of Jesus is that none of this is true! God is not angry with us, instead he loves us very much—just as we are. All the alienation we feel is on our side; God is not alienated from us. And, rather than wanting us to keep a bunch of religious rules, God wants us to be reconciled to him and each other.

Kingdom Living Promotes the Opposite of Sin

Jesus tells of a Father who loves us all and wants to heal our pain and alienation and wants us to be at peace. Jesus does not give us commandments to follow but tells us to come to him for relief of our weariness and our burdens. Jesus is all about reconciliation.

Indeed, Jesus brought the good news of the kingdom of God—the persistent, growing influence of God’s will on Earth. Kingdom living is based on anti-power, anti-greed, anti-fear, anti-selfishness. The kingdom is an active, spreading influence—not an institution, organization, or network; it is not visible or identifiable. The kingdom is not at ‘war’ with anything or anybody; it is a quiet and growing influence that spreads God’s will on earth for peace, healing, love, and acceptance.

The foundation of the kingdom is love—love for each other; love for everyone; even love for our enemies who try to hurt us. The actions and attitudes that characterize the kingdom are opposite to sin: empathy, healing, reconciliation, love, acceptance, inclusiveness, service. These are not just emotional states but actions arising from our internalized identification with the Father’s love for everyone.

The Fallacy of the Story of Sin and Salvation: Common Baggage Version

The very substance of kingdom living makes trying to please God by keeping religious rules seem petty. Remember the story of sin and salvation—the common baggage version—that we talked about last time?

God created Adam and Eve in perfection. But then Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. God put curses on both of them, and everyone born since then carries Adam’s ‘original sin’ and is separated from angry God.

God is so holy he cannot even look at us because of our sin. And because we are guilty of sin against an infinite God, we must receive an infinite punishment. Therefore we are all on our way to eternal suffering in the fires of hell, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it.

However, God himself made a remarkable provision. He sent his own son to take our sin upon himself. At the crucifixion, God poured all his wrath from our sin upon Jesus, who was infinitely righteous; Jesus suffered the penalty of our sin for all of us. Therefore, if we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, God is able to look at us through the blood of Jesus and forgive our sin.

If we accept Jesus in the proper way, and separate ourselves from sin in our lives, we can avoid eternal suffering in hell and, instead, go to heaven when we die.

This story is a gross misunderstanding of sin and of the love of the Father toward us. Sin is pain and alienation we cause each other, and God’s desire is to heal us of that pain and alienation. Jesus invites us in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

This is all we need do to begin healing: come to Jesus and begin to learn of him.

We will talk further of sin and salvation in upcoming posts. In order to understand the foundations of legalism, next time we will address the concepts of sin in the Old Testament.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?


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31 Responses to What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?

  1. Chas says:

    Great post Tim. The only thing that I could add is that animals too can suffer from the actions that humans take.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Excellent point, Chas.


    • Robert says:

      We do need to care for animals, but they are not humans and are not redeemed, we should never put an animal in front of the soul of a man or woman,
      2000 pigs suffered at the hand of Jesus for the sake of Christ, the demon possessed man and the glory of God the father


  2. Pingback: The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV) | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Chas says:

    Tim, it is my suspicion that some people who cause suffering to others do so as a result of having suffered in a similar way in their childhood. An example might be the bully, who has himself been bullied as a child. There seem to be two (opposite) responses to this. One is to avoid this type of behavior because of the awareness of the suffering it causes. The other is to mirror the behavior as a kind of revenge against what they were made to suffer. In the first instance, their direction of response is towards God; in the second it is away from God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I agree that many people are hurtful to others because they have been hurt. Indeed, to change that pattern and treat people with love and respect is consistent with the words and actions of Jesus. Part of the good news of Jesus is that the Father loves all of us and that we should love others as the Father does.

      This expands the will of God on Earth.


      • Chas says:

        Tim, I am of the opinion that God’s will IS being done on earth, all the time. To hold that opinion it is necessary to differentiate between what He would wish to happen and what is His will to happen. Because we have free will, we can choose to do what He would not wish to happen, but if our action goes against His wishes, it is His will for that to happen. If our action does not lead to suffering, then His wishes and His will are in harmony.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas you might be right, but I don’t understand the distinctions. I think the Father’s will is growing with the spread of the kingdom and that it will one day encompass the earth. His will is peace, healing, reconciliation, and alignment with him.


    • Robert says:

      The main thing is why would we avoid the behavior
      Hurt people hurt people………..until the fullness and truth of the Gospel has come home to our hearts this will continue, in Christ we move away from the victim mentality and into a forgiveness mind set


  4. Ajai says:

    We should try to be aware of our surroundings BEFORE we think or say or even do anything. We often mistake this for something minor and it doesn’t really matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      This sounds like good advice, Ajai, but I am not certain what you have in mind. Can you share some examples?


  5. Pingback: Addressing Sin in the Old Testament | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. Mark says:

    I grew up a fundamentalist.. Sin was not being able to please the Father because we were all carnal , we were a fallen from grace creation. Nothing we did could ever be good or right. Without Christ and his shed blood we were no better than the heathen head hunter in the bushes of Africa. But praise GOD we were born in the USA and are a christian Nation…but we best get on our knees 24-7 and get er rite! Wow!..What baggage.
    I walked away from the entire church scene because I could never be that pleasing super-saint that “god” required. I am ordained, believed all the correct church Doctrines….teachings….”Their” version of kingdom living….and I was a miserable wreck.
    It’s been going on 8 years since I walked away…yes it’s been hard… But I’m getting to the point that I understand our CREATOR,..THE MOST HIGH..does indeed love each of his creations. He may not like what we do at times…but like any Parent HE still loves and cares for us.
    DeConversion from all that baggage has been a long and troublesome road…still is at times.

    Thank you much for this blog….it is needed

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      What baggage indeed! Mark, I am also a former fundamentalist, and I am very familiar with the scenario you describe. It WAS hard for me to walk away, but I am so glad I did. My main objective is to help others who are fearfully questioning what they have been taught or are already on a journey of freedom from baggage.

      Thanks for your comment (here and elsewhere); I hope you continue with us and feel free to comment as you are inclined.


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  22. Robert says:

    In Christ we get what we don’t deserve, and don’t get what we do deserve, We must start with a proper perspective of who man is apart from Christ, if this is minimized then grace will also be minimized, and identity and son ship is of no real meaning.
    There is loneliness, sadness, hardship, affliction, alienation, and suffering for all who live to Christ in this world, If we try to remove the offence of the Cross, the impact and meaning of sin then we create a new gospel and a new god.
    Self esteem is an enemy of the cross and the gospel, Jesus says we can do nothing apart from Me, this goes for believers and pagans, Self esteem says I’m good and I can do it,
    In this life you will have trouble , but take courage I have over come the world.

    Please do not water down the gospel or try to mitigate the offensiveness of the cross ,

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Robert, based on what I understand of your comment we not to be totally on the same page regarding these themes. You stated: “There is loneliness, sadness, hardship, affliction, alienation, and suffering for all who live to Christ in this world.”

      Are you saying that becoming a Christian brings us ‘loneliness, sadness, hardship, affliction, alienation, and suffering’? I think instead that, through Jesus, God brings us peace, healing of our brokenness, and reconciliation in place of our previous alienation. I believe grace is maximized–not minimized. I don’t think God wants us to grovel but to rejoice in the good news of Jesus.

      What do you mean by the ‘offense of the cross’? And how have I removed it? Thanks for sharing you thoughts; I look forward to the further conversation.


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