Which One of These Things, Would You Say, Is Not a Sin?

Okay, friends, here is an exercise for you. Look through the following list, and see if you can come up with the one item in the list that is not a sin.

Greed
Envy
Murder
Strife
Deceit
Malice
Gossip
Slander
Hatred of God
Insolence
Arrogance
Boastfulness
Disobedience to parents
Faithlessness
Mercilessness
Sexual immorality
Idolatry
Adultery
Theft
Drunkenness
Swindling
Lawbreaking
Rebelliousness
Ungodliness
Killing one’s parents
Slave trading
Lying
Perjury
Heresy

Did you find the one item in the list that is not a sin? Well, under certain cirumstances, you could perhaps argue for several of these items and say they were not sins. For example, perhaps there are occasions when one should disobey their parents, especially when they tell you to do something contrary to God’s expressed will.

But this was actually a trick question. Every one of the items in the list is a sin. Please forgive me for playing a trick on you! 🙂

However, can I ask you to indulge me one more time? Thank you. Okay, now here is the exact same list, except, this time I am going to add one additional item. See if you can spot the additional item on the list.

Greed
Envy
Murder
Strife
Deceit
Malice
Gossip
Slander
Hatred of God
Insolence
Arrogance
Boastfulness
Disobedience to parents
Faithlessness
Mercilessness
Sexual immorality
Idolatry
Adultery
Theft
Drunkenness
Swindling
Homosexual behavior
Lawbreaking
Rebelliousness
Ungodliness
Killing one’s parents
Slave trading
Lying
Perjury
Heresy

Did you catch the additional item? Yes, that’s right, I added one item, “homosexual behavior,” to the list. But, here is the more important question. Do you think that the list now contains an item which is not a sin?

I compiled this list of thirty items from three passages in the New Testament: Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:8-10. Homosexual behavior is mentioned in all three lists. In fact, it is the only item which is mentioned in all three lists. As you well know, there are a number of denominations, churches, and Christian leaders, even those who would claim that they are evangelical Christians, who no longer believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. They are both welcoming and affirming. They argue that homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage should be regarded as “holy acts,” and they argue that such unions are indeed blessed of God.

But, as I see it, they are faced with an insurmountable problem. To reach their conclusions, they have to argue that in this thirty-item list, compiled from three passages in the New Testament, that homosexual behavior—the one item which is common to all three lists, and that one item alone—should no longer be regarded as constituting a sin. They try to argue that there is some great cultural divide that renders this first-century Christian declaration that homosexual behavior is sinful as no longer valid in the twenty-first century. And they go beyond this to even argue that not only is this behavior not sinful, but that it should be celebrated as holy and blessed of God. But that simply raises the question, why do these people not subject the other twenty-nine items on the list to the same cultural analysis and scrutiny? Why do they not argue that there is some cultural divide between the first and twenty-first centuries such that we should now no longer regard murder, or sexual immorality, or adultery, or slander, or perjury as sinful? Since we now live in the twenty-first century—you know, because it’s 2016—should we not now have special services in our churches to celebrate the “rite of holy adultery”?

On the one hand, one could regard this as a classic example of a logical fallacy known as “special pleading,” which that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, defines as “a form of fallacious argument that involves an attempt to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.” However, I believe that the problem here goes far beyond a simple logical fallacy. Rather, it constitutes an ethical fallacy. As I tell the students in my Hermeneutics class, there is a moral and ethical dimension to our hermeneutical work, and there are, indeed, such things as hermeneutical sins:

We must always be aware of our natural tendencies to evade the convicting function of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the word. We must confess that, quite often, our misinterpretation of the biblical text is willful misinterpretation. We want to get out from under the condemnation of the text.

If this seems too strong, I would argue that, at the very least, the person engaging in this kind of hermeneutical practice is being very cavalier with the biblical text, an activity and attitude which still constitutes a hermeneutical sin. And, according to Romans 1:32, it is a hermeneutical sin, the sentence for which is death. In fact, this sin is actually in the catalogue of sins I gave above. It’s the last item on the list.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.  (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

Jerry Shepherd
November 17, 2016

4 thoughts on “Which One of These Things, Would You Say, Is Not a Sin?

  1. A quote from Paul Tripp at last week’s national Fellowship convention, which agrees with your comment about “the convicting function of the Holy Spirit”

    “Never ignore the convicting work of the Holy Spirit; it is your rescue.”

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi Jerry,
    This month our church, (Emmanuel Baptist in Barrie, ON) is looking at cultural issues, including homosexuality. http://www.emmanuelbarrie.org/

    We had Guy Hammond as a special speaker… see his web site: http://www.strengthinweakness.org/
    Hammond’s message concerns the issue of “same sex attraction” as something he was born with. After living with homosexual practice for many years, he found Jesus and abandoned that sinful life.
    His premise is that many are born with same sex attraction, and some make a choice to become homosexual….some don’t.
    Those who do not make that choice are not homosexuals… some choose a herterosexual reltionship, as he did, and some presumably remain celibate.
    As his web site illustrates, Hammond has a worldwide ministry in this area.

    I have discussed this with a gay friend who is a devout evangelical Christian (Anglican). He says he is what he is because God made him that way , and he is made in God’s Image as described in scripture. Because he is a friend that sings with us in a Barbershop Chorus, I choose to tread softly.

    I appreciate your blogs on this subject and wondered where Hammond’s ministry fits.

    Best regards… and I look forward to your blogs,

    Bill Hillock

    • Hi Bill, good to connect with you again! Thanks for commenting and thanks for sharing about the ministry of Strength in Weakness. I had briefly heard about them before, but didn’t know that much about this specific organization. From a quick perusal of their website, it appears to be a very valuable work they are engaged in.

      Whether a homosexual orientation is a matter of nature or nurture or both is a question which, for me, is still an unsettled one. So in this and previous blog posts, my concern has not been with homosexual orientation, per se, but with homosexual practice. I think I may have said this before, but if someone who has a same-sex orientation or inclinations, but they recognize that same-sex behavior is sinful, and are committed to following the teaching of Scripture in this area, I would have no problem at all with that person being a member, leader, pastor, or denomination leader in the church. There are a number of same-sex attracted Christians who have made this commitment, and they are making valuable contributions to the church of Christ, such as Sam Alberry, Wesley Hill, Rosaria Butterfield, John Freeman, and the leaders of this organization you’ve called my attention to.

      I think your decisions to “tread softly” with your friend is a wise one.

      Again, good to connect with you. Blessings. Jerry

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