Call Sin Sin. But Only That.

by GfG on December 4, 2011 · 8 comments

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In the last year, I’ve realized what damage legalism can do.  To a person’s heart. To people around that person.  To a community even.

The Bible calls some behaviors and heart attitudes sin.  Our culture has shied away from that.  We have sugar coated words and made them more palatable.  It hurts to say someone is in sin, so we don’t want to do it.  This does a disservice to others and ourselves.  I’ve appreciated Lou Priolo’s book Teach Them Diligently because it’s where I first heard the exhortation to talk to our children in Biblical terms about their (and our) behavior.  Helping us see our behavior for what God sees it is very good.  Calling sin sin is being honest.

 I’ve seen the opposite happen though and I think it’s actually worse: calling something sin that isn’t.

Drawing lines in the sand for holiness can lead to serious legalism.  I’ve seen it happen.  Sadly, I’ve done it.

I’ve been snapped out of this kind of thinking in a very painful way, but the lesson is life changing.  If God hasn’t specifically called something a sin, I shouldn’t.  Believing something is a sin that God hasn’t called it a sin, can seriously hurt people.  When taken to the extreme, it can lead to disciplining others.  What must God think of someone being disciplined for being in sin, when that person is not?

Oh, let us be careful.   We may not agree with something someone is doing.  We may even believe that a Biblical principle could apply to a situation.  We may even be right that there is a better course of action.  BUT if there is any way that another Biblical principle could apply also or that someone is walking in a freedom in Christ, let’s not call their behavior wrong.

Jesus was harsh to those doing this: the Pharisees.  They had interpreted God’s Law and drawn their lines.  They judged salvation as well as holiness and godliness in daily living.  Proud legalism found them staunchly on one side and those who disagreed on the other.  While Jesus lovingly confronted sinners, he had nothing good to say to those whose pride blinded them to grace.

Friends, if something is a sin, call it that.

If it isn’t, don’t.  Call it grace.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison December 4, 2011 at 8:13 am

Beautifully written, thank you for sharing that. I’ve felt that way but didn’t know how to express it. I’ll have to check out that book.


mideastmom December 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I believe in the application of Matthew 18:15-17, but only in a church context and only for biblically-specific sin. Grey areas may be ones that influence the company you keep the majority of the time, but they are not for us to draw hard and fast lines about.

Sadly, too often we, as humans, turn grey into black and white where God never intended it to be (and, yes, it goes the other direction, too, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). BTDT, HTR (had to repent).


Brooke December 5, 2011 at 8:48 am

Well done!


Autumn Beck December 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm

In general, I agree with your post. Legalism is a real problem, especially in homeschooling circles. Yet many Christians swing to far the other way too, using “christian liberty” to justify sin. So my only caveat would be that we define what sin is first, then apply that.

“Question 18: What is sin?

Answer: Sin is transgression of the revealed will of God which teaches that we are to act in perfect holiness from a heart of faith to the glory of God.

Scripture: 1 John 3:4; Romans 5:13; 14:23; 1 Peter 1:16; Matthew 5:48; 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Comment Simplified: Sin is any attitude or desire or action that explicitly breaks a commandment of Scripture, or comes from a heart of unbelief or is not done for the glory of God.”

Defining sin is difficult for many Christians today, mostly because we don’t know our Bibles well enough. So when we don’t know how to apply Biblical teachings in principle, and a “grey area” comes up, we will usually default to the world’s view because that’s all we know. According to the catechism definition and Desiring God’s comment above, even the issue of not having a right heart, right motives, for the GLORY OF GOD is sin.

Also sin is sometimes hard to face in our own lives. We often justify and lie to ourselves (me included!) that something is not a sin, when it really is. Even as a regenerated Christian, I have to search every thought and action for any inkling of sin. I may say things like “that’s not stated exactly in Scripture, so it’s not sin.” But I know that many general principles are stated in Scripture, like “love thy neighbor” which includes hundreds of implications.

All that to say we have to be very careful in talking about legalism that we don’t swing the other way too far and become “no law” Christians. As Luther said, “Human reason is like a drunken man on horseback; set it up on one side, and it tumbles over on the other.”


GfG December 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I agree completely.
I was hoping to be sure readers saw the first part, that sugar coating or excusing behaviors is wrong. Sin is wrong and we need to accept that and call it sin when we do it.
We just need to be sure we aren’t becoming Pharisees and calling freedoms in Christ sin.


jamie December 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I think the beauty of God is that She is so multifaceted that both sides of the equation can be represented in His nature. (That was for the legalists in the audience. :) )

Legalism is ugly. Self-justification is ugly. I am called to examine myself and purge these attitudes by God’s grace and power. I’m called to love everyone around me. That is the pattern. Judge myself. Love everybody else. I often find myself getting it backwards.

Anytime I call sin in someone else a sin, I am rolling some very large dice. Judgement is God’s job. Not mine. The only passages I am familiar with (and I have been wrong before) where we are instructed to confront sin in someone else’s life are passages on church discipline and by implication when raising our children. I can’t find anywhere else where I’m allowed to call someone else a sinner. Because I are one. To call someone else out is to present myself as blameless, and the church has too many seat warmers that act as though they hit a triple when we were all reborn on third.

I have found in my own life and experience that the things that irritate me the most in others… those times when I feel the most justified in saying (typically out loud) “Hey, everyone, look at how crappy Frank is” (No offense to the Franks out there)… I am merely attempting to feel better about the glaring deficiencies in my own personal walk.

Lastly, unsolicited advice is a waste of time. There are a few people that I have given permission to speak correction into my life. I don’t really listen to anyone else other than to get angry. I don’t think this is atypical human behavior.

The older I get, the fewer number of hills there are worth dying on.


Kersten October 8, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I found your blog through Pinterest tonight and can’t wait to come back and read more. (sleep is calling me though 😉 This last year has brought up a lot of what you wrote about for me. I am moved and want to say thank you. Nice to know I am not the only one who fell into the same pattern and had to repent. Oh, and my hubby watches football too. 😉


GfG October 9, 2013 at 12:01 am

So glad to have you, Kersten!

Football watching hubby and all. 😉


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